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

[ << Previous 20 ]
Monday, September 30th, 2019
1:22 am
The WhisPDX in the Darkness: My HPL Film Festival Schedule
Once more the Veil parts, granting me a glimpse into the Hideous Future, and once more I share a portion of that vision with you, to wit, that portion involving the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in scenic, cloud-shrouded Portland Oregon this weekend.

Once more, I predict someone asking about streaming or recording or whatever, and once more I respond with the cryptic Yithian expression "I dunno, lenses and mirrors I guess. Rods, maybe?"


7:00-10:00 p.m.
Guest and VIP Reception

I know nothing about this, except that it's usually a grand time and that the theme this year, I am told, is "Occult 60s" so that should be a thing. [Lola's Room (part of the Crystal Ballroom downtown)]


4:00-6:00 p.m.
Meet & Greet With Filmmakers and Guests

Come mingle with visiting filmmakers and guests before the festival begins! Grab a refreshing drink, so food, and get acquainted with your fellow Lovecraft enthusiasts! [Sam's Billiards]

7:00-8:00 p.m.
Terror and Terroir: The Geography of Horror

Lovecraft famously incorporated real places, and the real feelings and geography of imaginary places, into his fiction. How does location strengthen horror, in Lovecraft and in others, and how can geographical realism help feed horrific imagination? Kenneth Hite (moderator), D.B. Spitzer, Robert Lloyd Parry, Sean Branney, Adam Scott Glancy [EOD Center Main]


10:00 a.m.-Noon
Carb-Load for Cthulhu: Group Author Signing

Your favorite Mythos authors gathered in one place! This is an excellent opportunity to buy books, get them signed, and meet the people who wrote them! Free doughnuts, coffee, and bagels (while supplies last). [EOD Center Main]

1:45-2:45 p.m.
M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft cites James as a great weird writer in several of his letters. What relationship does this master of the ghostly tale have to Lovecraft's brand of cosmic horror and the Weird? Andrew Migliore (moderator), Scott Connors, Kenneth Hite, Robert Lloyd Parry, Richard Stanley [EOD Center Main] (I'm not listed on the main schedule for this so perhaps I shall only appear as a ... g-g-g-ghost)

8:30-9:30 p.m.
Deep Time in Fiction

Humanity doesn’t seem to understand the true horror of time and what it holds. Panelists talk about time as horror in different media. D.B. Spitzer (moderator), Sean Branney, Amanda Downum, Adam Scott Glancy, Kenneth Hite [EOD Center Classroom]
Tuesday, August 27th, 2019
12:26 am
A Dance of DragonCon
From beautiful Providence to sultry Atlanta, I whisk from convention to convention, a migrant lanyard-bearing luminary and look that up in your Audubon why don't you.

So here, then, as is my tradition, is my DragonCon schedule for the delectation of all who plan to be there (Atlanta) then (Labor Day weekend). As is also my tradition, I maintain a blithe ignorance on the eventual recording, streaming, or carving into butter of the proceedings.


2:30-3:30pm: GenreTainment: Are There Any Good Endings?
Location: Galleria 7 - Hilton
Description: This year alone, Game of Thrones ended, Endgame closed an era, & the long-lived TV series Supernatural will soon have its last season. Lost, Battlestar Galactica, & so many other series had controversial endings. Join a live episode of GenreTainment as we discuss the best & worse endings.
Panelists: Marx Pyle(M), Jeff Burns, Kenneth Hite

7:00-8:00pm: The Horror! Scaring the Crap Out of Ourselves in Gaming
Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin
Description: A Year of the Bard panel! We talk about horror gaming & specific techniques when it comes to scaring ourselves. We talk about horror methods, building suspense, how far to go with gore or jump scares, & those things that give us nightmares in the dark.
Panelists: Eloy Lasanta, Kenneth Hite


10:00-11:00am: The Most Dastardly Villains of All Time!
Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin
Description: A Year of the Bard-themed panel! We will discuss crafting memorable & exquisite villains for your campaigns. Are villains truly evil or just misunderstood? We also talk about role-playing as the villain.
Panelists: Jason Bulmahn, Keith Baker, Kenneth Hite

4:00-5:00pm: Game Mastery Tips & Tricks
Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin
Description: Learn about advanced techniques on creating campaigns, whipping up characters on the fly, or speeding up combat. We talk about the basics--getting started as a game master as well as more advanced techniques. This panel is for both beginning & veteran game masters!
Panelists: Kenneth Hite, Devon M Chulick

8:30-11:00pm: Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
Location: Peachtree 1-2 - Westin
Description: Join us for an evening of vampiric terror! We examine F.W. Murnau’s silent classic Nosferatu in a round-table discussion before screening the film with a live score by Valentine Wolfe!
Panelists: Kenneth Hite, Valentine Wolfe, Dacre Calder Stoker, Bill Mulligan, Thomas Mariani(M)
Monday, August 19th, 2019
5:25 pm
Getting it in the NecronomiCon
Rushing toward us like a foetid wind from a Tartarean abyss, except nicer, comes NecronomiCon Providence 2019, at which I have the honour (as the Old Gent would say) to be a Guest of Honour! And here, then, you can find my schedule, should you dare to gaze upon it.

Shane Ivey and I may also mount a guerrilla Robert W. Chambers/KING IN YELLOW panel at an as-yet-undetermined time and place, given that the con in its wisdom decided to not have an official Chambers panel.

Yadda yadda streaming audient void yadda yadda. Or rather, Iä-dda! Iä-dda!

Friday, August 23

4:30-5:45pm: GUESTS OF HONOR [Biltmore Ballroom, Graduate 17th Floor]
Please join us as we introduce and celebrate the Guests of Honor for NecronomiCon Providence 2019, followed by a discussion with the audience.
Panelists: Peter Cannon, Kenneth Hite, Victor LaValle, Sonya Taaffe, Molly Tanzer, Dempow Torishima, Paul Tremblay, s.j. bagley (M)

Saturday, August 24

12:00-1:15pm: The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast LIVE! [Capital Ballroom, Graduate Hotel 2nd Floor]
We are going to cover one of the CM Eddy collaborations. Which one? You'll have to wait and see!

3:00-4:15pm: LOVECRAFT AND THE GOTHIC TRADITION IN LITERATURE [Capital Ballroom, Graduate 2nd Floor]
The Gothic literary tradition is expansive and was undoubtedly influential in Lovecraft's writing. However, his status as a gothic writer is debatable, given the ways in which he refined and rejected various aspects of the gothic in creating his own style. Our panelists examine his body of work in relationship to the genre, with particular emphasis on his more explicitly gothic tales and Lovecraft's own ideas on the subject.
Panelists: Ash Darrow, Kenneth Hite, Steven Mariconda (M), Marlene Miss B. Havin', Sean Moreland

8:30 to 10:00pm: The H. P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast 10TH ANNIVERSARY PARTY [L'Apogee, Graduate Hotel 17th Floor]
Join Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey as they celebrate ten remarkable years of raising the bar for Lovecraftian and weird fiction podcasting, and generating thousands of fans from around the world. The lads will be joined by Ken Hite and Andrew Leman, and other friends and guests from over the years. Open to all attendees and guests!

Sunday August 25

9:00-10:15am: THE TASTE OF ASHES: DELTA GREEN [Washington-Newport Room, Omni 3rd Floor]
Elite government operatives fight a desperate covert war against Mythos threats and government conspiracies across the globe in this classic RPG. Panelists, including some of the founders and prominent DG authors, discuss the development, mythology, and history of the setting, as well as aspects of running a successful campaign.
Panelists: A. Scott Glancy (M), Daniel Harms, Kenneth Hite, Shane Ivey

1:30-2:45pm: HOW TO GAME THE WEIRD [Capital Ballroom, Graduate 2nd Floor]
Lovecraft's creations featured in early iterations of role-playing games, and since the emergence of Call of Cthulhu and its spinoffs, RPGs have increasingly explored -- or exploited -- cosmic horror in a Lovecraftian universe. Our experts discuss in ins and outs of designing and running a weird horror scenario. How does one create and maintain suspense when players know the Mythos and the tropes? How do different games systems either lend themselves to, or undermine, an atmosphere of horror?
Panelists: Fiona Maeve Geist, Dan Harms (M), Kenneth Hite, Shane Ivey, Badger McInnes, Sandy Petersen
Friday, July 26th, 2019
12:57 am
GenCon, Or, Slouching Toward Indianapolis
I may actually have run out of decent titles for these posts! We'll see next year, I guess. Anyhow, as I suspect you've already guessed, I'll be at GenCon again next weekend (Jul 31-Aug 4)! Actually, I'll be there next week, straight up, plus the next Monday for flinchin', but thank goodness you don't have to stalk my doings for more than four of those days. And what doings are those, you might ask? These doings here! And yes, I believe they will almost ALL be recorded by someone, probably Robin. Or Shane. Or the ENnies People.

If none of these doings pique your palate, know that I shall be decorating the Pelgrane Press stand, #1417 in the exhibit hall, during show hours, and decorating Indianapolis' finest drinking establishments during best-of-show hours.


9:00pm - ???: Diana Jones Awards Party
In which gaming luminaries seem, by some witchery, very much like ordinary drunks! [Undisclosed location]


4:00pm-5:00pm: Gaming With the King in Yellow

Robin D. Laws, Sarah Saltiel, & John Harness 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! (I'm not technically on the panel, but I might show up as a ringer while I still know more about Robert W. Chambers than anyone else.) [Stadium : Meeting Room 8]


1:00pm-2:00pm: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff LIVE

Robin D. Laws & Kenneth Hite talk roleplaying, history, conspiracy, occultism, writing, food, movies & whatever you ask them about in this live edition of their award-winning podcast. (This event is technically sold out, but hey maybe there are scalpers or standing room only or people who oversleep.) [Stadium : Meeting Room 8]

5:00pm-6:00pm: Investigative Roleplaying Master Class
Mystery scenario masters Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws train their magnifying glasses on clue-gathering adventures to reveal the unlikely suspects behind your tabletop woes. [Westin : Grand Ballroom IV]

6:00pm-8:00pm: ENie Awards Cocktail Reception
In which gaming luminaries seem, by some witchery, very much like ordinary drunks! (I'll likely get there later than 6, but go ahead and start without me. I'll catch up.) [Union Station : Grand Hall]

8:00pm-11:00?pm: ENnie Awards!
"You know, Monte really deserved it this year. What a product. What a guy." [Union Station : Grand Hall]


2:00pm-3:00pm: 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 UK publisher’s been up to this year, & what they’ve planned for the coming year. [Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Station A]

8:00pm-9:00pm: Delta Green: Operations & A-Cell
The authors of Delta Green: The RPG talk upcoming projects, design decisions, gameplay tips, tradecraft, & war stories. Bring your DG questions. [Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Station A]
Monday, May 27th, 2019
4:18 am
In Memoriam
Robert Munroe (Ensign, Lexington militia, KIA 19 April 1775, Lexington Green)
Christopher A. Slutman (SSGT, 25th Regt, 4th Div, USMC Reserve, KIA 8 Apr 2019, Bagram, Afghanistan)

And all 559,234 in between.
Wednesday, May 1st, 2019
12:20 am
ChupacabraCon Carne
Once more I return to Austin just as the weather turns not-quite-ridiculous in Texas for the summery joy that is ChupacabraCon, and once more I must chatter for my chimichangas. Behold my panel schedule and be amazed! Good seats still available, guacamole is extra, no I don't know if anyone will ever ever stream any of this assembled wisdom or if it shall be lost like tears in the queso. Come on down and find out!


7:00-7:50 p.m.: Terror at the Table: techniques for evoking horror
Ed Wetterman, Jared Twing, Kenneth Hite, Mark Carroll, Shane Ivey

Join the creators of Delta Green, The Unspeakable Oath, and decades of award-winning Call of Cthulhu scenarios and sourcebooks to talk techniques for evoking horror in an RPG and ways to maintain the mood. [Guadalupe]


9:00-9:50 a.m.: Saturday Morning Cthulhu and Donuts
Darren Watts, Jared Twing, Kenneth Hite, Mark Carroll, Shane Ivey

Have a donut with Ken Hite and other Saturday morning cartoon personalities, and discuss Cthulhu and the creamy richness of donuts and coffee. A recurring nightmare, er... event. [Guadalupe]

3:00-3:50 p.m.: Alternate History in Gaming
Darren Watts, Ed Wetterman, Jess Nevins, Kenneth Hite, Russell Zimmerman

Game writers Kenneth Hite, Jess Nevins and Darren Watts get together for what will most certainly be a free-wheeling and wide-ranging discussion of the hows and whys of building alternative histories into your game setting. [Guadalupe]

I may also crash the Project ARC DREAM seminar with the Arc Dream gang on it at 8 p.m. on Saturday just because I love them so very much.
Sunday, March 10th, 2019
1:49 am
The Real Top Ten List is Classified
Apropos of nothing, here is former CIA Director William Colby's 1981 list of the Ten Greatest Spies of All Time (meaning "Ten Greatest Intelligence Professionals and Also Some Spies of the Twentieth Century"):

William Donovan (founder of the OSS)
Reginald V. Jones (British Air Ministry Intelligence, father of scientific-technical intelligence)
William F Friedman (US SIS and NSA, broke the PURPLE code)*
Richard Sorge (GRU spymaster in Tokyo)
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (NKVD spies)**
Kim Philby (NKVD/KGB mole in MI-5)
Oleg Penkovsky (MI-5 source in GRU)
Kelly Johnson (Lockheed aeronautical engineer, designed the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes)
Arthur Lundahl (CIA IMINT expert, found missiles in Cuba)
Edward G. Lansdale (CIA psywar specialist)

Of the four actual spies on that list, all were detected and three were executed, which argues that Colby's idea of great spying does not include, you know, staying hidden, which explains so much about the CIA now that I write it out like that.

* It seems to be an open question how much Friedman worked with his wife Elizabeth, but it's fairly certain that her role has been under-represented in most histories
** See above footnote, except that Ethel's role has likely been over-represented, not least by the FBI
Friday, January 25th, 2019
5:55 pm
If Twere Dundracon Twere Well Twere Dundracon Quickly
You can tell I've been going to DunDraCon a lot from the increasingly strained headlines on these posts. And why not? This legendary festival of tabletop RPGs and adequate sunlight in the President's Daily embrace of San Ramon, California provides me ample platform for my manias, expressed as always in the form of three panels, to wit:

Saturday, February 16

01:30-3:00 PM: City Building
Michael Blum, Kenneth Hite, Doc Cross
The long-running seminar about the nuts and bolts of creating and using cities in RPGs. This year we'll discuss how uninhabited cities change and decay.

6:00-7:30 PM: Alternate Histories
Kenneth Hite, 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.

Sunday, February 17

10:00-11:00 AM: What's Cool
Bruce Harlick, Kenneth Hite
Two icons of the gaming industry present their unique viewpoints on the best in current game products, straight from the dealer room.

This year, even the War College panels are in the Tri-Valley 2 Room, so BE THERRRRRRE
Sunday, October 28th, 2018
3:15 am
I Never Metatopia I Didn't Like
Next weekend I once more manifest at the finest game-design convention, RPG protospiel, and empanada tourism base-camp in the world, Metatopia in lovely Morristown, New Jersey. If you have any interest in game design, and especially if you have an RPG in process that you'd like knowledgeable people to bang on diagnostically, I urge you to manifest likewise. In between playtests and focus groups and empanada runs, I also have been known to seminarulate, thusly.

Contrary to my usual assertion at this point in a convention schedule post, at Metatopia seminars are usually recorded and eventually wind up on the Web; follow me assiduously across all social media and I shall share those links with you when I know them.


11:00AM - 12 NOON: "Honing Your Game Pitch" presented by Jim McClure, Kenneth Hite, Cat Tobin. This panel is designed to help you establish the best way to present your game to consumers. From Elevator pitches, to focus points, to mechanical highlights, we will cover what is most important in getting people to buy into your game. Attendees should be prepared to discuss their game project as part of a group, and have an elevator pitch pre-prepared. The panelists will then help each individual attendee to hone their presentation.

2:00PM - 3:00PM: "Horror Mechanics (For More Than Just Horror)" presented by Anne Ratchat, Kenneth Hite, Elsa Henry, Julia Ellingboe, Jabari Weathers. In the genre of horror, game designers and writers have developed an arsenal of tools specifically to disempower the characters in their worlds. These mechanics are assumed one-trick ponies but can also serve as useful mechanics for empowering play as well when understood. The goal of this panel is to break down why specific horror mechanics work and how to use them effectively, regardless of genre.


6:00PM - 7:00PM: "The Transitive Property of Myth" presented by Kenneth Hite. In this year's installment of "Ken Thinks About Stuff Out Loud", I look at the structural patterns of mythology. Are there actually structures of myth, and if there aren't, can we pretend there are? How can we take real-world myths and make them game material? How can we translate one myth system (that of the "standard fantasy world" for example) into another (e.g., Greek mythology)? And how can we translate any of it into dice, numbers, and heroic player character stories?
Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018
3:54 pm
CIFF Me As Though It Was The Last Time
Well, another CIFF has come and gone, this one three days shorter than the last batch of them. Whether that, along with what felt like a much weaker year this time around, portends trouble behind the screen we shall all learn together. For right now, what we've learned is that Hungary can indeed bring it, that Brazil is on notice, and that it's a good thing the Festival spotlighted Italian films this year. his_regard and I saw 21 movies -- slightly less than usual -- but with the exception of the highly recommended Japanese film Shoplifters (sold out), the Hungarian animated heist flick Ruben Brandt, Collector (only available opposite our Welles fest) and the lone South Korean film I don't think we missed too much. And so, to the rankings ...

The Pinnacle

The Other Side of the Wind (US, Orson Welles, 1976 & 2018) Imperious director J.J. Hannaford (John Huston) returns from European exile to make one last masterpiece but the system (and his own legend) gets in his way. Scripted and shot as a combination of found footage and film-within-a-film, this prodigiously innovative, elliptical movie has finally achieved final cut (Bob Murawski completing the remaining 70% of the editing from Welles’ notes) thanks to Netflix money and hard-working producers Frank Marshall and Filip Jan Rymsza.


Dogman (Italy, Matteo Garrone, 2018) Dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) plays sidekick and lackey to brutish thug Simone (Edoardo Pesce) until … Garrone’s strong, pure study of a man under pressure depends almost entirely on Fonte‘s acting for its compelling drive. The story is far less complex than Garrone’s amazing Gomorrah, but this is almost its equal as a film.

Border (Sweden, Ali Abbasi, 2018) Tina (Eva Melander) looks Neanderthal, but she can sniff out shame and fear (among other things) making her a valued customs officer — until she meets Vore (Eero Milonoff) who looks like she does. From a story by Jon Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In) who also co-wrote the script, the film plays effortlessly with many different genres from policier to horror to magical realism.

The Trouble With You (France, Pierre Salvadori, 2018) Upon discovering that her dead super-cop husband corruptly framed Antoine (Pio Marmai) for a jewel heist, Marseille police woman Yvonne (a wonderful Adele Haenel) tries to protect him from the consequences when he gets out of prison. Screwball comedy mashes up romance, crime, and philosophy as unconsidered moral choices lead to ever more ridiculous consequences, all to a fab go-go score by Camille Bazbaz.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (US, Morgan Neville, 2018) Tells the story of Orson Welles’ last great fiasco, the making of The Other Side of the Wind (q.v.). Particularly well cut together explainer weirdly omits the final chapter in which Netflix pays to fix the seemingly intractable problems and finish the film (and create this documentary).

Liverleaf (Japan, Eisuke Naitô, 2018) Bullied transfer student Haruka (Anna Yamada) finally unbottles her rage in ultraviolent revenge, revealing secrets and burying bodies in a blizzard. Based on a manga, some of the scenes are achingly beautiful — and often gory as hell. Maybe some of the story beats could have used some signals or supports, but this is ukiyo-e after all, so maybe not.

The Mercy of the Jungle (Belgium/France/Rwanda, Joel Karekezi, 2018) Career Rwandan Army Sergeant Xavier (Marc Zinga) and peasant private Faustin (Stéphane Bak), left behind during an offensive in the Second Congo War must survive the jungle, a band of rebels, and their own psyches in this effective war movie that occasionally becomes genuinely gripping. The two leads’ strong, lived-in performances give Karekezi a solid core to return to, keeping the picaresque nature of the material reined in.

Overlord (US, Julius Avery, 2018) Just before D-Day the remnants of an American paratrooper squad (Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, John Magaro, et al) must destroy a key Nazi radio jammer in a church, but find the Nazi forces conducting supernatural experiments in the crypt. Remarkably competent war action joins with top-notch zombie action for a thoroughly satisfying, controlled horror-adventure B-movie on an A-budget.

X — the eXploited (Hungary, Karoly Ujj Mészáros, 2018) Brilliant detective Eva (Monika Balsai) can’t function thanks to crippling panic attacks, but still manages to link a series of seeming accidents and suicides as murders with political implications. A solid political thriller, a strong policier, and for an act or two just a very creative variation on the Nero Wolfe model, all filmed with style.

Friedkin Uncut (Italy, Francesco Zippel, 2018) Perhaps with a lesser subject than Chicago’s own William Friedkin, this fairly conventional documentary-about-a-director (direcumentary?) would just be Good, but Friedkin remains a live wire at 83 and the galaxy of talents from Ellen Burstyn to Walter Hill to Quentin Tarantino who pay him homage do so joyfully. (The Willem Dafoe segment also reminded me why and how much To Live and Die in L.A. blew me away when I saw it in the theater.) Friedkin eschews the term “art,” about his own films at least, but like a true artist he stubbornly shoots what he sees.


Animal (Argentina/Spain, Armando Bo, 2018) A civilized man (Guillermo Francella) disintegrates when his kidney fails. Notable for the slow-motion home invasion-demonic possession story featuring the scumbag drifter with a matching blood type who extorts him, but in the end the film feels like a writer with too many directions becoming a director without a clear vision.

Duelles (Belgium/France, Olivier Masset-Depasse, 2018) Story by Hitchcock, shots by Douglas Sirk: In idyllic 1960s Brussels, neighboring housewives Alice (Veerle Baetens) and Celine (Anne Coesens) succumb to paranoia and madness following a fatal accident to Celine’s son. The story moves well, and Baetens plays increasing mania wonderfully. But Masset-Depasse’s relatively conventional treatment and extremely safe and conventional choices raise the question: what is this movie doing, exactly, besides marking time for the inevitable Reese Witherspoon remake?

The Stolen Caravaggio (Italy, Roberto Ando, 2018) Film company secretary Valeria (Micaela Ramazotti), who ghostwrites screenplays for blocked writer Alessandro Pes (Alessandro Gassmann), gets a lead on a story about the titular Caravaggio and to nobody’s surprise winds up inside the action. More propulsive than Ando’s Confessions, this meta-film wants to be Charade or a similarly dizzying romcom thriller, but doesn’t quite reach it. However, the ride is fun, and Maurizio Calvesi’s cinematography makes everything gorgeous.

Boys Cry (Italy, Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, 2018) Vacuous losers Manolo (Andrea Carpanzano) and Mirko (Matteo Olivetti) accidentally run over a snitch, gaining them entry to a minor mafia clan and setting off a slow fuse of moral awakening. With no glamor, an overexposed palette, and lots of close-ups of the thugs, this is not a pretty mob film; your value likely depends on whether you care to identify with these accidental goombahs.


Ash is Purest White (China/France, Jia Zhangke, 2018) In 2001 in the remote city of Datong, Qiao (Zhao Tao) is the girlfriend of petty mob boss Bin (Liao Fan); in 2006 she gets out of jail to find he has deserted her and she pursues him to Fangjie; in 2017 she’s back in Datong running mah-jongg waiting for him to show up. Too long to let any of the three acts work, and too invested in an unappealing Bin to be enjoyable at any length. The middle act, where Qiao rebuilds her life one grift at a time, could have been great.

Happy as Lazzaro (Italy/Switzerland/France/Germany, Alice Rohrwacher, 2018) The peasants of isolated Inviolata remain serfs in the 1980s, with the good (saintly?) worker Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) bearing his fellows’ burdens in turn. Halfway through the movie, everything changes, and the neo-medieval mise-en-scene becomes today’s urban fringe. Rohrwacher tells a timeless story of exploitation with moments of stark beauty and emotion, but her choice of “golden legend” crosses up her ideological priors to eventually strangling effect.

Sibel (EU/Turkey, Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, 2018) In rural Turkey, the mute daughter (Damla Sönmez) of the mayor (Emin Gürsoy) communicates using an ancestral whistling language, but most of her day is spent alone hunting a wolf. Zenciri and Giovanetti want to wrap their exoticized-society girl-power movie in fairy tale clothing, but do nothing to reconcile (or play up) the conflict between the two modes. The two leads also play differently, Sönmez bordering on histrionics while Gürsoy dives deep internally; the result is four halves of two movies.

Naples in Veils (Italy, Ferzan Ozpetek, 2017) After a super-hot one-night stand with diver Andrea (Alessandro Borghi) medical examiner Adriana (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) finds herself investigating, and suspected of, his murder the next day. Then she starts seeing his ghost, or his twin, or … ? Lush and beautiful, set in Naples’ avant-garde art scene and ignoring the Camorra or any aspect of reality whatsoever, the film eventually disappears into its own sexy, gorgeously shot ass. Two thirds of a movie — even two thirds of Vertigo — is still not a movie.

Transit (Germany/France, Christian Petzold, 2018) To escape a France fallen to fascist invasion, Georg (Franz Rogowski) assumes the identity of a dead writer; while waiting in Marseille for his papers to clear, he becomes embroiled in both his lives’ complications. Moody, slightly surreal film becomes a case study in why voiceover narration is a terrible idea.

Not Recommended

Ex-Shaman (Brazil, Luiz Bolognesi, 2018) Docudrama leisurely follows Perera, the former shaman of the Paiter Surui tribe in the Brazilian interior. Bolognesi’s general melancholy tone doesn’t provide emotional insight, and the Anthro 101 subject matter doesn’t hold great interest by itself. Strong suspicion that Bolognesi staged some shots and the throughline, and certainly tinkered with the sound, leaches the film of what value it had left.

Jumpman (Russia/Lithuania/Ireland/France, Ivan I. Tverdovsky, 2018) After dumping him in the baby hatch of an orphanage at birth, Oksana (Anna Slyu) comes back for Denis (Denis Vlasenko) to use his congenital analgesia — inability to feel pain — for fraud. Denis becomes a jumpman, someone who jumps in front of rich people’s cars to extort them for bribes or (thanks to a deep-benched conspiracy) legal judgements. The scam is interesting, unlike the acting or camera work, but (along with a weird Jocasta-complex vibe from Oksana) never pays off because in Russia, movie ends you. Kirill Richter’s score is the only real standout, by turns brooding and atonal.
Friday, October 12th, 2018
5:36 pm
Greg Stafford, R.I.P.

Greg Stafford touched so many lives with such magic that it is literally impossible to describe the feeling of his departure. I'm not even sure I can describe what it means to me -- I found out about three hours ago and I'm still trying to form words.

But I can say that he was everything I ever dreamed and hoped he was when I met him over 25 years ago. He was an unfailingly kind and thoughtful friend, a boon companion, and a magnificent and path-breaking game designer whose 33-year-old masterpiece King Arthur Pendragon remains well in advance of the state of the art. He defined the Charisma stat in person, and the Intelligence and Power stats in conversation and creation.

I have so many fond memories of him, from first cracking open Call of Cthulhu, to getting an email from GREG STAFFORD HIS OWN SELF asking what book I wanted to write for his company, to having him run Pendragon for me one night, to getting my author's copy of the Prince Valiant RPG Episode Book two days ago -- and those are just the gaming-direct memories.

There's also the late-night riffing on the movie Anaconda when we shared a room at some con or other, the walking tour of the Haight peppered with hilariously cruel jokes about the Grateful Dead, the long-form talks about myth and gods and monsters, and the unique delight of introducing Greg to a new drug called Stilton cheese. Dozens of kindnesses, personal and professional; they seemed to grow from him naturally, like leaves off the Green Knight.

Greg was a personal hero of mine, as well as a culture-hero to my people. He showed me his rune, and I've been trying to master it for decades.

Yep, I was right, I can't describe what Greg's departure means to me. This will have to do. Ave atque vale, Greg, rex quondam et rex futurus ludorum.

Thursday, October 11th, 2018
3:40 am
CIFF Meets the Phantom of the Park
Once more it's time for the Chicago International Film Festival, so once more it must be time for me to lay out my schedule as I know it. As usual, all films show at the AMC River East 21. Sadly, the sole South Korean film on offer (tch-tch) plays only against my Orson Welles mini-Fest, so I shall have to check out Clean Up on some other screen somewhere.


6:00: Transit (Germany/France, Christian Petzold) A man fleeing occupied France meets a woman searching for her dead husband -- whose identity he has assumed. Surreal thriller described as "Kafka's Casablanca."

8:15: Animal (Argentina/Spain, Armando Bo) A man in need of a kidney transplant falls under the power of a conniving couple. Dark comic thriller directed by the screenwriter of Birdman.


8:15: The Mercy of the Jungle (Belgium/France/Rwanda, Joël Karakezi) Two soldiers have to make it home across inhospitable jungle during the Second Congo War.

10:30: Liverleaf (Japan, Eisuke Naitô) Schoolgirl meets bullies, schoolgirl gets supernatural powers, carnage ensues.


12:30: Sibel (EU/Turkey, Çağla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti) Modern folktale pits a whistling girl against a wolf.

2:15: Boys Cry (Italy, Damiano and Fabio D'Innocenzo) Two street kids accidentally kill a pedestrian in a hit-and-run, earning them a place in the Mafia. Crime film and coming-of-age movie duke it out in a battle of genres.

4:30: Border (Sweden, Ali Abbasi) Customs officer whose ability to smell fear and shame makes her a standout at her job feels a powerful attraction for a traveler whose Neanderthal-like features resemble her own. Received a coveted robin_d_laws Recommendation!

8:15: Ash is Purest White (China, Jia Zhangke) Released from prison, a gun moll in the Jianghu underworld discovers her boss/lover and gang have moved on in the five years she was away. Gunplay ensues!


12:00: Friedkin Uncut (Italy, Francesco Zippel) A documentary on the films of Chicago's own William Friedkin from The French Connection to Killer Joe.

2:30: Jumpman (Russia/Ireland/Lithuania/France, Ivan I. Tverdovsky) A boy born without the ability to feel pain becomes -- an insurance fraud, because Russia. Russian films always sound so cool and then very not always are, but we always come back. Lithuania tho.

5:45: Happy as Lazzaro (Italy/Switzerland/France/Germany, Alice Rohrwacher) An outcast man who can time travel can hopefully also travel out of realism and into magic realism.


6:00: Duelles (Belgium/France, Olivier Masset-Depasse) Two identical bourgeois neighbor housewives succumb to paranoia. Belgians love making Hitchcock movies, so let's hope this one is one of the good ones.

8:30: The Stolen Caravaggio (Italy, Roberto Andó) Screenwriter receives a screenplay plot full of intrigue and, one suspects, finds herself living it. Andó directed The Confessions, which we liked in 2016.


6:15: The Belly of the Whale (Ireland, Morgan Bushe) Two teenage hooligans decide to rob a casino and you had me at "rob a casino."


12:30: Ex-Shaman (Brazil, Luiz Bolognesi) Former shaman of a now-Christian village must take up the rattle once more to fight evil spirits.

3:00: Naples in Veils (Italy, Ferzan Ozpetek) A medical examiner wakes up to find that her one-night-stand is dead, and she must explore the darkness of Naples to clear her name. I admit it, I'm just a sucker for movies set in Naples, but you know that sounds pretty good.

5:30: Dogman (Italy/France, Matteo Garrone) Dog groomer pulled into criminality bites back! From the director of the excellent Gomorrah.

8:15: X--The eXploited (Hungary, Károly Ujj Mészáros) Detective battles anxiety and the Communist past to unravel a murder mystery. Hungary usually punches way above its weight, but it has stubbed its toe a couple of times recently.


2:30: They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (US, Morgan Neville) Documentary about the last 15 years of Orson Welles' life from the maker of 20 Feet From Stardom.

5:45: The Trouble with You (France, Pierre Salvadori) Policewoman learns that her husband was actually a crooked cop; she tries to right his wrongs in this "screwball caper comedy" set in the Riviera which I mean really icing on top of icing here.

11:00: Overlord (US, Julius Avery) Heroic US soldiers killing some Nazi werewolves or zombies or werezombies or wolfensteins or something.


2:30: The Other Side of the Wind (US, Orson Welles, 1976 & 2018) John Huston plays an aging, legendary director blocked at every turn in his attempt to make his final masterpiece. Not so much art imitating life as art diarizing life, this famously unfinished film finally got finished (by Peter Bogdanovich and Frank Marshall, I think) thanks to the deep pockets of Netflix, where you can all see it two weeks after I do. This should definitively break our long-running pattern of the last film of the Fest not always being very good.
Thursday, October 4th, 2018
1:53 pm
HPL + PDX + FF = F U N
What ho! Once more I shriekingly adorn the tentacular spectacular that is the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in scenic (and so far sunny) Portland, Oregon. And once more, my schedule has materialized from out of the ultraviolet in this hideous Form:

THURSDAY October 4

7:00pm-10:00pm: VIP Reception for Kickstarter backers [Tony Starlight's Showroom]

SATURDAY October 6

10:00am - Noon: Carb-load for Cthulhu
Just you, dozens of Voodoo donuts, bagels, and coffee, and some of this Cosmos's most renowned Weird fiction authors signing books and taking names. Provisions are limited, so get there early and enjoy your blasphemous treats while rediscovering the ancient art form of tree pulp inscribed with the ink of sea creatures! [EOD Center]

9:00pm - 10:00pm: Of Vampires and Space Rocks
A look at films with Cosmic Horror themes, from early Universal to more modern, that audiences might have missed. Chris McMilan (moderator), Derek M. Koch, Dominique Lamssies, Ken Hite, Ray Garton [EOD Center]

10:00pm - 11:00pm: Lovecraft Squares!
A trivia Game-show style event! Guests answer trivia questions and the Audience guesses if they’re right or wrong. Test your knowledge of HPL Trivia and see if you can catch the truths and spot the fibs! Sean Branney, Adam Scott Glancy, Lee Moyer, Richard Stanley, Cody Goodfellow, Kenneth Hite, John Skipp, Andrew Leman, Andrew Migliore [EOD Center]

SUNDAY October 7

3:00pm - 4:00pm: Carcosa Before Chambers: Non-Lovecraftian Forays Into the Weird
Who were Lovecraft and Chambers reading when they were coming up as authors themselves? Edward Morris (moderator), Nathan Carson, Mike Griffin, Ken Hite, Dominique Lamssies, Joe Pulver by Skype! [EOD Center]

4:00pm - 5:00pm: H.P. Lovecraft's Rod Serling's Night Gallery
Rod Serling's Night Gallery anthology series was known for its stories of the macabre and supernatural. It was a perfect fit for adapting some of H. P. Lovecraft's stories to the small screen. Here, we present "Cool Air" and "Pickman's Model" in all their 1971, 4:3 picture ratio glory! Introduction by Kenneth Hite [Upper Left Theater]
Friday, August 24th, 2018
10:51 pm
On and On to DragonCon
Once more the good people of DragonCon have seen fit to make me an ornament of their program, and if you can spare any time from shouldering your way through the humidified masses perhaps I shall be an ornament of yours as well. This year, the beloved Ken and Monte Show adds a second session! Also, as of this writing, THREE of my panels look to be solo affairs, although I suspect ringers, backups, and reinforcements shall be provided come the day.

As always, nobody tells me (and nor should they) whether any of these panels shall be recorded, streamed, beamed, or choreographed in the terpsichorean language of the bees.

Friday, August 31

Title: The Elder Gods
Time: Fri 01:00 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: How does one portray a supreme, malevolent being in the context of a roleplaying game? If player cannot hope to defeat or fathom such a being, is there a point to the game? Find out here in this panel! [Kenneth Hite, Monte Cook]

Saturday, September 1

Title: Cults, Conspiracies, & Other Craziness!
Time: Sat 11:30 am Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: Find out about the crazy, the weird...& all of the things your history teacher didn't talk about! With our two published authors who are experts on all things occult, mystical, cult-y, & conspiratorial! [Monte Cook, Kenneth Hite]

Title: Roll for Madness!
Time: Sat 05:30 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: An Elder Gods-themed panel! How does madness work in a game? How do you roleplay insanity or mental disorders? How can we use this to enhance our understanding of roleplaying? Join our award-winning game designers to find out! [Kenneth Hite]

Title: Horror in Gaming
Time: Sat 07:00 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: An Elder Gods-themed panel! Find out about how to scare players, what makes a horror game tick, & the great secrets of the dark. From some of the masters of horror gaming! [Kenneth Hite]

Sunday, September 2

Title: Help! My Game Is on Fire!
Time: Sun 11:30 am Location: Augusta 3 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: Talk to industry experts Car Talk-style about the problems in your game! Obnoxious player? No place to play? Is the party too powerful? Bring your questions to the experts! [Jason Bulmahn, Monte Cook, Kenneth Hite]

Title: Kill, Stab, Squash! Character Death in the Campaign!
Time: Sun 01:00 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: An Elder Gods-themed panel! We talk about character death in the campaign. How do different people handle it? How often should it be present in a campaign? Is there such a thing as a game that is too lethal--or one that is not lethal enough? [Jason Bulmahn, Kenneth Hite, Keith Baker]

Title: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th edition
Time: Sun 02:30 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: Talk with the game's lead designer about the resurrection of the game that started a revolution. The Masquerade is back! [Kenneth Hite]

Title: The Investigative Game
Time: Sun 05:30 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: An Elder Gods-themed panel! How do you set up a mystery? How do you create clues for players to follow? What about investigative characters? Can investigative games exist in a magical universe like in D&D? Find out! [Keith Baker, Kenneth Hite]
Tuesday, July 24th, 2018
7:06 am
GenCon at the End of the Tunnel
Some delightful scamp has moved GenCon up by a week or two again, oh hilarity! The good news is that leaves my schedule for the Noir City Chicago Film Fest free and clear this year. The bad news is that it leaves me just a weensy bit slammed, explaining the late nature of this, my annual Ken's GenCon Schedule Post.

As always, nobody in their right mind tells me if anything at all ever is being recorded, streamed, or laboriously chiseled into cuneiform for the delectation of Innanna. Except my podcast, I'm pretty sure Robin's recording that one. So herewith, said Schedule Post!


9:00 p.m.-??: Diana Jones Awards Party
Be there to see storied game-design luminaries act remarkably like regular old drunks! [Undisclosed Location]


1:00-2:00 p.m.: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff LIVE!
Robin D. Laws & Kenneth Hite talk roleplaying, history, conspiracy, occultism, writing, food, movies & whatever you ask them about in this live edition of their award-winning podcast. [Lucas Oil : Mtg Rm 5]

4:00-5:00 p.m.: Investigative Roleplaying MasterClass
Mystery scenario masters Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws train their magnifying glasses on clue-gathering adventures to reveal the unlikely suspects behind your tabletop woes. [Lucas Oil : Mtg Rm 5]

6:00-7:00 p.m.: Introducing Vampire: the Masquerade 5th Edition
The Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition development team hosts a panel discussion on meta-plot & game design of Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition. [Lucas Oil : Mtg Rm 3]

7:00-8:00 p.m.: ENnie Awards Pre-Show
Drinking and my beloved fellow nominees, what could be better? [Union Station]

8:00-10:00? p.m.: ENnie Awards Ceremony
I'd like to thank all of you for voting for Delta Green: the Role-Playing Game. Ideally, I shall do so from on stage, while holding one to three ENnies. [Union Station]


2:00-3:00 p.m.: 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 UK publisher's been up to this year, & what they've planned for the coming year. [Lucas Oil : Mtg Rm 5]

7:00-8:00 p.m.: Delta Green: Inside the Conspiracy
The authors of the award-winning Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game talk about playing & running cosmic horror & conspiracies. Learn what's coming up & ask questions of your own. [Lucas Oil : Mtg Rm 2]

Apart from those brilliant moments in time, if you seek me, seek me out at the old familiar Pelgrane Press stand, located at Booth #1317, or in a bar. I'm always happy to sign books or say "Hi" or just nod briskly as we pass each other in a ginormous crowd of people on their way to play elf games.
Thursday, July 12th, 2018
11:22 pm
Area Man Up For Three or One-Half ENnie Awards
It's ENnie Awards voting time again, oh joy oh joy! Once more, I'm in the running, albeit with a few decorous fractional nominations: one-sixth of an ENnie each for Best Game (Delta Green: The RPG), Best Rules (same, really mostly Greg Stolze and Shane Ivey but I'll take my sixth of an ENnie anyway), and Product of the Year (again, that product is Delta Green: The RPG). So please do vote Delta Green: The RPG those coveted '1's across the board.

Robin and I have finally been overturned by a judicial coup d'etat so no Best Podcast nomination to crow over, but Robin is still very much in it for Cthulhu Confidential (a well-deserved Best Rules nod).

Other matters: I also commend to your attention #feminism, which despite being in the wrong category (it's an anthology of RPGs and should be in Best Game) and from 2016 so ineligible to boot should get a similarly devil-may-care nod for Best RPG Related Product.

Actually in the right category and year and also deserving of your various votes is Harlem Unbound (Best Setting, Best Writing, Product of the Year) by Chris Spivey. And also now that I think of it I'm a Guide (Best Family Game) by Shanna Germain who is also up for Uh-Oh Monsters (Best Monster/Adversary) and Predation (Best Setting).

The Best Cover Art is so clearly Brennen Reece's Harlem Unbound cover that I surely didn't have to tell you that. Likewise Zak Sabbath for Best Interior Art for Frostbitten and Mutilated.

So go vote for me and (to an only slightly lesser extent) for all these other great folks!

Monday, May 28th, 2018
7:17 am
In Memoriam
Robert Munroe (Ensign, Lexington militia, KIA 19 April 1775, Lexington Green)
Jonathan J. Dunbar (MSG, SOCOM, KIA 30 Apr 2018, Manbij, Aleppo Province, Syria)

And all 559,193 in between.
Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018
8:39 am
Chupa Dupa Doo!
And with that utterance I welcome both badly-animated Saturday morning memories and all y'all central-ish Texans to this post, and to join me at ChupacabraCon 2018, in beeyootiful Austin, Texas (technically near beeyootiful Austin and in perfectly presentable Round Rock) this very weekend, May 4-6!

As always with shows and cryptids and cryptid-named shows perhaps especially, my schedule as I understand it may be subject to even wilder diversions from the expected than, er, expected. But that said, here is where I will be when, then.


9am-10am: Cthulhu & Donuts Breakfast Special
Kenneth Hite, Mark Carroll
Come have donut breakfast with Ken Hite and friends! Drink coffee! Ask anything about everyone's favorite mashup genre. Have a donut! Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! [Bastrop]

11am-Noon: Dark Campaigning: Beyond the TPK Horror One Shot
Kenneth Hite, Mark Carroll
Well, I've killed all the players again with multitentacular eldritch entities. Now what? [Bastrop]

So if you like me, donuts, tentacles, or Mark Carroll, be sure to block out Saturday morning in the Bastrop Room, I guess. Hope to see you all there, then!
Monday, February 5th, 2018
4:21 pm
J. W. DunDraCon: An Experiment With Time
Because what else, really, is a convention schedule except an experiment with time? So dream deep of seeing me in the semi-sunny climes of San Ramon California on the President's Day Weekend, specifically February 16-19, even more specifically at DunDraCon.

Saturday, February 17

City Building
2:00-3:00 PM in Tri Valley 2
Presenters: Michael Blum, Kenneth Hite, Anders Swenson

The long-running seminar about the nuts and bolts of creating and using cities in RPGs. This year we’ll discuss how cities physically divide social and cultural groups with ghettos, forbidden zones, caravanserais, tax or legal havens, and develop a few examples on our whiteboard.

Alternate Histories
6:00-7:30 PM in Salon C
Presenters: Kenneth 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.

Sunday, February 18

What's Cool
10:00-11:00 AM in Tri Valley 2
Presenters: Bruce Harlick, Kenneth Hite

2 icons of the gaming industry present their unique viewpoints on the best in current game products, straight from the dealer room.

Pericles Demo Game
1:30-3:30 PM in Salon C
Presenters: Chris Klug, Kenneth Hite, Bruce Harlick, and Dana Lombardy

During last year’s “Best games of 2016” Seminar, led by Ken Hite and Chris Klug, Ken made reference to how, in his mind, there existed a point in the history of war games where they became relevant again. That point was when the use of card play, in various forms, joined the arsenal of tools used by war-game designers. Exemplified at first by Mark Herman’s We the People, these games added new life, “juice,” and playability to the old counters-and-maps style war-games. Chris, it turned out, had worked for years with Mark Herman at Victory Games, and knew the history of these games and was a big fan of them as well. Thus was born this seminar’s idea.

This seminar will present a live “think aloud” four-player version of a Mark Herman game played by four game designers who will talk while they play. Hopefully their insights into what makes these kinds of games tick, why they are a heady mix of war-game and card game, yielding something new, will be discussed between the four designers live with an attentive audience.
Wednesday, October 25th, 2017
1:22 am
Well that was the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival, all sixteen films of it. We probably would have done six more if I hadn't hared off to New York one weekend, and I am going to have to try extra hard to catch Before We Vanish, Pre-Crime, Offenders, and In the Shadows especially as they crop up on the various streamables.

That said, this fest had no dogs in it for us, although there wasn't a Pinnacle-level triumph either. But an average of "Good" is still pretty great. Kudos to the fest for programming heavily in neo-noir and films about architecture, both of which piqued my interest nicely. Extra props not only to cinematic boon companion his_regard but to young Colin who caught most of them with us.


Blade of the Immortal (Japan, Takashi Miike) Unkillable samurai Manji battles the weapon masters of the antinomian Itto-ryu fencing school (and hordes of mooks) in one of the best superhero films I’ve seen since Winter Soldier. Bloody carnage, moral nuance, chambara action, nods to Leone, and did I mention bloody carnage build to a magnificent elegy for the age of heroes. Miike continues his art’s laudable climb out of nihilism in this, his 100th film.

November (Film, Estonia/Netherlands/Poland, Rainer Sarnet, 2017) Teen peasant girl (and werewolf) Liina loves teen peasant boy Hans who loves the newly arrived German baroness. Set in a world infused with Estonian folk belief, from the Devil and the personified plague on down to love potions, and lensed in amazing black and white by Mart Taniel, this film evokes actual fairy tales better than almost anything I’ve ever seen.

Thoroughbreds (US, Cory Finley) Teenage Connecticut rich girls Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) find friendship in sociopathy and plot the murder of Lily’s odious stepfather. Finley’s playwriting experience pays off in a taut script perfectly played by his two leads and Anton Yelchin as a lower-class drug dealer whose moral compass maybe hasn’t corroded completely.

The Merciless (South Korea, Byun Sung-hyun) Undercover cop infiltrates a smuggling ring in Busan, but this being an Asian film, finds himself ever-closer friends with his gangster target. Tiny script wobble in the last act can’t erase the control and ease of the direction, or the power of the acting.

The Experimental City (US, Chad Friedrichs) Zippily edited and filmed in a period-TV filter and palette, this documentary tells the story of a progressive technocratic dream of a domed city in Minnesota, and the local protests that stopped it in 1973. Makes excellent and ample use of archival recordings and footage of other Modernist urban mirages to illuminate and even celebrate its quixotic subject.

Faces/Places (France, Agnes Varda and J.R.) Famed director Varda and hipster poster artist J.R. team up and hit the road to capture and depict the stories of ordinary French people. Sweet and nice as French pastry, and nourishing as French bread, this celebration of la joie de vie makes a virtue of its fabrication, much as do the artists involved.

Chasing the Blues (Chicago, Scott Smith) Record collector (Grant Rosenmeyer) resumes his quest for a legendary blues album the instant he gets out of prison. Likeable shaggy dog comedy gets good value from brief appearances by Jon Lovitz and Steve Guttenberg, but it’s really a fun excuse to make up a blues legend and riff on it.


Sicilian Ghost Story (France/Italy/Switzerland, Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza) Middle-school girl Luna becomes increasingly obsessed, suffering nightmares and waking dreams after her true love Giuseppe is abducted by the Mafia. Based on a real 1993 kidnap-murder, the directors cast Sicilian unknowns as the children to quite frankly amazing effect. The dream, fairy tale, and mythic elements don’t quite blend with the crime and love stories, which is the only reason this ambitious film (barely) misses the Recommended mark.

Have a Nice Day (China, Jian Liu) When driver Xiao impulsively steals a bag with a million yuan at knife-point from a courier for “Uncle Liu” it sets off an early-Tarantino-ish tour through the grifters and criminals and weirdos connected to Xiao, Liu, or the bag. Animated in strong line and color against detailed unmoving backgrounds depicting a grottily anonymous Chinese city, and scored with (not enough) pop music, it’s its own beast even if that beast is a shaggy dog.

Reconciliation (Poland, Maciej Sobieszczański) In 1945, Silesian farm boy Franek becomes a guard at a Communist labor camp to rescue an inmate: Anna, the Polish girl he loves. Her lover Erwin, a German, is also interned in the camp, and the tragic drama builds inevitably from there. A little slow and a lot brutal, the film distances itself from the characters in the interest of universality, but at the expense of involvement.

The Line (Slovakia/Ukraine/Czech Rep, Peter Bebjak) Slovakian cigarette smuggler Adam faces family pressures from mom, wife, and daughter, and professional pressures from his Ukrainian mafiya supplier to run drugs. A fine crime story, especially for Dracula Dossier GMs looking for more on the Count’s Slovakian smuggler minions, but nothing except the setting particularly stands out.


Gemini (US, Aaron Katz) Personal assistant (Lola Kirke) to a movie star (Zoë Kravitz) becomes a suspect in her murder. I was all set to love this stylized, prefab tour through the “Hollywood crime story” trope box until it just ran out of road with a terminal anticlimax. Kirke is super, though, so keep her on your radar for when she hopefully gets a script with a fourth act.

Control (Belgium, Jan Verheyen) Belgian police detectives Vincke and Verstuyft (reason and emotion, respectively) hunt a serial killer in Antwerp but their partnership founders when Verstuyft sleeps with a near-victim and possible material witness. Plays like a two-hour television episode from a well-shot procedural TV show; since it’s the third in a series of films, it essentially is.

Tokyo Vampire Hotel (Japan, Sion Sono) If Sono had made this as a standalone film rather than recutting 2 hours and 22 minutes from his Amazon Japan miniseries, it would likely rank much higher. Sono’s trademark combination of stunningly beautiful images and hyperviolence adds two feuding clans of vampires, but his wild inventiveness seems more like flailing at TV sprawl lengths.

Budapest Noir (Hungary, Éva Gárdos) High gloss and low budget can work but don’t here: the overlighting minimizes menace and the empty streets remove realism from this toothless tale of a reporter in 1936 Budapest investigating a murdered prostitute. (Glimpses of Budapest’s hidden self are sparse but welcome.) But our protagonist has no skin in the game, no wounded nature, and no iconic code: being a jerk is not actually a tragic flaw.

Mon Mon Mon Monsters (Taiwan, Giddens Ko) Teen bullies and their sullen target capture a c.h.u.d. and slowly weaponize it between bouts of torture — while its sister searches for her lost sibling. Gets points for a good monster and a properly decrepit mise en scene, but I remain of the opinion that having a completely unsympathetic protagonist is usually a mistake.
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