Thanksgiving is a time for family, for turkey, and for... bad movies?  It turns out that once upon a time, Thanksgiving was also a time to enjoy a lot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 -- and that link is brought back in Mystery Science Theater 3000 XXXI: The Turkey Day Collection.

This collection is in some ways like the other MST3K collections (although this time, in a tin).  There are four MST3K epsiodes -- the racist Jungle Goddess, the Lassie movie The Painted Hills, the plastic bones-filled The Screaming Skull, and the worm-filled horror movie Squirm -- with two hosted by Joel Hodgson and two by Mike Nelson.  There are a number of extras, such as shorts for each episode that match their main feature for awfulness, the making of The Screaming Skull, and an interview with Squirm star Don Scardino.  Joel supplies introductions for each episode -- and the episodes are, as always, incredibly funny and Joel or Mike, Crow, and Servo sit through and mercilessly mock these movies that deserve their mockery.

Oh, and then there's Turkey Day.  Back in the 1990s, Comedy Central sometimes held day-long marathons of MST3K on Thanksgiving.  There's a brief documentary ("Overcooked and Understuffed") about making those marathons.  Even better: The Turkey Day Collection also features every sketch and promo done for the three Turkey Day marathons!  This offers such amazing and cheap items as characters from MST3K movies showing up to Dr. Forrester's castle for Thanksgiving dinner, Crow offering different "turkey fact #12," and for every turkey of a movie shown, TV's Frank would eat an entire turkey (off the turkey abacus, naturally).  These are both nice nostalgia who saw the series before it moved to the then-SciFi Channel, and something new who didn't know this element of Thanksgiving!  (The marathon is also returning this year, as six episodes will be streamed online for Thanksgiving.)

Four funny MST3K episodes and all the old Turkey Day spots -- what more could anyone want?  Well I'd like a drumstick -- but I'm glad I have Mystery Science Theater 3000 XXXI: The Turkey Day Collection.  

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch


LORD OF THE FRIES Superdeluxe Edition

There are a lot of different ideas about what zombies can and can't do, but Cheapass Games may have been the first to envision zombies working at fast food places.  Lord of the Fries: Superdeluxe Edition is the fourth edition of the card game where 2-8 players are zombies working to assemble food orders off of menus.

First, players choose a menu for everyone.  This new version has card decks for the menus for Friedey's ("The Fast Food Restaurant of the Damned") and McFrye's ("Just Desserts and Coffee"); these decks can be combined for the third menu, Ren-Fare ("The Food Court at Yon Medieval Faire").  Players are then dealt cards based on the number of players, and the game begins.

Each game consists of several rounds, over four "days."  One player starts as the leader and either picks an order from the menu or rolls two dice to get an order at random.  The player to the leader's left can try and fill the order by playing the cards that make up the order.   If the player fills the order, they score the points for the order, put the cards used in a "points" pile, and becomes the new leader.  If they can't, the pass a card to the leader (if the leader rolled) or to their left (if the leader chose), and the player to their left then tries to fill the order.  If the order goes around the table and no one can fill the order, everyone tries to fill the order, with one less item of their choice; another item is subtracted each time an order goes all the way around the players unfulfilled.

The day ends when a player runs out of card, either by filling an order or passing a card.  Then everyone scores points for the orders they filled and loses points for all the cards still in their hand.  The next day starts (with the same or a different menu), and after four days whoever has the most points from the four days wins!

Lord of the Fries is simple, enjoyable fun.  The strategy is pretty straightforward: Pick orders early in the game (so players pass you cards you can hopefully use) and roll for orders later (so you're not stuck with cards that subtract from your points).  The artwork makes the zombies both goofy and befuddled in their tasks, and with menu items like Chickacheezabunga, "Rat" on a Stick, and Hippy Hippy Shake, players will enjoy calling out the various orders.

If there's one problem with the game, it's the changes before the current and previous edition.  The Superdeluxe Edition has one copy of the three menus, while the third edition had eight different menus, with four copies of each one.  Several of these third edition menus are available as expansions (which I'll review later), but that gives the Superdeluxe Edition less variety than its predecessor.

Lord of the Fries: Superdeluxe Edition remains a pretty fun game, excellent for new- or non-gamers and enjoyable for experienced players.  While the fewer menus are a little disappointing, the new art, cards, and menus are quite nice and I'm glad to see that, thanks to Kickstarter, this game remains in print.  Lord of the Fries: Superdeluxe Edition shows that it can be fun to be a rotting zombie -- or a fast food worker.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


It wasn't that long ago when  newspapers were people's main source for information, and they focused on news rather than entertainment or ratings.  Spotlight is a drama (disturbingly based on a true story) that shows that period in journalism -- and one of America's biggest scandals.

In early 2000, the Boston Globe newspaper is facing declining subscribers, increased pressure from the Internet, and a new owner: Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who's seen as an outsider because he's coming from Miami and has never lived in Boston -- plus he's Jewish in a largely Roman Catholic town.

The newspaper's "spotlight" team -- reporters and editors who focus solely and covertly on one story to uncover everything they can -- is made up of Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), "Robby" Robertson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carol (Brian D'arcy James).  They had been working on crime rates in Boston, when Marty gives them a new assignment: look into the story of a priest convicted of molesting children.
 This assignment quickly balloons, as the reporters find evidence of priests being transferred around rather than removed or arrested, the possibility that Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) knew and covered up the crimes, and that the number of priests who molested children grows from four to thirteen to dozens.  Victims of abuse share their stories, and attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) represents victims while aware of the uphill battle he faces.  There's also immense pressure to sweep the scandal under the rug, as politicians, priests, and the religious public try to shift attention and evidence away from the scandal.  But the reporters keep digging...
Spotlight is a very effective movie, in the style of All the President's Men.  Instead of explosions and chases, we see reporters chasing down leads and persuading people to talk about what they'd rather keep hidden or to themselves.  The cast is excellent, the story goes at a smooth and direct pace, and the movie makes you believe in the power and dedication of the press.

The scariest part of the movie comes at the end, when we see how widespread the Roman Catholic church's pedophilia scandal was.  Spotlight shows how some dedicated people worked and fought to reveal the scandal -- and it makes for a powerful movie.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


Kylie Minogue, KYLIE CHRISTMAS (deluxe)

Christmas albums give singers and performers a chance to put their own spin on classic holiday songs -- and to hopefully make some seasonal album sales.  Kylie Minogue has largely focused on pop music with a strong disco influence -- but when she performed The Abbey Road Sessions, she showcased her vocal skills.  Kylie Christmas (deluxe) covers a wide range of styles.

Kylie Christmas has 16 songs (and the deluxe version has a dvd with video of the studio recordings of the songs).  The songs are all secular holiday songs (I'm not sure if "Only You" from Yaz counts, but it's here as well); most are traditional tunes, some are relatively more recent ("1000 Miles," "Christmas Wrapping"), and a few are written by Kylie herself.  (The latter tunes tend to have a sexual overtone, while the rest are more romantic.)  There are also guest vocals from Iggy Pop, James Corden, Kylie's sister Danni, and (through technological necromancy) Frank Sinatra.
The song styles are quite and nicely varied.  While there are plenty of traditional arrangements of the classics, there are also songs that could have come out of the swinging '60s, some with Kylie's usual disco influence, several with a risque feel (can anyone hear "Santa Baby"and not think of Marilyn Monroe?), and several with a standard pop feel.

While not everything works (especially Iggy Pop's spoken vocals on "Christmas Wrapping") and the dvd doesn't add anything to the songs, Kylie Christmas is an enjoyable holiday album.  Kylie Minogue's singing is in fine form here, fitting nicely into songs everyone knows by heart, quieter romantic ballads, or slightly risque tunes.  Kylie Christmas doesn't redefine what makes a great Christmas song, but it's an album that is equally fine for playing at a Christmas party or driving around during the holidays.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Men can be wayward dogs.  That's hardly anything new, but it's the basis for The Seven Year Itch, a play-turned-film that helped cement Marilyn Monroe's cinematic reputation.

It's a sweltering summer in Manhattan, and publisher Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) has just sent his wife and kid up to Maine to escape the heat, while he stays behind to work.  His wife Helen (Evelyn Keyes) reminds him that the doctors said to smoke and drink less, so he decides to focus on work, and to live healthy in his apartment.  In a conversation with an imaginary Helen, Richard vividly pictures numerous women throwing themselves at him -- as proof that he's faithful and trustworthy.

Things go south for Richard when the Girl (Marilyn Monroe) moves in upstairs for the summer.  She wears beautiful dresses and casually mentions sexual images without any guilt or thought.  ("When it gets hot like this, you know what I do?  I keep my undies in the icebox.")  It's not long before Richard is back to smoking, drinking, and picturing everything from the Girl after him, to her revealing his amorous advances on national television ("He made me play chopsticks!"), to picturing Helen having an affair in Maine.  The Girl, meanwhile, keeps showing up to enjoy Richard's air conditioning.
 The Seven Year Itch is pretty straightforward and decently amusing.  While the movie truly feels like the play adaption that it is, director Billy Wilder balances Tom Ewell's increasingly frantic thoughts and actions with Marilyn Monroe's casual delivery.  There are several running gags -- Richard needing to send a kayak paddle up to his son, the Girl sharing a snack of champagne and potato chips -- and while the movie doesn't shed new light on temptation or fidelity, it does supply a good number of laughs.  (The famed shot of Marilyn Monroe's dress blown upwards by her standing on a subway grate is here, albeit with several camera cuts.)  This movie shows how and why Marilyn Monroe was seen as both a sex symbol and the girl next door -- and if The Seven Year Itch isn't hilarious, it is amusing.  (DVD extras include promotional materials from when the movie was first released.)
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



If rock and roll has a rebellious attraction for the young, punk rock has an even edgier, more destructive appeal.  But what happens when the young punk rockers reach middle age and/or start having kids and raising families?  The Other F Word, a documentary by Andrea Blaugrund, explores what happens when the counterculture meets the traditional life -- and a lot more.

The Other F Word consists of interviews with current and former American punk rock band members (plus Tony Hawk) who are now raising little kids and/or teenagers.  The most time is given to Jim Lindberg, lead singer of Pennywise, who wants to be a family man while his international tour stretches from days to weeks to months.  Lots of band members, from Black Flag to Rise Against, Everclear and Blind-182, discuss the challenges and joys that come when fatherhood meets punk.

Instead of just cute family families, this documentary explores the background and changes in the punk world.  There's a brief history (and appeal) of the punk scene in L.A. in the 1970s.  We learn about the financial challenges as music shifts from cds and stores to online dowloads and free music on websites.  In addition to the joy of anarchy many band people love, there's the acknowledgment of the dangers and high mortality of the lifestyle.  And plenty recognize and struggle with avoiding being absent parents like their dads -- while going on long, grueling tours to provide for their family.
I was impressed with the wide range of The Other F Word.  Instead of focusing on kids and dads with massive amounts of tattoos, this documentary really gives a good look what it's like when the (literal) young punks grow up and have to be responsible members of society.  There's humor (as when one band member's tour kit includes hair dye, hand sanitizer, and antacid), sadness, fun, energy, and a nice inside look at the counter-culture folks becoming the mainstream.  I only like some punk music, but I was pretty impressed with The Other F Word.  (DVD extras include commentaries, plus some acoustic versions of the songs in the movie.)

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Most fans of slasher movies know all the familiar plot points, keys to survival, and pretty much exactly what to expect.  But what would happen if they were suddenly inside a slasher movie?  This is the premise of The Final Girls, a meta horror comedy about being stuck inside a fan favorite horror flick.

Max (Taissa Farmiga) is the teenage daughter of Amanda (Malin Akerman), a struggling actress whose claim to fame was the small role of Nancy in the 1986 "classic" slasher Camp Bloodbath. about th virtually unstoppable masked killer Billy Murphy.  Three years after Amanda's death, Max is still dealing with her mother's loss.

Max is recruited to be a guest of honor at a special screening of Camp Bloodbath by Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), a movie geek who loves this movie.  Max is accompanied by Duncan, her friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), her potential love interest Chris (Alexander Ludwig), and Chris's bitchy girlfriend Vicki (Nina Dobrev).  When the theater catches fire in the middle of the screening, Max cuts a hole in the movie screen, and the five friends escape...
...into the movie Camp Bloodbath itself.   Max is thrilled to see her mother again, even if it's just a fictional character who's supposed to die early in the movie.  Duncan says the five of them are safe since they weren't part of the original movie, and they just have to stay by Paula (Chloe Bridges) -- the final girl to survive the movie -- to make it to the end and escape the movie.  Unfortunately for the five friends, it quickly becomes apparent that they can be killed, and that their presence has changed the course of events in the formerly predictable movie.  Who will be the "final girl" that survives to the movie's end?  Will a series of traps stop Billy Murphy?  How will their knowledge of slasher movie cliches help?  Can Max save Nancy and bring the character back to the real world?  And what happens when the movie ends?

I really wish The Final Girls had been better.   The movie plays a bit with what would happen if real people were in a fictional movie (they hear voiceovers and the soundtrack, and go through a trippy experience whenever a flashback happens), as well as the rules of such movies.  (To keep one female camper from stripping and getting killed, the strap her in a life jacket and duct tape fingerless gloves on her.)  But while the skewering of slasher cliches are clever, they're not always funny -- and neither are the actors.  (The exception is Adam DeVine, who plays the dumb jock for whom everything is sexual innuendo with relentless gusto.)  The Final Girls went straight to dvd (and there are no bonus materials, unless you count the trailers) and it's not hard to see why: While this movie certainly knows what to laugh at in '80s horror movies, it doesn't always use that knowledge to create laughs.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch



With so much entertainment revolving around a zombie outbreak, how useful would the skills learned in the Boy Scouts be in surviving and saving others?  This might have made for a good movie, but it's, surprisingly, barely touched on in Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.

High school sophomores Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller), and Augie (Joey Morgan) are best friends and apparently the only Scouts (a thinly-veiled version of the Boy Scouts) in their school.  Augie is a pudgy nerd who takes the Scouts seriously and is about to be made a Condor by Scout Leader Rogers (David Koechner) during an overnight camping trip.  Carter wants to ditch the Scouts and get laid -- starting with ditching Augie during the camping trip and going to the senior secret party.  Ben is the level-headed one of the trio, trying to keep the peace with both of them; he also has a crush on Carter's sister Kendall (Halston Sage), a senior with a jerk of a boyfriend.
In the midst of this teen drama, a zombie outbreak happens, first in a lab, then the woods, and soon the whole town is abandoned.  After an argument, the friends split up.  Ben and Carter sneak into a strip club, where the zombie attack but are thwarted by Denise (Sarah Dumont), a stripper -- I mean "cocktail waitress" -- who's a badass with a heart of gold.  Augie heads into town, where he's attacked by zombie Scout Leader Rogers.  Soon the stars are fighting zombies, plus trying to find the secret party so Ben can save Kendall (and presumably everyone else) before the military bombs the town.  And of course the teens will work out their issues with each other along the way.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is a hybrid of teen comedy and horror -- and it fails miserably at both.  The "humor" consists mainly of cursing, zombies doing silly things (pole dancing, bouncing on a trampoline), and gross-out gags involving zombie kills and body parts.  As for horror, the zombies are inconsistent (shambling or running, doing acts from their former life or lunging after the living) and not a real threat to the main characters.  Every part of the plot is cliche, from the friends fighting and making up, to the arming sequence in a home furnishing store; and there's almost no use of the scouting skills the main characters had.

I didn't laugh once during Scouts Guide to the Apocalypse, which is pretty bad for a comedy, and most movies in general.  (The movie also wastes the comic talents of David Koechner and Cloris Leachman.)  This is simply a unfunny, uncreative, terrible movie.

Overall grade: F
Reviewed by James Lynch



Plenty of science fiction B movies from the 1940s through the 1960s are unintentionally humorous -- but what happens when someone deliberately re-created their badness?  The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is both a mockery and homage to those ridiculously earnest early films.

The movie opens with scientist Dr. Paul Armstrong (Larry Blamire) and his wife Betty (Fay Masterson) heading out to a cabin in the woods.  Paul wants to find and study a meteor made of atmospherium ("You know what this meteor could mean to science.  If we find it, and it's real, it could mean a lot.  It could mean actual advances in the field of science"), while Betty is apparently there to tease her husband and do some cooking.

At the same time, a spaceship from the planet Marva has crashed nearby.  Alien couple Kro-Bar (Andrew Parks) and Lattis (Susan McConnell) need some atmospherium to get their spaceship working again, so they use their Transmutatron to make themselves seem like humans.  Their mutant also escaped after the crash.
 Also at the same time, Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe) has discovered Cadavra Cave, and the (plastic) skeleton within.  The skeleton communicates through telepathy ("I sleep now!") and wants the atmospherium to be brought back to life and rule the world.  Dr. Fleming uses the Transmutatron to create Animala (Jennifer Blaire), who is "part woman, part four different types of animals."
 What follows is a dinner party with all the characters, aliens trying to act like humans ("Please be seated."  "Fold yourself in the middle!"), alliances and betrayals, lots of stilted dialogue ("What's the matter?  Tell me."  "I don't know.  Nothing I can put my finger on.  Not something I can see or touch or feel.  But something I can't quite see or touch or feel or put my finger on"), hypnotic dancing, an amazingly fake monster, and Ranger Brad (Dan Conroy) popping up to give warnings: "Well again I didn't mean to throw a damper. Believe me that's the last thing I'd like to throw. I don't want to throw anything at all really. But when folks are horribly mutilated, I feel it's my job to tell others. We take our horrible mutilations seriously up in these parts."
 In the wrong hands, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavdra could have been a disappointing one-joke movie.  Fortunately, this movie managed to both laugh at and with its source movies in equal measure.  The dialogue ridiculous and wonderfully quotable ("All skeletons are against me.  They always have been.  Even when I was a child I was always hated by skeletons!"), and the actors all manage their straightforward deliveries and awkward pauses with great comic timing.  I usually like my B movies being riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Rifftrax, but The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a loving and very amusing take on the "classic" science fiction films of old.  DVD extras include lots of behind-the-scenes features, plus many trailers for the sort of movies that inspired The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch


DRACULA (1931)

When it comes to vampires, everyone knows Bela Lugosi's accent (and most of us have imitated it at least once) -- and that's because 1931's Dracula was and is the gold standard for vampires in film.

The film begins in eastern Europe, where Renfield (Dwight Frye) has been summoned to the massive, decrepit castle of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) to arrange passage to England, for Dracula and his wives.  Renfield falls under Dracula's powerful stare, and at the end of the sea voyage the crew of the vessel are all dead -- and Renfield is completely insane.

In England, Refield is under the care of Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston), who runs a sanitarium.  His daughter Mina (Helen Chandler) is engaged to John Harker (David Manners) -- but she's also attracted the attention of Dracula, who had drained the blood and killed several people in London.   Dracula seems intent on seducing Mina and turning her into the undead, just like him.

But there's hope in Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), a doctor who embraces rather than dismisses the superstitious tales of the vampires.  He suspects and soon knows what Dracula is -- and he has the means to defeat the vampire and save Mina.  That is, if Dracula doesn't destroy them all first...

Dracula is a beautiful work of horror.  Even with the limited special effects of the time, the audience will believe vampires can transform into bats or wolves, or drain someone's blood with their dark embrace.  The acting is excellent (especially Lugosi and the seductive,foreign count, Frye as the lunatic, and Van Sloan as the blend of the scientific and superstitious) and the atmosphere of danger, dread, and repressed sexuality creates a truly memorable film.

There have been nigh-innumerable adaptions of the Dracula story and its legacy, but the original Dracula remains the best.

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's nice to see that live-action superhero shows, possibly taking their cue from the successful superhero movies, are being more serious and more fun than their horrible predecessors from the 1960s-1980s.  Supergirl is the latest superhero to be featured on the small screen -- and it works very well as action,with a nice dose of comedy.

The story stars with the destruction of Krpyton -- only after Kal-El is launched to Earth in a ship, the young girl Kara is sent after to him, to watch over and protect him on Earth.  But due to a space event, Kara's ship lands on Earth years after Kal-El's -- and by that time Kal-El has grown up and become Superman.  Kara is adopted the Danvers (a nod to earlier comic adaptions: The parents are played by Dean Cain and Helen Slater, who played Superman in The New Adventures of Lois and Clark and Supergirl in the movie Supergirl) and gets a stepsister Alex.

Jump ahead, and Kara (Melissa Benoist) is 24, has decided not to use her powers and live a normal, uneventful life in National City.  She works as an executive assistant at Catco Media, a newspaper and online news site run by Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), an unstoppable and self-serving executive who doesn't seem to listen to anyone or remember their names.  Kara is friends with Winn Schott Jr. (Jeremy Jordan), who has an unrequited crush on Kara.  She also has an instant crush on James Olsen (Mechad Brooks), the paper's art director and photographer.

In a fortituous turn of events, Cat is going to fire a lot of people because the paper isn't selling well due to a lack of a Superman-type hero to sell papers.  About the same time, a plane is going down over National City -- and Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) is on board.  Kara saves the plane, gets photographed, and becomes the unknown hero of the town.  After telling Winn her secret (he amusingly assumes her big secret is that she's a lesbian) and a quick superhero costume montage, Supergirl is ready to protect the city!

But there's a lot more going on.  A secret organization, led by Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), is focused on tracking and defeating alien menaces; and Alex is a member of this organization.  In addition, some Kryptonian prisoners survived the destruction of Krypton and have come to Earth with a sinister plan.  And these Kryptonians are commanded by Astra (Laura Benati) -- Kara's aunt.  And Kara has to deal with dangers and challenges that her powers can't always handle.

I've only seen the first episode, but Supergirl is extremely promising.  Melissa Benoist does very well in the title role: nervous trying to fit in, thrilled to really cut loose with her powers, scared that others are stronger than her, and resolved to be a hero.  The rest of the cast is quite good, especially Calista Flockhart as an executive whose arrogance seems matched with her skills and success.  The show blends action and humor very well together, and the special effects make this world of super-powered beings very plausible.  (You'll believe a girl can fly!  Ahem...)  The show lays the seeds for a few possible romances and also gives a reason why so many super-powered beings are showing up in National City.  Supergirl is, simply, super.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



The legacy of Steve Jobs is hard to calculate, given all he accomplished and his very human flaws.  Movies have taken a second stab at with Steve Jobs.  Unlike Jobs, however, this recent take on the man's life focuses on him, and the people around him, before three of his biggest presentations.

First, it's 1984 and Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is about to unveil the Macintosh to the public.  His two biggest concerns are starting on time, and that the Macintosh's voice interface won't say "hello."  Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen, doing very well in non-comic role) wants Steve to thank the people behind the Apple 2, which Steve doesn't want to do because he wants to focus on the future, not the past.  Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) is the tech Steve threatens to fix the voice issue in time for the presentation.  Christine Brennan (Katherine Waterson) wants more money for her and her child Lisa, while Steve insists he's not her father.  John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the CEO of Apple, is there to give Steve support.  And Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is Steve's employee and friend who's trying to give him good publicity while figuring out what he's doing.
Next we jump ahead to 1988.  Steve has been forced out of Apple by John Scully, and Steve is about to launch his new computer, the NeXT Box.   Steve and Steve Wozniak fight about comments the latter made in the press, and Steve continues to fight with Christina about money and Lisa.  And while there are concerns about whether the NeXT Box will even work or sell, Steve seems most concerned with making sure its box is a near-perfect cube.
Finally we jump to 1994, when Steve is back at Apple and about to unveil the iMac.  Joanna is still struggling to help and understand Steve.  Wozniak, Hertzfeld, and Scully all show up.  And Lisa (Perla Haney-Jardine) is a now a teenager having a big fight with her father.

Steve Jobs could easily be a play, divided into three acts.  What distinguishes this movie from the previous one is the writing by Aaron Sorkin.  The dialogue flies by quickly and furiously, bouncing from business to personal with lightning speed.  Michael Fassbender is excellent in the title role (even if they don't make him to look like Steve Jobs until the final third of the movie), showing his genius, volatile nature, and indifference to some things and anger at others.  The movie shows how he grows from stage to stage of his life -- and, sometimes worse, how he stays the same.  The supporting cast is also excellent, though it's up to Fassbender to finally carry the movie.

Steve Jobs isn't a standard biopic, but it's an entertaining and engrossing trip through some of the biggest parts of one of the twentieth century's most important people.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



The haunted house is back, in time for Halloween, with the new movie Crimson Peak.  This film, directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, is a 19th century horror-thriller-mystery film that's almost painfully Gothic.

As a little girl Edith Cushing was visited by the skeletal ghost of her mother, who warned Edith to beware of Crimson Peak.  Jump ahead 14 years, and Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is a writer, often telling people that her story isn't a ghost story but "a story with a ghost in it."  She's not interested in romance or society, so naturally she catches the eye of two prominent gentlemen in society.  Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnan) has been interested in her for a while, but she considers him just a friend.

Then there's Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a struggling aristocrat from England.  Thomas has come to America to earn capital from Edith's father Carter (Jim Beaver) to build a machine to mine the rare red clay from his family land.  Edith is entranced by Thomas, even while Carter is suspicious of the man.  Thomas' strange piano-playing sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) is also there.
Jump ahead, and Edith has joined Thomas and Lucille at Allerdale Hall, the family mansion of the Sharpe family.  The mansion is decaying, with rotting or missing boards, creaking at all hours, and the sound of rushing wind; even the red clay results in red oozing from the floors and making the tap water run red.  Thomas warns Edith not to descent beneath the main level, while Lucille keeps certain rooms locked from Edith.  The mansion is far from town, with Edith's only friend being a small dog the Sharpes thought would have perished.  And Edith investigates the mystery surrounding the Sharpes, as she gets sicker and sees more skeletal ghosts in the house...

I appreciate a supernatural movie that offers intelligence and investigation rather than simple spooks and scares, but Crimson Peak was disappointing.  While the movie had an interesting color scare, it felt like it was cramming element of the Gothic tradition into the movie, without it adding up to much.  The acting was adequate but not more, the surprises and revelations were easy to predict, and the movie quickly gave up on being scary early on, without replacing it with suspense or consistency.  (The ending also left the audience with some unnecessarily unresolved elements.)  Crimson Peak is too focused on being Gothic to be really entertaining.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



There was a time in Hollywood where romantic comedies went beyond "meet cute" situations into full-blown lunacy.  One of the best examples of this craziness is Bringing Up Baby, a 1938 comedy that combines two terrific leads and some absolute lunacy.

Paleontologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) is a dull, practical man concerned with two things: getting the last bone for a brontosaurus skeleton ("the intercostal clavicle"), and getting a million dollars in funding for his NYC museum.  He's also getting married the next day to Miss Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker), who considers their upcoming wedding an emotionless continuation of his work.

While David is golfing to secure the funding, he runs into Susan Vance (Katherine Hepburn), a free spirit who first steals David's golf ball, then his car (wrecking it in the process of getting it out of a parking spot).  Soon Susan is appearing everywhere David is -- and causing a disaster at every moment.  He thinks she's nothing but a disaster; she -- after a brief talk with a psychiatrist -- thinks his hostility stems from "the love impulse" and she immediately falls for him.
 Then there's Baby, a three-year-old leopard that is shipped to Susan.  She ropes David into bringing it to her Aunt's home in Connecticut, in exchange for promising to help him get the funding for his museum from her Aunt Elizabeth (May Robson).  Along the way there are numerous stolen cars, Baby taking advantage of Susan's bad driving to dine on some chickens and ducks, and a wide range of misadventures. Susan's thrilled, while David just gets more and more stressed.
Things don't get any better at Aunt Elizabeth's house.  Aunt Elizabeth thinks David is a lunatic, and David makes Susan promise not to tell her his real name, resulting in her dubbing him "David Bone").  Susan also says David is a big game hunter, which has Major Applegate (Charles Ruggles) bringing up the topic with David.  Susan's dog George has taken the intercostal clavicle and buried it somewhere on the property.  And of course Baby gets loose... and a second leopard is roaming around Connecticut...

Bringing Up Baby is an absolutely delightful film.  Director Howard Hawks brings out the best in his two leads, balancing Cary Grant's fuddy-duddy stick in the mud with Katherine Hepburn's sometimes knowing, often accidental lunacy,  The humor is all over the place, whether inspired dialogue ("'He's three years old, gentle as a kitten, and likes dogs." I wonder whether Mark means that he eats dogs or is fond of them?"), Hepburn pretending to be a mob gal, Grant and Hepburn singing to Baby to calm her down, or pratfalls, torn clothing, or other physical comedy -- and it all works terrifically.  The movie has a relentless madcap energy and so, so many laughs.  Bringing Up Baby is absolutely wonderful.  (DVD extras are a brief feature, plus commentary by director Peter Bogdanovich.)

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Superheroes have been around for decades and have been dominating the movies in recent years -- but what's behind them?  What goes on behind the scenes with superheroes, and what goes through the minds of the would-be world conquerors?  Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman is a loving, amusing peek behind the curtain at some comic book tropes/cliches familiar to everyone.

Soon I Will Be Invincible alternates chapters between the new heroine Fatale and the older villain Doctor Impossible.  Fatate is a cyborg, a former NSA agent whose body was largely destroyed (along with a lot of her memory) in a car accident and was rebuilt by a mysterious organization.  She's recruited by the remnants of the Champions, the world's greatest superhero group: partly because their last tech expert, Galatea, died in space, and partly because CoreFire, their most powerful member, has gone missing.

Then there's Doctor Impossible, "the smartest man in the world."  A super-genius (diagnosed with Malign Hypercognition Disorder) with some super-strength and toughness.  He's completely ambitious ("I tried to conquer the world and almost succeeded, twelve times and counting"), starts the novel in prison, and soon escapes to embark on world domination attempt number thirteen.  His ex-girlfriend Lily is a reformed supervillain who joined the Champions.  Oh, and he's both the nemesis and creator of CoreFire.  He may not know what happened to the world's most popular superhero, but Doctor Impossible wishes more than anything to defeat the hero who's beaten him every time.

While Fatale (and her new team) deal with internal issues while searching for CoreFire and Doctor Impossible, Doctor Impossible roams the criminal underworld in his latest world-ruling quest.  Naturally, these two paths wind up meeting, with cliches and unexpected results.

Soon I Will Be Invincible is somewhere between the fun-loving cliches of Astro City and darker behind-the-masks grittiness of Watchmen.  Grossman made an excellent choice with his new and experienced protagonists, giving us not just the good and evil sides but also the novice member seeing the world and the old pro knowing what to expect again.  The characters are homages to famous superheroes (Blackwolf, the rich man with no powers but a near-perfect fighter; Elfin, the mystical warrior from a faraway land; heck, CoreFire has not only Superman's powers and fame, but a writer-love interest named Erica who he's always rescuing) and chapter titles embrace superhero and supervillain cliches: "Earth's Mightiest Heroes," "Maybe We Are Not So Different, You and I," "And Now for Those Meddling Children."

Soon I Will Be Invincible isn't a deconstruction of the superhero genre as a fun treatment of it.  This book is funny ("The ability to stretch your limbs or secrete acid can wreak havoc on the human metabolism.  There's a fine line between a superpower and a chronic medical condition."), exciting, thoughtful, and thoroughly entertaining.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch