12.07.2016

VICTORIA'S SECRET FASHION SHOW 2016

Black Friday is behind us and Christmas is a  few weeks away, so between them was the most wonderful annual commercial: the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, set in Paris this year.

The show followed its traditional format.  You have Victoria's Secret Angels, both new and veterans, strutting their stuff down the runway to pretty current music.  Their outfits (not for sale in stores, but inspiring the lingerie heading to stores) was always sexy, sometimes silly, and occasionally with large props (wings, bows, and assorted shapes).  There were live musical performances, this year by Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, and the Weekend.  And there were a few quick features through the show, such as the Angels discussing their love of and history with Paris, their fitness routines, and how the Angels branch out beyond working for Victoria's Secret.

You're probably reading this for the same reason I watch the show every year, so the images from the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2016 are below.  Enjoy!


Written by Jim Lynch
(still annoyed Victoria's Secret ended their print catalogs earlier this year)








12.05.2016

MOANA

Disney has done some incredible animated movies -- and that tradition continues with Moana.  This movie has action, humor, positive characters, and a South Pacific feel throughout.

Moana starts with a legend.  In ancient times, the ancient shape-shifting demigod Maui stole the mystical heart of the island goddess Te Fiti.  Then the lava demon Te Ka attacked, sending the heart into the ocean, along with Maui's magical fishhook that allows him to change into different animals.  A darkness also spread from where the theft took place, causing animals to die and crops to fail.
Jump to the present, where Moana Waialiki (Auli'l Cravalho) is conflicted.  She's always been drawn to the ocean and wants to explore beyond her island home, but her father, the Chief of the island, wants her to stay and become the next Chief; he also forbids anyone  -- especially Moana, from traveling beyond the reef.  When the darkness reaches their island, Moana believes the solution to the lack of fish is to travel beyond the reef.  Her father forbids it, but her "crazy island" Grandmother Tala (Rachel House) gives Moana the heart and has a different solution: Find Maui, give him the heart, and have him return it to Te Fiti to dispel the darkness.  As Tala is dying, Moana grabs a boat and sets sail, along with her somewhat dim rooster Heihei (Alan Tudyk).

Moana was chosen by the sea, meaning the ocean sometimes helps her.  In no time at all she finds Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who's been stranded on an island.  He's pretty arrogant (claiming he gave humanity almost all of its benefits) and condescending, but agrees to help Moana -- after they retrieve his magic fishhook -- for the fame.  Along the way they face coconut pirates (meaning sentient and evil coconuts), the glittering giant crab Tamatoa (Jermaine Clement) and his realm of monsters, and finally the lava demon Te Ka.
There is so much to like about Moana.  The animation is absolutely beautiful, from the pristine ocean waters to Maui's living and moving tattoos to the glowing world of Tamatoa that works as a tribute to David Bowie.  Dwayne Johnson and Auli'l Cravalho do great voice work, and their characters are delightful: Maui is a reluctant hero, but he's also comically egotistical and enthusiastic, while Moana is both respectful and independent.  There aren't too many or too distracting musical numbers, and the ones that are here sound great.  And there are plenty of laughs for young and old alike.  Moana is a really great adventure.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

11.29.2016

TABLE TITANS BOOK ONE: FIRST ENCOUNTERS

One challenge of portraying people playing tabletop games in comic books is that it can be boring to see people sitting at a table rolling dice.  Scott Kurtz frequently delves into assorted sides of gaming with his online comic PvP, and he spun off into a Dungeons and Dragons comedy with Table Titans.  This group of D&D players begin on their own with Table Titans Book One: First Encounters.

The story begins with the Table Titans -- snarky dude Alan, rules-obsessed Andrew, and real-life warring mythical dwarf Val -- getting ready for a D&D competition.  Their goal: claim the Winotaur, a trophy of great renown, currently owned by rival gaming group the Dungeon Dogs.  Adam isn't happy Brendan is their Dungeon Master, but Brendan is the only person willing to DM for them.  And their fourth player is Darby, a cheerful and slightly dopey guy who's never played D&D before.

Then the D&D adventure begins, with the players getting (sometimes getting stuck with) their pre-generated characters.  Everyone's quite happy, except for the would-be fighter Val:


They then embark on the D&D adventure, involving a town under siege my a mysterious monster, a former adventurer, a conspiracy, and a cute blink dog as their new helper and mascot.  Will the Table Titans solve the mystery?  Can Val deal with playing a bard?  Will Brendan remain as their DM?  And who will wind up with the Winotaur?

I enjoyed Table Titans but -- and as a gamer I never thought I'd say this -- the comics are almost too focused on the gaming.  We know virtually nothing about the players outside of the gaming table (except for Val): There's no backstory for the characters or how they met, or why the Table Titans can't get another DM).  On the plus side, the comics do capture the often-unintentional humor that happens at the game table, and Kurtz keeps things interesting by showing the in-strip D&D game as a full-fledged adventure.

Table Titans lacks the over-the-top bad behavior and worse playing that is a staple of Knights of the Dinner Table, but it's still an enjoyable trip into the world of some D&D players.  The first volume also has a few extras: the PvP comics that introduced the Table Titans, the pre-Brendan Table Titans playing the Mines of Madness, character sketches, and tales from the table from real-life roleplayers.  Table Titans Book One: First Encounters is a nice, enjoyable look on some D&D players.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

11.21.2016

ARRIVAL

If there is alien life out there, what will our first encounters with them be like?  How will we communicate with them?  And how will both individuals and nations react to the unknown?  These are some of the issues addressed in Arrival, a very thoughtful science fiction film.

The movie opens with linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) remembering her daughter Hannah, from her birth to sad death as a teenager.  After that, she's teaching a class when it's interrupted by world-shaking news: aliens have landed on Earth, with 1500' oval ships landing at 12 locations on Earth.  And Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruits Dr. Banks to communicate with the aliens.
Louise is taken to the Montana location, where an alien ship is hovering above the ground.  Unfortunately, no attempts to decipher the alien sounds have been successful.  Fortunately, every 18 hours a hatch opens, allowing humans to enter the ship.  While physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) tries to figure out the properties of the aliens and their ship, Louise decides to focus not on speaking with them, but rather teaching them our written language.  The aliens -- giant squid-like creatures with seven legs, floating in a white fog behind a barrier -- respond with their own language: a series of circular symbols.
While Loiuse and Ian work on figuring out why the aliens are here, pressure is building around the world.  Some populations riot in wake of the aliens' arrival.  China is leading a push to respond the aliens with military force.  And some of the Montana soldiers are ready to use violence...
Arrival is more measured than much science fiction -- there are no laser beams, aerial battles with spaceships, or creatures wandering among humans -- and that's both a strength and a weakness: This is one of cinema's most realistic approaches to first contact with alien life, but it also means at times watching people work on translations can get boring.  Amy Adams is fine as the professional who has to work on what could be the most important translation in human history while dealing with her personal devastating loss; and the rest of the cast is more or less just there.  The aliens are nicely otherworldly and mysterious, and there's a plot twist and concept that may not be fully satisfying but is unexpected.  Arrival is a solid movie about what happens when life from other world finally reaches us.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

11.15.2016

DOCTOR WHO: THE POWER OF THE DALEKS

Many of the earliest episodes of Doctor Who have been lost.  I got to see an interesting solution to this problem with Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks.  While the episodes may be lost, possibly forever, the folks at BBC America did put together the audio from the 1966 episode -- and made an animated version of the episode!

The Power of the Daleks is significant because it introduced both the idea of regeneration (that when near death, a Time Lord could regenerate, gaining a new body and personality) and Patrick Troughton as the new Doctor, replacing William Hartnell.  Appropriately, this switch is reflected in the Doctor's companions: Polly (Anneke Wills) is certain he's still the Doctor, while Ben (Michael Craze) is skeptical.  The new Doctor seems silly: constantly playing a recorder, wearing a large floppy hat, and muttering to himself.

The adventure begins quickly, as the trio leave the TARDIS to wander around the planet Vulcan (no relation to Star Trek).  The Doctor meets a human who introduces himself as the Examiner -- who's promptly shot dead, with the Doctor knocked out from behind.  When the Doctor wakes up, he takes the Examiner's badge, posing as him to have full access to the human colony of Vulcan.  The colony has been having episodes of sabotage from unknown rebels.  The biggest discovery, though, is that scientist Lesterson (Robert James) has found a "space capsule" containing two apparently deceased/deactivated Daleks.  Lesterson wants to revive/reactivate them, to use them as servants; but the Doctor warns that doing so would doom the entire colony.  And there's evidence that there was a third Dalek that's gone missing...

The Power of the Daleks is a nice reminder of the clunky charm of the original series.  While the new animation keeps a lot of the original limits of the series (the humans in the "futuristic" colony use guns; the Daleks' beam weapon is shown by briefly showing a negative of the scene), the story is nicelty involved, with several threads -- Who killed the Examiner?  Which characters are rebels?  What is the master plan of the Daleks? -- that all come together.  It's a shame the episodes are gone, but nice that it was "regenerated" this way.
My one complaint with this was the animation: While the black and white matches the original series, the animation feels stiff, with shading rarely changing and usually only body part for one character moving at a time.  It feels artificial, and oddly reminiscent of the series Archer.  While that was distracting, it was a worthwhile sacrifice to get to see Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks.  And afterwards, there were interviews and behind-the-scenes with several folks involved with animating the series, plus Anneke Wills talking about being on the original series!

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch


11.09.2016

DOCTOR STRANGE

The Marvel superhero universe has now added sorcery to its world of super-powered beings.  Doctor Strange adds magic to the universe with a familiar reluctant hero premise that also has some truly trippy visuals and a surprising amount of humor.

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, whose Englishman-with-American-accent maked him sound like Hugh Laurie as Dr. House) is a brilliant and renowned neurosurgeon.  He's also conceited, hated for being a know-it-all by his colleagues, and tends to select cases based on how much fame they'll get him.  He also works with his ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), an e.r. doctor who wants Strange to help more people.

When a car crash leaves Stephen with uncontrollable trembling in his hands, he goes into a depression, pushing everyone away and spending all his money searching for experimental cures.  When he gets a file of a patient who had a seeming impossible cure for spinal damage, it leas Strange to a secret location in Nepal.  There, select people learn everything from magic (astral projection, using "Sling Rings" to create teleportation portals, summoning and controlling energy, visiting different dimensions) to martial arts, to sentient artifacts that choose their users.  This place is led by the Amcient One (Tilda Swinton), Strange is taught by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and Wong (Benedict Wong) runs the library of ancient knowledge.
Of course, villainy is afoot.  The evil sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) has stolen some pages from the library.  He and his disciples plan to destroy the three sanctuaries -- in New York, London, and Hong Kong -- that protect the Earth from magic threats from other dimensions.  Once they're gone, the powerful entity Dormammu will absorb Earth into his Dark Dimension.  Strange still just wants his old life back, while the others push him to be a hero.

While Doctor Strange is a somewhat familiar story of selfish turning to redemption, it's still a pretty fun movie.  This may be the most visually impressive movie, with landscapes seeming to fold onto themselves, astral forms battling through the real world, and a hellish CGI universe in the Dark Dimension that seems disturbingly real.  While there's plenty of action, there's also a surprising amount of humor: Strange's levitating cloak acting more or less on its own for some slapstick humor, Wong listening to Beyonce on an iPod, or Dr. Palmer's incredulous reaction to learning that magic exists.
Doctor Strange is a worthy addition to the Marvel cinematic universe.  It has good acting, a nice blend of action and comedy, and (again) some amazing special effects.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

11.01.2016

RIFFTRAX LIVE: CARNIVAL OF SOULS

There are plenty of ways to celebrate Halloween -- and I was fortunate enough to catch Rifftrax Live: Carnival of Souls on the big screen on Halloween itself!  Comedy may not seem like something for Halloween, but it worked -- especially with such a bad horror movie.

After some funny opening movie quotes and trivia ("The razorblades actually make the apples taste better") accompanied by songs from "Weird Al" Yankovic and Jonathan Coulter, the Rifftrax trio (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett) took the stage and their microphones.  They began with two terrible shorts -- "The Dirt-Witch Cleans Up" and "Masks of Grass" -- then jump into the feature.  And while Carnival of Souls may not be quite as bad as other movies they've riffed, it still supplies plenty of fodder for comedy: endless organ music, a near-total lack of acting, an over-the-top scuzzy male creep, pale zombies or ghosts, and a lead actress who goes through almost the whole movie with a blank stare.
As always, the jokes fly fast and frequently.   There are digs at Utah, Golden Corral, Wonder Woman, and even subjects of previous rifts, like Birdemic and "Shake Hands with Danger."  And the trio are in fine form, with numerous laugh-out-loud moments and leaving the audience happy (and unable to take Carnival of Souls seriously ever again).  Rifftrax Live: Carnival of Souls was a fun and funny evening for Halloween.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


10.30.2016

C IS FOR CTHULHU

The Lovecraftian mythos is full of nightmarish creatures, inevitable doom, and horrors beyond imagination -- so why not introduce it to kids?  C Is for Cthulhu, written by Jason Ciaramella and illustrated by Greg Murphy, takes the creatures and concepts of H.P. Lovecraft and turns them into an alphabet book, ostensibly for little kids.

The format of C Is for Cthulhu is summarized perfectly in its subtitle: "the Lovecraft alphabet book."  Readers taken on an A-Z trip through the alphabet, with every letter described and illustrated by something from (or relating to) the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
This is a simple concept for a book -- but it works quite well.  The illustrations and descriptions are cute, as if written for little kids (but knowingly contrasting with the source material).  There isn't a lot of depth here, and I'm a little disappointed the alternating letter descriptions don't rhyme, but C Is for Cthulhu is good for plenty of chuckles (if not necessarily for little kids).
Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch


10.21.2016

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

There's a familiar comedy trope where an ordinary person discovers that someone close to them who seems normal is actually a spy: a spouse (Killers), both spouses (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), an old friend (Central Intelligence), a sibling (The Brothers Grimsby).  Keeping Up with the Joneses is the latest entry in this formula.

Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zack Galifiakanis and Isla Fisher) are a happy, perfectly ordinary suburban married couple.  He works at human resources for an aerospace company, is friendly with everyone, knows everyone's name, and can't get anyone to join him for "indoors skydiving."  She's an interior designer working from home.  They live in a cul-de-sac where everyone's friendly, and when their two sons leave for camp Jeff and Karen feel a bit of empty nest syndrome.
Things pick up when the house next door is purchases by Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Godot), a couple who seem almost too perfect.  They're both beautiful, talented, and live amazing lives: He's a travel writer, she writes a food blog and helps starving orphans overseas, and they both speak multiple languages.  Jeff wants to be Tim's best friend, while Karen thinks they're too perfect and starts snooping around.  Of course Tim and Natalie are spies, and soon Jeff and Karen are drawn into a world of shootouts, car chases, and international espionage.

There's not anything new in Keeping Up with the Joneses -- and not a whole lot done well.  The actors do as much as they can with the material they have, but many of the jokes fall flat and both the action scenes and physical comedy are uninspired.  There are a few chuckles here and there, but Keeping Up with the Joneses generally settles for mediocrity.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch

10.15.2016

THE SQUARE dvd

It's time for some film noir with The Square, an Australian film where bad plans go very, very badly for all involved.

Ray Yale (David Roberts) is the foreman for a leisure resort (the movie's title square), working hard (and taking kickbacks for influence in his work).  He's also having a passionate affair with Carla Smith (Claire van de Boom), his neighbor across the river.  However, they both have commitments to other people: Ray is in a mundane middle-class marriage, while Carla is involved with Greg "Smithy" Smith (Anthony Hayes), a criminal who hangs around with a rough crowd.  Carla wants Ray to leave his wife and have them run away together, but Ray is concerned about the money they'd need to start a new life together.

When Carla finds a bag full of cash, she and Ray come up with what they think is a perfect plan: Carla will take the money, then Ray will have arsonist Billy (Joel Edgerton) set fire to Smithy's house, Smithy will think the money burned up in the fire, Ray and Carla will be beyond suspicion, and the lovers can run away together, flush with money -- and no one will get hurt.
Of course the plan goes awry, from Ray's failed attempt to cancel the plan to several unexpected consequences.  Before you can say "bad idea" Ray is receiving blackmail cards, Carla starts getting paranoid about who knows about her affair and their plan, and Billy is pissed off that he's in far deeper than he planned.  Then Smithy finds the bag his money was in...
The Square is simple and effective.  While there's not a lot of character development here, the actors are effective and the story spirals nicely out of control.  The Square works nicely as a suspenseful drama where absolutely nothing is as simple as it seems.  (There are plenty of dvd extras, from behind-the-scenes and making-of features to the short black comedy film "The Spider.")

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

10.12.2016

GIRLS ON GAMES by Elisa Teague

So, what's it like being a woman in the world of gaming?  What progress has been made towards gender equality, and what horror stories do women have?  What great stories do women have from gaming, and what do they experience in the workplace and at conventions?  Girls on Games: A Look at the Fairer Side of the Tabletop Industry by Elisa Teague is a collection of essays by women is various professional positions in the gaming industry (including several essays by Elisa Teague herself).

Girls on Games has a very diverse number of perspectives on what gaming means for women.  Some essays deal with sexism and feminism head-on, as in "What Army Does Your Boyfriend Play?" "Pitching (a Game) like a Girl" and "Being 'Girly' and a Gamer.  Yes, You Can Be Both."  Other times gender barely enters into the discussion.  There are inspiring stories about the love of and experiences in gaming, and awful stories of seixst treatment professionally, at game stores with assumptions that women are there for their boyfriends or don't know anything about the games, or at conventions where, no matter their experience or role there, women are assumed to be "booth babes."  (And one actual "booth babe" has an essay here as well.)  There is even discussion of sexuality, from one company owner who's polyamorous (and a hippie) to the woman who wrote the first transexual character in Pathfinder.  And the "fake geek girl" stereotype comes up an awful lot.

Girls on Games is a very informative and useful book about what it can be like for women in the world of gaming.  There are as many looks at game design and professional advancement as playing Magic: The Gathering at a local store or attending gaming conventions.   And despite the many examples of sexism, the book resists the urge to bash the male gender: There's plenty of praise for good guys in the gaming world, plus the introduction is by Mike Selinker and there are several relevant cartoons from John Kovalic.



There were a few distracting typos in the book, but overall Girls on Games is a very good take on a side of gaming that often doesn't get enough attention.  The tales and experiences here are informative, funny, scary, intelligent, show a love of gaming and offer solutions on how its problems can be solved or improved.  Girls on Games should be a must-read book for anyone interested, personally or professionally, in the world of tabletop games.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch
(who, thanks to Kickstarter, has an autographed copy of the book)


10.03.2016

KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE: THE CATTLEPUNK CHRONICLES -- OUTLAW TRAIL

Saddle up, pardners!  While the characters in Knights of the Dinner Table usually play in the sword & sorcery world of Hackmaster, they've occasionally delved into the Wild West.  The Cattlepunk Chronicles -- Outlaw Trail collects many of those adventures, along with dozens of pages of new material.

The Cattlepunk Chronicles starts with B.A. being talked into buying the new Hard Eight game Cattlepunk by Weird Pete.  B.A. sees it as a chance for the players to be less reliant on magic and more creative.  But for players Bob, Dave, Johnny Kizinski and Brian, it turns into massive numbers of characters being rolled up, in-game player kills and grudges, and an almost instinctive impulsive to rob any bank the characters see.  B.A. abandons the game after the players' antics; but when his cousin Sara later joins the group (replacing Johnny), she talks B.A. into returning to Cattlepunk.  But Sara and B.A.'s desire to play lawful characters is continually overrun by the other players' outlaw characters...

The Cattlepunk Chronicles is a nice collection showing what happens when horrible fantasy players become, well, horrible Western players.  We have not only the Knights engaging in some of their worst behavior, but also B.A. being talked into buying more and more product and Sara trying and failing to get the Knights to role-play.  There are players slaughtering each other (and rolling up new characters whose sole purpose is revenge), the introduction of recurring "villain" Red Gurdy Pickens, and campaigns and towns getting destroyed.
Fortunately, all of this bad behavior and trainwrecks of campaigns is pretty damn funny.  The Knights' antics are just as funny with six-shooters as with magic swords, and having these strips together instead of scattered through the KODT run gives a better sense of unity.  There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, from the characters loading up on quirks and flaws to get building points ("Inappropriate sense of humor, male pattern baldness, speech impediment, lemur-phobia") to the continual grudges and betrayals.  And even when B.A. gets what he thought he wanted, it still blows up in his face.  The Cattlepunk Chronicles -- Outlaw Trail is terrific fun for fans of KODT, bad gaming, or Westerns gone wrong.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

9.22.2016

THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB by Evan Dorkin

Years before The Big Bang Theory brought us four lovable geeks, comic book writer and artist Evan Dorkin lampooned the worst of geek culture with his quartet of pathetic and antisocial geeks.  The Eltingville Club collects Dorkin's comics and strips of this club, plus a new strip wrapping things up and essays.

The Eltingville Club (full name: the Eltingville Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Role-Playing Club) is made up of four high school guys.  Bill Dickey is most interested in comic books and science fiction; he's also the most likely to lash out -- verbally and physically -- at anything he dislikes or anyone who disagrees with him.  Josh Levy is focused on science fiction and television shows; as the overweight member of the group, he suffers through constant fat jokes.  Pete DiNunzio is most interested in horror and is a bit pretentious in his views.  And Jerry Stokes is the group's gamer; he's the quietest and nicest member of the group, and also annoys the others with his frequent impersonation of Twiki from Buck Rogers.
The four guys meet in one of their parents' basement, where they rant and curse about everything they don't like about fandom, make trades, and often wind up with their hands on each others' throats.  They have no social life (in the middle of one meeting someone yells "Hey!  Holy shit!  Guys!  Do you realize our prom was tonight?!")   They have no jobs (and no skills or interests beyond the groups') and get money for their hobbies by yelling at their mothers.  When they go out, it's usually to shoplift whatever they want, or to stuff rare toys out of sight at Toys "R" Us so no one else can get them.  Their "adventures" include engaging in an hour-long trivia contest for a rare action figure, trying to stay awake for a 36-hour Twilight Zone marathon, making costumes for Wizard magazine's contest, going on a zombie walk, enduring an intervention, or getting their ideal job at a comic book store.  Their escapades usually turn into disasters, often ending with riots, trampling, fires, or arrests. And their final meeting happens at Comic Con, of course.

The Eltingville Club illustrates the worst of fandom -- and pretty bad humanity in general.  The memers of the club are misanthropic, selfish, sexist (the only women in their world are in porn or x-rated comic books), angry, and overall pathetic.  They're as likely to turn on each other as the things they hate; near the end someone meeting the group for the first time asks, "So, like, were you guys ever actually friends?" -- and the answer seems to be "no."  But it's amazingly funny to watch this group of horrible geeks self-destructing, whether tossing around constant geek references, battling with comic book replicas, or continually getting busted and yelled at by their parents.  There are some digs at geek culture in general -- the owner of Joe's Fantasy World comic book store makes The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy look handsome, polite, and professional --  but Dorkin's sights are mostly focused on the four Club members.  And after the strips about the Eltingville Club, Dorkin discusses the comic's origin, making the one-episode animated series, and provides another comic -- this time about pretentious geeks.

The Eltingville Club is full of cursing, grossness, and horrible behavior.  It's also laugh-out-loud funny; and, in the world of the Internet, disturbingly accurate.  It's savagely funny.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

9.17.2016

BLAIR WITCH

Back to Burkittsville!  Blair Witch is a found-footage sequel to what could be the most successful found footage horror movie of all time, The Blair Witch Project.  This movie follows very closely in the original movie's footsteps (ignoring Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows), sometimes to its detriment.

The movie opens by saying it's put together from found footage.  James (James Allen McCune) is the brother of the Heather who vanished in the original film, and some recently discovered footage makes him think she could still be alive.  Lisa (Callie Hernandez) is working on a documentary project for school, so she decides to accompany James back to the Black Hills Woods in Burkittsville, Maryland to try and find Heather -- or the building where she vanished.  And their friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) tag along, for reasons never made clear.
The friends apparently raided Best Buy, because they're fully stocked with gear: all sorts of flashlights, walkie talkies with GPS tracking, earpieces that film, personal flashlights, and even a drone.  They meet up with Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), two weird locals who insist on camping with the friend in the woods and who share stories about the Blair Witch.  It's then into the woods, for camping and searching.  Before long night falls, those familiar stick figures show up, and we get a whole lot of first-person shots of people running at night.
The original movie was a masterpiece of economy, creating its own mythology and giving scares with no stars, special effects, or soundtrack.  Blair Witch has a similar format but doesn't deliver nearly as well.  Having numerous cameras means we get lots of different shots from different angles, which feels like a "regular" movie.  The mysterious sounds in the woods sound like the Blair Witch has a bulldozer instead of just trying to spook the hapless campers.  The characters are all paper thin.  And while there's some creepy claustrophobia near the end, the finale feels far too much like it's taken from the original film (with "characters constantly running in the woods" replaced with "characters constantly running in a decrepit building").  I'd pass on Blair Witch.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch