2.24.2017

DEVIL IN SPRING by Lisa Kleypas

There's a strong element of predictability in the romance novel genre, as stories head inevitably to the Happily Ever After (HEA) ending -- but that is fairly forced in Devil in Spring, book 3 in the Ravenels by Lisa Kleypas.  This historical romance has opposites attracting for most of the book.

Pandora Ravenel is pushed to go husband-hunting during the London Season, but she has no interest in marrying.  She has the goal of publishing her board game (with the store owner from a previous book pre-ordering 500 copies) and believes, rightly for the time, that marriage would give her husband complete control over all her professional activities.  She tends to go on numerous verbal tangents, invents words, and is almost hyperactive at times.  And an old ear injury leaves her often unsteady (no waltzing) and hard of hearing on her left side.

In the novel's "meet cute," when Pandora is trying to obtain an earring, she gets stuck facing downwards.  When well-known rake Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, tries to help, the pair are discovered, assumed that Gabriel "compromised" Pandora, and also assumed they have to marry to avoid the scandal.  Pandora and Gabriel insist that they're incompatible -- she still has her qualms about relinquishing her freedom, he thinks she's completely unsuitable for handling the duties of marriage -- but the two keep getting tingly when around each other.

And that's the very vast majority of Devil in Spring.  The "we can't be together, but wow are they attractive" gets tired pretty quickly, yet it takes up so much of the book.  The change in pace is forced near the end, as dual threats arise just to add a different type of conflict to the book.  And we never get any details about the board game that's such a vital interest of Pandora (though we are told Pandora knows about all the glues needed to put them together).  There are moments of levity here (mainly Pandora's notes on her daily activities) and fans of Kleypas' earlier book Devil in Winter will enjoy the return of that book's Evie and Sebastian.  But Devil in Spring is tiresome and wears out its welcome pretty quickly.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch

2.18.2017

FIST FIGHT

There are some comedies that have a central idea and never do anything creative or unexpected with it.  This is the cast with Fist Fight, a fairly predictable comedy.

It's the last day of school at a public high school, and English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) has quite a lot going on.  He's worried about all the staff cuts Principal Tyler (Dean Norris) is making -- and his meeting with the principal in the afternoon.  His very pregnant wife is past her due date, and his little girl needs him to help her in her talent show performance that afternoon.  The teachers are a pretty eccentric bunch.  And the students are out of control, pulling lots of pranks on both students and teachers.
Then there's Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), a history teacher feared by teachers and students alike for his short temper.  When Strickland smashes a student's desk with a fire ax, Campbell winds up getting him fired.  Strickland is furious, and challenges Campbell to a fist fight outside the school at three o'clock.  This being a movie, news of the fight spreads like wildfire, and everyone is talking about the fight.  Cmapbell keeps trying different ways to weasel out of the fight, while Strickland seems to get scarier and scarier.
There's really not much going on in Fist Fight.  Charlie Day delivers his usual stammering nervousness, while Ice Cube plays the big scary black man.  There is a talented supporting cast -- Jillian Bell as the guidance counselor who does meth and lusts after the young students, Tracy Morgan as a befuddled gym teacher, Kumail Nanjiani as an inefficient security guard, Christina Hendricks as a sexy French teacher with a psychotic side -- but the humor is pretty broad and often juvenile.  The movie heads to a predictable ending (the similarities to Fight Club are pretty basic) and while Fist Fight isn't bad, neither is it memorable.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch

2.16.2017

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SWIMSUIT ISSUE 2017

February brings Valentine's Day, either the continuation or lessening of snow, and the folks at Sports Illustrated abandoning sports in favor of sexy women in (or at least holding) swimwear.  The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue 2017 continues the latter tradition -- with a few changes.

This issue features several familiar models -- the most famous being Kate Upton (who appears on all three covers, though not wearing a full swimsuit on any of them) and Chrissy Teigen -- plus familiar faces from previous issues, new models, and even the return of Christie Brinkley (who may be the oldest model in the issue) and her daughters.  There are also international locations, body paint, and athletes like Serena Williams and some gymnasts.  And the issue also diversifies a bit with several plus-sized models, including in the body paint pictures.
As with every year, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is a joy to behold.  Sticklers may point out that many of the photos don't actually have the models wearing swimsuits -- or they may be none in the shot -- but I am not one of those people.  Instead, I just enjoy the sheer beauty of amazing models in exotic locations.
Reviewed by James Lynch




2.15.2017

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

After Batman's appearance in The Lego Movie, and with the character's rich history in comic books, it's no surprise that the character became the focus of his own Lego movie.  The Lego Batman Movie is solid entertainment, with both lots of in-jokes for comic book fans and a couple of flaws as well.

The movie opens with Batman (Will Arnett, giving a nice comic exaggeration to the current gravelly-voiced character) single-handedly defeating almost his entire gallery of villains (including some new ones, obscure ones, and ones from the 1966 Batman TV show).  While everyone loves Batman, in private he's terribly alone -- watching romantic comedies by himself and wandering around an empty mansion, to the concern of Alfred (Ralph Fiennes).  His desire to be alone has Batman refusing to work with new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and not acknowledging the Joker (Zack Galifianakis) as his arch-enemy.  And when Bruce Wayne accidentally adopts orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), Batman pretty much ignores him -- even when Dick becomes Robin.
The Joker, upset by Batman's slight, hatches a master plan that begins with getting himself and every other villain in Gotham City arrested, involves Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), and winds up with a slew of amazingly powerful (and non-DC) villains taking over Gotham City.   Batman, meanwhile, keeps using or ignoring Robin, carelessly insulting Alfred, and refusing to work with Barbara.

As one might expect, there are innumerable elements from Batman's history, from the cartoons, TV shows, and movies to the obscure villains from the comics and black and white serials.  There are also plenty of other comic book and pop culture references, including the Super Friends, non-comic book characters (that aren't all Lego sets), and pop music.  The voice talent is terrific (including numerous celebrity voices) and there's plenty of action and humor through the movie.

The Lego Batman Movie also has a couple of problems.  The movie drags a lot in the middle and could have been a good deal shorter.  The story arc is pretty obvious, and there are several inconsistencies that pop up in the movie (that can't be explained away by the Lego universe).  But even with those, The Lego Batman Movie has lots of entertainment, for little kids and adult comic book fans.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

2.12.2017

STRIP JOINTZ ROCKS: ROCK N' ROLL FOR SEXY DANCERS

Back during the N.Y. Friar's Club Roast of Drew Carey, Ryan Stiles joked that Drew Carey didn't go to strip clubs for the women -- he went to them for the music.  Despite that, the music at such places (or personal/private performances) has certain rhythms and themes to them -- and Strip Jointz Rocks: Rock N' Roll for Sexy Dancers does a pretty good job of representing (part of) the music for strip clubs, or for stripping in general.

The 16 songs on Strip Jointz Rocks are both quite diverse and somewhat limited.  The selection of songs is pretty eclectic: There are strip club staples like "Girls Girls Girls," "Addicted to Love" and "I Touch Myself."  These are interspersed with music from lesser known bands (Republica, Gleaming Spires) and some classic rock songs that aren't normally associated with stripping.  ("Born to Be Wild," What's Your Name.")  What's missing are any songs by minorities; but this omission may be deliberate, as the follow-up collection is all strip club music by minorities.
It's impossible to get every song one would want on a collection like this (I tried to do a top 10 mix, which would be being 20 songs and still had numerous songs left off), but Strip Jointz Rocks manages to be an entertaining mix of songs.  The blending of classic rock, alternative music, and current (for when this album came out) songs works pretty well, and even though I'm not a fan of all the songs here, this is an easy album to listen to start to finish.  Strip Jointz Rocks delivers what it promises.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


2.04.2017

RINGS

So, the infamous cursed videotape has gone digital.  Rings is the third movie in the horror chain based on Japanese movie Ringu, and this time around it's... quite similar to what came before.

The movie starts with the latest person to watch the cursed tape on an airplane, which crashed when the ghostly Samara appears.  Two years later Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) buys a VCR that belonged to the victim -- and Gabriel watches the cursed tape that was in the machine.

We jump ahead, where Julia (Matilda Lutz) sees her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) off to college.  Things are fine, until Julia gets a frantic message from Holt's computer from Skye (Aimee Teegarden).  When Julia heads to the college, she's there when Skye is killed by Samara.
It turns out that Gabriel is a college professor, obsessed with the cursed tape: He has students watch the tape, times their "seven days" until Samara appears, makes digital copies of the tape, and assigns "tails" to watch copies of the tape so the would-be victim gets a reprieve.  Holt had seen it, so Julia watches his copy to save him.  But when Julia makes a copy of the tape, her copy is larger than the original -- and has additional images.
Julia and Holt follow the clues of the new version, hoping to save her and stop the curse.  This journey involved Julia's hallucinations, a town that had been flooded, and a blind caretaker named Burke (Vincent D'Onofrio) who remembers "the drowned girl."  And the seven days countdown continues...

The main problem with Rings is that it's virtually the same story as its predecessors: Someone sees the tape (or, now, digital file) and tries to interpret the images to spare themselves from being killed by Samara.  We get the same warning and timeline, the same disjointed ghostly figure, the same terrified and contorted looks on her victims, even the same dim lighting throughout the movie.  Since we've seen it all before there's nothing really new or scary -- and the paper-thin characters don't have much to do besides look worried and scream.  Rings has a few decent moments, but most of the movie is a dud.

Overall grade: D
Reviewed by James Lynch

1.29.2017

KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE: THE CATTLEPUNK CHRONICLES -- THE FOUR HERDSMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE

In the comic book world of the Knights of the Dinner Table, the "evil" (definitely hostile) version of the Knights are the Black Hands: Weird Pete, Nitro, Newt, Stevil, and (the inexplicably nice) Gordo.  While the Black Hands usually play the sword-and-sorcery Hackmaster, they have delved into other gaming genres as well.  After seeing the Knights take on the Western genre in The Cattlepunk Chronicles -- Outlaw Trail, the Black Hands' KODT Cattlepunk strips are collected (with over 60 pages of new paterial) in The Cattlepunk Chronicles -- The Four Herdsmen of the Apocalypse.

This collection is divided into two parts.  In the first part ("The Early Years"), Nitro is burned out as the GM, so Pete takes over as the GM, running Cattlepunk and "borrowing" several ideas from B.A.'s old campaign.  It turns out that the other players had forgotten what a hard-ass Pete was, and when Nitro takes over as GM the other players spend the whole time at each other's throats.

The second part ("The Herd of Doom") has Nitro picking up the reins of Cattlepunk again, as a favor to a friend.  After several false starts (when the Black Hands kill each other off before getting through the flavor text), Nitro gives his players the task of delivering a massive herd of cattle.  This leads to more in-fighting, a humiliating encounter with a Western legend, and the discovery of what could be the most devastating weapon in the Old West.

The Four Hersdmen of the Apocalypse is delightfully dysfunctional.  Much as I love seeing the Knights in action, the Black Hands are pretty fun when they're sniping at and plotting against one another.  There's lots of fun as the players struggle in the world of the Old West, and the self-contained issue has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments from this world of role playing. ("On the upside -- we got to use the brain spatter tables.")  The Four Hersdmen of the Apocalypse is another funny and worthy KODT collection.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

1.25.2017

THE FOUNDER

How did a small restaurant become one of the biggest chains in America?  When does ambition turn into betrayal?  And how does it all relate to the American dream?  The Founder explores all of these, in its based-on-a-true-story look at the man who was largely behind the success of McDonald's.

The movie begins in 1954 with Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a 52-year-old dreamer whose get-rich-quick ideas have largely led nowhere and who's on the road all the time selling milkshake machines.  His life is also stressful on his wife Ethel (Laura Dern), who wishes he'd stay home with her.

A large machine order piques Ray's interest, leading him to drive out to California, where he finds a restaurant called McDonald's -- which brings people their food orders in under a minute, instead of the 20-30 minutes of other places.  Ray meets with the restaurant's founders -- brothers Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) -- who have an almost scientific method to making good food and getting it out quickly.  Ray sees a huge opportunity, and he talks the brothers into letting him franchise the restaurant -- despite their previous failed attempt to franchise and concerns about maintaining their standards.  A contract seems to take care of the latter issue.
What follows is a combination of growth and conflict.  Ray focuses on expanding and franchising McDonald's stores throughout America as a family-friendly place, while the McDonald's brothers fight with him on maintaining the standards.  (A running joke are the abrupt hang-ups between the two sides during their discussions.)  Lawyer Harry Sonneborn (B.J. Novak) talks Ray into getting into real estate, buying land for the McDonald's to be built on and charging the franchise owners to use it.  And Ray is tempted by Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini), the beautiful wife of a franchise owner with some great business ideas of her own.
The Founder is a very interesting look at capitalism: its promise and its ruthlessness.  Michael Keaton makes Roy Kroc into both hero and villain: Kroc has a never-give-up attitude and plenty of persistence -- but he also has success go to his head, Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are fine actors giving terrific performances as the brothers who are content with what they have but find themselves outmatched by their new partner's ambition.  The story has plenty of drama and plenty of humor -- and no easy answers on who's right and who's wrong.  The Founder is a thoughtful, dramatic, and amusing take on one of the great business successes of the 20th century.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch
(who still eats at McDonald's)

1.22.2017

SPLIT

Lots of movies have a battle of wits between a physically powerful enemy and a more clever victim -- but what happens when the enemy has multiple personalities?  This is the set-up for Split, the latest movie from M. Night Shyamalan.

Few movies have ever given so little time to setting up the movie.  Teenager Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) is at a party with fellow teens Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), who think Casey is weird and an outsider.  When they're getting ready to drive home, they're gassed and kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy).
The teens wake up, captives in some sort of underground building.  It turns out that Kevin has 23 personalities, ranging from the childing Hedwig, to the prim-and-proper Patricia, and the cleanliness-obsessed Dennis.  Kevin and his multiple selves let the girls know that they're being kept in anticipation of the emergence of a 24th personality, known as "the Beast."  Casey wants to turn the personalities against each other, while the other two teens want to overpower Kevin.  There are also meetings between Kevin and Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), Kevin's psychiatrist who thinks his personalities are a form of evolution; and flashbacks to when Casey was a little girl, hunting deer with her father and uncle.
Split works, to a point.  James McAvoy is quite good as the multi-faceted Kevin, making us not only believe in the multiple personalities but even that they can converse with each other and remain quite distinct from each other.  However, Anya Taylor-Joy spends almost the whole movie as a blank, emotionless character, making her a less-than-engaging protagonist.  The ending isn't wholly satisfying, and the Shyamalan "twist" is just that this movie is in the same cinematic universe as at least one of his other movies.  Split is uneven.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

1.18.2017

THE BYE BYE MAN

There may be an overlap between ideas, language and reality -- but that sort of potential is far from realized in The Bye Bye Man.  This is a complete wreck of a horror movie.

The movie opens in 1969, as a man keeps muttering to himself "Don't say it, don't think it" while walking from house to house with a shotgun, asking people if they told anyone the name.  Then he shoots them.
Jump to the present, where college student Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas), and his good friend John (Lucien Laviscount) have rented an off-campus house where they can live.  As usual for a horror movie, there are the beginning minor events: the sound of a coin falling and rolling, what look like figures in the darkness, scratching noises in the middle of the night.  Elliot finds that inside a nightstand, "don't say it, don't think" has been written over and over -- and under it are the words "the Bye Bye Man."

After their psychically sensitive friend Kim (Jenna Kanell) has a seance with the three main characters, Elliot mentions the name "the Bye Bye Man" -- and things get really bad.  All the main characters start hearing or seeing things -- sometimes driving the people to kill themselves.  Some characters who heard the name "the Bye Bye Man" kill others they might have told it to, then themselves.  And Elliot's research suggests that the more "the Bye Bye Man" is said or thought, the stronger he becomes.  Elliot also starts having visions of a cloaked figure, sometimes with a large dog-like creature covered in blood...
Mythology becoming reality has been done in horror movies before, but never as badly as in The Bye Bye Man.  This movie has the unfortunate -- but common in many horror movies -- element of the actors being poor in their roles and having paper-thin characters.  The movie has a visual sense of persistent gloom, from the poorly-lit house to surprisingly dismal daytime scenes.  Lots of things about the movie make no sense, from why the Bye Bye Man kills people whose knowledge of him is what lets him to exist to the point od the dog-type-thing, which adds nothing to the movie.  And worst of all for a horror movie, this isn't scary.  The title character looks like a failed makeup project from Face Off, and the movie lacks either jump scares or growing dread and menace.

I was the only person in the theater showing The Bye Bye Man, and the people who skipped it were luckier than I was.  This may well be the worst movie of the year -- and it's only January!

Overall grade: F
Reviewed by James Lynch

1.17.2017

HIDDEN FIGURES

There are some parts of history -- even fairly recent American history -- that have been woefully overlooked.  Hidden Figures, based on several real-life people, is the story of three women who were instrumental in America's role in the space race.

Friends Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Olivia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) all work for NASA.  Unfortunately, they work there in Virginia in the 1960s, so they face both racism and sexism, and it's common for them to be stared at by a whole room.  Katherine is a "human computer" who performs complex calculations -- and has to run to another building to use the bathroom because it's the closest one that's not for whites only.  Dorothy does all the work and has all the responsibility of a supervisor, but is denied repeatedly for the position.  And Mary wants to become an engineer, but she has to sue just to take the required classes at a segregated school.
But the three women are strong and persistent -- and they want to help in getting an American into space before the Russians.  They even have unexpected support from the agency's boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), who is unintentionally enlightened not because he believes in equality, but rather because he wants the most work out of his people so NASA beats the Russians into outer space.
Hidden Figures is quite an inspirational film.  While there are subplots (including reminders of segregation, the women's families, and Katherine being wooed by a National Guard member), the focus is on the trio overcoming their obstacles and the competition to send someone into space.  The movie rests on the three stars' abilities -- and they all deliver.  Taraji is endearing as the glasses-wearing mathematical genius who struggles both for recognition and problem solving.  Janelle makes Mary the sassy, outspoken one who's as much a fighter as a joker.  And Octavia has plenty of strength as the overworked and undervalued worker -- who also recognizes the importance of learning how to work the "IBM" machine before almost anyone else.  And while the movie is pretty straightforward in terms of direction, it manages to make solving mathematical problems on a chalkboard interesting.

It's a shame that it took a fictional movie to make these women's contributiions known, but Hidden Figures does so with drama, humor, and a very good sense of history.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


1.08.2017

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES DICE GAME

There are plenty of push-your-luck games where a player can keep taking turns to get more points -- and risk losing all those points if things go south with a bad turn.  Steve Jackson combined this sort of game with zombies and dice with Zombie Dice, and now they've applied a near-identical formula to superheroes -- quite well -- with Batman: The Animated Series Dice Game.

On its surface, this game is pretty simple.  Each turn, players roll three dice.  Players are trying to roll loot symbols (when a player gets 30 or more loot every other player gets a final turn, and whoever has the most loot wins), avoid Batman (three Batman symbols end a player's turn and cost them all the loot they earned that turn), and deal with alarms (which get rerolled).  Gray dice (five) have the most loot and fewest Batman symbols, Blue dice (three) have two of each, and yellow dice (two) have the most Batman symbols and fewest loot.  After a player rolls, they keep any Loot and Batman symbols; they can either stop (and gain the loot for the turn) or keep going, rerolling any alarm dice plus random dice to bring them back to three dice total.
 So what makes this game different from other push your luck games?  The villains!  The game comes with four villains (and a promo card can let players play as Mr. Freeze), each of whom has a unique ability.  The Joker gets a loot for every set of three-colored dice, even if he's busted by Batman.  Poison Ivy can set aside one blue Batman symbol each turn.  Catwoman's blue loot are worth 2 loot each.  The Riddler gets to roll 4 dice his first turn, deciding which to keep and which to put back in the cup.  And Mr. Freeze's power is shown on the card below.
As with Zombie Dice, Batman: The Animated Series Dice Game is simple fun.  While the villains make things different for each player, the strategy is pretty straightforward: balancing the risk of getting three Batman symbols with the reward of additional loot.  The art from the animated series is nice, and the game accommodates 2-5 players, with games lasting 10-20 minutes.  Batman: The Animated Series Dice Game won't be the center of a gaming gathering, but it's a fun one to play a few times before the main event.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

1.02.2017

LA LA LAND

When a movie opens with folks in a California traffic jam getting out of their cars to perform a big song and dance number, you know you're in for a treat.  La La Land is a big nostalgic love letter to the movies and music of yesteryear -- as well as the challenges of today.

Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista on a film studio lot with dreams of becoming a big actor -- and a lot of failed auditions behind her.  Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist with dreams of opening his own jazz club -- but he's stuck doing music gigs beneath him, like Christmas standards and '80s covers.  They don't exactly have a meet cute -- he blares his horn at her in the traffic jam; she flips him off -- but they keep running into each other, and soon they're hanging out and falling in love.
Their lives are literally punctuated by musical numbers breaking out, whether Mia's preparing to go out, the two stars dance-sparring and tap dancing on a park bench, or literally dancing on air under the stars.  But as their lives get more complex and they work on making their dreams come true -- Mia preparing to put on a one-woman show, Sebastian joining Keith (John Legend) for a most crowd-pleasing and synthesizer-based form of jazz -- their schedules keep them apart and their relationship starts to become strained...
La La Land is a glorious celebration of the movies and music of yesteryear.  Fans of classic musicals will recognize the numerous homages to musical numbers in film; in addition, Sebastian's almost obsessive pure love of jazz is reflected in La La Land's soundtrack.  Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are terrific, whether as reluctant lovers or striking out on their own.  And the movie is wonderful, from the spontaneous musical numbers to the drama of the two stars trying to make it work between them while pursuing their separate dreams.  La La Land truly brings the magic of the movies and music to life.

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch

12.30.2016

PASSENGERS

Science fiction often uses futuristic trappings to address current or universal issues.  In the case of Passengers, it comes down to a simple message: It sucks to be alone.

This movie starts with the starship Avalon as the main character.  The ship is taking 5000 passengers and 200-some crew -- all in suspended animation -- on a 120-year mission to colonize the planet Homestead II.   The ship maintains its course, adjusts its systems to changes, and keeps the sleeping people stable.
After the Avalon passes through a heavy meteor storm, passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is awakened from his sleep -- with 90 years to go on the trip, and with everyone else still asleep.  With his only companionship the android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen), Jim goes through the expected phases: trying to return to sleep, attempting to find out what's going on (though his engineering skills can't get him to the crew), indulging in on-ship hedonism, and even contemplating suicide.

As Jim looks over the information on his fellow passengers, he becomes interested in Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence).  Jim struggled with the decision whether or not to wake her: He could really use companionship, but waking her would leave her stuck in the same situation as him.  After bouncing back and forth, he wakes her up, helps her with their situation, and begins a relationship with her.  But what will happen if she finds out he woke her up?  Will anyone else awake early?  And what's behind the occasional glitches on the Avalon -- which are becoming more frequent and serious?
Passengers is an okay movie that never tries to do much beyond its basic premise.  While Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are fine actors, they don't have much romantic chemistry or stretching in their roles.  The best part of the movie is the opening, when we get to see a possible future where automation handles everything.  But two people stranded on a ship that seems to supply everything but what they really want -- to sleep until they arrive at their destination -- turns out to be less interesting or compelling that one would think.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch

12.23.2016

RIFFTRAX LIVE: MST3K REUNION SHOW dvd

Rifftrax and Mystery Science Theater 3000 have numerous points of overlap -- much of the same cast, the format of mocking bad movies -- so it makes sense that the hosts of the former would unite with the stars, past and future, of the latter.  Rifftrax Live: MST3K Reunion Show dvd brings them all together for an evening of a few memories and lots of shorts being riffed.

As always, Rifftrax is hosted by Michael Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett.  These MST3K alums riff several shorts (including the "classic" Shake Hands with Danger) and introduce the guests.  The guests, in turn, share a few quick memories of MST3K before engaging in their own riffs.  We have Trace Beaulieu and Frank Coniff (Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank) joining forces to riff.  So do Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Nelson.  And for nice continuity, so do MST3K's first and upcoming hosts, Joel Hodgson and Jonah Ray.  There's also a nice 10-year retrospective of Rifftrax, posted below.  And if that's not enough, there are not one but two riffs featuring everyone -- including one with George Reeves' Superman trying to get the audience to buy stamps.
As a  huge fan of both Rifftrax and MST3K, I would have enjoyed a panel discussion of these folks chatting about their experiences with making fun of terrible movies.  But that's a project for a convention panel.  This time they took on terrible shorts -- and the results were terrific.  Everyone had terrific chemistry, the riffing was very funny, and getting them all together was impressive.  If you like Rifftrax or MST3K (or terrible shorts getting their comic due), check out Rifftrax Live: MST3K Reunion Show.  (The DVD also includes the fake credits that play before the shows, plus photos from this event.)

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch