While I'm not a fan of the Friday the 13th horror franchise, I am often interested in the behind-the-scenes happenings of horror movies; and it's hard to ignore one of the most successful slasher film series ever.  The documentary  His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th takes a loving, somewhat insular look at the world of Jason Voorhees, Camp Crystal Lake, and a myriad of teenage victims.

Hosted by Tom Savini (who did the special effects for several of these movies, including the original), His Name Was Jason consists mostly of interviews with the actors, producers, and directors from the gamut of Friday the 13th movies.  (Sadly, Kevin Bacon isn't here.)  The folks discuss everything from shooting the movies, to their favorite kills, to Jason becoming the movies' protagonist and almost sympathetic, to teens who actually survived.  There's the series' impact on horror -- described as twelve movies in three decades, making half a billion dollars -- and its merchandising, enduring popularity, and 2009 reboot.

While the number of folks interviewed is impressive, it's almost 100% positive about the movies.  The only real disagreement is who gave Jason his now-iconic hockey mask, and everyone had a universally good time making the movies, with plenty of success afterwards.  The continuity issues between movies are glossed over (one person's reply to those errors: "So What?"), and the criticism of the series for violence and stupidity (Roger Ebert called Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter "an immoral and reprehensible piece of trash") are met with the response that it simply made the movies more popular.

 His Name Was Jason also doesn't go outside the franchise too much.  While the documentary discusses the wide-ranging impact the series has had on slashers, the only movie mentioned in this manner is Hatchet.  There's also no mention of movies that may have inspired or influenced the first Friday the 13th, notably Halloween.

Someone described the Friday the 13th movies as "simple and scary," and that's the approach His Name Was Jason takes to the movies.  There's not critical analysis of the movies or deeper look at the movies beyond how fun and awesome they were.  Fans of the movies will be happy hearing the actors talking about being in the roles.  Non-fans (like me) will still find the stories and history interesting, if a bit shallow.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



The central comedy conceit of Dead Gentlemen Productions' movies The Gamers and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising is that during a D&D-type game we get to see the characters acting out the action (and inaction) as the players decide what to do.  For The Gamers: Hands of Fate, the scope of the action has been expanded -- in both subject and location -- and that's both a good and bad thing.

The main cast of the first two movies is back, but Hands of Fate focuses on Cass (Brian Lewis), who was a dick in the previous movies.  He becomes immediately smitten with hot gamer babe Natalie (Trinn Miller), who responds to his advances with acerbic put-downs.  But she agrees to go out with him -- if he wins the national championship for Romance of the Nine Empires (a collectible card game that's a combination of Magic: The Gathering and Legend of the Five Rings) at GenCon and makes her favorite card the queen.
We get to see the world of the ccg acted out -- including several characters in the game experiencing deja vu and trying figure out what's going on.  In addition, at GenCon (where much of the movie was filmed) there are several other delvings into geek culture, from Star Wars (the security is composed of Stormtroopers) to Pokemon (Gary (Christian Doyle) is obsessed with harming someone in a Pikachu-type costume).  There are also movie references and parodies galore, like Cass' Matrix-style card training and a disturbing homage to Reservoir Dogs.  There are card-player conspiracies and old vs. new styles of playing.  And the rpg characters (and villain the Shadow) are sitting around for over a year, waiting for the players' and GM's schedules to sync up so they can keep playing.

As you might have guessed, there's a lot going on here - and sadly, more isn't always better. While a lot of the original movies' inherent goofiness remains in effect, adding in additional genres to spoof and a less-than-compelling romance make Hands of Fate lack focus.  At slightly over two hours long, some of the numerous storylines could have been eliminated to make the movie go smoother.  There are plenty of funny moments in The Gamers: Hands of Fate and it's nice for Dead Gentlemen Productions to bring the familiar characters back, but this is sadly the weakest Gamers movie so far.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



What happens when you substitute an abandoned hotel in the snowy Norwegian mountains for an abandoned cabin in the woods?  You get Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt), a Norwegian horror movie that is strictly by the numbers.

After an opening where a young boy with a birthmark around his left eye is running in a blizzard, and narration lists numerous people who vanish in the Norwegian snowstorms, we get our designated victims, er, young adults.  Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), Eirik (Tomas Alf Larsen), Mikal (Endre Martin Midtstigen), Ingunn (Viktoria Winge), and Morten (Rolf Kristian Larsen) are friends -- and two couples -- who head deep into the mountains for a day of skiing and snowboarding.  It's a great time for everyone -- until Morten crashes and breaks his leg.

For some reason, instead of driving Morten back into town, they decide to take him to a nearby building to spend the night.  The place turns out to be a hotel/lodge that's been abandoned since the 1970s.  Once they settle in, a quick exploration of the place reveals several oddities, like a severely burned room, a final note in the guestbook hoping that someone finds their missing boy, and -- foreshadowing! -- a missing pickaxe.

It doesn't take long for flashes of a mysterious person to start zooming past the camera.  And soon the killing starts...

I wish I could find something original or interesting in Cold Prey, but I couldn't.   The main characters are paper thin, while the bad guy doesn't even have the potential for an iconic trait that most slasher movies try for.  There are a few nice slow shots of the decrepit, abandoned hallways, and the realization that they're not alone is handles well; but simply using snow to strand several young adults in isolation with a psychotic killer doesn't make Cold Prey different than most slasher horror flicks.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch


MAKING MONEY by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels have plenty of comedic rogues and schemers, and Making Money revolves around what happens when such a con artist finds himself dragged into positions of authority.  It's also a lighthearted take on banking politics, and the occasional squid.

Moist von Lipwig was formerly Albert Spangler, a con artist who was rescued from hanging by Lord Vetinari, the ruler of Ankh-Morpork.  Vetinari set Moist up as the city's Postmaster General, where Moist did the unthinkable: He made the Post Office profitable.   It runs so smoothly, in fact, that Moist if bored beyond belief, even risking his life to break into a building that he runs.

Vetinari returns with a new proposal for Moist: making Moist in charge of Ankh-Morpork's Royal Mint, which makes the money for the city.  Moist doesn't want the job, even though he charms Topsy Lavish (formerly Turvy), who controls 51% of the bank's shares along with her little dog, Mr. Fusspot.  But when she dies, she leaves Moist ownership of Mr. Fusspot, and through him control of the bank, she also left the Guild of Assassins a contract on Moist's life in case anything suspicious happens to Mr. Fusspot.

Moist is threatened by Cosmo Lavish, who wants to take control of the bank (and who wants to become Vetinari by stealing and wearing his clothes); by Pucci Lavish, a spoiled and massive woman ("Pucci stood ignored and steaming with rage for a while and then flounced out.  It was a good flounce, too.  She had no idea how to handle people and she tried to make self-esteem do the work of self-respect, but the girl could flounce better than a fat turkey on a trampoline"); and by Cribbins, a lowly criminal with difficult false teeth who knows about Moist's past identity.

The bank is no walk in the park either.  Mr. Bent is the chief accountant who has literally no sense of humor.  Hubert has built the Glooper, a series of glass tubes and containers that somehow is supposed to predict the financial state of the city.  Igor (one of several) can build anything anyone wants -- but his literal interpretations usually have disastrous results.  The same can be said for Gladys, a hulking golem who works for Moist but has been getting ideas from women's magazine.

There's also Adora Belle, Moist''s chain-smoking fiancee whose big cause is golem liberation.  And Moist's plan to move Ankh-Morpork from a gold standard to paper money.  And the missing gold, a lecherous spirit, and the possibility that four ancient gold golems could be  walking through the city at any time.  What is Moist to do, but wing it -- while wearing a gold suit and top hat, of course...

Making Money is tremendous madcap fun.  While the novel lacks some of the reluctant warmth of other Pratchett novels -- Moist is interested in saving his own skin and staying one step ahead of his circumstances and enemies -- it has plenty of manic action (about banking!) and innumerable clever lines.  This is another fine, funny Pratchett novel.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Movies about World War II have shifted from almost shameless praise for the courage of Allied soldiers to a combination of war is hell and how brave our soldiers are.  This new formula is at the heart of Fury, a war film that spares neither the horrors nor potential greatness of war.

At the opening of the film, Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) is returning from battle in German territory, in the final days of WWII in his tank, Fury, with gunner Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf), loader Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal), and Trini "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Pena).  Their assistant driver is dead -- along with the rest of their platoon.  The new assistant driver is Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a typist who's never been inside a tank and only been in the army for eight weeks.  Collier seeks to teach the naive, idealistic Ellison about the horrors of war -- which is easy, as they're off to battle once again.  What follows is a mix of unit bonding and abuse, shoot-em-up battles, lulls during which even peace is tense, and a final battle against impossible odds.

Fury doesn't break any new ground, but it is well done.  The main dramatic conflict is between Pitt's Collier and Lerman's Ellison, as Ellison gets ground down and grows up as Collier brings him into his own war-weary world.  The movie gives a feel for the horrors of war, not just in the deadly battles but in the brutal aftermath (such as Allies soldiers machine-gunning corpses to make sure they're all dead, or not relaxing in an occupied town where any man, woman or child could still try and kill them). The movie builds to a nice (if slightly predictable) climax, and while it drags a bit in the middle Fury otherwise moves at a good pace.  For a good modern war movie that doesn't pull its punches or glorify the brave soldiers, Fury delivers.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Across the country, lots of bars and pubs hold trivia contests that aren't taken all that seriously (probably thanks to the alcohol) and have relatively small prizes.  The Syfy network has adapted these contests in their show Geeks Who Drink.

Hosted by Zachary Levi, Geeks Who Drink features two teams of three, each with one celebrity, competing for cash and prizes.  The show includes either-or questions (such as whether countries are real or fictional, open-ended questions, math questions based on geek knowledge, sorting pictures (such as matching actresses to their horror movie, or putting scenes from Back to the Future in chronological order), and the final challenge, where members of alternating teams have to name something in a category -- Stephen King novels, Disney theatricial movies, etc. -- with people who can't name it getting eliminated and the team with the last person or people winning.
And for the drinking side of it, the players, host, and studio audience (and  possibly home audience) can take a drink every time the scores are tied (which is always at the start of the game) and whenever there's a commercial break.

Much as I like a game show where I know most of the answers, Geeks Who Drink is disappointing.  Zachary Levi's hosting consists of him talking fast, being insulting, and flipping used index cards into the audience when he's done with them.  I don't know how the cash and prizes are divided, but since the games have cash prizes that go from $10 to $20 to $50 to $100, no team has won more than $1000 in a game, making it the cheapest game show this side of the ones that deliberately have no rewards for the winners.  And the in-show drinking game and frequent shots of the audience drinking don't make the show any more wild or rebellious.  I might tune in to Geeks Who Drink if there's nothing else on, but I won;t go out of my way to see it -- or to recommend it.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



In physics, Schrodinger's Cat is used to explain quantum physics as a cat, in a sealed box with a vial of poison that could open at any time and kill the cat, being simultaneously being alive and dead until the box is opened and one possibility becomes reality.  But what if that duality broke down -- and was more than one?  This is the sort of mind game as the center of Coherence, a low-key, special effects-free science fiction movie,

Mike (Nicholas Brendon) and Lee (Lorene Scarafia) are having a dinner party for some couples they know: Emily (Emily Baldoni) and Kevin (Maury Sterling) , Hugh (Hugh Armstrong) and Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), and Amir (Alex Manugian) and Laurie (Lauren Maher).  It's also a special night -- a comet is passing by overhead -- and strange things are happening: Some people's cell phone screen shatter and there's no phone or Internet reception.  Emily has stories about strange happenings when comets have been seen, and Hugh's physicist brother asked him to phone if anything unusual occurs.  The greater tension seems to be Emily's upset that her former boyfriend Amir showed up with Laurie as his date.

When the power goes out in the town (except for one house, two houses down) and there's a knock at the door, everyone gets jumpy.   Then things get really weird.  Hugh and Amir go to the only house with power, to use their phone, but come back saying it was exactly like Mike and Lee's house.  Amir also found a metal box with a ping pong paddle and photos of everyone at the dinner party, with a number written on the back of each photo -- in Emily's handwriting.

 Pretty soon people keep experiencing changes in time (Hugh writes a note to leave on the door of the other house, only to immediately find a copy of the note on their door) and duplicates of themselves with slight differences (like when the originals use blue glowsticks to see in the dark -- and running into other versions of themselves with red glowsticks).  It all comes down to a theory in Hugh's brother's physics book explaining that decoherence keeps different outcomes from interacting with each other.  But the friends start getting stressed and turning on each other, as well as figuring out what to do: Stay holed up in the house until everything passes?  Wander in the dark?  Kill their duplicates?

Coherence reminds me a lot of the movie Triangle, in that both are mind games that don't have much supporting an intellectual mind-blowing concept.  The acting is okay, but the characters are far too ready to accept converging alternate realities as explaining some weird stuff happening during a blackout.  Most of the characters are also paper thin, and the camerawork is jumpy with far too many blackout cuts between scenes.  Coherence has an interesting basic concept, but not enough behind it to involve the audience.  (DVD extras are basic behind-the-scenes features and commentaries.)

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch



Everybody sing!  Let's all shout some mo-vies/ let's all shout out some mo-vies/let's all shout out some mo-vies/ and win ourselves a game!  Ahem.  Double Feature, from Renegade Studios, is a party game for 4-10 players who, ideally, know a lot of movies.

Double Feature has six decks -- Prop, Scene, Character, Theme & Genre, Setting, and Production -- that are all laid out face-down in front of everyone.  Each turn, one player is the Director.  At the start of the game they draw and read two cards from different decks, and the first player (not the Director) who can name a movie matching the two cards gets a point (and the card that's been on the table the longest to represent the point).  The newer card remains, the next player clockwise becomes the next Director, they choose a card from a different deck than the card on the table, the other players shout out a movie matching the two cards, and so on.  (If no one can name a movie matching the two cards, a third card is added and players have to name a movie matching two of the three cards.)  Whoever gets enough points (based on the number of players) wins!

Double Feature is a fun, simple, and straightforward game.  It plays pretty quickly, and I recommend someone have their smart phone or laptop ready to check on any disputed movies.  There's not a lot of depth to the game, and it definitely favors those who see a lot of films.  Double Feature is another "fun little game" that's good for some light entertainment before a more strategic game starts.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch


WHAT YOU NEED by Rachel Wifall

A central theme of literature is what the character(s) need, whether it's survival, love, victory, wealth, knowledge, or something else.  Rachel Wifall looks at this search through three very different people, times, and places in her first novel What You Need.

This novel is divided into three separate stories.  "Haunted Heart," set in England 1949, revolves around former pilot Edward, his unspoken love for his friend Claire, and her wedding to his best friend Archie.  "Stairways" is set in NYC in 2013, where Fergus McNamara balances family, gambling, and working as household manager for the rich, impatient, and obnoxious Abe Goldman, his spoiled wife Julia, and their servants and high-society friends.  Finally, "What You Need (Ce dont vous avezbesion)"  brings us to Long Island in 2010 and Mary, whose balance of waitressing, education, dating, and friends is upset by the murder of her neighbor Mark.

What You Need is a satisfying, pleasant novel.  Rachel creates very distinct protagonists for each segment of the book, whether it's the almost antiquated feel of the post-war love triangle, the hectic life of a big job in Manhattan, or the uncertain stumbling to figure out what one wants and needs in their thirties.  The dialogue is nice, whether it's philosophical musings ("Time may not be an issue for those already departed, but life could seem so long to the living.")  The overall pace of What You Need is sometimes slow, but it's also an enjoyable slice of life from three distinct lives.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Yvonne Craig 1937-2015

Actress Yvonne Craig passed away two days ago.

While Craig took on numerous and varied roles, she became most famous as a "geek sex symbol" in the 1960s.  Her most famous role was that of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon in the third and final season of the 1966 television series Batman:

She achieved almost as much fame as the green-skinned Orion slave girl Marta in the Star Trek episode "Whom Gods Destroy:"

While she worked steadily after that, no other roles were quite as successful or memorable; and she eventually left acting to  work in real estate.  In 2000 she published her biography From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond (and I hope to find a copy of it one of these days):

While I wasn't a fan of the Batman show, I really enjoyed Yvonne Craig on it: She was enthusiastic, kicked butt, and was amazingly sexy; she was also the first female comic book hero brought to life (followed in the 1970s by Linda Carter as Wonder Woman).  Yvonne Craig was an icon of women as superheroes, and she will be remembered fondly.

Written by James Lynch



The past has a way of catching up with the present -- and sometimes it can be devastating.  This is the basis for The Gift, a psychological drama revolving around three people.
Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a seemingly idyllic married couple.  They just moved from California into a beautiful new home, Simon is advancing at his new job, Robyn is working from home at her old job, and they're hoping to have a baby.  While out shopping, they run into Gordon "Gordo" Moseley (Joel Edgerton, who wrote and directed The Gift), who went to school with Simon.  They exchange polite pleasantries, and arrange to meet up.

The dinner is nice, even if Gordo is socially awkward.  Afterwards, he keeps leaving small gifts at the couple's house.  Robyn likes him and feels a little sorry for him, while Simon -- who remembers him as "Gordo the Weirdo" from high school -- wants him out of their life.  Then Gordo's behavior seems to become more extreme, strange things begin happening around the house, and Robyn begins investigating what happened between Simon and Gordo back in high school -- and what her husband is really like.

The Gift is a more subtle and effective thriller-drama.  The tension and mystery comes not from violence and dead bodies, but rather from how the characters interact and reveal themselves.  Jason Bateman is terrific, gradually transforming the ambitious, determined husband to a domineering bully (in high school he was known as "Simon Says" because everyone did what he wanted) who tends to steamroll his wife as much as Gordo.  Joel Edgerton does well making Gordo somewhere between likable, creepy, and very possibly dangerous.  And Robyn Hall fills out the cast nicely, as her Rebecca begins as damaged and grows stronger as her sympathy for Gordo parallels her growing suspicions about her husband.

The ending of The Gift may be slightly anticlimactic, but the movie manages a slow, effective build of tension and a mystery that is more realistic than many thrillers.  It's definitely worth seeing.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



 First, let me say that Night of the Grand Octopus from Iello Games is clearly about H.P. Lovecraft's mythos.  The Grand Octopus is Cthulhu --from the physical description to being imprisoned under the sea -- the library resembles Arkham University, and one of the Components is a Silver Key.  It's clearly Lovecraftian.  Anyway...

In Night of the Grand Octopus, 3-5 players are playing Cultists, gathering four different Components to summon the Grand Octopus and win the game (and, presumably, get eaten last).  Each player gets a Cultist Pawn (which goes on the gameboard), an Offspring (which resembles a giant evil Teddy Bear), a token that goes on the Dagger of Power to show how many Cultists a player has (everyone starts with the number of players plus one), and a Command Clock (with the rooms on the gameboard and two dials).  The gameboard has several locations, each connected by pathways and containing their own Components (Skulls in the Crypt, Grimoires in the  Library, and so on); each location has a number of Components equal to the number of players minus one.  There's also an Exterior Location (one of four available), which has a Silver Key and an unique ability.
On each turn, players secretly use their Command Clock to select destinations for their Cultist and Offspring.  (Players can also select the same destination for both, which Sends the Cultist to the Exterior Location and keeps the Offspring from going on the board).  Once everyone is set, the players reveal their Command Clocks and move their Cultist and Offspring to their Locations.
If a Cultist is alone in a Location, they can collect a Component (if they didn't already have that one); if at the Exterior Location, they can use its ability.  If Cultist winds up in a room with an Offspring, they can collect no Component and lose a Cultist (and get eliminated from the game if they have no Cultists left).  And if multiple Cultists wind up in the same Location, they have no negotiate: Everyone can agree that no one gets anything, one player can Dominate and be the only one to get a Component, or everyone loses a Cultist.  At the end of each turn, if a player has four different Components and at least one Cultist left, they win!

Night of the Grand Octopus is fun, quick, and a bit simple.  While the game is easy to learn and a quick play, the strategy consists almost entirely of anticipating/guessing where an opponent's Cultist will go and sending the Offspring there, while trying not to be as predictable themselves.  Night of the Grand Octopus is enjoyable, but it's a quick little game that's best played before a "feature" game.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



While Marvel has enjoyed great cinematic success with its well-known characters, their Guardians of the Galaxy film did well with much lesser-known characters and a sillier feel.  Now Marvel is trying the same with Ant-Man, a superhero movie that's part action, part comedy, part training montage, and part heist.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a thief and electrical engineer who just got out of jail for a, er, noble theft.  He wants to take care of his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston), but his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) wants him to get a job, get a place to live, and pay child support first.  And Maggie's fiancee Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) is a detective who thinks Scott is no good.

Scott can't get a job with his criminal record, so he eventually joins his criminal buddies Luis (Michael Pena), Dave (T.I.), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) on what's supposed to be a perfect job.  After Scott overcomes a number of obstacles, all he finds is "a motorcycle suit" and a helmet.  When he gets curious and tries the suit on, he shrinks down to the size of an ant!  He also hears a voice in the helmet.

The suit is the creation of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who had been the Ant-Man earlier in his life.  Hank created the "Pym particles" that can shrink or enlarge matter -- and he's worried because businessman Darren Cross (Corey Stall) is on the verge of duplicating the Pym particle and using them to power a lethal armor called Yellowjacket -- which Cross will then sell as a weapon.  Hank needs Scott to break in, destroy the data, and steal the Yellowjacket.  Hank trains Scott in using the suit to manage his size, as well as controlling ants and throwing discs that shrink or enlarge what they hit.  And Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Hank's daughter is training Scott to fight despite wanting to go on the mission herself.  She's also pretending to work with Cross -- and has issues with her father, since he never told her what really happened to her mother.

Ant-Man is a lighter superhero movie.  There are plenty of special effects (mainly when we see the ants seem like large beasts) and action (especially at the end), but there's more planning and training through the movie.  Paul Rudd is best known as a comic actor, and he's an excellent choice to helm this movie; Scott Lang's fellow criminals are almost all comic relief.  Ant-Man isn't perfect -- it follows a very straightforward story line, with relatively few surprises -- but it's a simple, likable summer movie.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



The original Sharknado left so many unexplored areas and unanswered questions that a sequel was required.  No, that's not right: It was just a terrible movie that somehow became popular (under the "so bad, it's good" theory) and so another one was made to milk more money out of it.  Fortunately, what's painful by itself can be transformed into comedy gold with commentary.  And that's what got me to see that abomination of a movie: Rifftrax Live: Sharknado 2 -- The Second One.

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett certainly have plenty of bad material to work with here.  Following the short "Parents -- Who Needs Them?" ("the film that made a young Bruce Wayne burst into tears at Gotham Elementary"), they jump into the sharky badness.  As for the movie itself, it's largely the same as the original (most of the cast, terrible CGI sharks, rapid switches from rain to sun), only it's set in NYC and, owing to the popularity of the first movie, there are lots and lots of d-list "celebrities" making cameos.  The trio have fun riffing it all, whether it's Mark McGrath's pseudo-celebrity as the former Sugar Ray lead singer, Tara Reid's... well, her presence, the heroes' insane plan ("Marvel super villains thing this plan is outrageous"), or the Statue of Liberty's head rolling down streets after the heroes.  ("To hell with physics!")

Possibly the scariest part of all this is that this month, Syfy will be airing Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!  (There was a preview at Rifftrax Live, and it's exactly what you'd expect.)  There's no way I'm watching that -- unless it's part of Rifftrax Live, in which case there's no way I'm missing it.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



The boys are back!  Magic Mike XXL brings back the movies' most famous male strippers for a light, fun road trip.

Magic Mike XXL begins three years after the original.  Mike (Channing Tatum) has left the world of stripping behind, following his dream of making and selling custom-made furniture.  He gets a call from his old exotic dancers: "Big Dick" Richie (Joe Maganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Tarzan (Kevin Nash).  They tell Mike that Dallas is gone and the rest of them will be taking a trip from Tampa to a stripper's convention in Myrtle Beach, SC, with Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) driving and M.C.ing for them.  Mike passes, but back in his workshop a rap song on the radio gets him swinging and dancing all over -- and next thing you know, he's in the FroYo van heading to the convention!

Along the way, the group wings up getting into various adventures, from an upscale women's club to a gay bar.  The group also meets a number of interesting people: Zoe (Amber Heard), a cool and disaffected young woman who may be Mike's new love interest; Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), a successful female empowerer and MC, and her brother Andre (Donny Glover), a sexy crooner; and Nancy (Andie MacDowell), a woman who is more than happy her daughter invited five male strippers to crash at their home.

While Magic Mike balanced the eye-candy of male stripping with the search for something beyond that life, Magic Mike XXL is a much more superficial movie.  There's no real conflict or suspense (every setback on the trip is solved very easily and quickly), and while a few characters wonder what they'll do after the big convention, there's no real thought or speculation as to what they'll do when the ride ends.  Also, every scene between the start and finish could be played in random order with little impact on the movie.

What Magic Mike XXL does deliver is fun.  Apart from the sexy, incredibly stylized dance numbers, there are plenty of laughs, whether it's the guys bickering about their issues, their ridiculously sexy routines (including one of the funniest scenes with Backstreet Boys music ever), or Ken's continual new age theories.  This movie also gives more interaction between Mike and his buddies, as this time they're not just background to the relationship with the Kid from the first movie.

Magic Mike XXL is superficial and enjoyable at the same time.  There's not much to think about, but it's fun to watch.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch