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


12.21.2016

X-RATED: THE GREATEST ADULT MOVIES OF ALL TIME

It's incredibly common for people to compile lists of the best-ever things in a category, and many movie genres are analyzed and listed in this way.  Showtime gets in on this action with their documentary about X-Rated: The Greatest Adult Movies of All Time.  This takes a look at... someone's idea of the best pornos, with commentary from folks in the industry.

The format for X-Rated: The Greatest... is pretty simple.  The 32 movies that made this list are presented in chronological order, from the 1970s (Deep Throat being the earliest movie) to 2015, the year this documentary was made.  Every movie gets almost-always positive remarks from folks who are or were in porn, either stars or working behind the scenes; usually these people were involved in the movie being discussed.  There are clips from each featured movie.  Host and current porn star Scott Gianelli Chanel Preston also gives a quick overview of the changes to the adult film industry each decade.


X-Rated: The Greatest... is mixed in terms of quality.  Having over 30 movies gives the viewer a very good idea of the often substantial difference in adult films from decade to decade: Movies from the 1970s often had very edgy, non-erotic elements (rape, incest, suicide, perms), while contemporary movies often had much higher budgets and production time, allowing for some movies that, with sex removed, could be released as mainstream movies (which actually happened with Pirates).  And the folks commenting on the movies show a great enthusiasm for the movies, whether theirs or not.
There is a lot that could be improved in this documentary, though.  First, we never learn what makes these movies "the greatest" -- Box-office earnings?  Erotic content?  Story?  Awards?  Video sales?  Influence?  -- or who selected these particular movies.  The commentators are sometimes too positive, skipping the controversies surrounding some of these movies and the actors in them.  While lists of the greatest are always subjective, there are plenty of movies that should have been here as well.  And some of the biggest actresses in the adult film world are not included here: Vanessa del Rio, Ginger Lynn, Stephanie Swift, Serenity, Asia Carrera (except for a brief appearance in a clip from Flashpoint), Sasha Grey, Stormy Daniels.  (Somewhat ironically, this genre features female actors over male ones, but almost all the, ahem, biggest male stars are here.)
X-Rated: The Greatest Adult Movies of All Time is mixed when it comes to quality.  This was an interesting list through the history of pornos, and it was nice to hear the folks in this industry discussing the "greatest" films.  But the movie is vague as to how these movies made the list, and it can be a bit too uncritical at times.  It's worth watching -- but hardly a must-see documentary.
Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

12.20.2016

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

If there's any group of people that have reason to be wary of prequels, it's Star Wars fans.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story treads risky grounds: a story where everyone already knows the ending (since it's about the search for the Death Star plans), a director who's neither George Lucas nor J.J. Abrams, and almost entirely new group of characters.  Still, it's a solid movie.

As a little child, Jyn Erso was living happily with her parents -- until tragedy struck.  Imperial general Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) shows up to insist Jyn's father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) return as an engineer on the Empire's superweapon.  Jyn's mother is killed, Galen is taken away, and Jyn flees, to be rescued by Rebel fighter Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
Years later, a grown-up Jyn (Felicity Jones) just wants to be left alone, but the Rebellion rescues her from an Empire prison ship.  Imperial shuttle pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has defected to the Rebellion, with news about Galen and the planet-killer weapon he's been working on.  Unfortunately he's been taken prisoner by Saw, who's become more extreme and paranoid, so the Rebellion hopes he'll open up to Jyn because of their shared past and turn Galen over to the Senate for testimony.   She's joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who has secret orders to kill Galen; and K-250 (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed Imperial strategy droid whose snarky honesty is the source for the most of Rogue One's humor.
The trio travels to several locations: a desert planet, a rainy Empire base, and a beach-covered different Empire base, in their quest for first Galen, then the plans for the Death Star.  Along the way, they're joined by new allies: Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior and possible former Jedi who's skilled with a staff; and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), a well-armed mercenary and friend of Chirrut.  Together they sneak, fight, and lie to maneuver around the Empire and risk everything to obtain the plans to and weakness of the Death Star.  Meanwhile, Krennic has been charged with making sure there are surprises or hidden weaknesses in the Death Star, a mission sending him on a collision course with these Rebels.
I liked Rogue One.  There are several cameos from the other movies; some advancing the plot, some gratituous, some for nostalgic reasons.  While the characters are a bit bland -- Jyn as the reluctant hero, Cassian as the defiant soldier, Chirrut and Baze as very different companions -- but there's some very good action in the movie and several surprises (including one that will... limit the merchandising of this movie compared to other Star Wars films).  I don't know if we needed the backstory behind getting the Death Star plans, but I'm glad that story worked as well as Rogue One did.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

12.18.2016

KILL DOCTOR LUCKY: DELUXE 19.5TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Kill Doctor Lucky, a pre-murder mystery of sneaking, drawing cards and keeping others from killing Doctor Lucky so you can off him, has been a staple of Cheapass Games since their beginning.  The game went out of print, returned with a deluxe edition, and returns again with Kill Doctor Lucky: Deluxe 19.5th Anniversary Edition. This version keeps most of the core rules but adds several to expedite gameplay.

As with previous versions, the goal of Kill Doctor Lucky 19.5 is to, well, kill Doctor Lucky. Players move around the mansion of the fortunate doctor, with one free move and being able to play Move cards to either add to their movement or jump to a room.  After moving, players have two choices.  If a player can't be seen by any other player or Doctor Lucky, that player can draw a card.  Of if a player is in a room with Doctor Lucky and no other player can see them, the player can try to kill the Doctor, either with a basic attack (which starts at 1) or by playing a Weapon card (which are worth more points in certain rooms and add to the basic attack strength).

Going clockwise from the would-be murderer, the other players can play Failure cards to try and stop the murder.  If the points of all Failure cards are less than the murder attempt, Doctor Lucky is killed and the murderer wins!  If the Failure cards equal or exceed the murder attempt, the Doctor survives, all played cards are discarded, and Doctor Lucky jumps to the next-highest numbered room.  Play proceeds clockwise, unless Doctor Lucky moves into a room with another player; if that happens, that player then starts.

There are several changes in Kill Doctor Lucky 19.5 -- and they work pretty well.  First, with fewer players the left wing, right wing, or both wings of the mansion are closed; this makes games quicker, as fewer players have fewer rooms to move around in.  Second, only being able to draw a card when out of sight of all others makes finding privacy important (and eliminates the left-to-right "train" on the top of the board, allowing a player to take multiple turns while drawing multiple cards).  Third, players now move past the unnamed hallways automatically, making movement around the mansion much quicker.  Fourth, every time a player fails at a murder attempt, one card is placed under their character card -- and each card adds 1 to the strength of a murder attempt, so characters become much more lethal as the game goes on.  Finally, when the draw deck runs out of cards, the lights go out in the mansion, and a player can only be seen by other players in the same room -- so it becomes far easier to try and kill the Doctor.  (This edition also has several variants: two-player, pets (Doctor Lucky's cat or dog), and Escape from Lucky Mansion! where Doctor Lucky is now a zombie out to kill the players!
Kill Doctor Lucky 19.5 is the third edition of this game, and it maintains the quality of the first two with some pretty good rule changes.  The fundamentals of the previous game are all there, but the changes make gameplay faster -- without making the game easier or ridiculously quick.  The game maintains a fun (if slightly morbid) sense of humor, from the character cards' motivations for wanting the Doctor dead to the bizarre reasons for failure on the Failure cards.  And the board and pieces are very well done.  Kill Doctor Lucky 19.5 remains a really great board game.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

12.15.2016

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

Some movies are just a big set-up to show a wild and over-the-top party.  These are usually teen movies, but in Office Christmas Party an adult and quite good cast work through a pretty mundane plot.

Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) is the Chief Technical Officer for the Chicago branch of tech company Zenotek.  He's the nice, even-tempered guy who keeps everyone working together.  He's also the buddy of Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller), the easy-going branch manager who loves to party and support his employees.  But Clay's serious sister and interim CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston) wants to get rid of employees' bonuses, cut the staff by 40 percent, and cancel the office Christmas party.  The only way to avoid all that is if Josh and Clay get the business of Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) while Carol heads out of town for her vacation.
The pitch to Walter goes poorly, until Clay invites Walter to a wild office Christmas party.  In no time at all, the office is filled with lights and alcohol, live reindeer, someone dressed as Jesus, and Walter going crazy after blasted in the face with cocaine.  There are a few other storylines: Josh's possible romance with programmer Tracey (Olivia Munn); uptight H.R. head Mary (Kate McKinnon) putting a damper on things and feuding with wild guy Jeremy (Rob Corddry); and nerdy Nate (Karan Sori) hiring prostitute Savannah (Abbey Lee Kershaw) to be his pretend girlfriend -- and then dealing with both her and her gun-toting pimp Trina (Jillian Bell).  The party gets more and more insane, everyone gets crazier and crazier, and of course Carol's flight is canceled and she winds up back at the office...
It's almost impressive that Office Christmas Party manages to be so mediocre with such a good cast.  The actors are all fine in their roles, but the story is completely predictable and there aren't that many laughs through the movie.  Office Christmas Party is a very slight film that's easily forgotten.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch

12.09.2016

CHAMPIONS OF MIDGARD

There are plenty of worker placement games out there -- but how many combine that with viking warriors battling monstrous creatures?  Champions of Midgard from Grey Fox Games pits 2-4 players against each other in the quest for Glory.

Players start the game with a Viking Leader Board (giving a special ability), three meeples (four in a two-player game), one Coin, one Favor, one wood, one food, one Destiny Card, and one Swordsman (white die).  The player who did the most recent heroic deed gets the First Player Marker, the appropriate cards and dice are placed on the board, then the game begins.

Starting with the first player and going clockwise, each player places a meeple on the board; only one meeple can be at a location, except for the Hunting Grounds.  Each location does something different: providing wood or food; allowing players to trade goods; giving players Swordsman , Axemen (black dice), or Spearmen (red dice); reserving combat with the assorted creatures or a place on a ship; or other activities.  Once all the meeples are placed and rewards have been given, combat begins!
Players can fight the Troll, the two Draugr, or the several Monsters.  (The Monsters require a sea voyage: A ship has to be stocked with warriors (dice) and food, a Journey card is revealed (nothing can happen, or food or dice may be discarded, or the Kraken may be battled!), and then the Monster is fought.)  Each monster has a red attack number, a blue defense number, and sometimes a type of dice they are immune to.  The player rolls their dice committed to the battle, and every hit damages the creature; if the damage equals or exceeds the creature's defense, the creature is killed.  The monster deals damage simultaneously, with every hit making a player discard one die; every shield rolled by the player eliminates one of these hits.  A player can also discard Favors during each combat, with each Favor spent letting a player reroll some or all dice.  Defeating a Troll gives a player Glory and a wood, plus the player can put a Blame token back in the supply and then give a Blame token to another player.  Defeating a Draugr gives a player Glory and coins.  Defeating a Monster gives a player Glory plus a Favor.

After the combat, the turn ends.  If the Troll hasn't been defeated, all players get a Blame token, then any remaining Troll and Draugr are discarded.  Monsters get a coin put on them, making them more valuable as they remain undefeated.  Some cards are discarded, dice are replenished on the board, and the next round begins.  After eight rounds the game ends, and final scoring happens.
At the end of the game, final scoring begins.  Destiny cards give more Glory if the player with the card meets its requirements (most wood, most Monsters with red backgrounds, etc.) or less Glory if tied for the requirement.  Each set of red, yellow, and blue creatures give 5 Glory.  Runes give points, as do purchased Longships and unused Glory tokens.  Every three Coins give one Glory.  And players lose Glory based on how many Blame tokens they have at the end of the game.  When all this is added and subtracted, the player with the most Glory wins!  (If there's a tie in Glory, the player with the most defeated creatures wins.)

Champions of Midgard is an unexpected mix of strategy and combat that works quite well.  There are enough ways to gather dice-warriors that every player can enter into combat, but other resources can be just as valuable to victory.  The Viking Leader Boards all give different benefits, but none is so powerful that it makes the game unbalanced.  And the multiple ways of earning Glory at the game's end makes the winner far less predictable than who's ahead on the scoreboard.  Go for the Glory with Champions of Midgard!

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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