9.22.2016

THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB by Evan Dorkin

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

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

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

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

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

9.17.2016

BLAIR WITCH

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

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

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch

9.12.2016

Britney Spears, GLORY (deluxe edition)

Britney Spears has made her career largely by combining radio-friendly big hits and barely-concealed sexuality.  Glory (deluxe edition) continues this tradition, playing up both elements of Spears' music.

Glory seems designed to create more hits for the radio.  There are no slow ballads or songs for her children.  Instead there are songs about sex ("Make Me..." "Private Show"), playful romance ("Clumsy," "Man on the Moon") or just having a good time partying ("When I'm Dancing").

This album relies heavily on electronics and synthesizers, giving the music a fairly artificial feel (and making the song "Liar" a mild surprise for featuring a harmonica).  Britney Spears' voice is okay,varying a bit to be almost a whisper, an erotic come-on or radio-friendly pop singer (even recognizable when she sings in French for "Coupure Electrique").

Unfortunately, the lyrics on Glory are trite, going for simple rhymes instead of anything interesting or really original.  (I also wasn't thrilled with the needless misspelling for "Just Luv Me.")  The songs didn't really stand out, either as guilty pleasure or surprising tender song.  Whether the regular album or the five bonus tracks on the deluxe edition, Glory just isn't that memorable.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch


9.11.2016

LABYRINTH: 30 YEARS

Long before CGI was common in movies, puppetry was one way of bringing fantasy creatures to life -- and few were as famous when it came to puppets than Jim Henson.  While his attempt at fantasy with The Dark Crystal fizzled, Henson more than redeemed himself with Labyrinth, a fantasy film where everything came together almost perfectly.  Labyrinth: 30 Years, from Fathom Events, celebrates the movie's anniversary with a big-screen showing and a few new details about the movie and what happened after.

Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a 15-year-old girl with a rich fantasy life -- and some pretty typical teenage melodrama.  She's not happy that her fantasy playing is cut short so her father and "wicked" stepmother can go out and Sarah can babysit her baby brother Toby.  And when Toby won't stop crying, Sarah tells her a story about goblins that ends with her wishing the goblins would take him away.

Unfortunately, Sarah's wish is a spell of sorts, and she's immediately visited by Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie), who comes to take Toby away and turn him into a goblin.  When Sarah protests, Jareth makes her a deal: She had thirteen hours to traverse his labyrinth and find Toby at his castle.  If she does, she gets Toby back; if not, Toby becomes another goblin minion of Jareth.
Sarah's dropped into a fantasy world where almost nothing is as it seems.  There are shifting walls, a wide variety of creatures, puzzles, traps, temptations, and the interference of Jareth.  Sarah also finds some oddball allies: Hoggle, a self-proclaimed coward whose allegiance is always varying between Sarah and Jareth; Ludo, a gentle giant beast who can summon rocks and boulders with his cry; and Sir Didymus, a small dog-like knight who uses a dog as his steed.
Just about everything in Labyrinth works.  The young Jennifer Connelly does very well, as her Sarah starts off fairly bratty and selfish but grows along her journey.  David Bowie is absolutely terrific as Jateth: part rock start (there are indeed musical numbers), part seducer, part menace.  And the numerous creatures and entities that populate the labyrinth and very detailed and lifelike -- even if they're speaking walls or critters whose limbs and heads keep bouncing off as they dance.  There are some scares, lots of laughs, and a nice semi-epic journey.  Labyrinth is a delight for both little kids and adults.
Before the movie, the 30 Years special had a documentary about Labyrinth.  This included the surviving folks who worked on the movie fondly remembering Jim Henson and David Bowie, as well as discussing how the movie was made.  They also reveal what happened to most of the puppets used in the movie.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

9.09.2016

MORGAN

Bad things happen when scientists experiment with nature.  This is a very common trope of several science fiction movies, and now Morgan joins them.

Risk management consultant Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) has been hired to evaluate by an unnamed but slightly sinister company to evaluate and possibly terminate the L-9 project.  This takes her to the middle of nowhere, where outside are beautiful woods and cold, sterile concrete rooms are underground.
A handful of scientists have been working in seclusion on a genetic project.  They seem to have success with Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is five years old but looks like a teenage girl.  Morgan has great intellectual and emotional development; she also may have superhuman abilities, as she seems to know quite a bit about people she just met.  And when one of the scientists tells Morgan she can't go outside anymore, Morgan attacked her and blinded her in one eye.  Is Morgan a danger?  Will Lee end the project and have Morgan killed?  Or will everything spiral out of control?
Morgan is a dreary and surprisingly flat movie.  The story arc is predictable, and the characters are all one-dimensional; even the appearance of Paul Giamatti as a dour psychiatrist doesn't add much to the movie.  There aren't many scares or thoughtful scenes, and the images of the free person and imprisoned person reflected in the glass dividing them gets overdone quickly.  Morgan tries to be suspenseful but is actually boring.

Overall grade: D
Reviewed by James Lynch

9.06.2016

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

With so many summer movies being franchises, fluff, or bogged down with special effects, it's a nice change of pace to see a movie that's quieter, self-contained, and quite beautiful.  Kubo and the Two Strings is a Japanese folktale from the stop-motion experts from Laika Studios that's both touching and harsh.

The movie opens during a storm, as Sariatu (Charlize Theron) is traveling in a small boat with her baby Kubo.  The journey isn't easy -- Sariatu is thrown out of the boat and hits her head on the ocean floor, while the baby is missing an eye -- but they make it to a cave in a giant mountain.

Years later, Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy who supports by his mother by going into town, telling stories, and playing a guitar that brings sheets of paper to life.  Sariatu has memory lapses and periods of catatonia, but she still tells Kubo stories about his past.  His father, Hanzo, was a samurai whose love was an insult to Saraitu's father the Moon King and Sariatu's evil Sisters.  They killed Hanzo and the Moon King stole Kubo's eye -- and he wants the other one, which is why Kubo must always return home before night.

Of course Kubo winds up in town after dark, which brings the creepy Sisters (voiced by Rooney Mara).  Sariatu sacrifices herself to save Kubo, telling him to find a magic armor, sword, and helmet to protect himself.  Kubo's little figure of a monkey has come to life, and Monkey (also voiced by Charlize Theron) is a humorless guardian of Kubo.  A paper samurai acts as a guide for the pair, and they're joined on their quest by Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a samurai turned into a human-insect hybrid with amnesia but a certainly he served Hanzo.  Together they face a giant skeleton, hypnotic sea monsters, Kubo's truly scary relatives, and revelations (including a twist I saw coming) and loss.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a very impressive movie.  The animation is stunning, from the largest stop-motion puppet ever to the emotional expressions of the characters (and the creepy still faces of the Sisters).  Unlike many other animated movies, this one has genuine loss and tragedy, and it's not magically reversed or changed at the end.  The voice talent is very good, and kids and adults alike will enjoy the bickering between Monkey and Beetle.  Kubo and the Two Strings may be a little scary for really young kids, but it's a delight for fans of both animation and originality.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

9.02.2016

HELL OR HIGH WATER

What happens when the American Western meets the decline of the American dream?  Hell of High Water puts a contemporary spin on the outlaw tale.

Brothers Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) rob banks.  Specifically, they wait for branches of the Texas Midland bank in West Texas to open, then they pull down ski masks and have the employees give them all the money from the cash drawers, $20s or smaller, no packets.  Toby and Tanner drive off, ditch their stolen car, get another one, and plan on hitting the next Texas Midland bank.

It's no coincidence that the Texas Midland bank is being targeted: It's about to foreclose on the Howards' property, following the death of their mother, and the brothers are laundering the bank's own money to pay off the mortgage.  Toby wants the land for his kids -- who he can't see because he owes his ex-wife child support.  And Tanner is an ex-con, recently out of prison and far more of a loose cannon.

Meanwhile, the two are being pursued by a pair of Texas Rangers.  Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is on the verge of retirement and has an almost languid approach to catching the robbers.  Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) barely tolerates Marcus' jokes about his Mexican and Indian heritage.   Together they find towns suffering from depression and poverty, and people who are fine with folks robbing the banks that seem determined to rob them,

Hell or High Water proceeds along its two paths -- the robbers out to get enough money, and the police focused on stopping them -- at a slow, deliberate pace.  The actors all do fine jobs, and among the numerous locations there's a feel of desperation as the economic downturn has hit all these small towns, and their occupants, hard.  Hell or High Water is far from a feel-good movie, but it's a modern Western with something to say about what happens to people in a downturn.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

8.26.2016

DON'T BREATHE

Well, that's one way to show that people with handicaps can be quite capable: Don't Breathe is a suspense movie where the presumed-helpless man turns out to be as dangerous and twisted as just about any horror killer.

In Detroit, Michigan, a trio of young people make their living by robbing homes.  Rocky (Jane Levy) wants to make enough money for her, her daughter, and her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) to move to California.  Alex (Dylan Minnette) plans the robberies by getting the alarm codes for homes from his security-working father; he's also cautious about what they steal (to avoid potentially longer jail times) and has a crush on Rocky.  And Money fences the stolen goods, which doesn't pay as much as he'd like.

Money gets a seemingly perfect tip: Rob the Blind Man (Stephen Lang).  He's a former Gulf War vet who got a six-figure settlement when his daughter was killed.  The robbers hope some or all of his money is kept in his house.  The house is almost the only occupied home in the neighborhood, which means no police patrols.  And since he's blind, they can walk around the house with impunity.
Naturally, the plan goes south pretty quickly.  While things start off well -- they drug the Blind Man's rottweiler and set off a chloroform bomb in his room -- the Blind Man quickly disarms one of the crooks (getting a gun) and barricading the robbers inside the home.  He's a hulking, well-trained soldier who knows the layout of the house perfectly and seems to hear every squeak and movement the robbers make.  And he has several surprises in his home...
Don't Breathe is a solid horror movie.  While there are times where the Blind Man sometimes seems as indestructible as Jason or Michael Meyers (and seems to pop up places almost at will), there's a pervasive feeling of claustrophobia as the robbers quickly find an "easy" score has them trapped with a killer.  There are several surprises and gross moments and very little character development (mostly Jane Levy screaming or trying not to scream), but there is plenty of tension and numerous scares (especially when the lights go out and everyone's blind -- but the Blind Man knows the layout and his victims don't).  Don't Breathe isn't the start of a horror franchise, but is does have plenty of scares on its own.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

8.24.2016

RIFFTRAX LIVE: MOTHRA

Japanese kaiju movies, featuring giant (and fake-looking) monsters, are ripe for both joking and mockery.   So it's natural that the Rifftrax folks (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett) would take on this genre.  They joked about Godzilla and Gamera back on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and they take on what should be the least-threatening giant monster in Rifftrax Live: Mothra.

After the opening fake humorous slides ("Please.  Call me Larry." -- Lawrence of Arabia) and riffing on the short "Soapy the Germ Fighter," the host trio tackle Mothra.  And this movie has plenty of kaiju elements that make good fodder for jokes: a radioactive island, tiny singing women, a bumbling reporter, and the destruction of obviously fake sets an towns.  ("If you're a matchbox collector, this is like a snuff film.")  It also doesn't help that moths aren't inherently scary, the title monster doesn't appear until after 1/3 of the film is done, and when she finally appears she's a giant grub.
While there were a few slight lulls of joking during the movie, Rifftrax Live: Mothra was a lot of fun.   There were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and anyone who thought moths were scary would be hard pressed to defend that position after seeing this.  I'm not a fan of kaiju, but I remain a strong fan of Rifftrax!
 Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch


8.21.2016

EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN dvd

"There's something out there..."  This line from Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn may be one of horror cinema's biggest understatements.  This movie -- possibly the greatest B-movie of all time -- throws everything it can imagine into the setting of the abandoned cabin deep in the woods.

At the start of the movie, Ashley "Ash" Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) crash a seemingly abandoned cabin deep in the woods for a romantic weekend.  Unfortunately, Ash finds a tape recorder that has a professor reading from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (the Book of the Dead).  The words summon an unseen creature, Linda gets possessed, and Ash's nightmare (sometimes literal) begins.
On the outskirts of the forest, Annie (Sarah Berry) has just arrived with her -- research partner?  boyfriend?  fiancee? -- Ed (Richard Dormeier) and several pages from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis to translate.  With the help of redneck couple Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobby Joe (Kassie Wesley DePaiva), they all make their way to the cabin.

Writer-director Sam Raimi throws everything he has into Evil Dead 2,   There are Deadites, Candarian demons, assorted characters getting possessed, an animated hand, something in the fruit cellar, one of the most fun arming sequences around, and so, so much blood and fluids spewing all over the place.  In the middle of this is also plenty of comedy: It's not hard to see the influence of the Three Stooges throughout the movie, and there are numerous quotable lines spread through the movie.  There's also the transformation of Ash from egotistical Romeo to somewhat insane action hero.
There are some flaws in the movie -- shooting inconsistencies, the stop-motion animation -- but they wind up adding to the feel that this could be a fun-but-flawed movie that could have been enjoyed at a drive-in movie theater.  Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is a tremendously fun roller coaster ride of a horror movie.  (Extras on this DVD include a making-of feature ("The Gore the Merrier"), commentaries by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, movie stills, and a few assorted other items.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

8.15.2016

THE MUSIC OF DC COMICS: VOLUME 2

With several decades of superhero shows, movies, and novelty songs, The Music of DC Comics: 75th Anniversary Edition barely scratched the surface of what's out there.  So now there's The Music of DC Comics: Volume 2, a 29-track collection that both covers new material not on the first volume and sometimes feels like it's going for secondary choices.

The Music of DC Comics: Volume 2 has music from a wide variety of times.  There are samples from new live shows (Gotham, Supergirl, The Flash), cartoons (the Superman and Batman cartoons, DC Comics Supergirls), movies (Man of Steel, Batman V Superman) and even video games.  There are funky novelty songs from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.  And yes, the theme from Challenge of the Superfriends made it onto this collection.  Several of the songs are quite silly (The Adventures of Superpup, The Theme of the Justice League of America) but even they represent a more bombastic, often groovy time.  And the instrumentals are almost all pretty exciting and very effective.
The weakness of Volume 2 comes from the times when it tries to follow the "good" stuff on Volume 1.  Since Volume 1 has John Williams' iconic theme from Superman, Volume 2 settles for "The Flying Sequence" and "Lex Luthor's Lair" from the movie.  Volume 1 has the theme from the Batman TV show; Volume 2 has a cover of the theme.  Volume 1 got the original theme song from Wonder Woman; Volume 2 had the theme song from its last season.

Even with the limits from following the first collection, The Music of DC Comics: Volume 2 is still pretty good.  The songs here are a nice mix through the decades, and several songs will be new to even the most devoted superhero fan.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch


LOST IN R'LYEH

H.P. Lovecraft's story "The Call of Cthulhu" begins with an accidental discovery and ends with a monstrous entity and inevitable doom.  Lost in R'lyeh from Atlas Games puts the players into this story, working to get rid of all their cards so everyone but one person can win -- or, as the rules put it, "You cannot win in Lost in R'lyeh.  But one player will lose -- the last player remaining when all the others have gotten rid of their cards and made good their escape."

At the start of the game, each player gets a face-down hand of cards, then five face-up cards (called Escape cards).  The player then picks a card from their hand and puts it face down next to the Escape card; this is the Ultimate Escape card and will be the last card played.
On each player's turn they can play either Horror cards or an Event card to a stack at the center of play.  Horror cards are numbered 1-10 and can only be played if their number if equal to or greater than the top Horror card on the stack.  (The exception is ark Cult's Voodoo Rite, which requires the next Horror card be lower than a certain number.)  A player can play multiple copies of the same numbered card at once, and they can have special effects (like taking another turn or Banishing (removing from the game) the stack).  Event cards are played one at a time and can always be played.  After a player plays their cards, they draw back up from the Draw Pile of cards to the starting hand size.  If a player can't play any cards, they have to take all the cards from the stack into their hand.  While this seems bad (giving a player more cards to get rid of), it can be beneficial by giving a player numerous multiple copies of Horror cards.

When the Draw pile is empty, players try to play all the cards from their hand.  When those cards are gone, a player takes one face-up Escape card into their hand and plays it.  And when those are all gone, the player puts their Ultimate Escape card in their hand -- and if they can play it and not get more cards, they've escaped and won (or at least not lost).  And the last player with cards is the game's loser.

Lost in R'lyeh is fairly simple and pretty enjoyable.  The gameplay is both simple and complex, as players try to jettison their cards while sometimes grabbing the stack to get a lot more cards and a lot more options.  The card names and art reflect "The Call of Cthulhu" well -- you get a good feel for the story if you read the Horror cards from 1-10 -- and the game plays pretty quickly, as cards are played and removed from the game.  And the metal tin is a nice touch!  There's a lot to like when getting Lost in R'lyeh.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

8.12.2016

SAUSAGE PARTY

If you go by the movie Sausage Party, eating meat is murder, eating vegetables is murder, and sometimes using objects is murder -- so I suppose there's not much for humans to do.  In any event, this raunchy comedy takes the animation trope of inanimate objects coming to life and has a bizarre, sometimes cruel, and often stereotypical take on it.

At Shopwell's Supermarket, all the food (and many of the other products) are alive, talking (usually cursing) and moving when no humans are around.  The food stays in its packaging, hoping the Gods (humans) will purchase the food, taking it to the Great Beyond (outside the store) for an eternity of bliss.  A sausage named Frank (Seth Rogen) and his hot dog bun girlfriend Brenda Bunson (Kristen Wiig) look forward to when they can be together out of their wrapping, with some not-so-subtle sexual suggestions.
A cart crash (and Saving Private Ryan parody) leaves Frank and Brenda stranded in the store.  They try to make their way with the help of: Teresa del Taco (Salma Hayek), who has more than a passing interest in Brenda; Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton), who sounds and acts like Woody Allen; and Kareem Abdul Lavash (David Krumholtz), who sounds and acts like a stereotypical Arab.  For a villain, there's a literal Douche (Nick Kroll) out to get Frank and Brenda -- and who compensated for a leak by cannibalizing liquids from other products in the store.  Frank learns what happens to food from an Indian bottle of liquor named Firewater (Bill Hader), while Frank's slightly shorter sausage friend Barry (Michael Cera) finds out the hard way the torture and brutality of cooking.
It's... kind of hard to know what to think about Sausage Party.  There are a lot of funny voices in the cast, especially Nick Kroll's obnoxious villain.  ("Come at me, bro!")  The movie also has some fun with animation tropes, whether how food and Gods/humans can communicate or the final showdown.  And this is one movie that isn't afraid to go offensive.  (If you think a sex scene between a sausage and a bun is wild, that's nothing compared to what happens at the end of the movie.)  But the movie also goes for a lot of easy food puns, and it's very hard to ignore that virtually every foodstuff is an ethnic caricature: the potato is Irish, tequila is Mexican, the Jewish and Arabic foods argue and fight about control of their aisle, and so on.  And the end of the movie tries to be meta but pretty much fizzles out.  I laughed and chuckled during Sausage Party, but it feels like it's trying too hard to be crude and politically incorrect, which sometimes feels like it's trying to shock more than entertain.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

8.06.2016

SUICIDE SQUAD

Well, that was a hot mess.  Suicide Squad is DC Comics' latest attempt to create their cinematic universe -- plus tap into the antihero trend -- but it winds up as a grim, unfocused disaster.

Following the events of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, government officials are worried about both the absence of Superman and the possibility a powerful metahuman may not be as good-willed as the Man of Steel.  Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has an... unusual plan.  She wants to take some convicted criminals -- both skilled and metahuman -- and make them Task Force X, a group who'll be forced to carry out government assignments, with blackmail and/or death the penalty for refusing to follow orders.  This group would be led on the ground by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who's backed up by Katana (Karen Fukuhara).
 For those keeping track, Task Force X is composed of: Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the Enchantress (Cara Delevigne), and Slipknot (Adam Beach).  But if the idea of letting homicidal folks loose seems like a bad idea, it's quickly proven to be a bad idea: The Enchantress escapes and starts a world-ending plan with her mystical brother Incubus (Alain Chanoine), the group is given the assignment to extract one person from Midway City.  And the Joker (Jared Leto) has decided he wants Harley Quinn back.
There is so, so much wrong with Suicide Squad.  The movie takes far too long introducing the characters and is fairly fuzzy on their missions through the film.  As with many group movies, the characters have minimal personalities and more abilities/powers.  While the movie tries to make its cast likable and friends, they're still mostly selfish, homicidal, and sometimes sociopaths; the movie tries to make Will Smith's character sympathetic because he has a daughter -- which apparently makes up for his killing people for money.  The direction is disjointed and hyperactive, the action is muddled, and the result is a huge disappointment.  Skip Suicide Squad.

Overall grade: D-
Reviewed by James Lynch

7.31.2016

KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE: 20 YEARS OF COVERS

It's said that the cover of a comic book is very important, as it catches a potential reader's eye and may entice them into buying the book.  Knights of the Dinner Table celebrated its first two decades of publication with Knights of the Dinner Table: 20 Years of Covers, a coffee table book that features all the covers of the comic -- plus additional material.

Knights of the Dinner Table follows the misadventures of the Knights of the Dinner Table -- B.A., Bob, Dave, Sarah, and Brian -- a role-playing group in Muncie, Indiana who mainly play Hackmaster, a thinly-veiled version of Dungeons & Dragons.  Over the years the comic has expanded its scope, introducing other gaming groups (most often the Black Hands), the employees of Hard Eight Enterprises (who produce Hackmaster), the annual GaryCon conventions, and more.  Throughout the years and changes, the focus of the comic has always been gaming -- and that focus is reflected in the book's covers.

The early covers focused mainly on the Knights, either showing all of them together or the four players with gamemaster B.A. appearing in the background somehow.  Over time the other characters and groups made their way to the covers: the Black Hands would be tormenting the Knights, individual characters would get the focus, the annual GaryCon shows would pop up, there was a tribute to Gary Gygax, etc.  Knowing that many of the readers were gamers and/or geeks, the characters would appear in parodies of movies, TV series, other comic books, and even original D&D sourcebooks.  And there were many guest artists, providing different (and, frankly, sometimes better) artwork than inside the comic book.

In addition to the covers, KODT: 20 Years of Covers also has an introduction by the series' creator Jolly Bkackburn.  There are also summaries of all the stories in every issue, plus the occasional panel or artwork from the issues, which elevates this collection from just artwork to a pretty good guide to the stories appearing in every single issue featured in this collection.

Unfortunately, the production of KODT: 20 Years of Covers was part of the disastrous KODT Live Action Series Kickstarter campaign.  The online store Noble Knight Games generously provided copies of the book to those Kickstarter backers who never got their book; unfortunately, they sent out all the copies they had (and I got the last one!).  Fortunately, Kenzer & Company has made KODT: 20 Years of Covers available as a downloadable PDF ; and the hope remains that more physical copies of the book will eventually be produced.

I've been a fan of Knights of the Dinner Table since 1998, and Knights of the Dinner Table: 20 Years of Covers is a terrific collection of the series' amusing and pretty original covers (which almost never have anything to do with the issue's stories).  This book may not be for everyone, but it's terrific for fans of the series, gamers, and geeks in general.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch