6.19.2017

ROLL FOR THE GALAXY

Who would have guessed that building a galactic empire would revolve around rolling six-sided dice?  In Roll for the Galaxy, from Rio Grande Games, players vie for victory through developments, planets, and lots and lots of dice rolling.

The object of Roll for the Galaxy is to have the most victory points when the game ends.  Players begin the game with: a cup for rolling dice; a starting tableau of a faction tile (two developments) and a home planet; a construction zone mat with the Citizenry and spots for development and planet tiles; a phase strip, with all the possible roles; a screen which also has all the rules inside; three Home (white) dice in the cup, and two Home dice on the Citizenry, plus any dice given from the home planet.  And a number of victory point chips, based on the number of players, are placed in the middle of the table.
At the start of each turn, players roll the dice in their cup behind their screen, assign the dice on their phase strip to one phase, and all lift their screen together to enact the phases.  Dice normally go under the phase matching the symbol on the dice.  In addition, players can assign any one die to the phase regardless of the die's facing; players can also use the Dictate power to set one die to the side and then assign any other die to any phase.
There are five phases.  Explorer gives players two choices per die.  They can Scout, discarding any number of development or world tiles from their Construction zone mat, drawing a number of tiles equal to the number of discarded tiles plus one, choosing which side to use (one side has a development, the other side has a planet), and putting the new tiles under the tiles already on the mat; or they can Stock, gaining two galactic credits.  Developer puts the dice on the top development tile.  If the dice equal the cost of the development, the development goes into the tableau and its powers start immediately.  If there are fewer dice than the cost, the dice stay on the development; if there are more dice than the cost, dice above the cost go on the next development in the stack.  Settler works exactly like Developer, but for planets on the mat.  Producer puts each die used as a good on available planets, one die per planet unless a development allows more than one.  And Shipper gives two choices per die.  A player can trade goods, for three to six galactic credits, based on the color of the planet.  Or a player can consume goods, getting victory point chips: Always one victory point, a bonus victory point if the die matches the color of the planet, and a bonus victory point if the Shipper die matches the color of the planet.  And the Consumption (purple) die matches all colors and gains a bonus victory point.
After these actions, all dice used by a player go on the Citizenry, and unused dice go back into the cup.  Players can also take dice used on developments, planets, or as goods and place them in the cup.  Players they use their galactic credits to move dice from the Citizenry to the cup, at one die per galactic credit used; if a player has no credits, they automatically gain one.  Then players roll the dice in their cup, assign them to a phase, and  so on.

The game ends when a player has thirteen or more developments and planets in their tableau (including the three they start with) or the pool of victory point chips is empty.  Players then add up the victory point chips, plus they get victory points equal to the cost of their developments and planets; some 6-cost developments and planets give bonus victory points.  Whoever has the most victory points wins!

I really enjoyed Race for the Galaxy.  There is no combat with or blocking of opponents, letting players focus more on their own strategy than that of opponents.  The game starts slowly, but as players get more dice from planets and more benefits from developments players get a lot more dice to use and options for using them.  Players can work to end the game when most beneficial for them, while checking to see if an opponent is close to ending things.  And since active dice don't go back in the cup, earning enough galactic credits to add dice to the cup can be as important as getting more developments and planets.

The one slight downside is that this game requires a tremendous amount of trust: You have to be sure you and your fellow players aren't illegally changing the facing of dice behind the screens before revealing them.  But as long as the players are trustworthy, Roll for the Galaxy is a nice blend of luck and skill in creating a star-spanning empire.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

6.16.2017

RIFFTRAX LIVE: SUMMER SHORTS BEACH PARTY

Ah, summertime.  The season for beaches, barbecues, swimming, and... terrible short features?  Rifftrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party continues the MST3K/Rifftrax tradition of joking during terrible movies -- only this time the subjects/victims are short features.

The Summer Shorts feature is hosted by Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy.  This time around, however, they're joined by MST3K alumns Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and Bridget Nelson (Mike's wife), along with comedian Paul F. Tompkins.  The guests riff on the shorts with or instead of the three regulars, and everyone joins together to take on the evening's final short feature.

As for the shorts, they prove as terrible -- and therefore ripe for being the subject of jokes -- as the feature films.  There's a safety film involving a magic owl that looks like a furry with a beard.  There's a sexist black and white feature on women in the office.  There's the "exercise" of rhythmic ball movement.  And it all wraps up with two burlap sacks coming to life and being chased by their owner.
It's hard to believe some of these shorts ever got made -- but it's great that the Rifftrax folks got hold of them.  There were a tremendous amount of laughs during all the shorts, and the variety of short features kept the subject matter quite varied.  Even though none of the shorts were beach or summer related, Rifftrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party was a very fun way to spend a summer evening.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

6.11.2017

IT COMES AT NIGHT

So, what happens when you combine a plague, paranoia, and a low budget with a cast of less than a dozen people?  It Comes at Night is such a movie -- and it's painfully flat and boring.

The movie opens with someone apparently infected and sick, being taken to the forest for a mercy killing and body burning.  We're told (not shown, alas) that there's some sort of incredibly infectious disease that's caused the collapse of civilization.  Paul (Joel Edgerton) survives, with gas masks and plenty of firearms, in his house in the woods with his teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and the family dog.  They follow Paul's rules, live simply, and barricade themselves in the house at night.
Their existence is changed when someone tries to break into the house at night.  This would be Will (Christopher Abbott), who's searching to trade food for water for his family.  Paul is initially skeptical, but he eventually allows Will's family -- young wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) -- to integrate with his family, living and working together.  But Paul's fear of infection remain, there are mysterious sounds in the woods, and Travis is having both nightmares and fantasies about the newcomers to their home.
While bare-bones movies can sometimes work (Clerks, The Blair Witch Project), It Comes at Night doesn't work on so many levels.  We never get to learn anything about the characters, making it hard to root for or sympathize with any of them.  (The bland acting doesn't help either.)  Most of the scares come from Travis' nightmares, which isn't an effective source of terror.  And there's little payoff for the few mysteries introduced in the movies.  This was a huge disappointment.

Overall grade: F
Reviewed by James Lynch

6.07.2017

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE

So, what happens when a movie about a sex worker isn't really about sex?  The Girlfriend Experience, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is a non-sequential drama that's as much about the economy as it is about sex-for-pay.

Chelsea (Sasha Gray, real life former porn star) is a sophisticated, high-end escort living and working in Manhattan.  In addition to sex, she offers her clients "the girlfriend experience," where they talk about whatever they like -- before, after, or even instead of sex.  In her narration, she describes her meetings with the clients: Who they are, what she wore, and what they did on their "date."  She also describes her work to a journalist (Mark Jacobson) and we hear her conversations with her clients.   And she's working on expanding her brand, from investing in ways to increase her online presence to opening a clothing boutique.
There's also Chris (Chris Santos), Chelsea's boyfriend.  He's fine with her work but upset by her belief in "personology," a kind of astronomy where she thinks some clients could be her soulmate.  He works as gym instructor and is working to get ahead, at his gym, other gyms, and possibly selling clothes.  And he wonders if Chelsea'd be bothered if he went to a guys' weekend to Las Vegas.
All of this is happening before the 2008 presidential election -- and worries about the state of the economy and where it's heading are omnipresent.  There's far more discussion about money than sex in The Girlfriend Experience.

But does it work?  This movie skips a traditional linear plot in favor of (mostly) brief scenes scattered: meetings with clients, friends, investors, etc.  Sasha Gray plans Chelsea as almost always emotionally closed, which interesting to a point but hard to get invested in her.  The Girlfriend Experience may not be consistent, but it is interesting.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

6.03.2017

WONDER WOMAN

After the last two horrible DC movies (Batman V. Superman, Suicide Squad), DC got it right with Wonder Woman.  This movie is faithful to the comic book character, very exciting, and inspires the sort of awe epic comic book characters deserve.

As a child, Diana grew up on the hidden island Themyscira, populated by warrior Amazons.  Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells Diana (her daughter) tales of the gods, with Zeus defeating Ares and the Amazons destined to destroy Ares, while he tries to corrupt humanity with war.  Hippolyta doesn't want Diana to be trained for battle, but is persuaded that she be trained more than any Amazon ever.  And the adult Diana (Gal Gadot) is the most skilled Amazon.
 Everything changes when pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on the island, followed closely by German forces.  The Germans attack the Amazons, Steve defends them, and he explains to the isolated Amazons about World War I.  He's on a mission to deliver a book to British intelligence.  Diana believes Area must be behind the War and -- arming herself with magic lasso, shield, and a sword called the Godkiller -- joins Steve Trevor as he returns to Europe.

Diana and Steve have allies in London with perky agent Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) and elderly planner Sir Patrick (David Thewlis).  On the opposite side, General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) hates the peace talks and believes one big German victory will turn the tide of the war.  And scarred scientist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) has two major discoveries: a form of mustard gas so deadly it shatters gas masks, and another gas that gives someone superhuman strength.
Wonder Woman works on most levels.  Gal Gadot strikes the right balance between caring and warrior, intelligent woman and innocent exposed to the world for the first time.  Chris Pine is good as the cocky soldier and spy, and the villains have the right amount of menace.  The action sequences are awe-inspiring, even getting me to enjoy slow-motion moments.  The quest takes them from the natural beauty and isolation of Themyscira to the bustling London to the Front (with a multi-ethnic group of supporting characters).  While it was easy to figure out the two "surprises" well in advance, the story moves along well.  And there's some nice humor peppered throughout the movie.  Wonder Woman is a terrific film that's great summer entertainment.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

5.26.2017

ALIEN: COVENANT

So, who wants their homicidal, adaptive alien served up with a side of philosophy?  If you do, then you'll like Alien: Covenant a whole lot more than I did.   This entry in the Alien franchise tries for greater depth but proves boring.

After a discussion of creations and creators, we see the starship Covenant on its way to colonize a distant planet.  The trip is scheduled for seven years, with both passengers and crew in suspended animation, with synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender) minding the systems.  But a cosmic event damages the ship, killing the captain and dozens of the passengers.  While conducting repairs, the crew picks up an automated message (actually a John Denver song), which leads them to a much closer, potentially inhabitable planet.

The new planet seems both perfect and mysterious: The environment is fine, but why is their Earth wheat growing there?  It turns out that this is where the ship from the movie Prometheus landed, and the only survivor is the synthetic David (also played by Michael Fassbender).  And worse, the members of the Covenant can get infected by the xenomorphs by spores, eggs, and other methods.  Who will survive?
The bigger question: Who cares?  All of the characters in Alien: Covenant have virtually no personality or characteristics, making them disposable and forgettable.  The xenomorphs are almost included as an afterthought, the killer ticking clock for the crew on the planet.  As for the issues of who creates life and what its purpose is, this movie spends a lot of time discussing this but won't be remembered for it.  This movie is a very weak entry in a generally strong franchise.

Overall grade: D
Reviewed by James Lynch

5.08.2017

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

It's back to superheroes in space!  Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 continues the adventures of Marvel's baddest good guys, adding family issues, a universe-wide menace, and lots of comedy.

The movie opens with Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), and the tiny Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) protecting some valuable and powerful batteries that belong to the Sovereign, a gold-skinned and easily offended race.  The Guardians also have Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora's vengeful sister, as their prisoner.  The mission is a success, but when Rocket steals a bunch of the Sovereign's batteries, their leader Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) wants them dead.
The Guardians are almost killed by Sovereign ships, but the heroes are saved by the sudden appearance of Ego (Kurt Russell) -- who's Star-Lord's long-lost father.  Accompanied by the empathic and innocent Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Ego wants to reconnect with his son -- and to show him the powers they both possess -- on his planet.  While Peter, Gamora, and Drax travel with Ego, Rocket and Groot remain behind to repair the ship.  Meanwhile, Ayesha has hired Yondu (Michael Rooker) to kill the Guardians, Nebula escapes, and things are hardly what they seem...

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is pretty entertaining, albeit slightly flawed.  The cast once again does a great job as the heroes who are still out for a profit, and the characters of Ego and Mantis are nice additions to this outer-space part of the Marvel Universe.  There's plenty of humor here, plus plenty of action from speedy space battles to hand-to-hand combat.  The movie is a little long -- one story line could have been shortened or cut out -- and the use of music from the '70s and '80s feels a little more heavy-handed than in its predecessor.  Still, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 delivers plenty of laughs, thrills, and general fun.
Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

5.02.2017

THE CIRCLE

When it comes to social media and technology, how much power and access should companies and the online community have?  This is the driving force of The Circle, a fairly tepid suspense movie.

Mae (Emma Watson) begins the movie with a pretty dull existence.  She works at a temp job doing billing in a small town.  She lives with her parents Bonnie (Glenne Headly) and and Vinnie (Bill Paxton), the latter of whom is battling M.S.  And everyone thinks Mae should be romantically involved with Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), a local teen who makes his own art.
Things change when Mae's friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her a customer support job at the Circle, a Facebook-type company.  It seems ideal to Mae: good money, a cool environment, and lots of social activities on the job.  But everyone seems to know everyone else's business -- including founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), whose latest product is a miniature camera and whose philosophy is that openness and knowing everything is the goal.   (During one company lecture, behind Bailey is the slogan "Secrets Are Lies.")  And when the cameras wind up saving Mae's life, she agrees to live a totally transparent life, broadcasting virtually everything she does online.
But not all is well in the world of the Circle.  Tech genius Ty (John Boyega, in a barely-there role) worries about the lack of privacy in the world of the Circle.  The company is fighting legal battles and seems to have recruited a Congresswoman totally to their side.  And while Mae enjoys being a sudden online celebrity, her family and old friends don't share her enthusiasm for the online world.

The issues brought up in The Circle are real and relevant in today's world, but the movie's treatment of those issues is pretty slight.  There's no real discussion of those issues, and lacking those and largely any action, this movie can be quite dull.  It's a bit fun seeing Tom Hanks playing a Bill Gates type of executive, but Emma Watson's ordinary Mae doesn't leave much of an impact.  The Circle should have been so much better.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch

4.21.2017

PHOENIX FORGOTTEN

The horror movie Phoenix Forgotten is incredibly easy to summarize: The Blair Witch Project with aliens in the desert instead of a witch in the woods.  This found-footage horror movie often copies The Blair Witch Project but doesn't improve or add anything to the genre.

Phoenix Forgotten is shot as two different hand-held camera movies.  In the present, Sophie (Florence Hartigan) returns to her home in Phoenix, Arizona to shoot a documentary.  Back in 1997, at Sophie's sixth birthday party everyone saw a series of lights in a V formation appear and move in the sky.  Sophie's teenage brother Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts) -- who always has a camcorder with him and loves science fiction -- is convinced the lights are aliens.  He recruits friends Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) and Mark (Justin Matthews) to interview people and eventually head into the desert; after the latter, they were never seen again.  Sophie interviews the teens' parents (even hers), police officers, politicians, and even folks in the Air Force to try to figure out what happened to her brother and his friends.
The other "found footage" is from the camcorder recordings John was always making.  Most of it was benign interviews with folks in the town.  This being a horror movie, the "final" tape surfaces, showing what happened to the three teens.
There's very little to like in Phoenix Forgotten.  The characters are one-dimensional, the movie really copies far too much from The Blair Witch Project (from recurring symbols and hand prints to a finale set in an empty house and the recording device on its side) and delivers few scares beyond mystery sounds in the distance and odd ailments affecting the teens.  And a postscript trying to link the movie to real-life events feels a bit desperate.  This isn't a terrible movie, but it's not far off.  Pass.

Overall grade: D
Reviewed by James Lynch

4.19.2017

RIFFTRAX LIVE: SAMURAI COP

The Rifftrax folks love to make snarky comments about terrible movies -- and there's oh so much to make fun of in Samurai Cop, a bit of 1990s cheese that pretty much fails at every level.  So Rifftrax Live: Samurai Cop was a great evening of fun.

The movie opened with fake movie trivia, comments (including New Cop Movie Cliches), and comedy songs.  Then Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy took the stage.  They began with a black-and-white short film -- Manners in School -- where an animated chalk stick figure teaches an obnoxious kid about manners.  Fun as that was, things really kicked into high gear when the trio took on the feature.
 It's hard to describe just how terrible Samurai Cop really is -- and Nelson, Corbett, and Murphy jumped on virtually all the movie's flaws.  The "hero" gets nailed for everything from his long flowing hair ("Cher wig") to the banana hammock he sports through far too much of the end of the film.  His partner seems to specialize in making goofy faces; he's also the butt of a lot of ethnic "jokes," but as the hosts reassure us, "It's not racist if it's incoherent."  There's some sort of police war on Japanese gangs, and the body count is amazingly high.  Apparently samurai cops will ignore their guns to fight bad guys with martial arts or swords.  A villain is brought into a hospital room hidden in a hamper.  There's painfully sexist and explicit "flirting."  Lion heads appear for... some reason?  And the phrase "shoot him!" takes on hysterical meaning.

Rifftrax Live: Samurai Cop was a delightfully silly evening at the movies, from the opening fake credits to the final song about the feature.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


4.16.2017

TRAIN TO BUSAN

The zombie movie has its protagonists battling in a variety of ways and places -- but I don't think any of these have been on the train before.  The South Korean horror movie Train to Busan takes a more claustrophobic -- and emotional -- take on the zombie uprising.

Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) is a hedge fund manager whose obsession with work has led to the end of his marriage -- and a great emotional distance with his young daughter, Soo-an (Soo-an Kim).  When he really blows things for her birthday, Soo-an insists on getting to visit her mother in the southern town of Busan.  So Seok-woo gets them train tickets, expecting to drop her off in about an hour.  The train has a variety of people: a tough guy and his very pregnant wife, a high school baseball team (including a shy guy and the cheerleader who teases him), a pair of elderly sisters, and several others.
Unfortunately, what should have been a quick trip is substantially changed by... zombies!  The infected are snarling, feral, disjointed, fast creatures who bite at the non-infected -- and who turn them into zombies within seconds.  In less than a day South Korea is a shambles, with massive devastation and military quarantine zones.  And it's hard to know what is worse for the passengers on the train: the possibility of being stuck in close quarters with a zombie, or the stops at train station, where the quiet is often broken by the attack of dozens, or even hundreds, of zombies.
While Train to Busan doesn't reinvent the zombie movie, it is a very effective entry in the genre.  There's an ongoing theme of altruism vs. selfishness, where people wanting to save everyone risk more, while those looking out only for themselves seem to last a lot longer.  These fast zombies are pretty scary, and even their one weakness just creates more tension.  The actors are all good, and the movie is quite unpredictable when it comes to telling who'll survive until the end of the movie (though the survivors' numbers get whittled down very quickly).  Train to Busan has scares, tears, and it'll stay with you long after the train ride ends.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


4.10.2017

Britney Spears, THE ESSENTIAL BRITNEY SPEARS

The "Essential" series of greatest hits albums are designed not to provide new material, but rather to provide the well-known songs fans (and most other people) know.  The Essential Britney Spears falls into this category, offering plenty of songs on its two-disc album but nothing really new.

Released in 2013, The Essential Britney Spears has music from Spears' 1999 debut album ...Baby One More Time to her 2013 single "Scream & Shout" with Will.I.Am.  There are multiple songs from each of her albums (including a few lesser known ones), plus singles from assorted sources: the Austin Powers in Goldmember soundtrack, the aforementioned single, and even songs from previous greatest hits collection.
Unfortunately, as with previous collections The Essential Britney Spears offers plenty of what came before.  While the two-disc format has plenty of room for all the hits and some smaller songs, there's nothing here that hasn't been released before.  There are no live tracks, no covers (apart from a mediocre version of "My Prerogative"), not even any sort of megamix.  The Essential Britney Spears does provide her greatest hits, and a few lesser known songs, but nothing beyond that.


Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch

DON'T THINK TWICE

So here's something different: a drama about comedy.  Don't Think Twice is less about laughs and more about the impact of limited success on friends and lovers.

Don't Think Twice focuses on a NYC improv comedy group called the Commune: Miles (Mike Birbiglia), Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Sam (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), and Bill (Chris Gethard).  In addition to performing together, the group are friends, often riffing on what each other says, and hanging out when not performing; and Jack and Sam are romantically involved with each other.
The group has their share of problems as well.   Most of them have pretty menial jobs: Bill hands out free samples at a grocery store, Allison has been working on a comic book for years, and Miles teaches improv (and had taught several members of the Commune) -- and often sleeps with his young female students.  Bill's father is in terrible shape after a motorcycle accident.  And the studio where they perform will be closing down in a month.

The biggest change happens with an incredible opportunity: Jack and Sam get called in to audition for a Saturday Night Live-type show called Weekend Live.  Sam panics and skips the audition, while Jack gets hired -- the opportunity of a lifetime.  The other Commune members are initially happy for Jack, but soon they become both needy (wanting him to hand in their writing and pitch them to the show) and resentful.  They also find themselves questioning whether improv will give them the lives they really want
While the improv scenes are amusing, Don't Think Twice is more about the changes and growing among this close group of friends.  Unfortunately, as with so many ensemble movies, the movie focuses on a few characters (Miles, Jack, Bill) and the others become almost one-trait characters.  The movie is enjoyable, but also pretty basic: not bad, but not really deep or insightful.  Don't Think Twice is good for a lighter drama, with a bit of comedy sprinkled in.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

4.02.2017

CHAMPIONS: VILLAINY AMOK by Scott Bennie

Many role-playing game sourcebooks provide either a single adventure with lots of details, or general guidelines for a campaign without a lot of specifics.  Villainy Amok, a 2005 sourcebook for the Champions superhero RPG, manages to bridge the gap between these two areas.  It manages to provide lots of possibilities, along with adventure specifics.

Villainy Amok has several chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of superhero adventures: bank robberies ("Hands in the Air!"), preliminary alien invasion (The Threat Beyond), granting superpowers ("Ask Your Doctor if Metatron Is Right for You!"), fires ("Burn Baby Burn!"), experiments ("It Came from a Mad Scientist's Lab!"), miniaturizing the characters ("Honey, I Shrunk the Superheroes!") and superhero marriage (My Big Fat Caped Wedding), plus more general situations in the Plot Gallery.

While it would have been simple to just give an adventure for each of these areas, Villainy Amok provides something extra: numerous possibilities for them.  A bank robbery might be simple, but what if a magician makes the money come to life, or a metal-manipulating villain wants the vault door?  Does shrinking characters mean they become an inch high, microscopic -- or get turned into little children?  What about the numerous reasons -- from financial to religious to scientific -- for giving numerous people superpowers?  Each chapter goes beyond the obvious setups to offer plenty of imaginative possibilities.

The chapters also have plenty of information.  There are NPCs and technological descriptions (easily modified for other RPGs), a full-length adventure, and "Ten Unusual [area] Scenarios," each about a paragraph long and offering different directions for that area of superhero adventure.  And the Plot Gallery provides general ideas to tie into characters' interests and qualities: Personal Dilemmas, Secret Identity Scenario Hooks, and even Ten Bits of Gossip to Spread around at a Superhero Party!

Villainy Amok is well written, with a love and knowledge of the superhero genre mixed with a fun sense of humor.  My one criticism is that there are a lot of typos scattered throughout the book.  That noted, Villainy Amok is a must-have for anyone who wants to run a superhero RPG, even if it's not Champions.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

3.23.2017

THE BELKO EXPERIMENT

The philosophical/hypothetical question "Is it better to kill a certain number of people if twice as many people will be killed otherwise?" gets the big screen treatment in The Belko Experiment.  This movie, written by James Gunn, takes a dark (and sometimes darkly comic) look at what people will do when given an impossible choice.

It's a strange start to the day for the employees at Belko Industries.  On the way to the office building in Bogota, Colombia, armed guards search every vehicle and turn away the locals.  We get to know some of the 80 employees there: romantic couple Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) and Leandra (Adria Arjona), responsible boss Barry (Tony Goldwin), awkward and creepy guy Wendell (John C. McGinley), maintenance men, the stoner employee, the hostile woman, etc.
Things get much worse when steel walls rise up and seal everyone in the building, and all communication with the outside world is cut off.  A voice over the office intercom tells the people that they have to kill two people, or four people will be killed.  The employees nervously think it's a joke, until four people's heads explode.  It turns out that when the company put tracking chips in people's skulls in case of kidnapping, they were really explosives that can be detonated by remote control; the company also has cameras all over the building to spy on the employees.  The voice on the intercom then gives an ultimatum that's the basis for most of the movie: The employees have two hours to kill 30 people, or 60 people will die.

The employees react to this in different ways.  Mitch doesn't want to kill anyone and focuses on escaping.  Barry gets a bunch of people and arms them, to do what he thinks must be done.  Some people hide, some arm themselves (with kitchen and office supplies), and everyone has to decide what to do as the deadly deadline gets ever closer...
The Belko Experiment is a basic yet enjoyable big-budget B movie.  The characters are fairly generic, but that's largely the point: to see how they react in this suddenly homicidal experiment.  The movie could have used more dark humor, but it certainly delivers plenty of bloodshed --first accidentally, the deliberately -- as the characters face the demand put on them.  While The Belko Experiment could have done more with its dark premise, it's still entertaining.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch