The business world can be cutthroat -- but in the hands of Brian De Palma it also becomes a virtual cesspool of betrayal, kinky sex, drugs, madness, and even murder.  This is the world of Passion, which despite its title is a flat mystery-drama.

Christine Stanford (Rachel McAdams) is the boss at a European ad agency, with Isabelle James (Nooni Rapace) as her protege.  But things aren't good between them: Christine takes the credit for Isabelle's daring new ad campaign, while Isabelle is sleeping with Christine's boyfriend Dirk (Paul Anderson).  And Isabelle's assistant Dani (Karoline Herfurth) hates Christine and may have a crush of Isabelle.

Christine is highly narcissistic and manipulative, from a kinky sex life (including a white mask that looks like her) to alternating between seducing and humiliating Isabelle.  Isabelle has her own secrets and problems, which aren't helped by the stress of the job.  And soon there's a murder...
Passion may be trying to be daring and risque (it's a remake of the French film Love Crime), but it comes off more melodramatic that either enticing or suspenseful.  De Palma has often been accused of copying Hitchcock's style, and that's certainly true here; it especially shows near the end, as the shadows and lighting are used to show Isabelle's darkened state of mind.  Both McAdams and Rapace are stuck in one-dimensional roles that don't give them much room to stretch, and the movie's final twists and turns aren't satisfying.
Passion isn't a terrible movie, but it is terribly routine.  For a movie trying to be risque, it's pretty ordinary.  (Dvd extras consist of interviews with the director and two stars.)

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



How do you provide a challenge for Thor, one of Marvel's mightiest beings?  In the first movie, they took away his powers.  In Thor: The Dark World there's an ancient threat that could destroy Earth, Asgard, and just about everything else.  There's almost the entire cast of the first movie, plus a little too much humor.
At the start of Thor: The Dark World, big things are happening on Asgard and Earth.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is battling armies stirred up by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and being urged by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to prepare to be king -- and to romance the Asgardian warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander) instead of pining for the human Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).  Loki is imprisoned, urged by his mother Frigga (Renee Russo) to think about what he's done.  Back on Earth, Jane is investigating a strange anomaly with her intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) when she's transported to a strange realm and infected with a reddish energy.  And Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) has been arrested for running around Stonehenge naked with some scientific equipment.

It turns out that a race of dark elves (I'm not sure why they're called that, since they're pale white) want to re-create the universe as a place of darkness -- and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) wants to use a convergence of the universes to accomplish this task.  He transforms an ally into the hulking Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and plans to use a nigh-indestructible energy called the Aether to destroy our universe and create the new one.  But the Aether is what's infected Jane -- and what's slowly killing her.

Thor: The Dark World is high on energy, with numerous battles ranging from a desolate wasteland to a trippy fight as things pop in and out of dimensional portals.  The movie has a bit too much comedy from start to finish, possibly because of Kat Dennings' popularity on the show 2 Broke Girls.  The bag guys have imposing physical presences (especially Kurse, as a stony Hulk-type monster) but little personality, and Hemsworth's casual swagger is about the same as the first movie.  Not surprisingly, Hiddleston steals every scene he appears in, knowing Loki isn't to be trusted and reveling in that fact.  And there are some nice cameos, not to mention two post-credits scenes.

Thor: The Dark World may skimp on character development (and use Loki's illusions a few too many times), but it's pretty exciting and entertaining.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



With H.P. Lovecraft's work filled with unspeakable madness, eldritch entities, and forbidden knowledge, I suppose it's a perfect match for heavy metal.  The folks at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society noted the parallels and turned Lovecraft's short story "Dreams in the Witch House" into Dreams in the Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera.
Dreams in the Witch House follows the original story pretty closely.  With the spoken framework of Frank Elwood (Andrew Leman) telling his story in a confession to Father Inawicki (Sean Branney), the rock opera tells the story of Arkham student Walter Gilman (Mike Dalager).  His studies in the title locale lead to the spirit of Keziah Mason (Alaine Kashian), a witch who vanished in ancient Arkham -- and who seems to be influencing Gilman's studies and dreams, leading to other dimensions, her rat-like familiar Brown Jenkin (Chris Laney), human sacrifice, madness, and even the dread entity Azathoth.

And it's all set to heavy metal music!  There's a sexy song from Keziah trying to turn Gilman to evil ("No Turning Back"), a dueling song between Gilman and a professor ("Bridge to the Stars"), an almost sympathetic power ballad for Keziah when she was alive ("Legends and Lore") and plenty of songs about madness and temptation.  There's a certain intense fun to the songs here, as everything is delivered so earnestly it sometimes borders on comedy, and the shrieks, musical duels, and loud electric guitars so prevalent in metal are featured throughout most of the songs here.

Dreams in the Witch House shows that Lovecraft's stories and themes fit rock opera quite well.  This metal opera is faithful to the source material while blasting away from start to finish.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Cheap, bad movies can have a certain appeal (case in point: the Syfy original movie), and Deadwood Studios USA takes this to the next level by having the players working as actors on a B-Western movie studio.  This is an expanded version from Cheapass Games, which used Kickstarter to add new art from Phil Foglio and new rules.  And the game remains fun, if somewhat repetitive.
Players are represented by six-sided dice, starting at rank 1.  Over the course of several "days" the players want to get the highest score, which is the fame and money they accumulate, plus their rank multiplied by their final rank.  The board consists of: 10 movie cards (face down), roles for extras, and 1-3 shot markers; the trailer (where the players start); and the casting office (where players can spend money or fame to increase their rank).
When a player moves onto a space with a face-down card, the movie card gets flipped over. Each movie has a budget (from $2 million to $6 million) and 2-3 roles (between 1 and 6).  A player can take an available role on the card (as a star) or as an extra (off the card) equal to or less than their rank; other players can move to that space and take any available role as well.  Once a player takes a roll, on their next turns they try to advance the scene by rolling the budget or higher on a six-sided die.  If a player on the card succeeds, they advance the scene (remove a shot marker) and get two fame; if they fail, they get nothing.  If an extra succeeds, they advance the scene and get one fame and one dollar; if they fail, they still get a dollar.  When a movie's last shot marker is removed, the movie wraps.  Players on the card get paid by rolling a number of six-sided dice equal to the budget, then spreading the money from high-to-low value among the roles.  (So for a $6 million budget with 3 roles, the highest role gets the 1st and 4th highest dice, the 2nd-highest role gets the 2nd and 5th highest dice, and the last role gets the 3rd and 6th-highest dice.)  If a movie wraps with at least one actor on the card, extras get paid the value of their role; if no actor is on a card when a movie wraps, they get nothing.  A player can also spend a turn rehearsing, which means they don't roll to advance the scene but do get a token giving them +1 on all future rolls for that particular job.

Players stay on a role until the movie wraps, after which they can move to a different movie.  They can also go to the casting office, where they pay fame or money to advance in rank.  Each day ends when the 9th movie wraps: All players go back to the trailer (anyone working on the last movie gets nothing), they keep their rank, 10 new movie cards go face-down on the board, and the next day begins.  The game ends at the end of the 4th day (or, for 2- or 3-player games, the third day).

Deadwood Studios USA is a silly, enjoyable little game.  While the strategy is pretty basic (be a star on movies that will wrap quickly, be an extra on movies that will take a while to wrap), being able to rehearse means you won't spend the whole game on a $5 or $6 million movie.  The movies are pretty funny, with titles like "How They Get Milk" and "Support Your Local Quilt Maker," with roles ranging from Man on Fire and Judge Robert to a Talking Corgi and Pharaoh Imhotep.  And each role has its own line, which are fun to say out loud (the first time -- not after rolling 8 or 10 times).

The downside is that the die rolling can get repetitive, especially when on the same role for numerous turns.  There's also not a whole lot of strategy involved, especially at the start when everyone has to go for roles that are rank 1.  That said, Deadwood Studios USA is a nice, easy, fairly quick game that's good for some light playing.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch