Well, I think I found my worst movie of 2017.  mother! is pretentious, artificial, and really made me wish that I didn't sit through every movie until the end.

None of the characters have names, but here goes.  Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a house in the country with her husband, Him (Javier Bardem).  She spends most of the time working on the house, which belong to Him (His?) before it burned down.  Mother also has hallucinations, including imagining that the house is alive.  As for Him, he's a poet working on a new work but suffering from writer's block.  He also has a large crystal that's the only thing saved from his original house.
The couple is interrupted by Man (Ed Harris), who mistakenly thinks the house takes visitors.  Him is delighted to let Man stay with them, while Mother is annoyed.  Then Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), Man's wife, shows up and makes herself at home -- and pesters Mother with lots of personal questions.  Pretty soon there's a virtual parade of people coming through the house -- which, somehow, leads to a nightmare of crowds, war, celebrity, motherhood, religion, and whatever else happened to be running through writer-director Darren Aranofsky's mind when he made this.
I don't think there's a single thing I liked about mother!  A cast of normally fine actors is wasted here, as every line feels phony and no characters interact in any way remotely approaching the real world.  The story (such as it is) wants to comment on everything but winds up saying nothing.  And I wanted the movie to end far, far before it finally wrapped up.  This one was painful from beginning to finish.

Overall grade: F
Reviewed by James Lynch



The world of gaming is wonderful and varied -- but there's a lot that goes into it.  How does one play well with friends, strangers, and family members?  What goes into hosting a gaming session?  What can you expect at conventions?  How do you deal with dicks at the game table?  The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming: Rules Every Gamer Must Live By by Teri Litorco covers all this and more, providing both concrete instructions and etiquette advice for the rookie and experienced gamer.

The Civilized Guide provides plenty of advice for playing, preparing, and teaching assorted games.  There are step-by-step rules for being a good player -- in both victory and defeat -- for getting players, for teaching players, and even for building one's game collection and loaning out games.  Manners are also handled, whether it's behavior at one's friendly local gaming store (FLGS), at conventions, and even online.  There are numerous references to actual games for illustration, and Litorco mixes in small-but-nice doses of humor to keep the discussion from becoming too dry.

Having dealt with the best and the worst of gamers, I can highly recommend The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming.  This is a quick read (sections can be read individually, and many chapters can be finished in minutes) that has plenty of practical advice and very little I disagree with.  Whether you're looking to start playing games with others or to improve your experience with gaming, this book will help you.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



 While the characters in the comic Knights of the Dinner Table usually role play in the sword and sorcery world (HackMaster), they sometimes branch out into new genres.  Knights of the Dinner Table: Men That Hack has the characters branching out into the James Bond-esque world of espionage, with two full-length, disaster-filled adventures.

The first story begins with Pete persuading the burned-out B.A. to pick up Hacknoia: The Role-Playing Game of Conspiracy, the Unknown, and Espionage.  B.A. is convinced his adventure will be "the best adventure I've ever run."  He has Bob, Dave, Sara, and Brian playing NSB agents sent, unarmed, to investigate mysterious crop circles in Canada (which Dave never stops believing is a Communist country).

Unfortunately, Bob and Dave trying to find out what's in the secret envelopes they pass to B.A. leads to to a "it never happened" reset.  Then the players arm themselves at Ahkmed's Guns, Booze, Chew, and Ammo (plus Bob stealing a stapler from R&D), get in a massive gun battle at customs, run into the descendant of an enemy from HackMaster, and turn on each other.

The next story happens two years later, as B.A. returns to Hacknoia.  ("But you hate that game!"  "I never said that."  "Dude, you drop kicked your books off the Jackson Blvd. bridge.")  This time around the players are trying to find a nuclear bomb being delivered to Canada.  This time the players are bristling about the fact that there are two NPCs with them -- and one is assigned the lead in the mission.  Chaos (and another trip to Ahkmed's) ensues.

I've had the first story in Men That Hack as part of my KODT live readings for years, and the additional material by Jolly Blackburn suits the strips quite well.  The second story, put together from webstrips and new material, is also quite funny, from Bob and Dave paying to roll up decent characters (and suffering from the dreaded Appendix Q table) to the overarmed and under-intelligent players messing everything up.  There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments through both stories, and Men That Hack shows that the Knights can be as amusingly incompetent in the spy world as in the medieval fantasy world.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



There was a time when television networks would get "horror hosts" to introduce, and comment on, the horror movies the networks were airing.  American Scary is a look at this tradition, from its beginnings, success, and vanishing.

Most of the horror hosts have a good deal in common: incredibly low budgets and production values, silly and corny sense of humor, appearing on regional/local TV stations, and either adoring or trashing the movies that they were showing; many of the female horror hosts amped up their sex appeal.  Heck, the names themselves give a feel for the sensibility that they gave: Ghoulardi, Vampira, Svengoolie (and Son of Svengoolie), Baron von Wolfstein, Elvira, A. Ghastlee Ghoul, etc.  Many of these former or present horror hosts are interviewed; and there are commentaries by such folks as Leonard Maltin, Neil Gaiman, and Joel Hodgson.

The horror hosts appeared as a way to add something more to a movie that was often not that good, and over time many of them became as or more popular than the movies they were showing.  As many of them appeared long before the VCR, lots of people would sneak around or stay up late just to see them.  Some horror hosts used the Internet to communicate with each other and the fans, while others migrated to the Web for their fans.
After the gushing and fandom, there's a real sense of loss when the horror hosts went into decline as television stations had less and less local programming and more national shows.  But there's a sense of revival when Neil Gaiman had the chance to be a horror host for a time, and how Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of carried on the tradition.
I've seen few of these horror hosts (except for the new Svengoolie on MeTV), but American Scary makes me wish there were more of these hosts, to inform and joke about the horror movies that get broadcast.  While this documentary is unabashedly all in favor of the horror hosts, it provides a great look at their history and influence in the television world.  These folks may not be scary, but this is worth checking out.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch