SNAAAAAKE!  Ahem.  I've been fortunate enough not have seen Anaconda, a giant snake horror movie that somehow managed to star Jon Voight, Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, and Owen Wilson.  That changed last night, thanks to the comic comments of the Rifftrax crew of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett.  Rifftrax Live: Anaconda had lots of terrific comments on this terrible movie.
Before the feature, Rifftrax Live: Anaconda featured fake movie trivia and items, riffing on the Halloween short "Halloween Party," and a preview of the next Rifftrax takeover of the National Geographic channel.  After that, it was on to the wretched feature.  Most of the jokes centered on Jon Voight's inexplicable horrible accent and odd facial expression.  But there was plenty of other material to mock in the movie, from the cheap special effects of the snakes to the infamous "waterfall flowing up" to Ice Cube trying to sound and act tough in this movie.  The results were very good, as there were lots and lots of laugh-out-loud moments (not to mention frequent Owen Wilson impersonations).  Rifftrax Live: Anaconda shows that the Rifftrax trio can create so much fun with so much bad material.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Weezer is back!  The alternative rockers seem to be taking stock of themselves -- the music scene, a few disappointing albums, and growing up and growing old -- with their latest release Everything Will Be Alright in the End.

It's hard to separate the personal and professional on this album.  Is the lonely (but rockin') opening "Ain't Got Nobody" about a lack of romance  or a seemingly vanishing fan base?  )"Ain't got nobody/to really love me:)  What about "Foolish Father," which could be about making amends with a flawed parent ("forgive your foolish father/he did the best that he could do") or the flawed music scene music scene ("simple love songs/drenched in boring love songs/coming out a long song").

Of course, Weezer is aware of their growing history as a rock band, and the problems that come with it.  "Back to the Shack" has the band singing about returning to their roots, as well as society going back to music ("let's turn up the radio/let's turn off those stupid singing shows") while "Eulogy for a Rock Band" is an almost-touching goodbye to those bands we love and know are gone for good.  And it's hard to miss the frustration with the fans and audience in "I've Had It up to Here."

The lyrics, singing, and music all work well on Everything Will Be Alright in the End.  There's even a slick sense of humor, like having the unabashedly romantic "Da Vinci" followed by a song where the woman tells the man "Go away, go away" repeatedly.  I was disappointed with the songs "The British are Coming" and "Cleopatra," but the rest of the album works very well.  The album ends with "The Futurescape Trilogy," three songs (two instrumental) that suggest yes, things will be alright after all.  Let's hope that that's a sign Weezer isn't done with music, or us, yet.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Horror movies rely as much on their music as their monsters or gore to bring tension and fear to a movie.  While the Friday the 13th movies may be best known for its hockey-masked killer (at least from the third one onwards), Friday the 13th: Original Motion Picture Score demonstrates how Harry Manfredini's music helped propel these movies to their success.

Friday the 13th: Original Motion Picture Score manages to capture the slashing feel of the slasher flick with many sudden, jarring bursts of the violin.  The music draws out the tension with long notes, has the drama of the chase often, and its closing "The Boat in the Water/Jason in the Lake" reflects the serenity and sudden surprise that wraps up the movie.

This soundtrack does have its share of flaws.  Many of the songs borrow/steal from Bernard Herrmann's music from Psycho.  The non-horrific "Banjo Travelin'" and "Sail Away, Tiny Sparrow" feel out of place, not contrasting the horror of the other music but giving a jarring contrast.  And the movie's iconic chant "ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma" is used so often it quickly becomes, er, overkill.

Friday the 13th: Original Motion Picture Score manages to match the scares and slashes of its movie perfectly, and it works pretty well on its own.  While it's neither wholly original nor flawless, this is ideal mood music -- if you're in the mood for fear.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Marriage, media, and possible murder all combine and coalesce in the new film Gone Girl.  This movie is very dark, excellently acted, and wickedly funny.
Gone Girl opens with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returning to his Missouri home on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing and signs of a violent struggle.  At first, Detective Rhoda Boney (Kim Dickens) isn't sure about what happened, and the community rallies together to find Amy (called "Awesome Amy" after the children's book character her parents based on her).  But Nick's poor appearances in the media make him the prime suspect; and his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) supports Nick but soon starts finding out Nick's numerous dirty secrets.

And Amy?  We see and learn about her through her journal entries -- and her marriage to Nick.  At first they were blissful, successful newlyweds living and working in Manhattan.  But when they were both laid off and money ran low, they moved to Nick's hometown.  Amy becomes more fearful of Nick's violent side, as their marital problems lead to hear fears that Nick could hurt her, or even kill her.  And then there's a big change...

Gone Girl is a combination murder mystery and social commentary.  The movie offers plenty of evidence that Nick might be innocent -- or that his secrets and demons could have destroyed his once-perfect marriage.  At the same time, everything plays out in the court of public opinion, whether it's the Nancy Grace-style reporter Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) who spends all her time arguing that Nick is a guilty sociopath, or Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), Nick's celebrity lawyer who's as focused on public perception as on the law.  And we get to see the pressures of marriage that certainly had an impact on both Nick and Amy.

This all works together thanks to some terrific actors, directed by David Fincher.  Ben Affleck, who's gained respect and success in recent years, plays Nick perfectly as the regular guy who could as easily be innocent as guilty.  Rosamund Pike is amazing as Amy, who paints a different picture of things than her husband does (and who also has a way of getting what she wants).  The supporting cast is terrific in their roles, and Fincher manages to bring a bleakness and darkness to the proceedings -- along with frequent blasts of dark humor.

Gone Girl is certainly grim, and it's also engaging and gives the viewer plenty to think about.  Just like a great movie should.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch


Mary Roach, BONK

Science and sexuality have an uneasy history together, with taboos and repression often interfering with research and understanding.  But that has changed (largely) in modern times, and a wide variety of methods are used in the scientific community to figure out some of the science behind sex.  Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach explores several of these avenues of exploration; and it does so with intelligence, understanding, and a profound sense of humor.

Bonk is, in a sense, all over the map of how sexuality is explored by scientists today.  There are explanations and discussions of anatomy (including genitals, various treatments for impotence, and how to measure stimulation), mechanical, er, assistants (from whether vibrators increase overall sensitivity to coital imaging) to mysteries and debates (the impact hormones and pheromones have on humans, how people with spinal damage and no sensation below their waist can still experience orgasms).  Roach travels around the globe (Canada, Egypt, Taiwan) and goes back in time -- research-wise -- to find out what has been done and what is being done.

Bonk could have been dry stuff -- some authors can even make sex boring -- if it wasn't for Roach's sense of humor as well as her intelligence.  Roach keeps an open mind, but that doesn't stop her from sometimes being incredulous about what she learns or encounters, or making wry or goofy comments on the material: "Shafik won my heart by publishing a paper in European Urology in which he investigated the effects of polyester pants on sexual activity.  Ahmed Shafik dressed lab rats in polyester pants."

While Bonk takes an open and frank approach to the subject matter, there are plenty examples here of repression and fears that stifled this sort of research (and still can today: Several scientists mention the difficulty of being taken seriously or getting approval for their work, while the aforementioned Shafik, who works and lives in Egypt, fears the impact of the repressive Muslim Brotherhood).  But Roach demonstrates that the scientific exploration of sexuality can be serious and playful at the same time -- and, in the end, very illuminating.  Bonk is that rare creature: an informative scientific work that's also witty and entertaining.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



Who'd have guessed that a common trait of horror monsters was +1 tokens?  This is a pretty common thread in Monster Smash, the latest expansion for the Smash Up card game.

Monster Smash introduces four monstrous new factions, and three of them rely heavily on getting +1 tokens.  Vampires can destroy minions -- their own or those of other players -- to get their +1 tokens.  Giant Ants often start with +1 tokens, and many cards let them not only get more, but also share them with other minions.  And the Mad Scientists put out a *lot* of these tokens, from Igor giving one when he's destroyed or discarded to the Uberserum, which gives a minion a +1 counter at the start of each turn and keeps it from being destroyed!  The exceptions to this token tendency are Werewolves, which rely more on brute strength and, reflecting the boost from the moon, often get bonuses that last until the end of the turn.

So, how do these new factions work in the game?  Pretty well, it turns out.  Each faction's ability certainly feels like the abilities the monsters would have, reflected as well in the art and the names.  While there are numerous good cards, Monster Smash doesn't power up the new ones so much that it will always beat the other sets.  (Remember when I mentioned how good the Uberserum was?  It was so good, a rival kept stealing it from the Mad Scientists and using it on his own minions.)  And there's plenty of humor in the cards: a Vampire with a skull-shaped alarm clock, Werewolf cards "Chew Toy" and "Let the Dog Out," and, possibly because of the Killer Queen card, all of the Giant Ants' actions are named after Queen songs.

Monster Smash doesn't change the rules for Smash Up, but it does what an expansion should: add variety, options, and humor to the game without unbalancing it.  These factions are a welcome addition -- especially with Halloween coming!

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch