With geek culture becoming more and more mainstream, there are two typical approaches to it: celebration and mockery.  Lloyd the Conqueror takes the latter approach, spending most of its ludicrous time making fun of live-action role playing, or LARPing.

Community college students and good buddies Lloyd (Evan Williams), Patrick (Jesse Reid), and Oswald (Scott Patey) got distracted playing video games, gave the worst oral report on Beowulf ever, and will be kicked out of their apartment with their failing grade.  Fortunately for them, their teacher Derek (Mike Smith) is obsessed with winning the Demons & Dwarves LARP for the dark side, and he needs teams to beat.  So Derek tells the three he'll give them a C if they sign up for the LARP -- and if the three somehow win, Derek will give them an A+.

The trio wind up joining up with Andy (Brian Posehn), a game store owner and self-proclaimed "level 80 wizard" who thinks Derek is taking all the fun out of Demons & Dwarves.  He decides to train the full-of-snide-comments trio.  And since Lloyd has a crush on Cassandra (Tegan Moss), a violent "self defense for women" instructor, she winds up on their team as well.

 If this sounds silly, it gets worse.  There are goofy attempts at bribery, coercion, and cheating  to win.  There are pathetic training montages involving throwing tinfoil balls and chucking away rulebooks.  There are ridiculous LARPers, a romance that is thrown in for its own sake, lots of cursing and cheap jokes at the expense of the characters, and a predictable move of the main characters going from making fun of LARPing to embracing it.
What's missing from Lloyd the Conqueror is laughter.  The jokes are very obvious and more painful than funny.  The only amusing actor here is Brian Posehn, though he may have lost some geek cred by appearing in this movie.
Lloyd the Conqueror feels more like an extended bad sketch from a comedy show than an amusing take on geek culture.  Skip it.  (For those who'll still watch it, DVD extras include the making of the movie, a PSA for Demons & Dwarves, and making the music for the movie.)

Overall grade: D-
Reviewed by James Lynch


So, can a movie about economics and investments be entertaining?  It can with a great cast, a very good director, and some quality source material.  The Big Short, based on the book by Michael Lewis, explores the build-up and burst of the housing bubble just a few short years ago.

The Big Short follows three different groups, all trying to profit from the unimaginable.  Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a socially awkward and brilliant hedge fund manager, sees what he believes is an imminent collapse on the housing market based on subprime loans (mortgages made to people who can't pay them back).  He creates a credit default swap, where he pays money if the loans are secure but profits if they collapse.
Sleazy investor (and narrator of the movie) Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) learns of Burry's plan and decides to jump on board, to make as much money as possible.  Trader Mark Baum (Steve Carrell), a man with a conscience, haunted past, and a nose for smelling scams, winds up potentially working with Vennett and exploring America with his team to find out what's behind these failing mortgages.

Meanwhile, young investors Charlie Gellar (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) get word of this idea and work with retired and paranoid former investor Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to start buying up as many credit default swaps as they can.

The result of this is the revelation of a presumed safe and secure housing market that's amazingly precarious, run by people interested in short-term profits ("I don't get it.  Why are they confessing?"  "They're not confessing."  "They're bragging.") and organizations that keep saying everything is fine even when the collapse has begun.

Director Adam McKay recognizes that talking about finances can be dry and potentially boring, so he has several characters break the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience.  He also brings in Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez as themselves to explain the financial concepts.  These feel gimmicky and may provide a little levity but could have been left out.

What works is the rest of the movie.  McKay gets the best from his actors, and everyone delivers a terrific performance.  Having Baum exploring the real world for the background to this crisis (and barely suppressing his rage and frustration at what he finds) brings the movie from abstract banking discussions to the real-world ambitions, greed, and stupidity that led the economy over a cliff.  And as the audience gets into the feel of the financial shenanigans happening, we are drawn into the outrage of a self-perpetuating system of unfettered greed and self-enforcing cover-ups that continually say everything is fine.

The Big Short isn't perfect, but it gets a lot of entertainment from a global shell game of the housing market.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



There are times when nothing seems to go right -- but that is upped several levels in A Hard Day, a South Korean modern film noir (with a slightly misleading title) where problem builds on problem, sometimes with deadly results.

Things start badly for Go Geon-Soo (Sun-kyun Lee), a detective with the South Korean police department.  He's driving home from his mother's funeral, where he'd been drinking, and is pestered on the phone by his sister to bring back a chocolate cake.  His colleagues at the police department warn him that Internal Affairs is raiding their office, where Geon-Soo has bribes from small businessmen in his desk.

With all this going on, Geon-Soo still manages to swerve his car to avoid a small dog in the road.  Unfortunately, while looking back at the dog  he hits and kills someone who ran into the road.  The detective panics, dumping the body in his trunk -- and almost immediately gets stopped at a drunk driving checkpoint.
 Impressively, from there things get worse.  Geon-Soo has to control his temper long enough to get rid of the body (for which he has a novel solution involving balloons and a toy army man), deal with his sister and son, fix the damage to his car, and handle Internal Affairs.  But then the precinct gets word that the man Geon-Soo is wanted for murder, and everyone's trying to find him (while Geon-Soo is frantically trying to cover his tracks).  And then Geon-Soo gets mysterious phone calls from someone who claims he saw what the detective did -- and who wants the body.
A Hard Day is straightforward, and it's also well done.  Sun-kyun Lee is very good in the main role, as his corrupt cop who's used to getting away with anything by flashing his badge keeps falling deeper and deeper in trouble and complications.  Man-sik Jeong is suitably crafty and violent as the blackmailer ready to turn Geon-Soo in (or worse) if he doesn't go along, and the action ranges from desperate planning to an almost primal physical battle at the end.  A Hard Day may begin at night and take place over several days, but it's certainly engaging.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

PLAYBOY: End of an Era

When Playboy announced back in October that its namesake magazine would no longer feature nudity but rather go the PG-13 route, numerous questions arose: Would the magazine survive without one of its most iconic features?  How will men react if forced to read Playboy for the articles?  And what would the final issue with nudity be like?  The latter question was answered this month, as the January/February 2016 Playboy issue ends the magazine's tradition.

It makes sense that their cover star would be the woman who's been on the cover more times than anyone else: Pamela Anderson.  She also not only posed in a revealing photo shoot, but was also interviewed by James Franco.  There are also two monthly centerfolds (since this issue covers two months), an overview of all the Playmates in 2015 (they're nude here but the winner won't be in 2016; go figure), and some naughty images in their "Year in Sex" review.

For those who want to get ahead on focusing on the other parts of the magazine, this Playboy features its usual cartoons (love Gahan Wilson!) and page of jokes.  There are also interviews with Samantha Bee, Ron Howard, and the Duplass Brothers (plus the aforementioned interview with Pamela Anderson).
At the end of the issue, instead of the usual preview for the next issue this Playboy simply professes, "The Icon Evolves..."  I suspect this more modest move is less evolution and more of a last-ditch attempt to survive an environment where print magazines are struggling and nudity (and more) is readily available online.  Still, Pamela Anderson was a perfect choice to wrap up this part of history, and this Playboy wrapped up with a, er, visual bang.

Written by James Lynch



When Star Wars: A New Hope premiered, it brought a sense of adventure, fun, and amazing special effects to the world of science fiction.  Several decades (and franchise movies of varying quality) later, a new writer-director (J.J. Abrams) brings back that original sense of wonder -- and several plot and thematic elements from the original movies -- with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
After the events of Return of the Jedi, the galaxy has once again fallen into chaos and danger.  A military force called the First Order has risen to take the place of the Empire, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a Sith out to find the vanished Luke Skywalker.  A group called the Resistance has come about to oppose the First Order, and Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) has information on Skywalker's location, which he hides in the round droid BB-8.  But on the desert planet Jakka Dameron is captured and BB-8 is sent off into the desert.
Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) has a change of heart after seeing Kylo Ren massacre a town, so he helps Poe escape in the hopes of them getting far away from the First Order -- only to crash on the planet Jakka.  Meanwhile, scavenger and pilot Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found BB-8 and decides to help the little droid -- and then runs into Finn, who pretends to be part of the Resistance.  The trio wind up escaping in the Millennium Falcon -- which leads them running into Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).
We then have Finn as the reluctant hero, Rey discovering her connection to the Force, battles between the First Order and the Resistance, an evil weapon capable of destroying planets, issues between parents and their son, cameos from several characters (and ships) from the first movies, and of course Lightsaber battles.

The Force Awakens recaptures what make us love the Star Wars movies in the first place.  Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley are talented young blood to the movies, proving enjoyable heroes who will have a large part in this trilogy.  There are plenty of references to and items from the earlier movies, but they don't feel forced or out of place.  The action is exciting, there are several surprises along the way, and J.J. Abrams more than makes up for the flaws of the prequels.  The Force Awakens is an absolutely terrific adventure in space; and I look forward to the next two movies.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



There's something about the forced cheerfulness of Christmas that makes it ripe for ironically dark humor, or even horror.  Krampus is such an anti-holiday movie, using almost iconic holiday images and creatures for social commentary -- and to bring on the scares.

It's a miserable holiday for one family in suburbia.  Tom (Adam Scott) would rather work and drink than get in the holiday spirit.  His wife Sarah (Toni Collette) stresses over the perfect holiday dinner, and their teenage daughter Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) would rather be hanging out with her boyfriend, a few blocks away, than with her family.  Grandma Omi (Krista Sadler) is largely overlooked, leaving her to talk to herself in German.  Only young Max (Emjay Anthony) still has the Christmas spirit, working on his letter to Santa.
 Then the relatives arrive.  Linda (Allison Tolman) arrives, bringing her redneck husband Howard (David Koechner), three obnoxious young kids, a new baby, a bulldog, and the relentlessly insulting Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell).  After all the bickering, insults, and fighting, Max tearfully tears up his letter and throws it outside.

The town is immediately hit with a storm and blizzard that knocks out all power and communication.  The next morning, the streets are deserted and creepy snowmen are in front of every house.  Soon the family members start seeing weird things and begin getting picked off one by one; and a large horned figure with a sack wrapped in chains is leaping from roof to roof...
Krampus has some innovative creatures and pedestrian plotting.   There are horrific versions of familiar Christmas classics, from Krampus as a dark version of Santa Claus to elves with swords and wooden masks, a killer angel, and those horrific jack-in-the-boxes that contain nasty surprises.  But while the large cast means characters can get abducted almost at random -- no "the nice characters and main stars are around until the end" here -- the acting is pretty mediocre.  Furthermore, the commentary is heavy-handed, both in the message (be nice, or bad things will happen) and execution.  (How many times do we have to have cheerful Christmas music played ironically over the very bad things happening?)  It's nice to have a movie that's not relentless holiday schmaltz for the holiday, but Krampus is mediocre horror.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



December is a time when the weather gets colder, so CBS has balancing that by heating things up by broadcasting sexy models walking forwards and back in skimpy lingerie.  Works for me: The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2015 continues this seasonal-but-not-official-holiday tradition.

This show follows the same formula as the previous shows.  Some of Victoria's Secret's biggest fashion models were here, from seasoned pros (Adriana LimaAlessandra AmbrosioBehati Prinsloo,  Candice SwanepoelLily Aldridge) to
 to first-time runway walkers  ( Elsa HoskJac JagaciakJasmine TookesKate GrigorievaLais RibeiroMartha HuntRomee StrijdSara SampaioStella MaxwellTaylor Hill ) and more.  All counted, there were 44 models taking the stage!  They were also joined by Kendall Jenner, who could certainly make a living with Victoria's Secret if her current celebrity fame career tapers out.
The outfits, which inspire the clothing sold in the stores, followed several themes -- winter, psychedelic, fireworks -- along with assorted capes, wings, footwear, etc.  Most outfits were beautiful, some were bizarre (there was actually an astronaut outfit!), and  all made for an over-the-top spectacle.  There were also featurettes on how big/what great shows these specials are, selfies and Instagram, casting the show, and celebrating Christmas.  And there were Victoria's Secret commercials between the actual show -- in case seeing these supermodels walking was so easy to forget.

 Music was a massive part of the Victoria's Secret Fashion 2015 Show, with lots of remixes (opening with Pat Benetar's "Heartbreaker"; didn't see that coming) and dance-pop songs from the current radio playlist.  There were also live performances from Selena Gomez (below), Ellie Goulding, and the Weeeknd.

 So to summarize: beautiful women, hot and revealing fashion, small features, music.  Woot!
 Written by James Lynch



The United States had a long and unofficial war with Communism -- but at what cost to the nation's beliefs and soul?  Trumbo is a look at that time's impact on a man and his friends and family -- and what he did to fight back.

In 1947, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was on the top of the world.  He was about to become Hollywood's biggest-paid screenwriter.  He had a beautiful wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and three young kids, plus lots of friends in Hollywood.  He even had a beautiful lakeside home in the California countryside.  Dalton was also a Communist, seeing that as simply wanting to share with those who had less.

Unfortunately for Dalton and his Communist (and even liberal) friends, the House Un-American Activities Committee was busy fanning the flames of anti-Communist paranoia, calling people before them to identify themselves as Communist, demanding those suspects name names of fellow Communists, and jailing those who refused to comply.  The Committee was also assisted by Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), a former actress-turned-gossip columnist who gladly threatened to boycott any studio who hired or worked with an identified Communist -- and to label anyone in Hollywood as a Communist sympathizer.

Dalton refused to cooperate with the Committee, leading to a prison term.  Possibly worse, when he was released he was on the Blacklist, a list of Communists whose hiring would be toxic to any movie studio.  But Dalton kept writing and working, whether writing for his friends and giving them the credit (his buddy Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk) won an Oscar for Trumbo's screenplay for Roman Holiday) or churning out scripts and rewrites for sleazy movie producer Frank King (John Goodman).  And as Dalton keeps working in secret, he gets the chance to make a screenplay for a movie called Spartacus...

Trumbo is a film that is both inspiring and frightening.  Bryan Cranston makes Dalton Trumbo into a flawed hero, someone passionate about his beliefs, even when that impacts his family and friends.  More striking is the time -- from the 1940s well into the 1960s -- when anyone suspected of being a Communist or having even rumored ties to Communism could be prevented from working and publicaly shunned and hated or even imprisoned solely for their beliefs.  Trumbo has a terrific cast (including many actors playing, well, other actors, directors, and producers from the past) and manages to be at times amusing, sad, and tense -- all revolving around a man writing and writing.  Trumbo is a truly impressive film.

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch



When Yvonne Craig died, her passing got relatively little coverage because folks seemed to know her as Batgirl from the third season of Batman and the green Orion slave girl Marta in the Star Trek episode "Whom Gods Before."  She actually had a long career in show business, and she shared that history, plus a bit more, in her autobiography From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond.

This book takes a very conversational tone, as Yvonne shares her stories about growing up, working in show business, and the good and bad Hollywood people she's met and worked with along the way.  As the title suggests, the early chapters are about Yvonne's experience with ballet, as she was a professional ballerina and traveled the country as part of a dance troupe.  (Ironically, a recurring theme in her movie and television career is how difficult dance scenes were to do.)  Eventually she got "discovered" and began working in television and film, from pilots that didn't get picked up to a star or extra in movies and roles in series like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and her two most famous "geek" roles.  She also shares non-salacious details about her love life (including dating Elvis) and talks about the assorted show business folks she really loved -- and, in some cases, really hated, whether they were egomaniacs, unprofessional, or lecherous.
From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond is a nice, light read.  People who only know Yvonne Craig from her two famous roles will be impressed and surprised to learn how much work she did -- and how arduous the quest for roles could be (as well as what it was like in the days of live television).  It takes a long while to get to the chapter on Batman, but that's the longest, most detailed chapter in the book.  And while some are covered in great detail -- her acting career, the pets she's had -- other areas (like her departure from acting, the husband who was the love of her life, her leaving acting and becoming a real estate agent) are touched on very briefly.  From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond can be superficial, but it's also a nice look at an actress who was more than most people knew.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Thanksgiving is a time for family, for turkey, and for... bad movies?  It turns out that once upon a time, Thanksgiving was also a time to enjoy a lot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 -- and that link is brought back in Mystery Science Theater 3000 XXXI: The Turkey Day Collection.

This collection is in some ways like the other MST3K collections (although this time, in a tin).  There are four MST3K epsiodes -- the racist Jungle Goddess, the Lassie movie The Painted Hills, the plastic bones-filled The Screaming Skull, and the worm-filled horror movie Squirm -- with two hosted by Joel Hodgson and two by Mike Nelson.  There are a number of extras, such as shorts for each episode that match their main feature for awfulness, the making of The Screaming Skull, and an interview with Squirm star Don Scardino.  Joel supplies introductions for each episode -- and the episodes are, as always, incredibly funny and Joel or Mike, Crow, and Servo sit through and mercilessly mock these movies that deserve their mockery.

Oh, and then there's Turkey Day.  Back in the 1990s, Comedy Central sometimes held day-long marathons of MST3K on Thanksgiving.  There's a brief documentary ("Overcooked and Understuffed") about making those marathons.  Even better: The Turkey Day Collection also features every sketch and promo done for the three Turkey Day marathons!  This offers such amazing and cheap items as characters from MST3K movies showing up to Dr. Forrester's castle for Thanksgiving dinner, Crow offering different "turkey fact #12," and for every turkey of a movie shown, TV's Frank would eat an entire turkey (off the turkey abacus, naturally).  These are both nice nostalgia who saw the series before it moved to the then-SciFi Channel, and something new who didn't know this element of Thanksgiving!  (The marathon is also returning this year, as six episodes will be streamed online for Thanksgiving.)

Four funny MST3K episodes and all the old Turkey Day spots -- what more could anyone want?  Well I'd like a drumstick -- but I'm glad I have Mystery Science Theater 3000 XXXI: The Turkey Day Collection.  

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch


LORD OF THE FRIES Superdeluxe Edition

There are a lot of different ideas about what zombies can and can't do, but Cheapass Games may have been the first to envision zombies working at fast food places.  Lord of the Fries: Superdeluxe Edition is the fourth edition of the card game where 2-8 players are zombies working to assemble food orders off of menus.

First, players choose a menu for everyone.  This new version has card decks for the menus for Friedey's ("The Fast Food Restaurant of the Damned") and McFrye's ("Just Desserts and Coffee"); these decks can be combined for the third menu, Ren-Fare ("The Food Court at Yon Medieval Faire").  Players are then dealt cards based on the number of players, and the game begins.

Each game consists of several rounds, over four "days."  One player starts as the leader and either picks an order from the menu or rolls two dice to get an order at random.  The player to the leader's left can try and fill the order by playing the cards that make up the order.   If the player fills the order, they score the points for the order, put the cards used in a "points" pile, and becomes the new leader.  If they can't, the pass a card to the leader (if the leader rolled) or to their left (if the leader chose), and the player to their left then tries to fill the order.  If the order goes around the table and no one can fill the order, everyone tries to fill the order, with one less item of their choice; another item is subtracted each time an order goes all the way around the players unfulfilled.

The day ends when a player runs out of card, either by filling an order or passing a card.  Then everyone scores points for the orders they filled and loses points for all the cards still in their hand.  The next day starts (with the same or a different menu), and after four days whoever has the most points from the four days wins!

Lord of the Fries is simple, enjoyable fun.  The strategy is pretty straightforward: Pick orders early in the game (so players pass you cards you can hopefully use) and roll for orders later (so you're not stuck with cards that subtract from your points).  The artwork makes the zombies both goofy and befuddled in their tasks, and with menu items like Chickacheezabunga, "Rat" on a Stick, and Hippy Hippy Shake, players will enjoy calling out the various orders.

If there's one problem with the game, it's the changes before the current and previous edition.  The Superdeluxe Edition has one copy of the three menus, while the third edition had eight different menus, with four copies of each one.  Several of these third edition menus are available as expansions (which I'll review later), but that gives the Superdeluxe Edition less variety than its predecessor.

Lord of the Fries: Superdeluxe Edition remains a pretty fun game, excellent for new- or non-gamers and enjoyable for experienced players.  While the fewer menus are a little disappointing, the new art, cards, and menus are quite nice and I'm glad to see that, thanks to Kickstarter, this game remains in print.  Lord of the Fries: Superdeluxe Edition shows that it can be fun to be a rotting zombie -- or a fast food worker.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


It wasn't that long ago when  newspapers were people's main source for information, and they focused on news rather than entertainment or ratings.  Spotlight is a drama (disturbingly based on a true story) that shows that period in journalism -- and one of America's biggest scandals.

In early 2000, the Boston Globe newspaper is facing declining subscribers, increased pressure from the Internet, and a new owner: Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who's seen as an outsider because he's coming from Miami and has never lived in Boston -- plus he's Jewish in a largely Roman Catholic town.

The newspaper's "spotlight" team -- reporters and editors who focus solely and covertly on one story to uncover everything they can -- is made up of Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), "Robby" Robertson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carol (Brian D'arcy James).  They had been working on crime rates in Boston, when Marty gives them a new assignment: look into the story of a priest convicted of molesting children.
 This assignment quickly balloons, as the reporters find evidence of priests being transferred around rather than removed or arrested, the possibility that Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) knew and covered up the crimes, and that the number of priests who molested children grows from four to thirteen to dozens.  Victims of abuse share their stories, and attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) represents victims while aware of the uphill battle he faces.  There's also immense pressure to sweep the scandal under the rug, as politicians, priests, and the religious public try to shift attention and evidence away from the scandal.  But the reporters keep digging...
Spotlight is a very effective movie, in the style of All the President's Men.  Instead of explosions and chases, we see reporters chasing down leads and persuading people to talk about what they'd rather keep hidden or to themselves.  The cast is excellent, the story goes at a smooth and direct pace, and the movie makes you believe in the power and dedication of the press.

The scariest part of the movie comes at the end, when we see how widespread the Roman Catholic church's pedophilia scandal was.  Spotlight shows how some dedicated people worked and fought to reveal the scandal -- and it makes for a powerful movie.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


Kylie Minogue, KYLIE CHRISTMAS (deluxe)

Christmas albums give singers and performers a chance to put their own spin on classic holiday songs -- and to hopefully make some seasonal album sales.  Kylie Minogue has largely focused on pop music with a strong disco influence -- but when she performed The Abbey Road Sessions, she showcased her vocal skills.  Kylie Christmas (deluxe) covers a wide range of styles.

Kylie Christmas has 16 songs (and the deluxe version has a dvd with video of the studio recordings of the songs).  The songs are all secular holiday songs (I'm not sure if "Only You" from Yaz counts, but it's here as well); most are traditional tunes, some are relatively more recent ("1000 Miles," "Christmas Wrapping"), and a few are written by Kylie herself.  (The latter tunes tend to have a sexual overtone, while the rest are more romantic.)  There are also guest vocals from Iggy Pop, James Corden, Kylie's sister Danni, and (through technological necromancy) Frank Sinatra.
The song styles are quite and nicely varied.  While there are plenty of traditional arrangements of the classics, there are also songs that could have come out of the swinging '60s, some with Kylie's usual disco influence, several with a risque feel (can anyone hear "Santa Baby"and not think of Marilyn Monroe?), and several with a standard pop feel.

While not everything works (especially Iggy Pop's spoken vocals on "Christmas Wrapping") and the dvd doesn't add anything to the songs, Kylie Christmas is an enjoyable holiday album.  Kylie Minogue's singing is in fine form here, fitting nicely into songs everyone knows by heart, quieter romantic ballads, or slightly risque tunes.  Kylie Christmas doesn't redefine what makes a great Christmas song, but it's an album that is equally fine for playing at a Christmas party or driving around during the holidays.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Men can be wayward dogs.  That's hardly anything new, but it's the basis for The Seven Year Itch, a play-turned-film that helped cement Marilyn Monroe's cinematic reputation.

It's a sweltering summer in Manhattan, and publisher Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) has just sent his wife and kid up to Maine to escape the heat, while he stays behind to work.  His wife Helen (Evelyn Keyes) reminds him that the doctors said to smoke and drink less, so he decides to focus on work, and to live healthy in his apartment.  In a conversation with an imaginary Helen, Richard vividly pictures numerous women throwing themselves at him -- as proof that he's faithful and trustworthy.

Things go south for Richard when the Girl (Marilyn Monroe) moves in upstairs for the summer.  She wears beautiful dresses and casually mentions sexual images without any guilt or thought.  ("When it gets hot like this, you know what I do?  I keep my undies in the icebox.")  It's not long before Richard is back to smoking, drinking, and picturing everything from the Girl after him, to her revealing his amorous advances on national television ("He made me play chopsticks!"), to picturing Helen having an affair in Maine.  The Girl, meanwhile, keeps showing up to enjoy Richard's air conditioning.
 The Seven Year Itch is pretty straightforward and decently amusing.  While the movie truly feels like the play adaption that it is, director Billy Wilder balances Tom Ewell's increasingly frantic thoughts and actions with Marilyn Monroe's casual delivery.  There are several running gags -- Richard needing to send a kayak paddle up to his son, the Girl sharing a snack of champagne and potato chips -- and while the movie doesn't shed new light on temptation or fidelity, it does supply a good number of laughs.  (The famed shot of Marilyn Monroe's dress blown upwards by her standing on a subway grate is here, albeit with several camera cuts.)  This movie shows how and why Marilyn Monroe was seen as both a sex symbol and the girl next door -- and if The Seven Year Itch isn't hilarious, it is amusing.  (DVD extras include promotional materials from when the movie was first released.)
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



If rock and roll has a rebellious attraction for the young, punk rock has an even edgier, more destructive appeal.  But what happens when the young punk rockers reach middle age and/or start having kids and raising families?  The Other F Word, a documentary by Andrea Blaugrund, explores what happens when the counterculture meets the traditional life -- and a lot more.

The Other F Word consists of interviews with current and former American punk rock band members (plus Tony Hawk) who are now raising little kids and/or teenagers.  The most time is given to Jim Lindberg, lead singer of Pennywise, who wants to be a family man while his international tour stretches from days to weeks to months.  Lots of band members, from Black Flag to Rise Against, Everclear and Blind-182, discuss the challenges and joys that come when fatherhood meets punk.

Instead of just cute family families, this documentary explores the background and changes in the punk world.  There's a brief history (and appeal) of the punk scene in L.A. in the 1970s.  We learn about the financial challenges as music shifts from cds and stores to online dowloads and free music on websites.  In addition to the joy of anarchy many band people love, there's the acknowledgment of the dangers and high mortality of the lifestyle.  And plenty recognize and struggle with avoiding being absent parents like their dads -- while going on long, grueling tours to provide for their family.
I was impressed with the wide range of The Other F Word.  Instead of focusing on kids and dads with massive amounts of tattoos, this documentary really gives a good look what it's like when the (literal) young punks grow up and have to be responsible members of society.  There's humor (as when one band member's tour kit includes hair dye, hand sanitizer, and antacid), sadness, fun, energy, and a nice inside look at the counter-culture folks becoming the mainstream.  I only like some punk music, but I was pretty impressed with The Other F Word.  (DVD extras include commentaries, plus some acoustic versions of the songs in the movie.)

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Most fans of slasher movies know all the familiar plot points, keys to survival, and pretty much exactly what to expect.  But what would happen if they were suddenly inside a slasher movie?  This is the premise of The Final Girls, a meta horror comedy about being stuck inside a fan favorite horror flick.

Max (Taissa Farmiga) is the teenage daughter of Amanda (Malin Akerman), a struggling actress whose claim to fame was the small role of Nancy in the 1986 "classic" slasher Camp Bloodbath. about th virtually unstoppable masked killer Billy Murphy.  Three years after Amanda's death, Max is still dealing with her mother's loss.

Max is recruited to be a guest of honor at a special screening of Camp Bloodbath by Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), a movie geek who loves this movie.  Max is accompanied by Duncan, her friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), her potential love interest Chris (Alexander Ludwig), and Chris's bitchy girlfriend Vicki (Nina Dobrev).  When the theater catches fire in the middle of the screening, Max cuts a hole in the movie screen, and the five friends escape...
...into the movie Camp Bloodbath itself.   Max is thrilled to see her mother again, even if it's just a fictional character who's supposed to die early in the movie.  Duncan says the five of them are safe since they weren't part of the original movie, and they just have to stay by Paula (Chloe Bridges) -- the final girl to survive the movie -- to make it to the end and escape the movie.  Unfortunately for the five friends, it quickly becomes apparent that they can be killed, and that their presence has changed the course of events in the formerly predictable movie.  Who will be the "final girl" that survives to the movie's end?  Will a series of traps stop Billy Murphy?  How will their knowledge of slasher movie cliches help?  Can Max save Nancy and bring the character back to the real world?  And what happens when the movie ends?

I really wish The Final Girls had been better.   The movie plays a bit with what would happen if real people were in a fictional movie (they hear voiceovers and the soundtrack, and go through a trippy experience whenever a flashback happens), as well as the rules of such movies.  (To keep one female camper from stripping and getting killed, the strap her in a life jacket and duct tape fingerless gloves on her.)  But while the skewering of slasher cliches are clever, they're not always funny -- and neither are the actors.  (The exception is Adam DeVine, who plays the dumb jock for whom everything is sexual innuendo with relentless gusto.)  The Final Girls went straight to dvd (and there are no bonus materials, unless you count the trailers) and it's not hard to see why: While this movie certainly knows what to laugh at in '80s horror movies, it doesn't always use that knowledge to create laughs.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch