We've got movie sign!  Mystery Science Theater 3000 vol. XXIII is another four-episode collection of the silly space show that works by shouting funny comments at terrible movies.

This time around, the four movies featured are: King Dinosaur, a "dinosaur" movie that uses mostly stock footage of everyday animals; The Castle of Fu Manchu, starring the decidedly non-Asian Christopher Lee as the title villain; Code Name: Diamond Head, a failed attempt at a television secret agent franchise; and Last of the Wild Horses, a Western that's just plain bad.

There's no central theme to the episodes; however, as relatively early episodes in the series, the bad guys are Doctor Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu, who also voiced Crow T. Robot for these episodes) and TV's Frank (Frank Conniff).   Joel and Mike split the "star/victim" duties through these episodes.   For a chance of pace, during Last of the Wild Horses the episode spoofs Star Trek's "Mirror, Mirror" by sending Tom Servo and Gypsy to an alternate universe -- Where Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank watch the bad movie! -- and their evil counterparts are sent here!  And the bad versions have goatees, of course:

These episodes also feature the two appearances of the Joey the Lemur puppet (friend to all mankind):

As always, the episodes here excel as finding the very funny from the terrible,  While some of the references are dated (like repeatedly seeing Ian McShane in Code Name: Diamond Head and calling him "Lovejoy" after a short-lived series he starred in), there are plenty of other gems, from randomly funny observations ("Wow, the Amish are really hauling ass!") to hitting these movies' oh-so-frequent flaws and stupid moments.  And there are plenty of extras: features of movie director Robert Lippert and television producer Quinn Martin; Frank Coniff discussing MST3K and Kevin Murphy discussing life after MST3K, the videogame Darkstar (which has several MST3K alums in in), and even some show promos from its Comedy Central days.

MST3K v.XXIII is another silly, fun bunch of episodes from this much-missed show.  It's definitely worth checking out.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



After The Colbert Report went off the air, it's not surprising that Comedy Central decided that its replacement would be a topical and satirical talk show.  It's also no surprise that they went with another alum from The Daily Show to host (as Stephen Colbert had been, so many years before).  As a result, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore is the latest addition to Comedy Central's late-night programs.

The format for The Nightly Show is pretty straightforward.  First, Larry introduces the topic for that night's show (from racism to sports to comic book changes) and delivers a comedic monologue on that topic.  Next, he brings on a panel of four people to discuss the topic.  After they chat for a while (and a commercial break) comes the "Keeping It 100" segment, where the panelists have to answer a tough question.  If they answer honestly, they get a "Keeping it 100" sticker; if Larry or the audience things the guest is equivocating, hesitating, or being less than honest, they get weak tea (and teabags thrown at them).  And at the end, Larry has to answer his own "Keeping It 100" question that he's never seen before,

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for that format to fall by the wayside.  Often there'll be some sort of comic skit that cuts into the time, so the guests often don't have to Keep It 100.  Other times Larry will ask everyone the same question, so while the first person may feel on the spot, the others have plenty of time to think about it before they answer.  And it seems like ages since Larry himself has had to answer a question at the end of the show.  And even when they follow their format, five minutes for four guests means a far too short amount of time for the guests to talk: They usually only get a few sentences in, and if one person dominates the conversation the others can wind up almost totally left out.  And while the guest composition is usually three people agreeing with one dissenter, sometimes they all share the same viewpoint and just support each other totally.  That makes for less debate and more self-congratulation.

Fortunately, Larry Wilmore is a good host.  He's funny (love his openings), he does keep the conversation going, and while he's hardly a loud-mouthed pundit (like so many news shows have), he does put his opinion out there pretty firmly (as when, during the first week, he said about the Bill Cosby rape allegations, "The mother****er did it").

I wonder if The Nightly Show is still trying, a few months in, to find its direction.  I hope it does: Larry is very funny and talented, and he certainly deserved to succeed.  For now, though, The Nightly Show is entertaining but more than a little all over the place.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



There are lots of games where players race each other to a destination -- but what happens when simply moving forward and backwards is a challenge in itself?  Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension from Cryptozoic Games is part race, part puzzle as 2-4 players vie to escape a black hole where the laws of gravity no longer hold sway.

Each player has a spaceship, located in the Singularity -- the center of a spiraling path that goes for 64 spaces and ends at the Warp Gate.  (Two neutral ships are at the 26th and 36th spaces.)  The first player to move their ship into/through the Warp Gate wins; if no one does so after six turns, whoever's closest to the Warp Gate wins.

First, players draft cards.  A number of two-card Fuel cards are laid in decks equal to the number of players times three, with the first card placed face down and the other card face up.  During the first round, the youngest player selects the first deck; for other rounds, whoever's furthers from the Warp Gate chooses first; after that, players pick a deck going clockwise, and at the end everyone will have six Fuel cards, plus the Emergency Stop! card everyone has.

Next comes the Round, made up of six Movement Phases.  In each Movement Phase, players secretly select a Fuel card from their card to play, then reveal them all at the same time .  The revealed cards resolve in alphabetical order, from A to Z.  (Players can also use their Emergency Stop!" once per Round to cancel their own card.)  The players resolve their Movement Phases until out of cards; then, if no one has reached the Warp Gate, new decks are dealt and players draft and start new rounds.

But it's movement that makes Gravwell unique.  Instead of simply going in one direction, the Fuel cards move ships based on where the nearest ship is.  Regular Fuel cards (green; the majority of Fuel cards) move the current player's ship a number of spaces towards the nearest ship; Repulsor Movement cards (purple) push the current player's ship a number of spaces away from the nearest ship.  (If the closest ships are equidistant from the current player, the ship moves in the direction with the most total ships (not counting those in the Singularity); if that number is equal on both sides, the ship doesn't move.)  If a player would end their movement on another ship, that player's ship keeps going in its current direction until it lands on an empty space.  And Tractor Beam cards (blue) pull all other ships a number of spaces closer to the current player's ship,

This different method of moving makes Gravwell challenging, and a lot of fun.  Instead of simply trying to go straight ahead, players have to consider whether they'll go before or after the other players -- and how that will affect the card they play.  (It can be quite a blow to play a Green Fuel card that moves you eight spaces, only to find that by the time you play it the closest ship is behind you, sending you in the wrong direction!  Then again, that's what Emergency Stop! is for.)  Players also have to play all the cards in their hand, so strategy isn't just the best card to move one towards the Warp Gate, but the least damaging time to play what may very well be a bad card.  And the six-turn game limit keeps the game from going on endlessly as ships move forward and back.

I enjoy playing Gravwell.  It utilizes some familiar game mechanics and then tosses in a curve with its strange movement methods.  This game is challenging and fun.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



One the worst elements of sports may be the need to win at absolutely any cost.  Foxcatcher captures part of this desire by looking at a tragedy that began when two such personalities came together to earn glory -- and resulted in tragedy.  (It's even more disturbing that the movie is based on a real-life series of events.)

In 1987, Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) was, surprisingly, in a bad place.  Even though he won a gold medal for wrestling, he was overshadowed by his brother David (Mark Ruffalo), who also won a gold medal and more fame -- plus he has a wife, kids, and home.  Mark, by contrast, lives in a small apartment and makes money taking jobs that were intended for his brother.

Mark sees a change in his fortune when he's approached and professionally courted by John du Pont (Steve Carrell).  John is an amazingly rich man who sees himself as an American patriot, and he wants to coach Mark and his fellow wrestlers into winning the gold again in the 1988 Olympics.  He gives Mark a real salary, state-of-the-art training facilities, and a combination coach and father figure for the wrestler.  John also wants David to join the team, but David won't relocate his family, even with John's money,

At first Mark seems to thrive under John -- until John's controlling nature starts revealing itself: John tells people what to say when talking about him, gives himself his own nickname ("the golden eagle"), pushed his hobbies like bird-wacthing on others, and gets childishly upset when anything doesn't go his way.  He's also clearing struggling with mother issues, as his mother (Vanessa Redgrave, in the movie briefly but effectively) can make him feel like nothing with just a look or sentence.  And it should be no surprise that things get even more tense when John manages to get David to join his wrestling team.

Foxcatcher is an intense, pretty impressive drama.  Steve Carrell is an impressive surprise, as behind his prosthetic nose is a lazy, snide delivery that seems creepy no matter what he says.  Channing Tatum does a solid job as the frustrated athlete who loves and competes with his brother, while unable to handle any setbacks.  And Mark Ruffalo matches Tatum as a well adjusted, family man whose competitive nature doesn't get in the way of his family relationships.  Foxcatcher is almost relentlessly grim -- and hardly a universal look at the professional sports world -- but the actors and drama are quite effective.  (The dvd extras are deleted scenes.)

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch