While I'm not a fan of the Friday the 13th horror franchise, I am often interested in the behind-the-scenes happenings of horror movies; and it's hard to ignore one of the most successful slasher film series ever.  The documentary  His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th takes a loving, somewhat insular look at the world of Jason Voorhees, Camp Crystal Lake, and a myriad of teenage victims.

Hosted by Tom Savini (who did the special effects for several of these movies, including the original), His Name Was Jason consists mostly of interviews with the actors, producers, and directors from the gamut of Friday the 13th movies.  (Sadly, Kevin Bacon isn't here.)  The folks discuss everything from shooting the movies, to their favorite kills, to Jason becoming the movies' protagonist and almost sympathetic, to teens who actually survived.  There's the series' impact on horror -- described as twelve movies in three decades, making half a billion dollars -- and its merchandising, enduring popularity, and 2009 reboot.

While the number of folks interviewed is impressive, it's almost 100% positive about the movies.  The only real disagreement is who gave Jason his now-iconic hockey mask, and everyone had a universally good time making the movies, with plenty of success afterwards.  The continuity issues between movies are glossed over (one person's reply to those errors: "So What?"), and the criticism of the series for violence and stupidity (Roger Ebert called Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter "an immoral and reprehensible piece of trash") are met with the response that it simply made the movies more popular.

 His Name Was Jason also doesn't go outside the franchise too much.  While the documentary discusses the wide-ranging impact the series has had on slashers, the only movie mentioned in this manner is Hatchet.  There's also no mention of movies that may have inspired or influenced the first Friday the 13th, notably Halloween.

Someone described the Friday the 13th movies as "simple and scary," and that's the approach His Name Was Jason takes to the movies.  There's not critical analysis of the movies or deeper look at the movies beyond how fun and awesome they were.  Fans of the movies will be happy hearing the actors talking about being in the roles.  Non-fans (like me) will still find the stories and history interesting, if a bit shallow.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



The central comedy conceit of Dead Gentlemen Productions' movies The Gamers and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising is that during a D&D-type game we get to see the characters acting out the action (and inaction) as the players decide what to do.  For The Gamers: Hands of Fate, the scope of the action has been expanded -- in both subject and location -- and that's both a good and bad thing.

The main cast of the first two movies is back, but Hands of Fate focuses on Cass (Brian Lewis), who was a dick in the previous movies.  He becomes immediately smitten with hot gamer babe Natalie (Trinn Miller), who responds to his advances with acerbic put-downs.  But she agrees to go out with him -- if he wins the national championship for Romance of the Nine Empires (a collectible card game that's a combination of Magic: The Gathering and Legend of the Five Rings) at GenCon and makes her favorite card the queen.
We get to see the world of the ccg acted out -- including several characters in the game experiencing deja vu and trying figure out what's going on.  In addition, at GenCon (where much of the movie was filmed) there are several other delvings into geek culture, from Star Wars (the security is composed of Stormtroopers) to Pokemon (Gary (Christian Doyle) is obsessed with harming someone in a Pikachu-type costume).  There are also movie references and parodies galore, like Cass' Matrix-style card training and a disturbing homage to Reservoir Dogs.  There are card-player conspiracies and old vs. new styles of playing.  And the rpg characters (and villain the Shadow) are sitting around for over a year, waiting for the players' and GM's schedules to sync up so they can keep playing.

As you might have guessed, there's a lot going on here - and sadly, more isn't always better. While a lot of the original movies' inherent goofiness remains in effect, adding in additional genres to spoof and a less-than-compelling romance make Hands of Fate lack focus.  At slightly over two hours long, some of the numerous storylines could have been eliminated to make the movie go smoother.  There are plenty of funny moments in The Gamers: Hands of Fate and it's nice for Dead Gentlemen Productions to bring the familiar characters back, but this is sadly the weakest Gamers movie so far.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



What happens when you substitute an abandoned hotel in the snowy Norwegian mountains for an abandoned cabin in the woods?  You get Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt), a Norwegian horror movie that is strictly by the numbers.

After an opening where a young boy with a birthmark around his left eye is running in a blizzard, and narration lists numerous people who vanish in the Norwegian snowstorms, we get our designated victims, er, young adults.  Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), Eirik (Tomas Alf Larsen), Mikal (Endre Martin Midtstigen), Ingunn (Viktoria Winge), and Morten (Rolf Kristian Larsen) are friends -- and two couples -- who head deep into the mountains for a day of skiing and snowboarding.  It's a great time for everyone -- until Morten crashes and breaks his leg.

For some reason, instead of driving Morten back into town, they decide to take him to a nearby building to spend the night.  The place turns out to be a hotel/lodge that's been abandoned since the 1970s.  Once they settle in, a quick exploration of the place reveals several oddities, like a severely burned room, a final note in the guestbook hoping that someone finds their missing boy, and -- foreshadowing! -- a missing pickaxe.

It doesn't take long for flashes of a mysterious person to start zooming past the camera.  And soon the killing starts...

I wish I could find something original or interesting in Cold Prey, but I couldn't.   The main characters are paper thin, while the bad guy doesn't even have the potential for an iconic trait that most slasher movies try for.  There are a few nice slow shots of the decrepit, abandoned hallways, and the realization that they're not alone is handles well; but simply using snow to strand several young adults in isolation with a psychotic killer doesn't make Cold Prey different than most slasher horror flicks.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch


MAKING MONEY by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels have plenty of comedic rogues and schemers, and Making Money revolves around what happens when such a con artist finds himself dragged into positions of authority.  It's also a lighthearted take on banking politics, and the occasional squid.

Moist von Lipwig was formerly Albert Spangler, a con artist who was rescued from hanging by Lord Vetinari, the ruler of Ankh-Morpork.  Vetinari set Moist up as the city's Postmaster General, where Moist did the unthinkable: He made the Post Office profitable.   It runs so smoothly, in fact, that Moist if bored beyond belief, even risking his life to break into a building that he runs.

Vetinari returns with a new proposal for Moist: making Moist in charge of Ankh-Morpork's Royal Mint, which makes the money for the city.  Moist doesn't want the job, even though he charms Topsy Lavish (formerly Turvy), who controls 51% of the bank's shares along with her little dog, Mr. Fusspot.  But when she dies, she leaves Moist ownership of Mr. Fusspot, and through him control of the bank, she also left the Guild of Assassins a contract on Moist's life in case anything suspicious happens to Mr. Fusspot.

Moist is threatened by Cosmo Lavish, who wants to take control of the bank (and who wants to become Vetinari by stealing and wearing his clothes); by Pucci Lavish, a spoiled and massive woman ("Pucci stood ignored and steaming with rage for a while and then flounced out.  It was a good flounce, too.  She had no idea how to handle people and she tried to make self-esteem do the work of self-respect, but the girl could flounce better than a fat turkey on a trampoline"); and by Cribbins, a lowly criminal with difficult false teeth who knows about Moist's past identity.

The bank is no walk in the park either.  Mr. Bent is the chief accountant who has literally no sense of humor.  Hubert has built the Glooper, a series of glass tubes and containers that somehow is supposed to predict the financial state of the city.  Igor (one of several) can build anything anyone wants -- but his literal interpretations usually have disastrous results.  The same can be said for Gladys, a hulking golem who works for Moist but has been getting ideas from women's magazine.

There's also Adora Belle, Moist''s chain-smoking fiancee whose big cause is golem liberation.  And Moist's plan to move Ankh-Morpork from a gold standard to paper money.  And the missing gold, a lecherous spirit, and the possibility that four ancient gold golems could be  walking through the city at any time.  What is Moist to do, but wing it -- while wearing a gold suit and top hat, of course...

Making Money is tremendous madcap fun.  While the novel lacks some of the reluctant warmth of other Pratchett novels -- Moist is interested in saving his own skin and staying one step ahead of his circumstances and enemies -- it has plenty of manic action (about banking!) and innumerable clever lines.  This is another fine, funny Pratchett novel.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Movies about World War II have shifted from almost shameless praise for the courage of Allied soldiers to a combination of war is hell and how brave our soldiers are.  This new formula is at the heart of Fury, a war film that spares neither the horrors nor potential greatness of war.

At the opening of the film, Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) is returning from battle in German territory, in the final days of WWII in his tank, Fury, with gunner Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf), loader Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal), and Trini "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Pena).  Their assistant driver is dead -- along with the rest of their platoon.  The new assistant driver is Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a typist who's never been inside a tank and only been in the army for eight weeks.  Collier seeks to teach the naive, idealistic Ellison about the horrors of war -- which is easy, as they're off to battle once again.  What follows is a mix of unit bonding and abuse, shoot-em-up battles, lulls during which even peace is tense, and a final battle against impossible odds.

Fury doesn't break any new ground, but it is well done.  The main dramatic conflict is between Pitt's Collier and Lerman's Ellison, as Ellison gets ground down and grows up as Collier brings him into his own war-weary world.  The movie gives a feel for the horrors of war, not just in the deadly battles but in the brutal aftermath (such as Allies soldiers machine-gunning corpses to make sure they're all dead, or not relaxing in an occupied town where any man, woman or child could still try and kill them). The movie builds to a nice (if slightly predictable) climax, and while it drags a bit in the middle Fury otherwise moves at a good pace.  For a good modern war movie that doesn't pull its punches or glorify the brave soldiers, Fury delivers.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Across the country, lots of bars and pubs hold trivia contests that aren't taken all that seriously (probably thanks to the alcohol) and have relatively small prizes.  The Syfy network has adapted these contests in their show Geeks Who Drink.

Hosted by Zachary Levi, Geeks Who Drink features two teams of three, each with one celebrity, competing for cash and prizes.  The show includes either-or questions (such as whether countries are real or fictional, open-ended questions, math questions based on geek knowledge, sorting pictures (such as matching actresses to their horror movie, or putting scenes from Back to the Future in chronological order), and the final challenge, where members of alternating teams have to name something in a category -- Stephen King novels, Disney theatricial movies, etc. -- with people who can't name it getting eliminated and the team with the last person or people winning.
And for the drinking side of it, the players, host, and studio audience (and  possibly home audience) can take a drink every time the scores are tied (which is always at the start of the game) and whenever there's a commercial break.

Much as I like a game show where I know most of the answers, Geeks Who Drink is disappointing.  Zachary Levi's hosting consists of him talking fast, being insulting, and flipping used index cards into the audience when he's done with them.  I don't know how the cash and prizes are divided, but since the games have cash prizes that go from $10 to $20 to $50 to $100, no team has won more than $1000 in a game, making it the cheapest game show this side of the ones that deliberately have no rewards for the winners.  And the in-show drinking game and frequent shots of the audience drinking don't make the show any more wild or rebellious.  I might tune in to Geeks Who Drink if there's nothing else on, but I won;t go out of my way to see it -- or to recommend it.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch