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



With so much entertainment revolving around a zombie outbreak, how useful would the skills learned in the Boy Scouts be in surviving and saving others?  This might have made for a good movie, but it's, surprisingly, barely touched on in Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.

High school sophomores Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller), and Augie (Joey Morgan) are best friends and apparently the only Scouts (a thinly-veiled version of the Boy Scouts) in their school.  Augie is a pudgy nerd who takes the Scouts seriously and is about to be made a Condor by Scout Leader Rogers (David Koechner) during an overnight camping trip.  Carter wants to ditch the Scouts and get laid -- starting with ditching Augie during the camping trip and going to the senior secret party.  Ben is the level-headed one of the trio, trying to keep the peace with both of them; he also has a crush on Carter's sister Kendall (Halston Sage), a senior with a jerk of a boyfriend.
In the midst of this teen drama, a zombie outbreak happens, first in a lab, then the woods, and soon the whole town is abandoned.  After an argument, the friends split up.  Ben and Carter sneak into a strip club, where the zombie attack but are thwarted by Denise (Sarah Dumont), a stripper -- I mean "cocktail waitress" -- who's a badass with a heart of gold.  Augie heads into town, where he's attacked by zombie Scout Leader Rogers.  Soon the stars are fighting zombies, plus trying to find the secret party so Ben can save Kendall (and presumably everyone else) before the military bombs the town.  And of course the teens will work out their issues with each other along the way.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is a hybrid of teen comedy and horror -- and it fails miserably at both.  The "humor" consists mainly of cursing, zombies doing silly things (pole dancing, bouncing on a trampoline), and gross-out gags involving zombie kills and body parts.  As for horror, the zombies are inconsistent (shambling or running, doing acts from their former life or lunging after the living) and not a real threat to the main characters.  Every part of the plot is cliche, from the friends fighting and making up, to the arming sequence in a home furnishing store; and there's almost no use of the scouting skills the main characters had.

I didn't laugh once during Scouts Guide to the Apocalypse, which is pretty bad for a comedy, and most movies in general.  (The movie also wastes the comic talents of David Koechner and Cloris Leachman.)  This is simply a unfunny, uncreative, terrible movie.

Overall grade: F
Reviewed by James Lynch



Plenty of science fiction B movies from the 1940s through the 1960s are unintentionally humorous -- but what happens when someone deliberately re-created their badness?  The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is both a mockery and homage to those ridiculously earnest early films.

The movie opens with scientist Dr. Paul Armstrong (Larry Blamire) and his wife Betty (Fay Masterson) heading out to a cabin in the woods.  Paul wants to find and study a meteor made of atmospherium ("You know what this meteor could mean to science.  If we find it, and it's real, it could mean a lot.  It could mean actual advances in the field of science"), while Betty is apparently there to tease her husband and do some cooking.

At the same time, a spaceship from the planet Marva has crashed nearby.  Alien couple Kro-Bar (Andrew Parks) and Lattis (Susan McConnell) need some atmospherium to get their spaceship working again, so they use their Transmutatron to make themselves seem like humans.  Their mutant also escaped after the crash.
 Also at the same time, Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe) has discovered Cadavra Cave, and the (plastic) skeleton within.  The skeleton communicates through telepathy ("I sleep now!") and wants the atmospherium to be brought back to life and rule the world.  Dr. Fleming uses the Transmutatron to create Animala (Jennifer Blaire), who is "part woman, part four different types of animals."
 What follows is a dinner party with all the characters, aliens trying to act like humans ("Please be seated."  "Fold yourself in the middle!"), alliances and betrayals, lots of stilted dialogue ("What's the matter?  Tell me."  "I don't know.  Nothing I can put my finger on.  Not something I can see or touch or feel.  But something I can't quite see or touch or feel or put my finger on"), hypnotic dancing, an amazingly fake monster, and Ranger Brad (Dan Conroy) popping up to give warnings: "Well again I didn't mean to throw a damper. Believe me that's the last thing I'd like to throw. I don't want to throw anything at all really. But when folks are horribly mutilated, I feel it's my job to tell others. We take our horrible mutilations seriously up in these parts."
 In the wrong hands, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavdra could have been a disappointing one-joke movie.  Fortunately, this movie managed to both laugh at and with its source movies in equal measure.  The dialogue ridiculous and wonderfully quotable ("All skeletons are against me.  They always have been.  Even when I was a child I was always hated by skeletons!"), and the actors all manage their straightforward deliveries and awkward pauses with great comic timing.  I usually like my B movies being riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Rifftrax, but The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a loving and very amusing take on the "classic" science fiction films of old.  DVD extras include lots of behind-the-scenes features, plus many trailers for the sort of movies that inspired The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch