It's said that the cover of a comic book is very important, as it catches a potential reader's eye and may entice them into buying the book.  Knights of the Dinner Table celebrated its first two decades of publication with Knights of the Dinner Table: 20 Years of Covers, a coffee table book that features all the covers of the comic -- plus additional material.

Knights of the Dinner Table follows the misadventures of the Knights of the Dinner Table -- B.A., Bob, Dave, Sarah, and Brian -- a role-playing group in Muncie, Indiana who mainly play Hackmaster, a thinly-veiled version of Dungeons & Dragons.  Over the years the comic has expanded its scope, introducing other gaming groups (most often the Black Hands), the employees of Hard Eight Enterprises (who produce Hackmaster), the annual GaryCon conventions, and more.  Throughout the years and changes, the focus of the comic has always been gaming -- and that focus is reflected in the book's covers.

The early covers focused mainly on the Knights, either showing all of them together or the four players with gamemaster B.A. appearing in the background somehow.  Over time the other characters and groups made their way to the covers: the Black Hands would be tormenting the Knights, individual characters would get the focus, the annual GaryCon shows would pop up, there was a tribute to Gary Gygax, etc.  Knowing that many of the readers were gamers and/or geeks, the characters would appear in parodies of movies, TV series, other comic books, and even original D&D sourcebooks.  And there were many guest artists, providing different (and, frankly, sometimes better) artwork than inside the comic book.

In addition to the covers, KODT: 20 Years of Covers also has an introduction by the series' creator Jolly Bkackburn.  There are also summaries of all the stories in every issue, plus the occasional panel or artwork from the issues, which elevates this collection from just artwork to a pretty good guide to the stories appearing in every single issue featured in this collection.

Unfortunately, the production of KODT: 20 Years of Covers was part of the disastrous KODT Live Action Series Kickstarter campaign.  The online store Noble Knight Games generously provided copies of the book to those Kickstarter backers who never got their book; unfortunately, they sent out all the copies they had (and I got the last one!).  Fortunately, Kenzer & Company has made KODT: 20 Years of Covers available as a downloadable PDF ; and the hope remains that more physical copies of the book will eventually be produced.

I've been a fan of Knights of the Dinner Table since 1998, and Knights of the Dinner Table: 20 Years of Covers is a terrific collection of the series' amusing and pretty original covers (which almost never have anything to do with the issue's stories).  This book may not be for everyone, but it's terrific for fans of the series, gamers, and geeks in general.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Okay, so they're really not that bad.  Bad Moms is a light, predictable, profanity-filled comedy where overworked, overstressed mothers get to be "bad" by taking a break from duties and responsibilities.

Amy (Mike Kunis) seems like she has it all: a husband and two young kids, a part-time job, and an active role in her kids' PTA.  But it doesn't take much to see that she's full of stress: Her husband hangs around the house, making her feel like she's a third kid.  She does everything for her kids -- doing her son's projects, scheduling her daughter's soccer -- and they "thank" her by being embarrassed by her.  Her young boss at work keeps dumping more work on her without making her full time.  And the PTA is ruled by Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), who rules with an iron fist and is always followed around by her supporters Stacy (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Vicky (Annie Mumolo).  When Amy kicks her husband after discovering his online affair, she's now handling all the family chores and activities (including her dog's vertigo) -- leading her to tell off Gwnedolyn at a PTA meeting and saying she's tired of working so hard to be a perfect mom.
Amy's outburst earns her the attention of two new friends: Kiki (Kristen Bell), a shy and awkward mother of four desperate for any sort of friendship; and Carla (Kathryn Hahn), a single mom who's hypersexual and outspoken.  Together they decide to be "bad moms" by doing things like partying in a supermarket, getting drunk, and being more relaxed with their kids.  Since the movie needs conflict to move the plot along, Amy decides to run against Gwendolyn for the position of PTA president.  And you don't have to be psychic to know what'll happen with the handsome widower-single dad.
Bad Moms isn't as wild as the title suggests (except for the near-continual cursing), but it is fun fluff.   While the movie is predictable and ends with a everyone-is-happy-and-friends sentimentality, it does have plenty of funny moments: Numerous slow-motion shots of the three friends partying, the catharsis its target audience would feel about cutting loose and partying, and one scene where Kiki is used to demonstrate how to handle an uncircumcised penis.  While the cast is good, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn stand out as polar opposite personality types who somehow become close friends.  Bad Moms is another decent, very straightforward summer comedy.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Be afraid of the thing that goes bump in the night.  This is the pretty simple concept behind Lights Out, a pretty mediocre and very routine horror movie.

This movie opens with Paul (Billy Burke) working in a factory late at night, when he's attacked and killed by a figure who only appears in the dark.

We then jump past the opening credits to get further into the story.  Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is a kid who's been falling asleep a lot in school.  His mother Sophie (Maria Bello) -- who's Paul's widow -- has been having mental problems and may have stopped taking her medication.  She also talks to someone named Diana when no one else is in the house.  And Martin's been seeing a shadowy figure in the dark parts of the house.
Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) is a young woman who's estranged from her mother (Sophie) and is Martin's half-sister.  Rebecca is dealing with her commitment-focused boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) but gets involved with helping Martin.  Rebecca starts investigating her mother's relationship with Diana, and what Martin describes sounds a lot like what Rebecca experienced as a young girl.  And pretty soon that shadowy figure starts popping up in almost every shadow and closet in the movie.
Lights Out is almost absolutely routine.  The characters (none of whom stand out) hear mysterious noises and see doors slamming shut.  Once they figure out that Diana can't stand the light there's a scramble to provide continual illumination -- but that's doesn't create tension.  Most of the movie is the creature popping out of the dark or appearing when the lights inevitably flicker and go out, and while the monster is obscured by the dark it's sudden appearances and charging at characters gets repetitive quickly.  For a movie mostly revolving around darkness, Lights Out gives the horror fan what they've seen many times before.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Time to head back to space.  Star Trek Beyond is the most original of the rebooted universe, and while it's heavy on action it also gives the characters a chance to shine.

As the movie opens, the Enterprise is three years into its mission of exploration, stopping at the starbase Yorktown, and weariness is overtaking some of the crew.  Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is now older than his father was when he died, and Kirk is considering settling down at the Yorktown and promoting Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) to captain.  Spock, meanwhile, is upset that his alternate-timeline self has died, and Spock has broken up with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) over helping the Vulcan race.  The rest of the crew is their reliable selves: Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the movie), Sulu (John Cho) and Chekhov (Anton Yelchin).
The Enterprise gets sent on a rescue mission in an uncharted nebula -- but the Enterprise is attacked by massive swarms of ships led by Krall (Idris Elba), an alien who absorbs the lifeforce of others and seems to have a particular hatred of the Federation.  With the Enterprise literally torn to pieces, the crew winds up in different groups on a nearby planet.  Kirk and Chekhov work on rescuing the remained of the crew in the wreck of the Enterprise.  Bones is assisting the wounded Spock.  Sulu and Uhura interact with Krall.  And Scotty meets Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a martial artist and engineer who helps him in exchange for his help getting her off the planet.  There's also an ancient starship, a mysterious artifact, a motorcycle, and music from the Beastie Boys.
Director Justin Lin has also directed several movies in the Fast & the Furious series, so it's no surprise that Star Trek Beyond is heavy on action: fast-paced space battles, numerous slugfests on the ground, and that motorcycle turning up in the far future.  But the cast has settled into these near-iconic roles quite nicely, the different groups hearken back to the landing parties of the original series, there are a few surprised with Krall, and Jaylah is a spirited and interesting character.  Star Trek Beyond is another enjoyable movie for the summer.
Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's summer, which means movies that hope to entertain with big stars, big budgets, and often fairly little plot.  This applies to the new Ghostbusters movie, a simplebut enjoyable reboot of the 1980s movie.
Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) is on the verge of getting tenure from a prestigious university -- until she discovers that a book she co-wrote with Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), promoting the existence of ghosts, is still around.  Erin confronts Abby (working at a small college), who's still trying to prove the existence of ghosts, along with the ever-smiling, possibly insane engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon).   Erin gets sucked back into the world of ghost-hunting, and when the trio all get fired from their jobs, they wind up starting their own business and focused on proving the existence of ghosts.

They soon get two new members: Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a subway worker who knows NYC and has read massive amounts of nonfiction -- and who becomes the fourth Ghostbuster.  Then there's Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the world's worst receptionist and a pretty dim bulb in general, but the only one who applied for the receptionist job (and who Erin has massive hots for).
But it's not easy hunting ghosts.  A nerdy little man named Rowan (Neil Casey) has been leaving small machines designed to amplify paranormal activity -- and to break down the barriers between this world and the next one.  There's also lots of skepticism about the Ghostbusters' finds, as well as a city hall that knows the paranormal is real but wants that information kept quiet so homeland security can handle it.
Ghostbusters works pretty well.  While the movie is a bit light on story, the lead actors are all terrific in their roles (especially Kate McKinnon's mad scientist) and the movie has a nice amount of action, from numerous ghosts to a haunted NYC parade to the final giant creature.  There are numerous tributes to the original movie, from appearances from both creatures and almost every star from the original (including a tribute to the late Harold Ramis) to a post-credits scene laying the groundwork for a sequel.  This is a terrific movie for the summer: light, funny and entertaining.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Blame Kickstarter for this one.  Dudes & Dragons is a almost non-budget comedy that attempts to spoof Dungeons & Dragons but fails on pretty much every level: humor, action, special effects, and storytelling.

Dudes & Dragons has basically two plots that merge into one.  Archer Camilan (Maclain Nelson) is in love with and engaged to the elvish princess Larec (Claire Niederpruem).  However, his parents are opposed to the match; and if they marry his family will lose its lands and castle (for reasons that are never explained).  So Camilan sets off with his friend/henchman Samton (Jake Van Wagoner) to ask a favor of his brother Ramicus (Adam Johnson).  If Ramicus gets married, the family can keep their lands.  But Ramicus is a happy bachelor, looking down on being tied down and happy working as a bounty hunter -- and hanging out with his orc roommate Shokdor (Erik Denton, who spends the whole movie grunting and wearing a rubber mask).

Enter storyline #2.  The kingdom lives in terror of a dragon who attacks people in love.  (Seriously.)  This is because it is controlled by the necromancer Lord Tensley (James Marsters), who wants to destroy all love in the kingdom unless the captive Ennogard (Kaitlin Doubleday) marries him -- which she doesn't want to do, since he's both evil and her cousin.  (Again: Seriously.)  So she sends out a distress message (parodying Star Wars: A New Hope), promising her lands, her soul, and her body to whoever rescues her.  Oh, and the dragon attacks and injures Larec, and the magical healer conveniently needs a talon from the dragon to heal her; and it has to be within a certain timeframe, setting up the movie's ticking clock.

And there's a pre-credits appearance by Luke Perry.

I don't know if there's a decent sword and sorcery parody or comedy out there, but Dudes & Dragons sure ain't it.  The movie is painfully unfunny, whether it's a goblin in drag, parodies of 300 and Titanic, or yet even more slow motion scenes.  The acting is quite bad throughout the movie (what are you doing in this, James Marsters?) and all of the special effects -- from the monsters to the backgrounds -- are so terrible I had to check to make sure this wasn't made by the Asylum.  You'd be better off making your own filk songs than sitting through the drek that is Dudes & Dragons.  (DVD extras are pretty standard: deleted scenes, behind the scenes features, etc.)

Overall grade: F
Reviewed by James Lynch



Call it "insane and insaner."  Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a comedy where everything is loud, over the top, and pretty predictable.  The fact that it's loosely based on a true story doesn't diminish any of that at all.

Mike Stangle (Adam Levine) and his younger brother Dave (Zac Efron) are amazingly close: They live together, they work together selling beer, and they party together at all their family events.  The latter is is a problem, as they get each other worked up and wind up causing mayhem and destruction.

The latter is a problem for Mike and Dave's parents (Stephen Root, Stephanie Faracy), who are concerned that the brothers' antics will ruin the upcoming Hawaii wedding of their sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard) and Eric (Sam Richardson).  The parents want the brothers to bring "nice girls" to the wedding, to keep them calm.  Mike and Dave's Craigslist search for dates (offering a free trip to Hawaii) goes viral, even getting them an appearance on TV with Wendy Williams.

Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick) are best friends and wrecks: Alice is an emotional wreck after being left at the altar, and the pair are always drunk or stoned, broke, unemployed, living in squalor,and pretty much out of control.  They see Mike and Dave's offer as a free vacation, so they make themselves out to be nice girl (a teacher and a hedge fund manager) and get Mike and Dave to invite them to the wedding.
Once everyone's in Hawaii, things quickly get out of control.  Mike keeps pursuing Tatiana, who keeps him at arms length; she's also pursued by Cousin Terry (Alice Wetterlund), who has a rivalry with Mike.  Alice seems to be falling for Dave, but all the wedding festivities have her somewhat traumatized; she also somehow becomes best friends with Jeanie.  And while Tatiana and Alice are always drinking and cursing, somehow they're loved by all and the brothers get blamed for any problems.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is pretty much what many summer movies are but shouldn't be.  There is zero subtlety here, from Adam Levine shouts his lines to the most over-the-top sex scene since The Bronze to virtually all the characters curse up a storm from start to finish,  The story is utterly predictable (wacky hijinks, wedding in peril, self-awareness, redemption, happy ending) and none of the jokes are great or memorable.   I like a lot of the cast here, but the occasional chuckle doesn't make up for the majority of this movie.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Sometimes suspense can come from the simplest of set-ups.  Creep takes the found footage format, has only two actors, and still manages to be effective.

We meet Aaron (Patrick Brice) driving.  He's answered an ad that wants someone to do a day's videotaping in exchange for $1000, with discretion advised.  Things brings Aaron to a mountainside cabin -- and his temporary employer.

Josef (Mark Duplass) wants to document a day in his life.  He's a cancer survivor, but he was recently diagnosed with "a brain tumor the size of a baseball" and given two months to live.  Josef and his wife are expecting a child, so he wants the video to show his future child ("Buddy") someday.
What starts as a simple assignment for Aaron soon gets weird.   Josef is a frequent hugger, but he also seems to start a lot of personal and often uncomfortable conversations with Aaron.  Josef also shows some pretty weird tendencies, like his scary werewolf mask called "Peach Fuzz" or willingness to lead the two men into the forest without knowing how to get back.  And things don't wrap up at the end of the day and the assignment...
Creep is both very basic and pretty effective.  While Aaron doesn't have much of a personality, Josef gets revealed bit by bit, leaving the viewer unsure if he's happy, pathetic, dangerous, delusional, or obsessive.  The movie continues past the cabin in the mountains, yet doesn't feel like it overstays its welcome.  While some parts of the movie strain credibility -- especially towards the end -- Creep does manage some genuine chills while taking the audience on an unpredictable journey.  (Surprisingly, the DVD has no extras -- not even previews!)

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Red, White, and Blue 2!

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

Jim Lynch

*  *  *

Cast of American Pie

 Chris Pratt

Gisele and Cindy Crawford

Heidi Klum

Holly Madison

Kathy Ireland

New England Patriots Cheerleaders

Pamela Anderson

Seattle Seahawks Cheerleaders

Taylor Hill



Every week, Brian Cronin explores the veracity of comic book legends on his website Comic Book Legends Revealed, so it makes sense that he known a substantial amount about comic book history.  It's no surprise that his 2012 book Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? And Other Amazing Comic Book Trivia! is a collection of interesting, unusual, and often obscure tidbits from the world of comic books.

Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? is divided into six sections about comic books -- characters, writers and artists, storylines, beyond the panels, comics and culture, and movies and television -- and each section has numerous multiple-item areas.  Readers will learn about Nine Great Superhero Pets, Four Artists with Bizarrely Unique Styles, Five "WTF?" Moments in Comic Book History, Six Notably Recalled Comic Books, Seven Bands that Got Their Names from Comic Books, and Five Most Awkward Sex Scenes in Comic Book Movies.  Most of the entries have descriptions (though some are just lists, especially the surveys), many have artwork accompanying them, and some are guest-written by artists, writers, and other comic book professionals.  (My favorite: Peter David's "Top Six Characters Known for Sitting Around.")

Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? is ultimately a collection of trivia -- heck, the word "trivia" is in the subtitle -- but it's a well done collection of trivia.  While the simple lists (usually from surveys) are very basic, Cronin usually provides some explanation and/or context for the entries, giving the reader the reasons why something is included instead of sending them out to look up why something is so unusual.  This book is a pretty good visit to the world of comic book trivia.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Can something be both artistic and juvenile?  This is the paradox I had to consider while watching Swiss Army Man, an independent film that's a combination of the stranded survivor theme and Weekend at Bernie's.

When we meet Hank (Paul Dano), he's stranded on a desert island.  He's been there so long that boredom and isolation (described on items he's sent to sea) have driven him to suicide.  Just as he's about to take that final step, he gets an unexpected companion: Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), a corpse who washes up on shore.
At first, Manny seems to be good for nothing but expelling gas.  But after riding Manny like a jet-ski to a forested area, Hank finds that he can use Manny's body to accomplish a wide variety of tasks.  Hank also starts having conversations with the corpse: He knows it's probably a hallucination brought about by hunger or loneliness, but Hank still enjoys having someone to chat with.  Manny is almost a blank slate, but Hank hopes that helping Manny remember things -- from Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the beautiful woman on his iPhone, to societal rules -- will bring Manny back to life.
It's hard to know what to make of Swiss Army Man.  It doesn't take Mythbusters to know the movie takes substantial liberties with what someone can accomplish with a corpse -- but that's hardly the main issue, just part of the physical comedy from Manny being shifted and moved around.  Instead, the movie can't seem to decide between examining what it means to be part of the world (as described by Hank to Manny) and lowbrow comedy (from lots of flatulence to Hank dressing in drag to jog Manny's memories).  Paul Dano is decent as the everyman whose discovered corpse becomes his best friend, while Daniel Radcliffe does pretty well with physical comedy, as his body is continually cracking and shifting.

Swiss Army Man is uneven: thoughtful and funny at times, juvenile at others.  The mix doesn't always work, but it is something different.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch