In the comic book world of the Knights of the Dinner Table, the "evil" (definitely hostile) version of the Knights are the Black Hands: Weird Pete, Nitro, Newt, Stevil, and (the inexplicably nice) Gordo.  While the Black Hands usually play the sword-and-sorcery Hackmaster, they have delved into other gaming genres as well.  After seeing the Knights take on the Western genre in The Cattlepunk Chronicles -- Outlaw Trail, the Black Hands' KODT Cattlepunk strips are collected (with over 60 pages of new paterial) in The Cattlepunk Chronicles -- The Four Herdsmen of the Apocalypse.

This collection is divided into two parts.  In the first part ("The Early Years"), Nitro is burned out as the GM, so Pete takes over as the GM, running Cattlepunk and "borrowing" several ideas from B.A.'s old campaign.  It turns out that the other players had forgotten what a hard-ass Pete was, and when Nitro takes over as GM the other players spend the whole time at each other's throats.

The second part ("The Herd of Doom") has Nitro picking up the reins of Cattlepunk again, as a favor to a friend.  After several false starts (when the Black Hands kill each other off before getting through the flavor text), Nitro gives his players the task of delivering a massive herd of cattle.  This leads to more in-fighting, a humiliating encounter with a Western legend, and the discovery of what could be the most devastating weapon in the Old West.

The Four Hersdmen of the Apocalypse is delightfully dysfunctional.  Much as I love seeing the Knights in action, the Black Hands are pretty fun when they're sniping at and plotting against one another.  There's lots of fun as the players struggle in the world of the Old West, and the self-contained issue has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments from this world of role playing. ("On the upside -- we got to use the brain spatter tables.")  The Four Hersdmen of the Apocalypse is another funny and worthy KODT collection.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



How did a small restaurant become one of the biggest chains in America?  When does ambition turn into betrayal?  And how does it all relate to the American dream?  The Founder explores all of these, in its based-on-a-true-story look at the man who was largely behind the success of McDonald's.

The movie begins in 1954 with Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a 52-year-old dreamer whose get-rich-quick ideas have largely led nowhere and who's on the road all the time selling milkshake machines.  His life is also stressful on his wife Ethel (Laura Dern), who wishes he'd stay home with her.

A large machine order piques Ray's interest, leading him to drive out to California, where he finds a restaurant called McDonald's -- which brings people their food orders in under a minute, instead of the 20-30 minutes of other places.  Ray meets with the restaurant's founders -- brothers Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) -- who have an almost scientific method to making good food and getting it out quickly.  Ray sees a huge opportunity, and he talks the brothers into letting him franchise the restaurant -- despite their previous failed attempt to franchise and concerns about maintaining their standards.  A contract seems to take care of the latter issue.
What follows is a combination of growth and conflict.  Ray focuses on expanding and franchising McDonald's stores throughout America as a family-friendly place, while the McDonald's brothers fight with him on maintaining the standards.  (A running joke are the abrupt hang-ups between the two sides during their discussions.)  Lawyer Harry Sonneborn (B.J. Novak) talks Ray into getting into real estate, buying land for the McDonald's to be built on and charging the franchise owners to use it.  And Ray is tempted by Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini), the beautiful wife of a franchise owner with some great business ideas of her own.
The Founder is a very interesting look at capitalism: its promise and its ruthlessness.  Michael Keaton makes Roy Kroc into both hero and villain: Kroc has a never-give-up attitude and plenty of persistence -- but he also has success go to his head, Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are fine actors giving terrific performances as the brothers who are content with what they have but find themselves outmatched by their new partner's ambition.  The story has plenty of drama and plenty of humor -- and no easy answers on who's right and who's wrong.  The Founder is a thoughtful, dramatic, and amusing take on one of the great business successes of the 20th century.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch
(who still eats at McDonald's)



Lots of movies have a battle of wits between a physically powerful enemy and a more clever victim -- but what happens when the enemy has multiple personalities?  This is the set-up for Split, the latest movie from M. Night Shyamalan.

Few movies have ever given so little time to setting up the movie.  Teenager Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) is at a party with fellow teens Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), who think Casey is weird and an outsider.  When they're getting ready to drive home, they're gassed and kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy).
The teens wake up, captives in some sort of underground building.  It turns out that Kevin has 23 personalities, ranging from the childing Hedwig, to the prim-and-proper Patricia, and the cleanliness-obsessed Dennis.  Kevin and his multiple selves let the girls know that they're being kept in anticipation of the emergence of a 24th personality, known as "the Beast."  Casey wants to turn the personalities against each other, while the other two teens want to overpower Kevin.  There are also meetings between Kevin and Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), Kevin's psychiatrist who thinks his personalities are a form of evolution; and flashbacks to when Casey was a little girl, hunting deer with her father and uncle.
Split works, to a point.  James McAvoy is quite good as the multi-faceted Kevin, making us not only believe in the multiple personalities but even that they can converse with each other and remain quite distinct from each other.  However, Anya Taylor-Joy spends almost the whole movie as a blank, emotionless character, making her a less-than-engaging protagonist.  The ending isn't wholly satisfying, and the Shyamalan "twist" is just that this movie is in the same cinematic universe as at least one of his other movies.  Split is uneven.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



There may be an overlap between ideas, language and reality -- but that sort of potential is far from realized in The Bye Bye Man.  This is a complete wreck of a horror movie.

The movie opens in 1969, as a man keeps muttering to himself "Don't say it, don't think it" while walking from house to house with a shotgun, asking people if they told anyone the name.  Then he shoots them.
Jump to the present, where college student Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas), and his good friend John (Lucien Laviscount) have rented an off-campus house where they can live.  As usual for a horror movie, there are the beginning minor events: the sound of a coin falling and rolling, what look like figures in the darkness, scratching noises in the middle of the night.  Elliot finds that inside a nightstand, "don't say it, don't think" has been written over and over -- and under it are the words "the Bye Bye Man."

After their psychically sensitive friend Kim (Jenna Kanell) has a seance with the three main characters, Elliot mentions the name "the Bye Bye Man" -- and things get really bad.  All the main characters start hearing or seeing things -- sometimes driving the people to kill themselves.  Some characters who heard the name "the Bye Bye Man" kill others they might have told it to, then themselves.  And Elliot's research suggests that the more "the Bye Bye Man" is said or thought, the stronger he becomes.  Elliot also starts having visions of a cloaked figure, sometimes with a large dog-like creature covered in blood...
Mythology becoming reality has been done in horror movies before, but never as badly as in The Bye Bye Man.  This movie has the unfortunate -- but common in many horror movies -- element of the actors being poor in their roles and having paper-thin characters.  The movie has a visual sense of persistent gloom, from the poorly-lit house to surprisingly dismal daytime scenes.  Lots of things about the movie make no sense, from why the Bye Bye Man kills people whose knowledge of him is what lets him to exist to the point od the dog-type-thing, which adds nothing to the movie.  And worst of all for a horror movie, this isn't scary.  The title character looks like a failed makeup project from Face Off, and the movie lacks either jump scares or growing dread and menace.

I was the only person in the theater showing The Bye Bye Man, and the people who skipped it were luckier than I was.  This may well be the worst movie of the year -- and it's only January!

Overall grade: F
Reviewed by James Lynch



There are some parts of history -- even fairly recent American history -- that have been woefully overlooked.  Hidden Figures, based on several real-life people, is the story of three women who were instrumental in America's role in the space race.

Friends Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Olivia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) all work for NASA.  Unfortunately, they work there in Virginia in the 1960s, so they face both racism and sexism, and it's common for them to be stared at by a whole room.  Katherine is a "human computer" who performs complex calculations -- and has to run to another building to use the bathroom because it's the closest one that's not for whites only.  Dorothy does all the work and has all the responsibility of a supervisor, but is denied repeatedly for the position.  And Mary wants to become an engineer, but she has to sue just to take the required classes at a segregated school.
But the three women are strong and persistent -- and they want to help in getting an American into space before the Russians.  They even have unexpected support from the agency's boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), who is unintentionally enlightened not because he believes in equality, but rather because he wants the most work out of his people so NASA beats the Russians into outer space.
Hidden Figures is quite an inspirational film.  While there are subplots (including reminders of segregation, the women's families, and Katherine being wooed by a National Guard member), the focus is on the trio overcoming their obstacles and the competition to send someone into space.  The movie rests on the three stars' abilities -- and they all deliver.  Taraji is endearing as the glasses-wearing mathematical genius who struggles both for recognition and problem solving.  Janelle makes Mary the sassy, outspoken one who's as much a fighter as a joker.  And Octavia has plenty of strength as the overworked and undervalued worker -- who also recognizes the importance of learning how to work the "IBM" machine before almost anyone else.  And while the movie is pretty straightforward in terms of direction, it manages to make solving mathematical problems on a chalkboard interesting.

It's a shame that it took a fictional movie to make these women's contributiions known, but Hidden Figures does so with drama, humor, and a very good sense of history.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



There are plenty of push-your-luck games where a player can keep taking turns to get more points -- and risk losing all those points if things go south with a bad turn.  Steve Jackson combined this sort of game with zombies and dice with Zombie Dice, and now they've applied a near-identical formula to superheroes -- quite well -- with Batman: The Animated Series Dice Game.

On its surface, this game is pretty simple.  Each turn, players roll three dice.  Players are trying to roll loot symbols (when a player gets 30 or more loot every other player gets a final turn, and whoever has the most loot wins), avoid Batman (three Batman symbols end a player's turn and cost them all the loot they earned that turn), and deal with alarms (which get rerolled).  Gray dice (five) have the most loot and fewest Batman symbols, Blue dice (three) have two of each, and yellow dice (two) have the most Batman symbols and fewest loot.  After a player rolls, they keep any Loot and Batman symbols; they can either stop (and gain the loot for the turn) or keep going, rerolling any alarm dice plus random dice to bring them back to three dice total.
 So what makes this game different from other push your luck games?  The villains!  The game comes with four villains (and a promo card can let players play as Mr. Freeze), each of whom has a unique ability.  The Joker gets a loot for every set of three-colored dice, even if he's busted by Batman.  Poison Ivy can set aside one blue Batman symbol each turn.  Catwoman's blue loot are worth 2 loot each.  The Riddler gets to roll 4 dice his first turn, deciding which to keep and which to put back in the cup.  And Mr. Freeze's power is shown on the card below.
As with Zombie Dice, Batman: The Animated Series Dice Game is simple fun.  While the villains make things different for each player, the strategy is pretty straightforward: balancing the risk of getting three Batman symbols with the reward of additional loot.  The art from the animated series is nice, and the game accommodates 2-5 players, with games lasting 10-20 minutes.  Batman: The Animated Series Dice Game won't be the center of a gaming gathering, but it's a fun one to play a few times before the main event.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



When a movie opens with folks in a California traffic jam getting out of their cars to perform a big song and dance number, you know you're in for a treat.  La La Land is a big nostalgic love letter to the movies and music of yesteryear -- as well as the challenges of today.

Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista on a film studio lot with dreams of becoming a big actor -- and a lot of failed auditions behind her.  Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist with dreams of opening his own jazz club -- but he's stuck doing music gigs beneath him, like Christmas standards and '80s covers.  They don't exactly have a meet cute -- he blares his horn at her in the traffic jam; she flips him off -- but they keep running into each other, and soon they're hanging out and falling in love.
Their lives are literally punctuated by musical numbers breaking out, whether Mia's preparing to go out, the two stars dance-sparring and tap dancing on a park bench, or literally dancing on air under the stars.  But as their lives get more complex and they work on making their dreams come true -- Mia preparing to put on a one-woman show, Sebastian joining Keith (John Legend) for a most crowd-pleasing and synthesizer-based form of jazz -- their schedules keep them apart and their relationship starts to become strained...
La La Land is a glorious celebration of the movies and music of yesteryear.  Fans of classic musicals will recognize the numerous homages to musical numbers in film; in addition, Sebastian's almost obsessive pure love of jazz is reflected in La La Land's soundtrack.  Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are terrific, whether as reluctant lovers or striking out on their own.  And the movie is wonderful, from the spontaneous musical numbers to the drama of the two stars trying to make it work between them while pursuing their separate dreams.  La La Land truly brings the magic of the movies and music to life.

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch