The horror movie Phoenix Forgotten is incredibly easy to summarize: The Blair Witch Project with aliens in the desert instead of a witch in the woods.  This found-footage horror movie often copies The Blair Witch Project but doesn't improve or add anything to the genre.

Phoenix Forgotten is shot as two different hand-held camera movies.  In the present, Sophie (Florence Hartigan) returns to her home in Phoenix, Arizona to shoot a documentary.  Back in 1997, at Sophie's sixth birthday party everyone saw a series of lights in a V formation appear and move in the sky.  Sophie's teenage brother Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts) -- who always has a camcorder with him and loves science fiction -- is convinced the lights are aliens.  He recruits friends Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) and Mark (Justin Matthews) to interview people and eventually head into the desert; after the latter, they were never seen again.  Sophie interviews the teens' parents (even hers), police officers, politicians, and even folks in the Air Force to try to figure out what happened to her brother and his friends.
The other "found footage" is from the camcorder recordings John was always making.  Most of it was benign interviews with folks in the town.  This being a horror movie, the "final" tape surfaces, showing what happened to the three teens.
There's very little to like in Phoenix Forgotten.  The characters are one-dimensional, the movie really copies far too much from The Blair Witch Project (from recurring symbols and hand prints to a finale set in an empty house and the recording device on its side) and delivers few scares beyond mystery sounds in the distance and odd ailments affecting the teens.  And a postscript trying to link the movie to real-life events feels a bit desperate.  This isn't a terrible movie, but it's not far off.  Pass.

Overall grade: D
Reviewed by James Lynch



The Rifftrax folks love to make snarky comments about terrible movies -- and there's oh so much to make fun of in Samurai Cop, a bit of 1990s cheese that pretty much fails at every level.  So Rifftrax Live: Samurai Cop was a great evening of fun.

The movie opened with fake movie trivia, comments (including New Cop Movie Cliches), and comedy songs.  Then Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy took the stage.  They began with a black-and-white short film -- Manners in School -- where an animated chalk stick figure teaches an obnoxious kid about manners.  Fun as that was, things really kicked into high gear when the trio took on the feature.
 It's hard to describe just how terrible Samurai Cop really is -- and Nelson, Corbett, and Murphy jumped on virtually all the movie's flaws.  The "hero" gets nailed for everything from his long flowing hair ("Cher wig") to the banana hammock he sports through far too much of the end of the film.  His partner seems to specialize in making goofy faces; he's also the butt of a lot of ethnic "jokes," but as the hosts reassure us, "It's not racist if it's incoherent."  There's some sort of police war on Japanese gangs, and the body count is amazingly high.  Apparently samurai cops will ignore their guns to fight bad guys with martial arts or swords.  A villain is brought into a hospital room hidden in a hamper.  There's painfully sexist and explicit "flirting."  Lion heads appear for... some reason?  And the phrase "shoot him!" takes on hysterical meaning.

Rifftrax Live: Samurai Cop was a delightfully silly evening at the movies, from the opening fake credits to the final song about the feature.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



The zombie movie has its protagonists battling in a variety of ways and places -- but I don't think any of these have been on the train before.  The South Korean horror movie Train to Busan takes a more claustrophobic -- and emotional -- take on the zombie uprising.

Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) is a hedge fund manager whose obsession with work has led to the end of his marriage -- and a great emotional distance with his young daughter, Soo-an (Soo-an Kim).  When he really blows things for her birthday, Soo-an insists on getting to visit her mother in the southern town of Busan.  So Seok-woo gets them train tickets, expecting to drop her off in about an hour.  The train has a variety of people: a tough guy and his very pregnant wife, a high school baseball team (including a shy guy and the cheerleader who teases him), a pair of elderly sisters, and several others.
Unfortunately, what should have been a quick trip is substantially changed by... zombies!  The infected are snarling, feral, disjointed, fast creatures who bite at the non-infected -- and who turn them into zombies within seconds.  In less than a day South Korea is a shambles, with massive devastation and military quarantine zones.  And it's hard to know what is worse for the passengers on the train: the possibility of being stuck in close quarters with a zombie, or the stops at train station, where the quiet is often broken by the attack of dozens, or even hundreds, of zombies.
While Train to Busan doesn't reinvent the zombie movie, it is a very effective entry in the genre.  There's an ongoing theme of altruism vs. selfishness, where people wanting to save everyone risk more, while those looking out only for themselves seem to last a lot longer.  These fast zombies are pretty scary, and even their one weakness just creates more tension.  The actors are all good, and the movie is quite unpredictable when it comes to telling who'll survive until the end of the movie (though the survivors' numbers get whittled down very quickly).  Train to Busan has scares, tears, and it'll stay with you long after the train ride ends.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



The "Essential" series of greatest hits albums are designed not to provide new material, but rather to provide the well-known songs fans (and most other people) know.  The Essential Britney Spears falls into this category, offering plenty of songs on its two-disc album but nothing really new.

Released in 2013, The Essential Britney Spears has music from Spears' 1999 debut album ...Baby One More Time to her 2013 single "Scream & Shout" with Will.I.Am.  There are multiple songs from each of her albums (including a few lesser known ones), plus singles from assorted sources: the Austin Powers in Goldmember soundtrack, the aforementioned single, and even songs from previous greatest hits collection.
Unfortunately, as with previous collections The Essential Britney Spears offers plenty of what came before.  While the two-disc format has plenty of room for all the hits and some smaller songs, there's nothing here that hasn't been released before.  There are no live tracks, no covers (apart from a mediocre version of "My Prerogative"), not even any sort of megamix.  The Essential Britney Spears does provide her greatest hits, and a few lesser known songs, but nothing beyond that.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch


So here's something different: a drama about comedy.  Don't Think Twice is less about laughs and more about the impact of limited success on friends and lovers.

Don't Think Twice focuses on a NYC improv comedy group called the Commune: Miles (Mike Birbiglia), Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Sam (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), and Bill (Chris Gethard).  In addition to performing together, the group are friends, often riffing on what each other says, and hanging out when not performing; and Jack and Sam are romantically involved with each other.
The group has their share of problems as well.   Most of them have pretty menial jobs: Bill hands out free samples at a grocery store, Allison has been working on a comic book for years, and Miles teaches improv (and had taught several members of the Commune) -- and often sleeps with his young female students.  Bill's father is in terrible shape after a motorcycle accident.  And the studio where they perform will be closing down in a month.

The biggest change happens with an incredible opportunity: Jack and Sam get called in to audition for a Saturday Night Live-type show called Weekend Live.  Sam panics and skips the audition, while Jack gets hired -- the opportunity of a lifetime.  The other Commune members are initially happy for Jack, but soon they become both needy (wanting him to hand in their writing and pitch them to the show) and resentful.  They also find themselves questioning whether improv will give them the lives they really want
While the improv scenes are amusing, Don't Think Twice is more about the changes and growing among this close group of friends.  Unfortunately, as with so many ensemble movies, the movie focuses on a few characters (Miles, Jack, Bill) and the others become almost one-trait characters.  The movie is enjoyable, but also pretty basic: not bad, but not really deep or insightful.  Don't Think Twice is good for a lighter drama, with a bit of comedy sprinkled in.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Many role-playing game sourcebooks provide either a single adventure with lots of details, or general guidelines for a campaign without a lot of specifics.  Villainy Amok, a 2005 sourcebook for the Champions superhero RPG, manages to bridge the gap between these two areas.  It manages to provide lots of possibilities, along with adventure specifics.

Villainy Amok has several chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of superhero adventures: bank robberies ("Hands in the Air!"), preliminary alien invasion (The Threat Beyond), granting superpowers ("Ask Your Doctor if Metatron Is Right for You!"), fires ("Burn Baby Burn!"), experiments ("It Came from a Mad Scientist's Lab!"), miniaturizing the characters ("Honey, I Shrunk the Superheroes!") and superhero marriage (My Big Fat Caped Wedding), plus more general situations in the Plot Gallery.

While it would have been simple to just give an adventure for each of these areas, Villainy Amok provides something extra: numerous possibilities for them.  A bank robbery might be simple, but what if a magician makes the money come to life, or a metal-manipulating villain wants the vault door?  Does shrinking characters mean they become an inch high, microscopic -- or get turned into little children?  What about the numerous reasons -- from financial to religious to scientific -- for giving numerous people superpowers?  Each chapter goes beyond the obvious setups to offer plenty of imaginative possibilities.

The chapters also have plenty of information.  There are NPCs and technological descriptions (easily modified for other RPGs), a full-length adventure, and "Ten Unusual [area] Scenarios," each about a paragraph long and offering different directions for that area of superhero adventure.  And the Plot Gallery provides general ideas to tie into characters' interests and qualities: Personal Dilemmas, Secret Identity Scenario Hooks, and even Ten Bits of Gossip to Spread around at a Superhero Party!

Villainy Amok is well written, with a love and knowledge of the superhero genre mixed with a fun sense of humor.  My one criticism is that there are a lot of typos scattered throughout the book.  That noted, Villainy Amok is a must-have for anyone who wants to run a superhero RPG, even if it's not Champions.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch