You can't keep a good riffing down.  After the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 had been off the air for years, a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign and plenty of celebrity support led to Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return.  This is the 11th season of MST3K, now on Netflix, and it continues the tradition of cracking jokes at the expense of some amazingly terrible movies.

For those keeping track of the plot, space pilot Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) was tricked into responding to a distress call on the dark side of the moon.  He was kidnapped by Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day), granddaughter of Clayton Forrester from the original show, and her sidekick Max, TV's Son of TV's Frank (Patton Oswald).  The two of them are recreating Clayton's original experiment -- forcing a test subject to watch cheesy movies while monitoring his mind -- with the goal of selling it to Disney for a billion dollars.

So Jonah is trapped on the Satellite of Love -- but he's got his robot friends.  Jonah is joined for all the movies by Tom Servo (Baron Vaughn) and Crow T. Robot (Hampton Yount), plus the occasional appearance by Gypsy (Rebecca Hanson) during the movies.  Plenty of celebrity guest stars stop by, from Neil Patrick Harris, Mark Hamill, and Jerry Seinfeld to members of the original MST3K, Jonah and his buddies start each episode with an invention exchange (prop comedy) with the mad scientists, and there are plenty of skits and musical numbers in-between the movie mockery.
 MST3K: The Return is a funny and worthy continuation of the classic TV series.  The movies here are quite varied -- giant monsters, sword & sorcery, time travel, avalanche -- but universally bad, providing plenty of fodder for jokes about them.  The new cast is quite funny and likable, whether mocking the latest awful movie of bouncing jokes off each other in sketches and the invention exchange.  MST3K: The Return is a terrific return of some big laughs.  (The DVD set also has a documentary on how this latest season came about.)
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Wes Anderson has always quietly reveled in the quirky, so it's no surprise that he'd step into stop-motion animation with Isle of Dogs, a weird and ultimately warm journey that's everything from an epic quest to a young boy's love for his dog.

Set 20 years in the future, Japan's corrupt Mayor Kobayishi (Kunichi Nomura) has a solution for the dog overpopulation and diseases: ship all dogs, from pets to strays, off to Trash Island.  The dogs there have a miserable existence, forming packs to survive and battling each other for scraps and trash they can eat.  The movie's main pack consists of Chief (Bryan Cranston), a stray who never had a master; Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum).
 The pack's world changes when a small plane crashes on Trash Isle, piloted by young boy Atari (Koyu Rankin).  He's come to the Isle in search of his guard dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), and the pack agrees to help him; Chief doesn't want to, but he's outvoted by the others.  Atari is also Mayor Kobayishi's nephew, and the corrupt mayor makes it look like Atari was kidnapped by the dogs.  Kobayishi also acts against his scientific political rival, keeping the cure for the dog problems under wraps while working on a final solution for the dogs.  And foreign exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) uses her school newspaper to investigate Atari's disappearance and the government corruption
There's a lot going on in Isle of Dogs -- and it pretty much all works.  While this movie can be darker than many cartoons for children, there are also some silly moments, from the robot dogs to the fights appearing in a cloud with limbs popping in and out.  The voice talent is very good -- especially Bryan Cranston's reluctant hero Chief -- and there's a look and feel to the movie that is pretty unique for movies today.  Isle of Dogs is an impressive and fairly unique movie experience.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Childhood can be a magical time -- and in the Studio Ghibli movie My Neighbor Totoro, this is literally true.  Enchanted creatures are all around, leading to adventures, discovery, and help for two little girls.  (This review refers to the 2005 Disney DVD version.)

Young sisters Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Elle Fanning) are excited to be living in a new house in the country.  Their father Professor Kusakabe (Tim Daly) moved them out there, presumably to be near their ailing mother (Lea Salonga) who's recovering in a nearby hospital.  The house is old but exciting, and there are lots of nice neighbors, including the elderly Granny (Pat Carroll). The kids have a great time, working on the house and going to school.

There are other things happening in and near the house.  At first the kids see "soot sprites," small balls of soot with eyes, in the house.  As the kids explore the giant tree near the house, Mei discovers some small creatures, then comes across Totoro, a giant cat-like spirit with a mighty roar, a big grin, and a pretty unusual way of fighting.  Satsuki soon comes across these creatures, and the grown-ups are surprisingly supportive of the kids' discovery, saying only little children can see these spirits.  And when trouble happens, the spirits turn up to help.

My Neighbor Totoro is a leisurely delight.  While the movie isn't packed with plot twists or developments, it captures the joy of being a young child.  There's a tremendous sense of fun, not only with the cute creatures but with the kids running through a field, exploring their new house, or doing some cleaning or chores.  The animation is very creative, and the voice talent does a good job for the loving family.  My Neighbor Totoro is quite delightful.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



The monsters have arrived -- and the best protection against them is silence.  A Quiet Place is an effective, creepy horror movie.

When the movie opens, we see the Abbott family -- father Lee (John Krasinski), mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and little kids Regan (Millicent Simmons), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and Beau (Cade Woodward) silently going through a drugstore in an abandoned town for supplies.  They speak only in sign language and avoid any possible noises.  We soon find out why there's such a focus on silence: When Beau sneaks out a toy rocket, given to him by Regan, that makes sounds, we learn why they're so quiet: An insect-like creature appears out of nowhere and kills him.
 A year later, the remaining Abbotts are living on a farm.  Lee is taking care of his family, using a radio to try and find other survivors, and working on an earpiece to help his daughter Regan hear.  Evelyn is pregnant and getting ready for the birth of their newest child.  Regan is dealing with her guilt over the death of Beau, and Marcus is nervous about the ever-present possibility that the creatures will return.  While the family do certain normal things (like playing Monopoly with cloth pieces), they've also soundproofed their house and still live in fear.  And the creatures are still around -- and show up at almost any noise...
A Quiet Place works pretty well.  The movie (directed by star John Krasinski) wisely holds off showing most of the creatures until the end, giving us the knowledge that they're fast, deadly, and alien-appearing.  (We never find out where they came from.)  The cast does very well, showing a family trying to stay together in a world where sounds can lead to death.  And the presence of so much silence creates great tension, as actions we wouldn't normally think twice about can be a signal for the monsters to show up.  A Quiet Place is a solid horror movie.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Lots of games have someone giving clues to their teammates, but none do it quite like Muse.  This game, from Quick Simple Fun Games and supporting almost any number of players, creates a unique challenge for someone to act as Muse for their fellow players.

Players divide themselves into teams; a team can have as few as two players, but I'd recommend at least three players on a team, to facilitate discussion.  A team wins by collecting five Masterpiece cards.  Each turn, a team selects one player to be the Muse.  The team to the Muse's left looks at six Masterpiece cards (with slightly surreal art, reminiscent of Dixit) and two Inspiration cards (which each have an instruction, like "Name a nonfictional body part" or "make a facial expression").  The team then picks one combination of Masterpiece and Inspiration card to give to the Muse, and the Muse gives a clue based on the Inspiration card that will lead the team to that Masterpiece card.
But it's not over yet.  After the Muse gives the clue, the other team shuffles the selected Masterpiece card with the other five Masterpiece cards, and all six are laid out for the Muse's team.  Using only the Muse's clue, the Muse's team has to try and pick the Muse's Masterpiece card.  If they pick the Muse's card, their team keeps it and it counts towards their score.  If they pick the wrong one, the team to the Muse's left gets to keep the Masterpiece card instead.  Then the next team in clockwise order selects a Muse, and the game continues.
Muse works extremely well.  The rules are extremely simple, which is key for a party game.  Players want to find the most incongruous mix of Masterpiece and Inspiration card, to make things hard for the opposing Muse.  Not being able to see the other Masterpiece cards also makes things challenging, as the Muse doesn't know how many cards their clue can apply to.  And there's quite a variety of possible clues with the Inspiration cards, which makes it very impressive when one team guesses a seemingly impossible Masterpiece card -- or seeing afterwards how the clue applied to a missed Masterpiece card.  Muse is simple to learn, challenging to play, and fun with its combinations.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch