Horror movies rely as much on their music as their monsters or gore to bring tension and fear to a movie.  While the Friday the 13th movies may be best known for its hockey-masked killer (at least from the third one onwards), Friday the 13th: Original Motion Picture Score demonstrates how Harry Manfredini's music helped propel these movies to their success.

Friday the 13th: Original Motion Picture Score manages to capture the slashing feel of the slasher flick with many sudden, jarring bursts of the violin.  The music draws out the tension with long notes, has the drama of the chase often, and its closing "The Boat in the Water/Jason in the Lake" reflects the serenity and sudden surprise that wraps up the movie.

This soundtrack does have its share of flaws.  Many of the songs borrow/steal from Bernard Herrmann's music from Psycho.  The non-horrific "Banjo Travelin'" and "Sail Away, Tiny Sparrow" feel out of place, not contrasting the horror of the other music but giving a jarring contrast.  And the movie's iconic chant "ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma" is used so often it quickly becomes, er, overkill.

Friday the 13th: Original Motion Picture Score manages to match the scares and slashes of its movie perfectly, and it works pretty well on its own.  While it's neither wholly original nor flawless, this is ideal mood music -- if you're in the mood for fear.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Marriage, media, and possible murder all combine and coalesce in the new film Gone Girl.  This movie is very dark, excellently acted, and wickedly funny.
Gone Girl opens with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returning to his Missouri home on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing and signs of a violent struggle.  At first, Detective Rhoda Boney (Kim Dickens) isn't sure about what happened, and the community rallies together to find Amy (called "Awesome Amy" after the children's book character her parents based on her).  But Nick's poor appearances in the media make him the prime suspect; and his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) supports Nick but soon starts finding out Nick's numerous dirty secrets.

And Amy?  We see and learn about her through her journal entries -- and her marriage to Nick.  At first they were blissful, successful newlyweds living and working in Manhattan.  But when they were both laid off and money ran low, they moved to Nick's hometown.  Amy becomes more fearful of Nick's violent side, as their marital problems lead to hear fears that Nick could hurt her, or even kill her.  And then there's a big change...

Gone Girl is a combination murder mystery and social commentary.  The movie offers plenty of evidence that Nick might be innocent -- or that his secrets and demons could have destroyed his once-perfect marriage.  At the same time, everything plays out in the court of public opinion, whether it's the Nancy Grace-style reporter Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) who spends all her time arguing that Nick is a guilty sociopath, or Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), Nick's celebrity lawyer who's as focused on public perception as on the law.  And we get to see the pressures of marriage that certainly had an impact on both Nick and Amy.

This all works together thanks to some terrific actors, directed by David Fincher.  Ben Affleck, who's gained respect and success in recent years, plays Nick perfectly as the regular guy who could as easily be innocent as guilty.  Rosamund Pike is amazing as Amy, who paints a different picture of things than her husband does (and who also has a way of getting what she wants).  The supporting cast is terrific in their roles, and Fincher manages to bring a bleakness and darkness to the proceedings -- along with frequent blasts of dark humor.

Gone Girl is certainly grim, and it's also engaging and gives the viewer plenty to think about.  Just like a great movie should.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch


Mary Roach, BONK

Science and sexuality have an uneasy history together, with taboos and repression often interfering with research and understanding.  But that has changed (largely) in modern times, and a wide variety of methods are used in the scientific community to figure out some of the science behind sex.  Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach explores several of these avenues of exploration; and it does so with intelligence, understanding, and a profound sense of humor.

Bonk is, in a sense, all over the map of how sexuality is explored by scientists today.  There are explanations and discussions of anatomy (including genitals, various treatments for impotence, and how to measure stimulation), mechanical, er, assistants (from whether vibrators increase overall sensitivity to coital imaging) to mysteries and debates (the impact hormones and pheromones have on humans, how people with spinal damage and no sensation below their waist can still experience orgasms).  Roach travels around the globe (Canada, Egypt, Taiwan) and goes back in time -- research-wise -- to find out what has been done and what is being done.

Bonk could have been dry stuff -- some authors can even make sex boring -- if it wasn't for Roach's sense of humor as well as her intelligence.  Roach keeps an open mind, but that doesn't stop her from sometimes being incredulous about what she learns or encounters, or making wry or goofy comments on the material: "Shafik won my heart by publishing a paper in European Urology in which he investigated the effects of polyester pants on sexual activity.  Ahmed Shafik dressed lab rats in polyester pants."

While Bonk takes an open and frank approach to the subject matter, there are plenty examples here of repression and fears that stifled this sort of research (and still can today: Several scientists mention the difficulty of being taken seriously or getting approval for their work, while the aforementioned Shafik, who works and lives in Egypt, fears the impact of the repressive Muslim Brotherhood).  But Roach demonstrates that the scientific exploration of sexuality can be serious and playful at the same time -- and, in the end, very illuminating.  Bonk is that rare creature: an informative scientific work that's also witty and entertaining.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



Who'd have guessed that a common trait of horror monsters was +1 tokens?  This is a pretty common thread in Monster Smash, the latest expansion for the Smash Up card game.

Monster Smash introduces four monstrous new factions, and three of them rely heavily on getting +1 tokens.  Vampires can destroy minions -- their own or those of other players -- to get their +1 tokens.  Giant Ants often start with +1 tokens, and many cards let them not only get more, but also share them with other minions.  And the Mad Scientists put out a *lot* of these tokens, from Igor giving one when he's destroyed or discarded to the Uberserum, which gives a minion a +1 counter at the start of each turn and keeps it from being destroyed!  The exceptions to this token tendency are Werewolves, which rely more on brute strength and, reflecting the boost from the moon, often get bonuses that last until the end of the turn.

So, how do these new factions work in the game?  Pretty well, it turns out.  Each faction's ability certainly feels like the abilities the monsters would have, reflected as well in the art and the names.  While there are numerous good cards, Monster Smash doesn't power up the new ones so much that it will always beat the other sets.  (Remember when I mentioned how good the Uberserum was?  It was so good, a rival kept stealing it from the Mad Scientists and using it on his own minions.)  And there's plenty of humor in the cards: a Vampire with a skull-shaped alarm clock, Werewolf cards "Chew Toy" and "Let the Dog Out," and, possibly because of the Killer Queen card, all of the Giant Ants' actions are named after Queen songs.

Monster Smash doesn't change the rules for Smash Up, but it does what an expansion should: add variety, options, and humor to the game without unbalancing it.  These factions are a welcome addition -- especially with Halloween coming!

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch


Britney Spears, BLACKOUT

History and timing have not been kind to the Britney Spears' album Blackout: When Britney appeared on the MTV Video Music Awards to promote the album, her performance was perceived as her descent into instability.  (It didn't help that the album was called "blackout" and ended with the song "Why Should I Be Sad.")  So how is the album with some distance from the scan,dals and controversy?

Blackout is, from start to finish an album made for the dance club (or, with songs like "Get Naked (I Got a Plan)," "Freakshow" and "Ooh Ooh Baby" the strip club).  There are no slow ballads or sensitive songs here.  Instead, the songs are almost all about sex (like the aforementioned tunes) or idolizing a guy ("Heaven on Earth," "Perfect Lover").  The only exceptions are Britney's take on the downside of fame ("Piece of Me") and her song trashing her ex-husband ("Why Should I Be Sad.")  The songs are all heavy on beats and bass, with frequent rap contributions by some generic rappers.

Unfortunately, "generic" sums up Blackout pretty well.  Britney Spears has never been known for her strong voice, and here the synthesizers and heavy production tend her to breathy speaking more than actual singing.  The lyrics are nothing special at all ("I'm cold as fire, baby/ Hot as ice/ If you've ever been to heaven/This is twice as nice") and the massively increased sexuality feels more like self-exploitation than musical or artistic growth.

Blackout 's opening "It's Britney, bitch" was meant to be a statement of defiant strength and putting down the haters, but in light of the singer's personal problems that followed, it turned out to be fairly ironic.  Alas, Blackout didn't help much due to its mediocrity.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



An often-overlooked difficulty in the world of Gaming is storage.  Naturally, all games fit in their box (though not always as easily once all the pieces and parts have been removed and sorter), but what about after the first expansion -- or several expansions?  The game Smash Up from Alderac Entertainment Group started with a box big enough for the core set and two expansions; but as their upcoming expansion Monster Smash will be their fourth expansion, that starter box is well out of room.  AEG has addressed the issue fairly well with Smash Up: The Big Geeky Box.
Well, The Big Geeky Box certainly lives up to its name, in two very nice ways.  First, the box itself (nicely illustrated with members of factions from all the game's sets) is a very good size.  While it won't take up a whole shelf, it has more than enough room for more Smash Up expansions than I can imagine.  The Big Geeky Box also stores the cards vertically, plus it comes with standing dividers for the factions and bases.  And to top it all off, there are foam bricks to fill any empty space and keep the cars from falling over .

Did I mention "geeky?"  The Big Geeky Box also comes with a new faction: Geeks!  These minions may lack the raw power of Dinosaurs (with lasers) or Robots, but with cards like "Rules Lawyer" and "Banned List: players can work the rules around to their favor.  And since Smash Up was played on TableTop, it's no surprise that there are cards for Wil Wheaton (and his fan site "Force of Wil") and Felecia Day too!  There are also two appropriately geeky Bases for the Geeks to battle for as well.

The Big Geeky Box is hardly mandatory for card storage (such as cardboard or plastic boxes), but it is a fun little spin on storage.  And who wouldn't want to play as the Geeks?

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's time to get your hero on!  The Champions of Zeta City have an opening, so you can make it onto the team by earning enough fame to prove your worth by taking on a big villain, plus their henchmen and underlings.  Other wannabe heroes have the same idea, but you can prove your worth by outdoing them (or attacking them).  This is the world of Heroes Wanted, a card/board game from Action Phase Games that has the silliest heroes and villains outside of The Tick -- and some very good gameplay too.

Each player assembles their hero by combining a card from the A deck (the top half, which gives a type of hero (Vigilante, Cosmic, Tech, or Mutant) and superpower) and from the B deck (with a more ongoing ability).  Players can go for straight ability (like Danger Blade), silliness (Brunch Giraffe), or a mix of the two (like American Weevil).  Players also get a random quirk, which gives them 10 fame but goes down 2 fame each time they don't do what the quirk says (like consoling another hero who rests, or posing heroically after damaging a bad guy).  Players get a Hero Bonus area, which gives benefits when they complete Headlines.  Finally, the heroes get four basic action cards, one Superpower action card, and one Hero Type card.
Villains are assembled by combining A and B cards  -- so far, I've faced the Mama Twins, Unstoppable Jock, and the dreaded Cat Taco -- and the villain usually has 15 hit points per player.   The scenario (four come in the basic game) includes: spaces for the Villain (plus their movement), underlings, and henchmen; special rules, from throwing out trash to secret doors; Headlines that give players fame when accomplished; and when the villain escape if not knocked out.  Once that's all set up, it's time to play!

Starting with the first hero (which can change during the game) and going clockwise, each player can play one action card.  These are usually a movement or attack, but they can sometimes do other things, like make a player the first hero or let them get a card from their discards.  Players can knock out an underling for 4 damage (and earn 1 fame) or henchman for 5 damage (and get 2 fame), or damage the villain (earning half the hit point damage at the end of the game, plus a bonus for knocking them out or doing the most damage to them).  Players can also attack other players.  If a player meets a headline requirement (like knocking out three henchmen or earning 10 fame), the players get a bonus from their Hero Bonus card.  And since players can't use cards in their discard pile, they can choose to rest, doing nothing but getting all their cards back.

Of course, villains get to attack back!  The main villain does an amount of damage determined by their A and B cards; in addition, heroes take 1 damage from each adjacent underline and 2 damage from each adjacent Henchman.  Players can discard cards equal to or greater than the damage to avoid being injured.  If a player can't, they spend the next turn doing nothing (and getting all their cards back) and get an injury token, which adds 1 to future damage and costs them 2 fame at the end of the game.

There is so much I like about Heroes Wanted.  The game has an absolutely terrific sense of humor, from the hero and villain combos to the flavor text ("Giraffes are the nunchucks of the animal kingdoms) and scenarios (where you stop villains from jaywalking or selling bootleg dvds).  The gameplay is also quite effective, as you have to decide when and who to attack, when to holds cards back to defend with, what headlines to grab, and what you'll do to win.  (I learned early on that knocking out the villain doesn't guarantee victory.)  The tokens are designed perfectly to see exactly what's on the board: Underlings are small and gray, henchmen are bigger and tan, and the villain is the biggest and black.  The Extra, Extra expansion gives many more hero and villain cards, and future expansions should provide new scenarios as well.  Heroes Wanted is perfect for folks what want to play something that's both thoughtful and amusing.  Trust me: I was DJ Worm.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



When I firsr heard about Regular Show Fluxx, it seemed both surprising and logical: The show seemed a bit too currently popular compared to other Looney Labs licenses, but the silly and surreal nature of the show certainly lends itself to the combinations and silliness of the Fluxx games.

Regular Show Fluxx mixes the standard Fluxx rules with the characters and stuff from Regular Show.  Players put down Keepers, New Rules, and Goals, hoping that their Keepers will match a goal.  They can also play actions and may have to play Creepers, which keep that person from winning (unless the Creeper is part of a goal).  Rule-wise, there's not much new here.

 What is present is a very strong feel of Regular Show.  Keepers include almost all of the main characters from the show (though due to the time of making the show, Margaret is here and CJ isn't), plus things like the Eggscellent Hat, Video Games, and Soda.  Players can play the Death Punch of Death, Rock-Paper-Scissors Showdown (which makes two players have a 3-round R-P-S challenge, where the winner gets all of the loser's cards), and Step Off!  And the new rule "Yeahuh!" makes players use Mordecai's catchphrase whenever they play a Keeper, or another player gets that Keeper.  Some cards also have small pictures of the Regular Show cast commenting on the card.
Regular Show Fluxx isn't new in terms of rules or gameplay, but it's the closest anyone will come to entering the world of Regular Show.  This game is fun, funny, and terrific for anyone who's a fan of Regular Show.  Yeahuh!
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Are the universal languages of the world food and love?  They are in The Hundred-Foot Journey, a movie that mixes the delights of cooking with the breaking down of barriers.
As a young boy in India, Hassan has a love and appreciation for food.  Learning to cook from his mother, he became skilled at combining foods and spices into great combinations.  But when political uprisings led to an attack that destroyed the family restaurant and killed his mother, Hassan (Manish Dayal) and his family moved: first to England, and then (when the foods in England weren't flavorful enough) to France.  There, Papa (Om Puri) decides that they'll open an Indian restaurant for the locals, who don't like Indian food because they've never had it.
Unfortunately, the new restaurant is right across the street from the restaurant of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the proud and stubborn owner of a upscale French restaurant which has one coveted Michelin star -- and she wants two, then three.  Madame Mallory finds the new restaurant beneath her, and soon she and Papa are in a virtual duel, as they each interfere with the other's place of business (leading to numerous complaints to the poor mayor of the town).   And Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) is both a romantic interest of, and competitor for, Hassan: She helps the family out initially and gives Hassan books on French cooking, but she's a sous chef working for Madame Mallory.  What will Hassan do between his pushy father, condescending rival restaurant owner, and beautiful French woman?
The Hundred-Foot Journey is an enjoyable movie.  The film celebrates the preparation and consumption of food the way other films feature their sweeping landscapes and impressive special effects.  Manish Dayal makes the perfect leading man for this sort of film: He's both handsome and sweet, intelligent and humble, and talented while conflicted.  Om Puri and Helen Mirren are excellent together, providing comedy in their stubbornness while not letting the characters become one-dimensional or foolish.  The story is fairly predictable, and after some violence about halfway through much of the film's tension just vanishes.  But The Hundred-Foot Journey is a feel-good movie that is funny and truly revels in its culinary creations.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



For several years, Sports Illustrated followed its no-sports, all-swimwear Swimsuit Issues with hardcover portfolios collecting photos that didn't make it into that year's issue.  These seemed to stop with the 2011 issue -- until now!  And to tide sports, er, sexy women in bikini fans over until the October 28th release of the hardcover portfolio book, a preview hit the magazine stands with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2014 Extra: Idyllic Shores.
Idyllic Shores has photos that somehow didn't make it into the 2014 Swimsuit Issue, featuring nineteen models from that issue.  Each model gets eight pages of photos (except Kate Upton, who got ten pages), along with the names of the photographer and location, plus a few comments about the model.
As always, the photos are absolutely beautiful.: not just the models, but also the stunning locations.  This makes it easy to forgive them when the actual swimsuits are barely in the photos.
Loathe as I am to find fault with a collection of beauties wearing swimsuits or less, there are two slight problems with Idyllic Shores.  The first is that Sports Illustrated could and should have given a lot more pages to each model.  The second is that the first problem may be solved in the upcoming portfolio book (with about 50 more pages), but that book would effectively replace this magazine.  But while this may not be as many pages as the original or the upcoming, it's still quite lovely to look at.  To quote Troy McClure from The Simpsons, "If that's what they cut out, what they leave in must be pure gold!"  And these cut-outs are  pretty close to gold themselves.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Sometimes plenty of drama and discovery happen during the regular course of growing up.  Writer/director Richard Linklater explores this with surprising verisimilitude in Boyhood, a movie that was shot over twelve years with the same cast.

Boyhood is mainly the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), who go from 6 to 18 during the course of the movie.  They're raised by their single mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who's trying to balance raising them, working, and going to college.  Their dad Mason Sr. is the "fun" parent who takes his kids camping and to baseball games; he also never seems to have a steady job.  And along the way Mason and Samantha grow and deal with everything from friends to romance to adolescent philosophy ("what is it all about?) to moving repeatedly, whether due to work or Olivia's unfortunate tendency to get involved with abusive, alcoholic men.  Some things are serious (like deciding what direction their lives will take), some are comic (Mason Sr. having the "sex talk" with Samantha), and some seem critical (losing friends, dating) but are quickly forgotten.
There's no grand drama or conflict in Boyhood, just the regular course of a boy and his family exploring who they are (while avoiding homework -- a consistent feature through all ages) and what they'll become.  As such, Boyhood has a quiet magic to it, a very genuine feeling of real life without any contrived situations or forced drama.   The cast is very good (especially Patricia Arquette, as the mother who knows the doesn't have all the answers but struggles on anyway) and Linklater's direction has a tremendous feeling of naturalness.  The movie is a little long -- at several points near the end I was ready for things to wrap up, but it kept going -- but Boyhood is a very, very nice exception to the standard movie drama by focusing not on effects or drama, but on the complexity of everyday life.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Math and planning are frequent companions in games, and they're the very heart of Quartile.  This game from SimplyFun Games is easy to learn and progressively more challenging to play.
Much like Dominoes, Quartile is about placing and matching tiles.  But Quartile takes planning a step further.  Each square tile has a number in the center and 1-7 dots on each side of the square tile.  Players start with four tiles in hand, and a face-down tile in the middle whose sides can be considered any number.  On a player's turn, they place a tile on the board, making sure all the numbers on their tile match up with any tiles that new tile is touching.  The player then scores the points on the middle of the tile, multiplied by how many other tiles their tile is touching.  They then draw a replacement tile, and then the next player goes.  When all the tiles have been picked and played, the player with the most points wins.

I like Quartile.  There's not a lot of depth to the rules, but planning is a large factor: You can score a lot more points by planning two or three placements ahead, preparing a spot where your placed tile can score double or triple points.  (Of course, an opponent's placement can ruin this for you.)  It's always easy to find a spot to match up one side of a tile, but the multiple-side placements are where the scoring opportunities are.  The production values are also excellent, with a fine wooden box and red-brown wooden tiles.  Quartile is a good, quick, simple game that may not be the headliner of a game night but will be a fun part of one.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Rifftrax Live!: Godzilla

1998's Godzilla movie was so reviled, many fans still refer to its title creature as GINO, meaning "Godzilla in Name Only."  So between this awfulness and this year's Godzilla movie, it's no surprise that the Rifftrax trio of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett managed to make a successful Kickstarter campaign to riff on the 1998 movie.  And so we had Rifftrax Live!: Godzilla in movie theaters last night.
I hadn't seen this Godzilla before, and I hadn't missed anything: the incoherent plot, the terrible acting, and the giant lizard that changes size as the script dictates.  Fortunately, the problems that cause regular viewers so much pain only provide fuel for the Rifftrax comedy.  They had lots of material, from cracks about New York (thanks largely to Hank Azaria's thick Brooklyn accent) to Matthew Broderick's varied career to the title creature's ability to avoid massive amounts of firepower by ducking.  (Sadly, due to the length of the feature there were no short features before the main event.)
I share the riffers' surprise that the original movie made $380 million -- but at least it led to Rifftrax Live!: Godzilla.  I leave it up to the cinematic philosophers to decide if that made it all worth it; at least it made for an entertaining evening.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



History is often distorted by the lens of emotion or forgetfulness -- but booze'll do the job too.  Drunk History takes the webseries of inebriated teachers of history to Comedy Central, where it works quite simple.
The format for Drunk History is pretty simple.  Each episode focuses on three events that happened in a particular city of state.  Host/creator Derek Waters meets someone (often a comic, sometimes an actor), shares drinks with them, and listens to them relate a historical tale from that area.  In addition, actors in period costumes act out the story, lip-syncing the storyteller's dialogue exactly -- including curses, mistakes, and distractions.  Some of the actors have included: Adam Scott as John Wilkes Booth, Fred Willard as Deep Throat, Jack Black as Elvis Presley, and Winona Ryder and John Cena as people from the Salem Witch trians (shown below), and many others.
Drunk History is often pretty silly -- but it's also pretty funny.  The recreations are quite amusing, and it's fun to hear history from the mouths of people trying not to fall on the floor or mess up their words.  There are no worries about dull, dry history lessons with Drunk History.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel's latest superhero movie, is both predictable and fun.  It takes a bunch of hardened adversaries who turn out to have hearts of gold, a failure of the past made up for in the present, and lots of former enemies rallying together.
At the start of the movie (1988), young Peter Quill runs out of the hospital after his mother dies (and he was too scared to take her hand before the passed away) and he is promptly abducted by aliens.  Jump to the present, and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a criminal, heartbreaker, and scam artist in outer space.  He calls himself "Star Lord" (though he's the only one who does), hoping to build a reputation; and his most prized possession is the Walkman and tape he had when he was abducted.  And his latest job -- getting and delivering a mysterious orb -- had everyone after him.

This is where the plot gets complicated.  Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a Kree fanatic, has promised to give the orb to Thanos (Josh Brolin) and in exchange Thanos will destroy the planet Xandar, home of the Nova Corps.  Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is Thanos' adopted daughter who wants to get the orb -- but to keep it away from Thanos; her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) suspects betrayal , and will engage in some of that herself.  Since Peter didn't deliver the orb like his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) wanted, Yondu puts a bounty out on Quill.  This leads to his running into two unique bounty hunters: Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a cybernetic raccoon who's gun-crazy, inventive with electronics, and acerbic; and Groot (Vin Diesel), a large humanoid tree who only says "I am Groot."  And soon enough Quill, Gamora, Rocket and Groot meet up with Drax the Destroyer (former wrestler Dave Bautista), whose family was killed by Ronan and who only wants to kill him in return.  Oh. and the Nova Corps wants to arrest Peter.  And the orb turns out to contain an extraordinary power.

As I stated earlier, the movie is predictable -- the stars go from bickering and fighting to bonding and friendship; the bad guys get more and more evil -- but the borderline silliness makes the film enjoyable.  Chris Pratt is pretty funny as the action hero who knows he's not trustworthy, Bradley Cooper practically steals the movie with Rocket's one-liners and bad behavior, and Vin Diesel manages to put a lot of emotion into his character's only three words.  Dave Bautista gets a lot of mileage of both Drax's action and his taking everything literally.  Zoe Saldana is given less comic material, but she kicks a lot of ass as the martial arts expert.  There's also plenty of action -- from a high-tech jailbreak to shoot-outs to an epic battle to save a planet -- and the special effects are terrific, from making Rocket and Groot almost believable to the alien worlds and weaponry.  Guardians of the Galaxy may be goofy, but it's also very funny and often pretty exciting.

I'm not sure how Guardians of the Galaxy will fit into the new Marvel movie universe (though Thanos was part of The Avengers, and there are hints the Guardians sequel could have them on Earth) but it works pretty well as a summer blockbuster.  It's dopey and effects-heavy, but it's helped tremendously by a nice mix of comedy and action, plus a terrific cast.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch