7.23.2016

STAR TREK BEYOND

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

7.17.2016

GHOSTBUSTERS

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

7.16.2016

DUDES & DRAGONS dvd

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

7.09.2016

MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES

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

7.06.2016

CREEP dvd

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

7.04.2016

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


7.03.2016

WHY DOES BATMAN CARRY SHARK REPELLENT? by Brian Cronin

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


7.02.2016

SWISS ARMY MAN

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

6.30.2016

FINDING DORY

Back to the sea!  Over a decade after Finding Nemo introduced us to a fun underwater family, Pixar/Disney return to the characters with Finding Dory.  This is a different search for family, but the movie still maintains the hope, friendship, and creativity of the original.

A year after the events of Finding Nemo, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is living happily with nervous Marlin (Albert Brooks) and adventurous Nemo (Hayden Rolence).  Dory is an unofficial member of the family, helping out while telling almost everyone she meets how she suffers from short-term memory loss.

When Dory suddenly starts getting memories of her parents Jenny and Charlie (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) living at the Jewel of Morro Bay, Dory, Marlin, and Nemo head to find her.  Crossing the ocean to California turns out to be the easy part.  It turns out that Dory's memories are of an aquarium -- where Dory gets separated from her friends.  While Marlin and Nemo try to find Dory, Dory keeps looking for her parents.  She finds help from Hank (Ed O'Neill), a seven-legged octopus ("You're a septopus") who's great at camouflaging himself, hates being touched, and agrees to help Dory in exchange for her tag that would get her sent to Cleveland; Destiny (Kaitlin Olsen), a friendly but near-sighted whale shark; and Bailey (Ty Ferrell), a beluga whale whose concussion keeps him from using echo-location.
 Meanwhile Marlin and Nemo get more outside help, whether from the pair of rock-obsessive sea lions Fluke and Rudder (Idris Elba, Dominic West) or a seemingly scatter-brained bird called Becky.  There are the perils of a touch-the-fish exhibit, the ticking clock of the truck heading to Cleveland, and assorted creatures -- plus Dorys working with others so she doesn't forget why she's there in the first place.
Finding Dory works on so, so many levels.  As with most Pixar movies, the animation is amazing: The underwater creatures and environment are stunning, as is Hank's ability to blend in whenever he needs to.  While there are plenty of jokes little kids will enjoy, there's a lot of humor for adults, from a H.P. Lovecraft joke to the repeated intercom announcement "I'm Sigourney Weaver."   The voice talent is great (especially Ellen's rambling chatter and Ed O'Neill's grumpy ally) and there are plenty of both funny and touching moments through the movie.  Finding Dory is one of the best movies I've seen this year.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

6.25.2016

THE SHALLOWS

It's only natural that since summertime brings people to the beach, there are movies designed to elicit scares from what happens at the beach.  The latest entry in this genre is The Shallows, an almost one-person struggle for survival against a killer shark.



At the opening of The Shallows a little kid is running along a beach, littered with part of a surfboard and a helmet with an attached camera.  He watches the video, which shows someone surfing, then flailing around underwater, then attacked by a shark.

Cut to Nancy (Blake Lively), being driven to a "secret beach" in Mexico by Carlos (Oscar Jaenada).  From conversations with Carlos and phone conversations with family, we learn that Nancy's late mother loved this beach, Nancy's friend is stuck at the hotel with a hangover, and Nancy is considering leaving medical school.  But that's all forgotten at the beach!  It's as beautiful as one could imagine, and the only other folks are two fellow surfers (one of whom is wearing the helmet seen at the start of the movie).

As the day goes on, the two surfers pack it in while Nancy decides to make a long trip to a nearby island.  On the way, she sees a dead whale floating in the water -- and she's suddenly attacked by a shark!  The massive creature chomps her leg and separates Nancy from her board, but Nancy manages to make it to a mostly-submerged rock.  And while Nancy's about 200 yards from the shore, she's essentially trapped: Her leg is still bleeding despite her improvised bandaging and suturing, so every time she puts it in the water the shark returns.  There's a large steel buoy anchored nearby.  Occasional items float by, which it's a struggle just to get to.  Hunger, the burning sun, and the chilly nights sap her strength.  Her only companion is a bloody seagull.  And the isolated beach means anyone else helping her is unlikely -- plus those few who do stop by tend to meet a grisly fate.
The Shallows is a pretty straightforward and effective horror/suspense movie.  While the setup is almost a mathematical problem -- how to get to a nearby shore with a giant hungry shark nearby and only small islands and a buoy nearby? -- Blake Lively carries the movie, effectively portraying the struggle of someone whose fun surfing vacation is suddenly a primal struggle for survival.  The movie mostly and wisely holds back showing the shark, having is mainly as a shadowy figure moving beneath the waves; when it does emerge, it's truly fearsome.  The Shallows won't replace Jaws as the iconic shark movie, but it is good scary summer fun.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

6.19.2016

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been around long enough for several anniversaries.  Naturally, before there was the 25th Anniversary Edition, there was the 20th Anniversary Edition.  While this doesn't have quite as many extras and movies as the later anniversary edition, this is still a quality collection of movies lacking in quality -- with two very nice extras.

As with most MST3K collections, the 20th Anniversary Edition has four episodes of MST3K.  This time around, viewers will join the folks on the Satellite of Love as they watch First Spaceship on Venus (the only episode here with Joel Hodgson), Laserblast (the final MST3K episode on Comedy Central), Werewolf (one of my favorite episodes ever) and Future War (which has forced-perspective dinosaurs, a cheap Jean-Claude Van Damme copy, and an odd amount of theology).  This is a fine collection of episodes, and the jokes are flung at and inspired by these movies with great results.
As for extras, there are two big ones here.  "The Oral History of MST3K" is a series of interviews, spread over three of the DVDs, with most of the actors, writers, and producers from the show.  This covers everything from the very first episodes through the end of the run.  Then there's the 2008 Comic-Con MST3K Reunion Panel, which has most of the actors and some producers and writers discussing the show -- with Patton Oswalt hosting.  "Variations on a Theme Song" is a lesser but nice extra, featuring all the different openings and theme songs from MST3K's entire run.
While the 20th Anniversary Edition doesn't have as many episodes as the 25th Anniversary Edition, it does have four terrific episodes and two very good bonus features.  Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition is another collection that should make any MST3K fan very happy.  (Folks can also shell out more money for a set in a tin box with a toy Crow.)

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch




6.18.2016

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

Buddy comedies usually rely on opposites working together -- and it's hard to picture two more physically opposite actors than Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson and Kevin Hart.  The two actors are brought together for a light, dopey, but enjoyable little comedy: Central Intelligence.

The movie opens at a high school in 1996, where Calvin "the Golden Jet" Joyner is speaking at a student assembly.  He seems to have it all: popularity, grades, ambition, hot girlfriend Maggie.  When some bullies humiliate "Fat Robbie," Calvin is the only one who helps him.

Jump ahead 20 years, and Calvin (Hart) is unhappy.  He's an accountant, good at his job but passed over for promotion and surrounded by idiots.  He's still married to Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), but she wants them to attend their 20th high school reunion and Calvin feels like a loser who peaked back in high school.  Then a Facebook invite changes everything.

Calvin runs into Robbie, who's now Bob Stone (Johnson), a fairly nerdy guy who's incredibly enthusiastic, an instant friend to Calvin, and a buff guy who beats up bullies with ease.  When Bob asks Calvin for a little help with his online payroll account, things get complicated.

Bob says he's actually a C.I.A. agent, out to retrieve some stolen satellite codes and find a rogue agent called the Black Badger -- who killed Bob's partner Phil (Aaron Paul).  But C.I.A. Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) is convinced that Bob is the Black Badger and a dangerous psychopath -- and she wants Calvin to help bring him in.  What follows is a lot of shooting with very few deaths, a predictable storyline, and no real surprises.

Despite that, Central Intelligence has plenty of enjoyable moments.  Dwayne Johnson plays up the giant lovable goofball from start to finish, and he does it very well.  Kevin Hart manages his yelling and frantic delivery pretty well, as the nervous everyman suddenly thrust into the middle of gunfire and international espionage.  Central Intelligence is pretty much pure fluff, but it still manages to be funny.

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch

6.10.2016

THE CONJURING 2

Few phrases make me more skeptical in a movie than "based on a true story."  When that "true story" is a controversial and disputed case of paranormal activity, I become even more doubtful.  But despite that element, The Conjuring 2 is an effective and thoughtful delve into the horror genre.

When the movie opens, Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) are investigating the events at the house in Amityville.  This case gives the couple fame as paranormal investigators -- and criticism as promoting frauds and fakes.  In addition, Lorraine has visions of a demonic being dressed as a nun, and of Ed being killed, so she wants them to stop investigating supernatural cases.
Meanwhile in Enfield, England, the Hodgson family (a now-sing mother and four young kids) are encountering unnerving events in their small two-story home.  At first these seem like small events -- such as noises in the middle of the night, furniture moving, and toys rolling around on their own -- but soon the events become more extreme and violent.  Worse, 11-year-old Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) is walking in her sleep, seemingly talking to someone who isn't there, and seems to be the focus of the events.  The Warrens are called in, er, over to investigate and to determine whether the church should get involved with the case.
Director James Wan, who also directed The Conjuring, continues to combine the procedural drama with the supernatural.  The signs of the haunting might otherwise be a cliche of horror, but here they feel more real as the family struggled and wearies, while the Warrens try to balance their work, their family (the daughter seems to have similar visions to her mother), and their religious faith with what could be a hoax or could be something out to destroy a family.  The Conjuring 2 isn't quite as tight and focused as its predecessor, but it's still an intelligent and fairly spooky trip.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

6.08.2016

YOU'RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK by Tom Gauld

British cartoonist Tom Gauld has a deceptively simple, quietly quirky style that manages to convey a lot in a few panels.  You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack is a collection of Gauld's cartoons from the Guardian newspaper -- and it's quite satisfying.

Gault draws his figures as either slightly developed stick figures or inanimate objects given life with eyes and small arms.  His subjects aren't current events or observational comedy, but rather takes on different genres (the title of this book refers to several strips where "serious" genres look down on science fiction), inserting unusual elements into common ideas (Charles Dickens as a superhero!), or numerous lists and aspects of one thing.
You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack showcases Gauld's quietly bizarre humor very well.   The cartoons here are all amusing and cover a nicely wide range of topics.  His simple drawing style suits the variety of strips here, and these strips are quirky in a pretty unique way.  You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack is a pretty funny and definitely different cartoon collection.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch