Nothing can be as annoying as telemarketers -- or as lucrative.  Sorry to Bother You is a comedic satire of the search for the American Dream, racism, and consumerism.

Cassius "Cash" Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is struggling.  While he ponders what his life means, he's unemployed and living in his uncle's garage.  His chance for change comes when he gets a job as a telemarketer, pushing a lifestyle called Worryfree that seems to offer people contracts for food and shelter -- as well as controversy that they're being used as slave labor for large companies.
When elderly co-worker Langston (Danny Glover) recommends that Cash use a relaxed, confident white person's voice (provided by David Cross), Cash is a huge success and promoted to power caller -- where he's pushing even more morally dubious, lucrative proposals to big businesses.  Meanwhile Cash's girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a performance artist and sign spinner, also works as a telemarketer.  And Squeeze (Steven Yeun) is trying to get the telemarketers to unionize.  Oh, and the big boss Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) has a truly bizarre plan to make money -- one that directly involves Cash.
Sorry to Bother You is a strange, funny, and thoughtful satire of modern life.  The question of selling out to make money is nothing new, but the movie takes that to bizarre lengths.  There's a not-so-subtle theme of racism through the movie, from Cash's success once he starts sounding white to when he's forced to rap for an party of all-white people.  Lakeith Stanfield is solid as the hapless success, and the rest of the cast delivers as well.  Sorry to Bother You isn't a classic, but it is original and thoughtful.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



While some Marvel movies can be pretty intense, the last Ant-Man movie was a lighter caper film.  Ant-Man and the Wasp continues that tradition, as assorted characters race and battle to get hold of the same item.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is just a few days from finishing his house arrest, he's got a new security business going, and he's ready to stay out of trouble.  Unfortunately, his dreams about Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) lead Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to conclude that Janet is still alive in the quantum realm -- and they need Scott's help to bring her back to this world.  So they break Scott out of his home, covering for him and telling him it'll be taken care of quickly.
Of course, it's not nearly that simple.  Hank and Hope's plan revolves around their lab, which is in a building that can br shrunk to the size of carry-on luggage.  This is hunted by Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a woman who can become intangible and needs the lab to cure herself by extracting the energy from Janet -- which could kill Janet.  The lab is also pursued by Sonny (Walter Goggins), a businessman who's promised to sell the lab to some disreputable people.  So soon Scott has become Ant-Man, Hope is the new Wasp, and they're shrinking and enlarging things while fighting the enemies and working together.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is fun.  The movie is more comedy than action, but the action sequences still work pretty well.  There's some nice romantic chemistry between Scott and Hope, and the Ghost is one of the more sympathetic villains of the Marvel universe.  This works well as summer escapism -- and fits in nicely with the Marvel universe.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Rhett Miller, lead singer for the Old 97's, has a distinctive voice that would make me listen to him is he read names out of the phone book.  He's also a terrific guitarist who can shift from exciting riffs to melodic, emotional sounds from song to song.  The Interpreter has Rhett covering some of his favorite songs.

Recorded live at the Largo club in Florida before its closing, The Interpreter has a wide variety of songs done by Rhett and his guitar (with occasional piano support).  This near-acoustic approach fits in very well with songs like Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound" or Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome when You Go."  But it also works for songs that are hardly folk-sounding, whether it's David Bowie ("Queen Bitch"), the Beatles ("I'll Cry Instead") or a Pixies-Ramones mash-up.

Rhett Miller's vocals are terrific through the album, and his guitar works keeps up with his voice perfectly.  The end result is that The Interpreter is an impressive and varied album.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch


R.I.P. Harlan Ellison 1934-2018

Harlan Ellison, one of the greats of speculative fiction ("Call me a 'science-fiction' writer and I'll come to your house and nail your pet's head to the table"), activism, columns, film criticism, and countless other areas of literature, cinema, television, and entertainment, passed away today.

Harlan Ellison may be best known for his writing.  He has written novels, short stories, and television scripts (including the original script for the Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever") and has won countless awards for his work.  His short story "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" is one of the most-translated stories in English.  And he's responsible for innumerable great quotes; possibly his most famous is "The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity."

Ellison was also a passionate and prolific critic.  When he hated a work, he'd trash it endlessly.  When he loved a work (or person), his praise was limitless.  He was an outspoken activist as well, weighing in on all sorts of political and cultural issues.  He was also an advocate for the creative, and his "pay the writer!" rant is famous for standing up to those who see writers as less.  And he engaged in (and usually won) several lawsuits to protect his creations and intellectual property.
I was fortunate enough to have heard Harlan Ellison speak several times at the I-CON convention in Long Island, New York.  He was a brilliant, energetic, and thoroughly engaging speaker.  I also got to meet with him as well, and several books that he signed for me are among my most prized possessions.

Rest in peace, Harlan Ellison.  You will be missed.

James Lynch


Steven Soderbergh directed the classic modern heist movie with the remake of Ocean's Eleven, so it's oddly appropriate that years he'd direct a heist movie with a redneck spin.  Logan Lucky takes the planned heist to a different level, appropriate for its West Virginia-Charlotte, NC setting.

The Logan family has infamously bad luck, and that's certainly true for Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum).  He just got fired from a construction job for not revealing his limp.  His ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) is considering moving out of West Virginia with their young daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie).  And Sadie wants her dad to attend her performance at a child beauty pageant.  And it looks like Jimmy has no money.
What Jimmy does have is a plan.  At his last job he worked on fixing sinkholes at a North Carolina racetrack, he knows how the money is moved to the vault, and he puts together a crew to steal it.  There's Clyde Logan (Adam Driver), Jimmy's bartender brother who lost much of his left arm in the Gulf War.  There's Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), the explosives expert who's unfortunately incarcerated.  There are Joe's brothers Fish and Sam Bang (Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson) who can provide computer support.  ("All the Twitters, I know 'em.")  And there's Mellie Logan (Riley Keough), Jimmy and Clyde's sister, who can provide speedy driving.  When the plan has to be moved up a week, the gang finds themselves working during a NASCAR race -- with far more security than normal.
Logan Lucky is both different and familiar at the same time.  The movie skips the usual Hollywood beauties and casual upper middle class wealth of most movies (and television shows, for that matter) for a look at a far more Southern lower-class lifestyle.  This is played for laughs sometimes, but there's also a bit of pride there: One of the most moving moments is a sing-along of Bob Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads."  Besides that, though, the heist itself is something we've seen numerous times before (including from Soderbergh), with perfect timing, incompetent authorities and security, and a good deal of suspension of disbelief.  The cast has fun, and the end result is enjoyable enough.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



What happens when grown men obsessively play a kid's game well into their adulthood?  This is the basis for Tag.  Based on a true story (as the film reminds us at its beginning and end), this movie is silly, goofy, and often funny.

Five friends have been playing the same game of tag since they were nine.  As adults, every May even though they live in separate cities the group can use disguises, surprise, and whatever they can think of to tag each other.  At the end of the month, the last person tagged has to live with the "shame" of being it until they play again.
 This year Hogan "Hoagie" Malloy (Ed Helms) tracks down and gets together with his friends Bob Callahan (John Hamm), Randy "Chilli" Cillaino (Jake Johnson) and Kevin Sable (Hannibal Burress) with a mission: They all team up to tag Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner), the friend who's never been tagged and is retiring from the game after this year.  Hoagie thinks they have an edge: knowing when Jerry is getting married and using that knowledge to tag him.  But Jerry is insanely focused on winning (his encounters with his friends are slow-motion strategic battles) and seems ready for whatever the others come at him with.
While the five friends have a "no girls allowed" amendment for their game, most of the supporting cast is female.  Susan Rollins (Leslie Bibb) is Jerry's fiancee who supports the game but declares the wedding and related events off-limits for tagging each other.  Anna Malloy (Isla Fisher) is Hoagie's wife who's ultra-intense in helping her husband win the game.  Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis) is a reporter whose business article about Bob quickly turns into an article about this game of tag.  And Cheryl Deakins (Rashida Jones) is the former crush of both Bob and Chill, brought in by Jerry to distract them.

Tag is fun, if pretty light.  The movie doesn't delve into how a kid's game is so important to grown-ups, apart from a few scenes showing how the game intersects with big moments in their lives.  The movie also gets more serious and sentimental near the end, with a slightly-telegraphed twist.  But the comedic action scenes are pretty funny, and the cast's enthusiasm carries into pretty consistently funny scenes.  Tag is goofy -- and it's amusing too.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



The original Incredibles is considered by many to be the best superhero movie ever made.  Fortunately Pixar had 14 years to work on the sequel, and Incredibles 2 manages to live up to the entertaining legacy of the original.

Set immediately after the original movie, Incredibles 2 finds the Parr family (the Incredibles)  family pretty low.  "Supers" are still illegal.  A battle with the villainous Underminer left the city with massive property damage, which the Incredibles are blamed for.  And the government agency which had helped the Parrs has been disbanded, leaving the family with two weeks in a motel before they face homelessness.
 Relief comes from the brother-sister duo of Winston and Evelyn Deavor (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener).  He's great at sales and persuading people, she's great with technology, and together they have a giant, successful company -- and a plan to make Supers legal again.  They want to make Elastigirl/Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) the new face of superheroes, by recording and broadcasting her crime-fighting.  This leaves Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) feeling left out of the action.  While Elastigirl is battling the mysterious villain Screenslaver, who hypnotizes people through TV screens and monitors, Bob is run ragged as a stay-at-home dad.  He has to deal with speedy Dash (Huck Milner) dealing with new math in school, daughter Violet (Sarah Powell) deal with a boy who she was supposed to date until he literally forgot she exists, and baby Jack-Jack manifesting all sorts of powers.
Incredibles 2 is another excellent movie from Pixar.  There's plenty of humor, from Jack-Jack's uncontrollable powers to director Brad Bird's return as fashion designer Edna Mode.  There are exciting action sequences, surprises with the plot, and several new supers who add to the action.  Incredibles 2 is smart, funny, and thoroughly entertaining.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



One of the most beloved episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 was their making of the 1980s sci-fi disaster Space Mutiny.  So it's no surprise that the movie got a redoing with Rifftrax Live: Space Mutiny.  This comedy feature had all-new jokes, several scenes not shown in the MST3K episode, and lots and lots of humor.

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy (the latter dressed as Alex Jansen) began by riffing "The Magic Shop," a short feature based on a story by H.G. Wells.  Next came a preview of their next Rifftrax Live feature, Krull.  And from there, it was on to Space Mutiny!

For better or worse, seeing extra scenes of Space Mutiny doesn't improve that movie in the slightest.  However, that just gave the three hosts even more material to make fun of.  There are lots of new nicknames for the muscular, dim hero Dave Ryder.  (Max Roidrage!  Bacon von Meatwich!)  There's the heroine who seems as old as her father, the dead character who shows up alive back at her post, and the scenery-chewing villain Calgon.  There also the "spaceship" full of brick walls and pipes, footage shamelessly taken from Battlestar Galactica, and lots of propane tanks lying around.  None of it is spared by the comedy trio.
Rifftrax Live: Space Mutiny is a very funny take on a very bad "classic" movie.  We get everything from jokes about the awful combat ("Why'd you have to kick and shoot me in the crotch?") to how Bill will cover up some nudity without a gorilla-gram.  The humor is consistent from start to finish, and the new jokes made it fresh even for those of us very familiar with the original MST3K episode.  This was a lot of fun!
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Family issues and haunting concerns are featured in Hereditary.  This movie is sometimes effective, sometimes wandering in the tone it wants to set.

The movie seems to begin as a ghost movie.  Ellen Graham has passed away from cancer in her 70s, and her family deals with her death in different ways.  Daughter Annie (Toni Collette) has conflicted feelings about her late mother and throws herself into her art: making miniature scenes from her life.  Her teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) seems concerned with teen interests, like getting high and women in his class.  Quiet younger daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) makes clicking noises and has a disturbing reaction to finding a dead bird outside her classroom.  And father Steve (Gabriel Byrne) just wants to hold his family together.
The movie also enters into ghostly territory: figures appear in the shadows and vanish when lights are turned on, a blob of light seems to flow along the walls or follow people.  But when a horrible tragedy strikes the Grahams, the movie shifts into a different mode: family drama, where the amily members deal with a new horror, often in destructive and vindictive ways.  Then the movie shifts a final time into near-gonzo horror, where things really go insane.
This shift in tones weakens Hereditary, but there's plenty that does work here.  Toni Collette is very good as the mother dealing with both her issues with her late mother and concerns about her family.  Milly Shapiro is nicely creepy as the kid who may have something sinister going on in her own little world.  The miniatures add to the disturbing atmosphere, and while the end phase is crazy it also builds suspense and horror.  I just wish there was more consistency here.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



The merc with a mouth is back.  Deadpool 2 brings Marvel;s wise-cracking, r-rated, third wall-breaking anti-hero to the big screen -- though this time there's a lot of drama and angst mixed in as well.  How do the comedy and tragedy blend together?  Well...

The movie starts with Deadpool/Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) facing a devastating loss: His girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is killed by thugs out to get Deadpool.  This leads Deadpool to try and kill himself (doesn't work, even with lots of explosives), become an X-Man ("in training") get locked up in a jail for mutants, and form his own super team (with early, disastrous results).  And then there's Deadpool's stated new purpose in life.
There's an angry teenager named Russell (Julian Dennison), a mutant calling himself Fire Fists who can create and throw fire.  For reasons we learn later, Cable (John Brolin)m a cyborg from the future, is on a mission to kill Russell, and Deadpool decides that he needs to save Russell to find meaning in his life.  We also meet some new allies -- notably Domino (Zazie Beetz), an amazingly lucky mutant -- familiar faces from the first movie, a surprise super villain; and there are plenty of killings, cursing, and pop culture commentary right up until the post-credits scenes.
So how does it all work?  Ryan Reynolds has the Deadpool banter down pat, making him easily recognizable in a costume that shows nothing of his face.  The mix of drama and comedy is a bit iffy, as we're supposed to accept the snarky jokes about everything with Deadpool's angst about having lost his love and being unable to join her in the next world.  John Brolin plays Cable as a completely humorless near-Terminator, and the rest of the folks in the movie are enjoyable, if not memorable.  There's still plenty of like in Deadpool 2 -- lots of laughs along the way -- but it could have been more consistent.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



There are lots of games where players explore and expand into space.  Tiny Epic Galaxies from Gamelyn Games lets 2-5 players utilize dice, develop or use planets, and advance their empire to score the most victory points and win the game.

Players begin with a Galaxy Mat (which keeps track of their Empire level, ships, dice, energy and culture points, plus the victory points from their Empire level), two ships, four dice, one culture, two energy, and choose one of two Secret Mission cards.  There are a number of Planet cards equal to the number of players plus two (except in a five-player game; that has six Planets).
On each player's turn, they begin by rolling all available dice.  A player can reroll any one unactivated die for free; others can be rerolled for one energy each.  A player can also use the converter to set aside two unactivated dice to turn another unactivated die into any die facing of their choice.

Die facings have several effects.  Move a Ship lets a player move a ship either onto or around an available Planet card.  Landing on a planet lets the player use the planet's ability.  Going in orbit around a planet puts the ship on the colony track.  Ships on the colony track can be advanced with either Diplomacy or Economy die results, depending on what the planet requires.  When a ship reaches the end of the colony track, the player gets the planet (and is the only person who can use its ability) and gets its victory points.  A new Planet card then replaces the taken one.
Energy and Culture results get a player one Energy or Culture for each planet that produces them, one per ship on and in orbit around that planet.  Players can't have more than seven Energy or seven Culture.  And a Colony roll lets a player either advance their Empire level (usually getting more ships, dice, or victory points) or use an ability from a planet the player has colonized.

Other players can get involved as well.  After each die is resolved, other players can copy that die's action by spending one Culture.  When a player uses their last die and other players have chosen whether or not to copy the die result, the dice are all removed and the next player's turn begins.

When a player gets 21 victory points, every other player takes a final turn.  After that, everyone checks their Secret Mission card to see if they earned the victory points from the card.  Whoever has the most victory points wins.

There's a lot to like in Tiny Epic Galaxies.  While players can't combat each other, the competition for planets can get pretty intense.  There are enough ways to change the dice to give players choices, while still having a large element of luck.  The Secret Missions add a nice element of mystery, and being able to copy a die by spending Culture keeps players involved when it's not their turn.  There's a lot of strategy and fun to be found in exploring the Tiny Epic Galaxies.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Marvel has been teasing the presence of Thanos and the Infinity Stones for several movies now -- and in Avengers: Infinity War, they all make their presence in a very big way.  This movie introduces the Marvel Universe's biggest villain yet, along with virtually all of its superheroes.

The mad titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has decided that he wants all six Infinity Stones in his golden gauntlet.  That will give him infinite power, which he plans to use to wipe out half of all life throughout the universe, with a snap of his fingers.  Sometimes he sends his servants, the Children of Thanos, to obtain them, while other times he gets involved directly.  And since Thanos is able to beat up the Hulk fairly easily, he is quite a menace.
The heroes aren't going to ignore this threat -- especially since two of the Infinity Stones are related to them: as part of the Eye of Agamotta wielded by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a key part of the Vision (Paul Bettany).  Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) wind up battling the Children of Thanos in New York, then joining up with some of the Guardians of the Galaxy in space to take on Thanos.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) goes on a quest with the other Guardians to create a new weapon capable of killing Thanos.  And the Vision is brought to Wakanda to have his Infinity Stone surgically removed; he's also protected by numerous other heroes, including the Avengers led by Captain America (Chris Evans) and the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).
There's a lot going on with this movie (and there's a second part due out next year) and it manages to flow very well.  Even with all these characters, none of the heroes get short-changed when it comes to the storytelling or development.  Thanos is an almost sympathetic character (often calling other characters "my child") and the action scenes work extremely well.  I really enjoyed Avengers: Infinity War and look forward to seeing how its next part continues its cosmic cliffhanger.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



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