Kylie Minogue and William Baker, KYLIE FASHION

Throughout Kylie Minogue's career, fashion and image have been intertwined with her music.  Whether that fashion is a supplement to her sound or a substitution for her ability depends on whether or not one is a fan; but the history of her look is traced in loving detail in the coffee table book Kylie Fashion.

Written by Kylie Minogue and William Baker (Kylie's creative director), Kylie Fashion takes a chronological look at Kylie's fashion history, from her 1988 album Kylie to 2012's The Abbey Road Sessions.  In addition to full- and partial-page pictures from albums, concerts, promotions, and magazines, there are comments on the work from Kylie, William, numerous designers (including Jean Paul Gaultier someone from Yves Saint Laurent, and Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana), and photographers.  There are occasional bits of trivia as well; for example, Katerina Jebb observes, "I found the gold hot pants [in the video for "Spinning Around"] at the North End Road market in London for 50 pence."  There's also an introduction by Jean Paul Gaultier and an afterword from Kylie.
Kylie Fashion is essentially a lovefest between Kylie and all the people she worked with.  Everyone quotes in the book loves her, and she has nothing but praise for everyone she's worked with.  Some of the comments are grandiose ("...in bringing Kylie as Aphrodite to life, a perfect fusion of fashion and fantasy, the ultimate sartorial expression of a pop goddess") and some oddly silly.  (Baker notes, "It was truly exciting to witness Kylie's transformation into a sex siren of almost drag queen sensibilities," while Kylie observes on one outfit, "I was coming close to being a human disco ball!")  There is a bit more gravity when Kylie's fashion choices intersect with her recovery from breast cancer surgery, but Kylie Fashion is all about the looks, be they playful, sexy, haute couture, or out of this world.
"Fashion has been a permanent and continually evolving part of my career," says Kylie in her afterword -- and Kylie Fashion is a terrific look at, well, her looks throughout her career.  The photographs here are stunning, and while the continual praise can get a bit much, Kylie Fashion certainly delivers what the title promises.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



I really wish superhero movies would stop retelling the origins of some of the most famous, well-known characters in comic books.  Man of Steel adds a few new wrinkles to the Superman story, but overall it doesn't feel all that new.
Krypton is destroyed, of course, but more happens before then.  Jor-El (Russell Crowe) knows that the planet is doomed, but he also believes Kryptonian society became too static, breeding their people for specific purposes.  General Zod (Michael Shannon) believes in exterminating weak Kryptonian bloodlines, staging a coup and killing Jor-El -- but not before Jor-El can send his son Kal-El to Earth to create his own destiny.  As for Zod, he and his followers are imprisoned in the Phantom Zone.

Jump ahead to Earth, where Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is trying to find his way in the world.  Clark uses his powers to help others, but his human father Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) tells him to keep his powers a secret because the world isn't ready for him yet.  Reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) tracks Clark down based on the people he saved, while his mother Martha (Diane Lane) offers him a mother's unconditional love.  And a program lets a computer simulation of Jor-El offer Clark advice.

Then Zod and his followers show up on Earth, with a plan that involves destroying humanity to create a new Krypton.  It's time for Clark to don his slightly-less-traditional red-and-blue outfit and become Superman, to save the Earth!

I wish Man of Steel had been more entertaining.  Cavill does good as both Clark and Superman, a hero in the making who can't stop helping people but isn't sure how they'll react to him.  Shannon is terrific as Zod, full of a manic zeal and conviction that, to him, justify all violence.  On the flip side, Russell Crowe gets tiring as the Kryptonian "ghost dad" offering endless advice, Costner seems a little bland, and Amy Adams lacks the certain spark and determination that make Lois Lane a human match for Superman.

Director Zack Snyder handles action far better than drama.  The movie flounders during the first half, as we get barraged by a seemingly-endless number of flashbacks.  Once Superman and the Kryptonians start zipping around the screen, things pick up considerably.  There are a few plot holes, but these are balanced by the epic scale of the battles.

Based on the initial box-office success, Man of Steel will probably be the start of a new Superman franchise.  I'm curious to see what happens next -- and what they can do when the origin doesn't need to be re-told yet again.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

The Lonely Island, THE WACK ALBUM (deluxe version)

Time for some more comedy rap!  The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone) are back with The Wack Album, their third album of humor mixed in with "hardcore" rap stylings.  The trio haven't lost their touch, offering an album that's more consistent than their last releases.

On The Wack Album the comic trio sing about everything from punctuation ("Semicolon") to a fashion statement or malfunction ("You've Got the Look") to offering compliments to each other ("Compliments") to even a version of maturity ("Diaper Money").  There are plenty of guest singers here -- including Lady Gaga, Billie Joe Armstrong, T-Pain, and Justin Timberlake -- but this remains the comics' focus.

And The Wack Album works very well.  Many of the jokes are unexpected, whether adding a new twist to teen partying in "Spring Break Anthem" or turning the youthful slogan "You only live once" into a paranoid rant in "YOLO."  On "Spell It Out" Samberg delivers his lyrics one letter at a time, while "Hugs" and "I Don't Give a Honk" replace profanity with G-rated terms very well.  Best of all, there aren't the "filler" songs on past albums that may have seemed like a good idea in theory but were just weird without being funny.  The Wack Album delivers its laughs from start to finish.

(The deluxe version also comes with a DVD with several music videos, plus their 100th Saturday Night Live digital short.  These are all terrific.)

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


It's fairly common for actors to play comic, unflattering, or excessive versions of themselves, but This Is the End takes that practice up several notches by having the whole cast parodying themselves -- and during the apocalypse too!

The plot is pretty simple.  Seth Rogen (who co-wrote and co-directed This Is the End, along with Evan Goldberg) picks up his good buddy Jay Baruchel at the airport in L.A.  Jay hates the whole Hollywood scene and just wants to hang out with Seth.  But Seth takes him to a big party at James Franco's self-designed house.  And it seems like everyone in Hollywood is there, from musicians to comics to an obnoxious Michael Cera.

When Seth and Jay leave the party to get some smokes, things get weird.  Beams of blue light drag people into the sky! Objects come crashing down, killing people!  A huge sinkhole in front of James Franco's house drags almost everyone at the party into it!  Soon Hollywood is a burning wasteland, with monsters and death.  Is it the Biblical apocalypse?  An alien invasion?  Global warming?  Anyway, after the night a few survivors are left at the house: Seth, Jay, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride (who crashed the party and fell asleep upstairs).

This Is the End is very dark and silly at the same time.  There are plenty of disturbing things -- from severed limbs to a head used as a kickball to cannibalism -- but it's all so over-the-top that it's hard to take seriously.  The same can be said of the actors, who enjoy spoofing themselves.  Has Jonah Hill really become ultra-nice after the success of Moneyball?  Does James Franco really shift so easily from pretentious artist to stoner ready to do Pineapple Express 2?  Is Danny McBride really that obnoxious?  Is Jay genuine, or just a poser?  None of it really matters, as the actors all riff on each other, throw parties, wonder if they deserve to survive, and have very explicit arguments and discussions.  (One between Franco and McBride is amazingly disgusting -- and laugh-out-loud funny.)

There's no real depth to This Is the End, but it's a very funny movie (and a nice contrast to the pre-2012 end-of-the-world disaster flicks we got).  There are numerous terrific cameos, plenty of bizarre interactions, and finale that's so silly it must be seen to be believed.  This Is the End could have been a self-indulgent pile of incoherent silliness, but it manages to be a bit more than that -- and pretty hysterical too!

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch


ALL MY FRIENDS ARE DEAD by Avery Monsen and Jory John

Schadenfreude describes taking happiness in the misfortune of others -- but what if that feeling was expressed as a children's book?  And what if it took on unexpected tangents?  All My Friends Are Dead is a simple, surprisingly effective comical book about different things and their missing friends.

Friendship is the key to All My Friends Are Dead -- and usually its lack, or it's variety.  Everything from the cover dinosaur to cassette tapes, ventriloquists, trees, sheep, people on a desert island, and others comment about their friends; usually there's a follow-up comment from them or their friends on the following pages.  For example, a clown comments, "All my friends are terrifying"  On the next page, another clown responds, "I've already made two children cry today!"

There's a very twisted humor at work here -- and a very elegant simplicity in the drawings, subjects, and delivery.  All My Friends Are Dead could have been much darker (especially given that title), yet it's very odd and very funny.
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Politics and horror can make for strange bedfellows: The combination of the two can either provide a fresh look at current events, or they can wind up preachy.  The latter is the case with The Purge.
It's 2022, and the New Founding Fathers have instituted a tradition called the Purge: once a year, from 7 P.M. to 7 A.M., all crime is legal (including murder) and there are no police, medical, or emergency services during that time.  Proponents of the Purge (who show their support with purple flowers outside their homes) say it gives people a release from the anger, jealousy, and other negative feelings they build up during the year.  Opponents claim it's a just another way to support the rich and eliminate the poor, since the wealthy can protect themselves in their homes while the poor have to fend for themselves on the streets.  Naturally, people can also watch live footage of the Purge killing and destruction on television.

James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) supports the Purge; he also profits from it, living in a gated community and making a living selling home security systems.  His wife Mary (Lena Hedley) also goes along with it, even if she doesn't participate.  Their teenage daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) is more concerned that her dad doesn't like her older boyfriend Henry (Rhys Wakefield), while their young son Charlie (Max Burkholder) is mainly interested in playing with a remote-control creepy doll/video camera.
The Sandin family seems ready to settle in for the Purge -- protected behind blast doors, watching the neighborhood through video cameras, and carrying guns just to be safe --  when Charlie sees a stranger (Edwin Hodge) running from pursuers, bloody, and screaming for help.  Clarlie lets him into their home, which makes James and Mary nervous because they don't know if he's dangerous.  Worse, the pursuers (young people wearing creepy grinning masks and armed with guns and machetes) followed him to the Sandin home.  The gang's leader (Tony Oller) gives the James an ultimatum: Turn over the stranger so the gang can finish "purging" on him, or they'll break into the house and make the Sandin family their prey as well.

While The Purge is ostensibly a horror/suspense movie, it's more about social commentary.  The Sandin's are the stereotypical upper-class family (they even consider buying a boat) who are fine with something that affects the poorer people -- until it affects them.  The stranger being pursued is a black homeless man (whose dog tags suggest he's a veteran), while the gang leader is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed young man in a prep school uniform.  Subtlety is not this movie's strong suit (though neither is logic: Would the nation really benefit from unfettered looting, destruction, and murder one night a year?).  Unfortunately, The Purge is also not that effective at scaring the audience either.  While there are some unsettling moments (from the grinning masks to seemingly normal neighbors sharpening weapons in anticipation of killing), the movie ultimately comes down to a standard siege drama (not unlike the terrible horror movie The Strangers).  I doubt The Purge will come to pass -- but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone either.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch


Demi Lovato, DEMI (Target version)

While Demi Lovato dealt with her hardships and trials on her last albbum, her new album Demi has her focusing squarely on boys and romance.  The result is some pretty standard pop.

To her credit, Lovato does have a strong voice, and she attacks the songs with eagerness, whether on the impassioned first single "Heart Attack" or the breathy ballads through the album like the yearning "Nightingale" or the hate-and-love-together single "I Hate You, Don't Leave Me" on the Target edition.  (Disclaimer: I work for Target -- but I don't play for Target!)

Alas, all the songs on Demi are pretty routine about either being in love or being out of love.  There are such overused images as two halves of a whole ("We'll never fall apart, 'cause we fit togethe rlike/ two pieces of a broken heart") or some amazing verbal clunkers (like bragging that a romance in "made in the U.S.A." or that a shallow guy will "try to take me home like you're DiMaggio").

Demi has some good songs, but the album becomes an ordinary collection of sonsgs about why romance is great or why it's awful.  It's ironic that this former Disney star made an album that could have been released while she was with Disney, years after she left them.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch


Paramore, PARAMORE

Paramore is back!  The indy trio of singer Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and bassist Jeremy Davies return to the world of alternative power pop with their latest album Paramore.

"If there's a future, we want it" the band sings on "Now," and that mix of optimism and uncertainty is present throughout the album.  Paramore deals with the ups and downs of romance (including the comically obsessive "(One of Those) Crazy Girls"), mixing societal responsibility with wanting to party ("we've got our riot gear on but we just want to have fun"), attacking haters ("Anklebiters") and struggling to stay optimistic ("Last Hope").  This album also reflects the band's growing sense of maturity and responsibility as well: "Ain't It Fun" is an ironically-titled song about living in the real world, while "Grow Up" balanced becoming mature with leaving others behind.

Paramore has the band's usual hard-rocking vocals and guitar: nothing new, but still exciting.  ("The Future," the album's closing track, is a new and meandering disappointment.")  There are plenty of pulse-pounding and sensitive songs here -- I wish "Daydreaming" could become this generation's version of Blondie's "Dreaming " -- and Paramore is pretty enjoyable.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch