While Atomic Blonde is being advertised as "a female James Bond," it doesn't go into fancy gadgets and gimmicks.  It does have a solid plot, some very good (and brutal) fight scenes, and lots of fun for star Charlize Theron.

The movie opens in 1989, days before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.  We see British agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) killed by KGB agent Yuri Bakhtin (Johannes Haukur Johannesson), who steals his watch.

Next we jump to an office, where British spy Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is being debriefed by MI6 execitive Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman).  Gasgiogne has obtained a list of all covert British agents, which he had on microfilm in his watch; the list also had the identity of Satchel, a British double agent who had been providing information to the Communists.  Lorraine (who had been Gasciogne's lover) was sent to both East and West Berlin to get the list and learn the identity of Satchel.
Unfortunately, the mission is a disaster almost from the start.  Lorraine is quickly identified and attacked.  Her British contact is David Percival (James McAvoy), an agent who's gone native and seems more interested in drinking and partying than getting information.  Agents from numerous governments are after the list, and going to and from East Berlin is a challenge.  Then there's Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), a nervous man who claims to have memorized the entire list.
Atomic Blonde is a decent spy movie.  Charlize Theron does a great job as the title character, an agent who always seems to keep her plans, ideas, and suspicions very private; she also does quite well in the numerous fight scenes.  As for the rest, the plot is a fairly standard spy setup -- who can be trusted?  Who will survive?  Who's the double agent? -- with some twists but no big surprises; and the near-constant pop hits from the 1980s get overdone somewhat quickly.  This is an action movie that's not revolutionary but is satisfying.
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Romance is tricky -- especially when something tragic happens.  This is the surprising basis for The Big Sick, a mix of romantic comedy and drama.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a young Pakistani-American happy doing stand-up comedy in Chicago. along with driving an Uber and working on a one-man show.  He also has regular dinner with his family, which almost always involved his mother having single Pakistani women "just drop by."  Kumail resists these set-ups, though he keeps the pictures of the women in a cigar box in his apartment.

Kumail meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) when she either calls out to or heckles him during his comedy act.  They date for a few months, until she finds his box of photographs, realizes why he'd been so reluctant to introduce her to his family, and they break up.  Some time after that, he gets a call to visit Emily in the hospital; when her infection is far more serious than first thought and she has to be put in a medically-induced coma, he decides to stay by her side.
The hospital is where Kumail meets Zoe's parents, Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter).  Terry is laid back and friendly to Kumail; Beth is openly hostile to him, but then defends him against a racist heckler during his act.  They keep getting together as Zoe's situation progresses; there's also plenty of tension between Terry and Beth, making Kumail uncomfortable.
The Big Sick is quite a few things: comedy, drama, romance, reflection on dealing with a family from Pakistan while being a pretty mainstream American.  The movie handles them all well, though there's a largely low-energy feel to the movie.  There are several funny moments (though oddly usually not from the comedy club scenes) and the cast is good (especially Holly Hunter as a passionate, almost manic, mother).  While all the parts of the movie are good, none of them are really great.  The Big Sick is, overall, a pleasant film.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's time for the portrait of the superhero as a teenager.  Spider-Man: Homecoming is the latest summer superhero film, with a whole lot of high school drama as well as superheroics.

Homecoming wisely skips the very familiar origin story and jumps into the life of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) after the events of Captain America: Civil War.  Peter is bored by stopping petty crimes and wants more action, even hoping to join the Avengers.  But he's being watched and mentored by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), who want him to remain "a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man."  They also give him a "super suit" with numerous setting and a talkative A.I. named Karen.

When a gang is stealing and selling advanced and alien technology, Spider-Man sees a chance to prove himself by taking down the gang and keeping it a secret from his handlers.  But the gang is led by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who dons a truly frightening high-tech Vulture costume to step in when his gang is threatened.
All of this is accompanies by plenty of high school drama.  Peter lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), who he doesn't want to know he's Spider-Man.  Peter's friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) finds out he's Spider-Man and geeks about it all the time.  Peter has a crush on Liz (Laura Harrier), is bullied by Flash (Tony Revolori), and always seems to run into sullen Michelle (Zendaya).  And Peter thinks if he becomes an Avenger, he can completely skip school to be a full-time superhero.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is pretty good.  Tom Holland perfectly captures a teenager whose duties as a hero keep interfering with his personal life, and one who's learning as he goes along.  Michael Keaton is a suitably creepy villain, and the high school characters are all solid.  The action is done well, and there's plenty of comedy, from Peter's nervousness to Captain America's very square recorded PSAs played for high school students.  I do think the movie spent a little too much time in high school, which made the film feel a little long.  But Spider-Man Homecoming is a worthy addition to the Marvel cinematic universe.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



When it comes to alternative music and a punk-new wave sound, the Pixies are legends.  And while most of their albums were released in the late 1980s-late 1990s, they've released two albums in the 21st century.  Head Carrier, released in 2016, continues their tradition of amazing guitar riffs, dubious lyrics, and a good amount of shouting.

This time around, the Pixies are made up of Black Francis, on lead vocals and guitar; Paz Lenchantin on bass (replacing Kim Deal); David Lovering on drums; and Joey Santiago on lead guitar.  They all fit together very well, supplementing each others' sounds and making the songs feel very tight.

As for the songs themselves, Head Carrier has a pretty wide variety.  There's balls-to-the-walls screaming in "Baal's Back."  There also plenty of sentimentality, from Paz singing "Might as Well Be Gone" to the closing "All My Saints."  There's plenty of lunacy, from the band-loving "Oona" to the weird and wonderful "Um Chagga Laga."  There's even the surprisingly straightforward "Talent" about the sycophants in the music industry.

Head Carrier is a great reminder that alternative music is still out there.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



The sculpted dungeons and terrain from Dwarven Forge are some of the most beautiful and sturdy gaming accessories out there -- but what about the person behind it all?  The Dwarvenaut is a look at the life, history, and even process of Stefan Pokorny, the founder and chief sculptor of Dwarven Forge.

The main story of this documentary is Dwarven Forge's then-current Kickstarter, for a modular medieval city.  While the previosu two were successful, Stefan says they need to earn at least two million dollars or the whole company could be in jeopardy.  We see how Stefan and the company try to reach this ambitious goal: raising awareness at Gen Con, shooting more videos for their project, and so on.

Mixed in-between the countdown of the Kickstarter, we learn all about Stefan.  It's no surprise that he played D&D as a child, but he's atill an avid DM, running games (in costume!) for assorted players, complete with lots of Dwarven Forge sets.  He sees D&D as more than a game: To him, it's a way for people to connect, forging connections in a cold, technology-driven world.  He even takes a trip to Gary Gygax' childhoom home.
We also get, in non-linear fashion, the history of Stefan himself: his parents, how he developed his love for and skill in art, his flaws and his strengths.  In many ways, Stefan is living the geek dream life: He does what he loves, he gets to play as well as work, and even when stressed out he has high energy and enthusiasm.
The Dwarvenaut is a very fun look at one person's past, present, and future, as an artist, businessman, and unapologetic geek.  While there's no detailed description about the creation and production of the Dwarven Forge items, by the end of the movie we know how Stefan Pokorny uses his skills and ideas to create them.  This is a very good look at one person's creativity and history.  (DVD extras include deleted scenes, commentary, and the Kickstarter videos from Dwarven Forge.)
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



I may not know much about art, but I know it when I stack it.  This could be the theme for Junk Art, a game from Plan B Games where 2-6 players compete in constructing their own artwork -- but it's trickier than that.

In Junk Art, players are competing to build their own unique artwork to earn fans in different cities; whoever ends the game with the most fans wins.  At the start of the game, there are four sets of 15 unusual-shaped wooden pieces, identical in shapes and in four different colors.  Each player also gets a square base -- about 1" x 1" -- to build their art on.

If the game were just about building the tallest art, this would be pretty dull, as the person with the best balancing abilities would win.  However, Junk Art mixes things up with multiple cities.
Every city has different rules for earning fans.  Usually, players pass cards, with a specific piece and color, to their opponent for them to add to their sculpture; sometimes players pass their whole hand of cards, sometimes just one.  Players usually work on their own sculptures, but sometimes they have to work together on the same sculpture, or move to another player's sculpture each turn.  There are different rules for what ends the turn, such as a player having a certain number of pieces fall off.  Earning fans varies as well, whether all remaining players get fans or the player with the tallest sculpture gets the most fans.  (There's a tape measure included for the latter.)  And after three cities -- with a new sculpture created for each city -- whoever has the most fans wins!
I really enjoy Junk Art.  While balancing the pieces on a very small base is key, it's also important to choose what cards to give other players, to try and get their sculpture to collapse.  The variety of cities and their accompanying rules mean no two games are the same -- even before the different cards are passed around.  And the rules are quite easy to teach.  Junk Art is a lot of fun.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch