Some of the best horror movies go beyond simple scared to engage in social issues or commentary.  Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele, adds a layer of racial knowledge and concern to the horror genre -- with terrific results.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) have been dating for a while, and it's time for the event most boyfriends dread: meeting her parents.  He's concerned that she hasn't told them he's black, but she insists it's no big deal.  So the two leave the city for the suburbs, with Chris staying in touch with his TSA agent buddy Rod (LilRey Howery) by phone.
At first, things are expectedly awkward with the parents.  Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford) is a slightly dorky guy who keeps calling Chris "my man."  Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener) is concerned that Chris smokes around their daughter.  They're both very accomplished -- he's a neurosurgeon, she's a psychiatrist specializing in hypnosis -- and live in a pretty isolated home.  It's not thrilling for Chris, but he can handle it.
But little things seem to keep building on each other.  The Armitages' black groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) seem a bit... off.  Rose's brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) seems a bit aggressive towards Chris.  When there's a big family gathering, the Armitages all seem to treat Chris differently, as he tells Rose, it's like they never met a black man who didn't work for them.  And Missy had hypnotized Chris without his consent, leaving him without the desire to smoke -- along with who knows other effects.
Get Out works pretty well.  The movie takes the discomfort of being black in a largely white group of people (even if they all say they all would have voted for Obama a third time and Tiger Woods is the greatest) and builds it into a borderline paranoia with something behind it.  Daniel Kaluuya is a fine horror lead, and the rest of the cast do a good job of being almost indefinably off.  Get Out is a creepy, interesting horror movie.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch


DEVIL IN SPRING by Lisa Kleypas

There's a strong element of predictability in the romance novel genre, as stories head inevitably to the Happily Ever After (HEA) ending -- but that is fairly forced in Devil in Spring, book 3 in the Ravenels by Lisa Kleypas.  This historical romance has opposites attracting for most of the book.

Pandora Ravenel is pushed to go husband-hunting during the London Season, but she has no interest in marrying.  She has the goal of publishing her board game (with the store owner from a previous book pre-ordering 500 copies) and believes, rightly for the time, that marriage would give her husband complete control over all her professional activities.  She tends to go on numerous verbal tangents, invents words, and is almost hyperactive at times.  And an old ear injury leaves her often unsteady (no waltzing) and hard of hearing on her left side.

In the novel's "meet cute," when Pandora is trying to obtain an earring, she gets stuck facing downwards.  When well-known rake Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, tries to help, the pair are discovered, assumed that Gabriel "compromised" Pandora, and also assumed they have to marry to avoid the scandal.  Pandora and Gabriel insist that they're incompatible -- she still has her qualms about relinquishing her freedom, he thinks she's completely unsuitable for handling the duties of marriage -- but the two keep getting tingly when around each other.

And that's the very vast majority of Devil in Spring.  The "we can't be together, but wow are they attractive" gets tired pretty quickly, yet it takes up so much of the book.  The change in pace is forced near the end, as dual threats arise just to add a different type of conflict to the book.  And we never get any details about the board game that's such a vital interest of Pandora (though we are told Pandora knows about all the glues needed to put them together).  There are moments of levity here (mainly Pandora's notes on her daily activities) and fans of Kleypas' earlier book Devil in Winter will enjoy the return of that book's Evie and Sebastian.  But Devil in Spring is tiresome and wears out its welcome pretty quickly.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch



There are some comedies that have a central idea and never do anything creative or unexpected with it.  This is the cast with Fist Fight, a fairly predictable comedy.

It's the last day of school at a public high school, and English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) has quite a lot going on.  He's worried about all the staff cuts Principal Tyler (Dean Norris) is making -- and his meeting with the principal in the afternoon.  His very pregnant wife is past her due date, and his little girl needs him to help her in her talent show performance that afternoon.  The teachers are a pretty eccentric bunch.  And the students are out of control, pulling lots of pranks on both students and teachers.
Then there's Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), a history teacher feared by teachers and students alike for his short temper.  When Strickland smashes a student's desk with a fire ax, Campbell winds up getting him fired.  Strickland is furious, and challenges Campbell to a fist fight outside the school at three o'clock.  This being a movie, news of the fight spreads like wildfire, and everyone is talking about the fight.  Cmapbell keeps trying different ways to weasel out of the fight, while Strickland seems to get scarier and scarier.
There's really not much going on in Fist Fight.  Charlie Day delivers his usual stammering nervousness, while Ice Cube plays the big scary black man.  There is a talented supporting cast -- Jillian Bell as the guidance counselor who does meth and lusts after the young students, Tracy Morgan as a befuddled gym teacher, Kumail Nanjiani as an inefficient security guard, Christina Hendricks as a sexy French teacher with a psychotic side -- but the humor is pretty broad and often juvenile.  The movie heads to a predictable ending (the similarities to Fight Club are pretty basic) and while Fist Fight isn't bad, neither is it memorable.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch



February brings Valentine's Day, either the continuation or lessening of snow, and the folks at Sports Illustrated abandoning sports in favor of sexy women in (or at least holding) swimwear.  The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue 2017 continues the latter tradition -- with a few changes.

This issue features several familiar models -- the most famous being Kate Upton (who appears on all three covers, though not wearing a full swimsuit on any of them) and Chrissy Teigen -- plus familiar faces from previous issues, new models, and even the return of Christie Brinkley (who may be the oldest model in the issue) and her daughters.  There are also international locations, body paint, and athletes like Serena Williams and some gymnasts.  And the issue also diversifies a bit with several plus-sized models, including in the body paint pictures.
As with every year, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is a joy to behold.  Sticklers may point out that many of the photos don't actually have the models wearing swimsuits -- or they may be none in the shot -- but I am not one of those people.  Instead, I just enjoy the sheer beauty of amazing models in exotic locations.
Reviewed by James Lynch



After Batman's appearance in The Lego Movie, and with the character's rich history in comic books, it's no surprise that the character became the focus of his own Lego movie.  The Lego Batman Movie is solid entertainment, with both lots of in-jokes for comic book fans and a couple of flaws as well.

The movie opens with Batman (Will Arnett, giving a nice comic exaggeration to the current gravelly-voiced character) single-handedly defeating almost his entire gallery of villains (including some new ones, obscure ones, and ones from the 1966 Batman TV show).  While everyone loves Batman, in private he's terribly alone -- watching romantic comedies by himself and wandering around an empty mansion, to the concern of Alfred (Ralph Fiennes).  His desire to be alone has Batman refusing to work with new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and not acknowledging the Joker (Zack Galifianakis) as his arch-enemy.  And when Bruce Wayne accidentally adopts orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), Batman pretty much ignores him -- even when Dick becomes Robin.
The Joker, upset by Batman's slight, hatches a master plan that begins with getting himself and every other villain in Gotham City arrested, involves Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), and winds up with a slew of amazingly powerful (and non-DC) villains taking over Gotham City.   Batman, meanwhile, keeps using or ignoring Robin, carelessly insulting Alfred, and refusing to work with Barbara.

As one might expect, there are innumerable elements from Batman's history, from the cartoons, TV shows, and movies to the obscure villains from the comics and black and white serials.  There are also plenty of other comic book and pop culture references, including the Super Friends, non-comic book characters (that aren't all Lego sets), and pop music.  The voice talent is terrific (including numerous celebrity voices) and there's plenty of action and humor through the movie.

The Lego Batman Movie also has a couple of problems.  The movie drags a lot in the middle and could have been a good deal shorter.  The story arc is pretty obvious, and there are several inconsistencies that pop up in the movie (that can't be explained away by the Lego universe).  But even with those, The Lego Batman Movie has lots of entertainment, for little kids and adult comic book fans.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Back during the N.Y. Friar's Club Roast of Drew Carey, Ryan Stiles joked that Drew Carey didn't go to strip clubs for the women -- he went to them for the music.  Despite that, the music at such places (or personal/private performances) has certain rhythms and themes to them -- and Strip Jointz Rocks: Rock N' Roll for Sexy Dancers does a pretty good job of representing (part of) the music for strip clubs, or for stripping in general.

The 16 songs on Strip Jointz Rocks are both quite diverse and somewhat limited.  The selection of songs is pretty eclectic: There are strip club staples like "Girls Girls Girls," "Addicted to Love" and "I Touch Myself."  These are interspersed with music from lesser known bands (Republica, Gleaming Spires) and some classic rock songs that aren't normally associated with stripping.  ("Born to Be Wild," What's Your Name.")  What's missing are any songs by minorities; but this omission may be deliberate, as the follow-up collection is all strip club music by minorities.
It's impossible to get every song one would want on a collection like this (I tried to do a top 10 mix, which would be being 20 songs and still had numerous songs left off), but Strip Jointz Rocks manages to be an entertaining mix of songs.  The blending of classic rock, alternative music, and current (for when this album came out) songs works pretty well, and even though I'm not a fan of all the songs here, this is an easy album to listen to start to finish.  Strip Jointz Rocks delivers what it promises.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



So, the infamous cursed videotape has gone digital.  Rings is the third movie in the horror chain based on Japanese movie Ringu, and this time around it's... quite similar to what came before.

The movie starts with the latest person to watch the cursed tape on an airplane, which crashed when the ghostly Samara appears.  Two years later Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) buys a VCR that belonged to the victim -- and Gabriel watches the cursed tape that was in the machine.

We jump ahead, where Julia (Matilda Lutz) sees her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) off to college.  Things are fine, until Julia gets a frantic message from Holt's computer from Skye (Aimee Teegarden).  When Julia heads to the college, she's there when Skye is killed by Samara.
It turns out that Gabriel is a college professor, obsessed with the cursed tape: He has students watch the tape, times their "seven days" until Samara appears, makes digital copies of the tape, and assigns "tails" to watch copies of the tape so the would-be victim gets a reprieve.  Holt had seen it, so Julia watches his copy to save him.  But when Julia makes a copy of the tape, her copy is larger than the original -- and has additional images.
Julia and Holt follow the clues of the new version, hoping to save her and stop the curse.  This journey involved Julia's hallucinations, a town that had been flooded, and a blind caretaker named Burke (Vincent D'Onofrio) who remembers "the drowned girl."  And the seven days countdown continues...

The main problem with Rings is that it's virtually the same story as its predecessors: Someone sees the tape (or, now, digital file) and tries to interpret the images to spare themselves from being killed by Samara.  We get the same warning and timeline, the same disjointed ghostly figure, the same terrified and contorted looks on her victims, even the same dim lighting throughout the movie.  Since we've seen it all before there's nothing really new or scary -- and the paper-thin characters don't have much to do besides look worried and scream.  Rings has a few decent moments, but most of the movie is a dud.

Overall grade: D
Reviewed by James Lynch