"I see dead people" may be the most famous line from The Sixth Sense, but it's also the impetus for the movie ParaNorman, a stop-motion animated film about adventure, bullying, and friendship. And zombies.

Life is rough for Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a spiky-haired kid living in the town of Blythe Hollow. Norman sees and talks with dead people, from his deceased grandmother (Elaine Stritch) to a variety of folks on his walk to school. (Norman also loves horror movies, though the movie doesn't say if this began before or after his talking with the dead began.) Unfortunately, Norman's gift also makes him an outcast. He's bullied by Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and called "Abnorman" by the other students. At home, he's berated by his teen sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), told by his father Perry (Jeff Garlin) how disappointing he is, and poorly consoled by his worried mom Sandra (Leslie Mann). Norman's only real friend is Neil (Tucker Abrizzi), a cheerful fat kid who isn't bothered by insults.

But strange things are brewing in Blithe Hollow. It's the 300th aniversary of the witch Aggie by the founders of Blithe Hollow, and Norman's weird uncle Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) has been responsible for keeping Aggie from returning. But when he dies, his ghost passes on the duty to Norman. Unfortunately reading from the book doesn't work, and soon seven colonial American zombies are shambling around the town, an angry mob is forming, and the witch's visage appears in the storm that grows bigger and more powerful. Can Norman, Neil, Neil's dumb jock brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), Courtney (who has a crush on Mitch) and Alvin (who has a crush on Courtney) put an end to the supernatural events? Or will the witch's curse destroy the town?

ParaNorman is a Halloween movie (the events take place at Halloween; throughout the town witches and the supernatural are used as tourist traps) released at the end of the summer. It's enjoyable at times, and too simplistic at other times. There are some very nice touches, from the cheap zombie movie Norman watches at the beginning, to a few clever horror movie references, to a surprise about one character at the end. However, most of the characters are caricatures, from the overly-dramatic drama teacher to the quickly-formed angry mob who blame Norman for all the problems. The animation is pretty good (from the same people who gave us the creepy Coraline) and the voice talent is fine, but ParaNorman never quite makes the leap from kiddie humor to humor that works for both kids and adults. It's an entertaining movie, but it could have been quite a bit more than it is.

Overall grade: B-

Reviewed by James Lynch



Looney Labs had adapted its core game Fluxx -- with Keepers, Actions, Goals, Ungoals, New Rules, and Creepers -- to several genres. Cthulhu Fluxx is their most recent entry in the world of Fluxx, and it works extremely well at capturing the horror, madness, and even humor of the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft.

The basic rules of Cthulhu Fluxx will be familiar to anyone who's played Fluxx before. At the start of the game, players have three cards and draw one, play one. Keepers are played in front of players, Goals present conditions for victory (usually by having the right mix of Keepers), Actions let the players perform, well, actions, and New Rules change the gameplay for all players. There are also Creepers (which are played automatically and prevent a player from winning -- unless the Creeper is part of the Goal) and Ungoals (which result in a loss for everyone). So what's new?

For starters, anyone familiar with Lovecraft's stories will recognize how the Goals reflect his stories. If you read "The Whisperer in Darkness," you'll appreciate that the Goal with the same name requires the Professor and Fungi; likewise, the Reanimator and Tomb combine for the Goal "Meat Market." All of the goals match the Lovecraftian body of work.

Lovecraft's work also has a sense of inevitable doom -- and that's here as well. Bad cards have a number of Doom icons on them, and the Ungoals are met if a certain Creeper or Keeper is in play with a certain number of Doom points. But more positive cards have Anti-Doom icons, and each of these is subtracted from the Doom points in play. Furthermore, some cards give victory if an Ungoal's requirements are met (like the Secret Cultist), reflecting the ebb and flow of Lovecraftian horror and doom, and how some fight to make it happen while others oppose it.

Cthulhu Fluxx does a wonderful job mixing the basic, familiar rules of Fluxx with the Lovecraftian mythos. The numerous Creepers, Ungoals, and potential Doom points match Lovecraft's sense of impending peril quite well, and giving players multiple options to victory (by holding off the darkness or strengthening it) makes this more strategic than most other Fluxx games. This actually improves on the core game very nicely.

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch


It's ironic that sometimes real-life relationships don't translate well to the screen; it's unfortunate that sometimes action movies wind up pretty boring. Both of these problems plague Hit and Run, an action-comedy that's not exciting or funny -- or romantic, despite the leads being involved in real life.

In a small town, Charlie Bronson (Dax Shepard) seems content hanging around and dating Annie Bean (Kristen Bell). When she gets a unique opportunity to teach her specialty in L.A. 500 miles away, Charlie insists she go for it and drives her there. Unfortunately, Charlie is in the witness protection program (something universally known where he lives), and leaving creates problems.

Inept U.S. marshall Randy Anderson (Tom Arnold) keeps following Charlie to keep him self, even as Randy keeps having accidents with his car and gun. Gil (Michael Rosenbaum), Annie's ex-boyfriend, is convinved that Charlie will kill her so he pursues the two of them. Worse, he alerts Alex Dimitri (Bradley Cooper, sporting dreadlocks and yellow shades), the crook who went to jail because of Charlie's testimony. There's also gay cop Terry (Jess Rowland), Gil's brother, and his partner Angela (Carly Hatter) in the mix. So it's a madcap chase, as everyone seems to pursue Charlie and Annie as they speed along in one car after another.

Alas, "madcap" is giving Hit and Run far too much credit. While there's supposed to be humor and discovery in the relationship between Charlie and Annie (she knows nothing about his life before they dated; he's always fighting and stealing), the two actors are surprisingly dull. Most of the actors seem unilvolved with the action (with the exception of Kristin Chenoweth as a foul-mouthed, pill-popping college administrator), and there's little humor (despite the attempts at jokes) or excitement (despite numerous car chases). There's also no explanation given for the title. Hit and Run is a dud.

Overall grade: D

Reviewed by James Lynch



Magic is a staple of much fantasy literature -- but what if it was a limited resource that was rapidly running out? This is the basis for Larry Niven's 1978 illustrated novel The Magic Goes Away, which adds this new twist to a familiar setting.

The setting for The Magic Goes Away is an amalgam world, where magical lands, American Indians, and Atlantis all co-exist. Wizards were once feared -- doing everything from creating stable buildings to destroying armies -- but mana (the power behind magic) has been drained from the planet largely due to overuse. Magical creatures are dying, and spells can suddenly fail in areas where there is no more mana. Several magicians -- the Warlock, the Indian Clubfoot, the beautiful Mirandee, and the still-living skull of the necromancer Wavyhill, and the dubious Piranther -- have met, and Warlock reveals his idea to return to magic to the world. Then there's Orolandes, the non-magical soldier who feels guilt over his role in the Greek attack on and destruction of Atlantis. He sees the quest as a means of redemption; he's also a romantic interest for Mirandee, and a "mundane" who can survive quite well without the magic the others are desperate to replenish.

The Magic Goes Away is an enjoyable tale (though the comic book-style illustrations are quite unnecessary) of both sword & sorcery and a sort of environmentalism. While much of the adventures here are familiar to the genre -- giant monsters (and giants), magic travels, planning and betrayal -- Larry Niven shows his skill as a writer, both with the internal consistency of this magical world and his ability to combine fine description and original ideas. The Magic Goes Away is a trip into an interesting world where magic exists -- but perhaps not for much longer.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Sure it's been years since Mystery Science Theater 3000 went off the air, but Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy keep the fun going with their commentaries about bad movies with their Rifftrax project. Even better, every few months a Rifftrax special is shown "live" (actually taped live, then broadcast later) in the movie theater. Last night I got to see the comedy trio take on what many consider to be the worst movie ever with Rifftrax: Manos, the Hands of Fate.

For those (fortunate enough) not to be familiar with Manos: The Hands of Fate, it's a horror movie that includes: a Satanist with giant hands on his robe; a "monster" with fat legs (Torgo!) who can barely walk; a forgettable family of victims; useless cops; a bizarre catfight between women in unrevealing gowns; and plenty of random camera cuts and terrible theme music. It's no wonder that this movie supplies plenty of material for the Rifftrax folks; and rather than simply redo the jokes done when Manos was shown on MST3K, Rifftrax: Manos the Hands of Fate provides new material, from referencing 50 Shades of Grey to "complimenting" the director who's also the father in the film.

The evening opened with the Rifftrax take on several three shorts: a bleak 1970s "comedy" called Welcome Back, Norman; an uninformative educational film about cylinders; and a commercial for prune juice. These were just as fun as the Manos jokes, and while the "live" tag for the movie may have been misleading, there was a festive feeling through the theater.

Around Halloween, Rifftrax will be returning to the big screen with a showing of the cgi bird attack film Birdemic. I can't wait!

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



The Wild West setting provides lots of opportunities for action, adventure, justice, and violence. In the comic book Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos, the Wild West gets something new: a little kid.

Boyd Linney was born into a family of outlaws. He chose a different path for himself, becoming a bounty hunter and focused on capturing and turning in his wayward family members for the reward. However, he didn't wait long to pursue his vocation: Boyd is heading after his kin at the ripe young age on ten years old. Riding his horse Cee Cee (who's so much bigger than Boyd) and armed with a toy horse-based shotgun, Boyd travels far across the U.S. (and Mexico) pursuing his family.

Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse is a simple idea that works pretty well. Boyd is in many ways the typical tough-guy cowboy except for his age and size but who simply follows the creed "Justice ain't got no age." Boyd is far from perfect -- facing both errors in judgment and moral questions in his quest -- and yet his determination to do good (and make some money along the way) is appealing. This is helped by the artwork of Eliopoulos, who makes Boyd look like he'd be at home playing in the world of Calvin and Hobbes.

Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse is a simple story that's nicely told. I look forward to the next collection in this series (which will hopefully have the foreshadowed meeting between Boyd and his criminal mother), and I enjoy rereading my hardbound copy of the story of a little kid with a big gun.

Overall grade: B

Reviewed by James Lynch


While politics has plenty of unintentional comedy -- especially in an election year -- there's always room for caricature. The Campaign is a comedy that dodges any philosophical or party differences to simply tackle the "win at all costs" approach to politics.

Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is the Democratic congressman from North Carolina. He's experienced, popular, and about to run for his fifth term -- without an opposing candidate. He's also bigger on crowd-pleasing speeches than empty policies (when asked what his slogan "Freedom! Jesus! America!" means, he answers, "I don't know -- but people love it when I say it") and a tremendous womanizer. When his obscene phone call gets released after he misdialed and left it on a religious family's answering machine, the Republicans see a chance to take the district -- and more.

The Motch Brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Ackroyd, parodying the Republican billionaire kingmakers the Koch brothers) want to open a Chinese sweatshop in North Carolina, and they want a politician who'll waive any EPA and minimum wage requirements for their planned factory. They decide to go with Marty Huggins (Zack Galifianakis), a meek, slightly effeminate man who's happiest praying with his family and giving local tours.

Marty is initially unprepared for the cutthroat world of politics -- Cam's first attacks take place at a "civility brunch" for the two candidates -- but then the Motch brothers bring in Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), a ruthless campaign manager who provides Marty with scripted talking points and remakes everything from his dogs to his family. Meanwhile, Cam's campaign keeps running into problems -- from drunk driving to punching a baby -- and Mitch (Jason Sudeikis), his campaign manager, is more and more upset about how extreme Cam is getting in order to win.

The Campaign largely steers clear of ideological differences between the parties (except for their Motch brothers and a commentary on the Citizens United ruling) to go for borderline slapstick humor and the old themes that politics is about image and the quest for victory can be corrupting. Fortunately, with all the profanity-filles silliness, Ferrell and Galifianakis are terrific guides through this absurdly over-the-top world of politics. Ferrell is a hoot as the slick, experienced candidate who can't keep control of himself, while Galifianakis is a hoot as the slightly pathetic nice guy forced to become a warrior for his side. I also really enjoyed McDermott as the "Mr. Fixit" sent in as an election specialist who is focused solely on victory.

Even with cameos from news folks from CNN and MSNBC, The Campaign inhabits a world closer to the Marx Brothers than our world. Still, goofy as the movie is, The Campaign is often funny as well.

Overall grade: B-

Reviewed by James Lynch


Kylie Minogue, THE BEST OF KYLIE MINOGUE cd/dvd

Back in July 1987, Kylie Minogue hit the pop scene. It's now 25 years later, and EMI Catalogue celebrates her career longevity with The Best of Kylie Minogue, an album containing 21 of her hits from the years (and their accompanying music videos).

The Best of Kylie Minogue covers Kylie's career from her first hit -- her cover of "The Locomotion" -- to her most recent album, Aphrodite. As such, the album shows her evolution from a perky teen pop singer to, er, a perky disco-inspired pop singer. It's not much of an evolution (her voice is decent from her early work to the present), but it's impossible to tell from this collection, which eschews chronology and simply mixes the songs up. Perhaps this is deliberate, demonstrating that her early and later songs are interchangable; it's not exactly a compliment. The music videos show how Kylie used her image as much as her voice, with later music having more glamour and choreography than the basic early videos.

While this collection is missing is anything extra. There are no new songs, no rarities, and no live tracks (as there were on her Greatest Hits collection, covering her more recent music). The lyrics to all her songs are in the cd booklet -- but not which albums they came from, or her thoughts on the songs, or anything the singer has to say about her 25-year music career. Eighteen of the songs made the top 5 in the U.K., and five of them made number one there -- but I learned that through the description on Amazon.com; none of that info is included here.

Kylie Minogue has always enjoyed more success overseas than in America -- despite her brief return to the charts here with "Can't Get You out of My Head" -- so it's both ironic and appropriate that The Best of Kylie Minogue is an import album in the United States. While it's hard to capture 25 years of music with 21 songs, this collection demonstrates Kylie Minogue's ablity to create danceable, fluffy pop -- which, depending on the listener, makes her a producer of enjoyable, simple pop or someone who's done nearly the same thing for 25 years. Either way, The Best of Kylie Minogue should have had something new, to add to what was already out there.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch


If memories can be manufactured and bought, then how can we ever know what is truly real? This theme of the Philip K. Dick story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" was virtually ignored in the first movie Total Recall -- and also given short shrift in the the new Total Recall. While the remake skips some of the cheesiness that comes with being an Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie, like its predecessor the new movie skips thoughtfulness for action.

It's the end of the 21st century, and the world is in bad shape. After massive chemical wars, there are only two main populated areas on Earth: the technologically advanced United Federation of Britain, led by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), and the slumlike Colony. Workers travel from the Colony to the UFB through the Fall, a transport device that travels through the Earth. Rebel leader Matthias (Bill Nighy) believes the UFB takes advantage of the citizens of the Colony ("The Fall enslaves us all"), while Cohaagen blames the rebellion for terrorist attacks in the UFB. There are robotic policemen and massive overcrowding. Welcome ot the future, folks!

Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a simple factory worker who travels from the Colony to the UFB to work at a mindless, dead-end job. His wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) tries to reassure him life is good for them, but Doug feels unsatisfied. He also has a recurring dream of being captured after rescuing a beautiful woman. Not sleeping and not happy, Doug goes to Rekall, a company that can implant memories in people. And Doug decides to get the memory of being a secret agent.

Unfortunately, before the process can be completed, Rekall says he already has memories of being a spy, and government troops come in guns blazing -- and Doug kills them all. Doug returns home -- where Lori now tries to kill him with martial arts and lots of bullets. Doug finds clues from himself saying that he was a resistance agent who was given a false identity by the government. And Melina (Jessica Biel), the woman Doug dreamed of, turns up as a fellow resistance agent who used to have a relationship with Doug.

This Total Recall scales back much of the original movie (no Mars, yes three-breasted hooker) but still skips most of the intriguing questions of identity and memory ("If I'm not me, than who the hell am I?") to focus instead on gunfights, (future) car chases, and fist fights. The cast have all done better work elsewhere, but here they seem very superficial, whether it's Farrell's continually-confused everyman-turned-action-hero or Cranston's evil politician. (The fun exception is Kate Beckinsale, who takes the "vindictive wife" to a whole new level as she pursues Doug like a bat out of hell.) Anyone who saw the first film knows 95% of what will happen in this one; anyone who didn't will get a few good ideas and a whole lot of noise and action. Total Recall is a total rehash -- and substantially less than entertaining.

Overall grade: D+
Reviewed by James Lynch