The movie about the elaborate con is pretty routine in Hollywood, but American Hustle elevates this type of film with not only layer upon layer of deception and double-crosses, but also commentary on the corruption that comes with power.
Set in 1978 and loosely based on real events, American Hustle follows an unlikely collusion between confidence men and the U.S. government.  Irvin Rosenfelt (Christian Bale, unrecognizable with his extra weight and giant comb-over) runs all sorts of scams, from forged art to fictitious lines of credit for desperate people.  His partner and lover is Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a meticulous con artist who uses a British accent to add a foreign element to their schemes.  Irvin's biggest weakness is his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), a foul-mouthed and unstable woman who uses her sex appeal and her son, who Irvin adopted, as leverage to keep him with her.
Irvin and Sydney wind up busted by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious agent.  He initially agrees to let the two go after they help him make four busts with their cons.  But Richie's hopes grow -- along with Irvin's fears -- as a con involving a rich sheik and millions of dollars gets the interest of New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).  Polito wants to use the sheik's money to build up Atlantic City, and soon congressmen, senators, and even the mob are getting involved.  And as Irvin gets more and more nervous, no one is really sure who's using who. Is the tension between Irvin and Sydney real?  Is Sydney falling for Richie -- or just playing him?  And will Rosalyn make everything fall to pieces?

It's hard to think of any way that American Hustle could be any better.  The cast is stellar from top to bottom, and director David O. Russell brings out an intensity and realism from everyone that propels the film from start to finish.  While the movie is gripping and dramatic, there's also plenty of comedy, from the opening shot of Irvin putting together his elaborate comb-over to Louis C.K.'s role as Richie's boss whose concerns are ignored more and more at the prospect of big takedowns.  American Hustle is intelligent, entertaining, and a great example of what a movie can be.

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch


Superhero shows can be expensive to keep going, what with the cost of showing super-powers and fantasy battles, but superhero comedies are easier to do, as powers are rarely if ever used and most of the action is verbal instead of physical.  This is certainly the case with No Heroics, an acerbic and amusing British comedy about a world where super heroes (or "capes") are real and have to deal with mundane issues.

No Heroics revolves around four lesser superheroes, who usually hang out in a bar called the Fortress (whose rules are "No capes, no powers, no heroics.")  The Hotness/Alex (Nicholas Burns) has heat powers and wants to be a famous superhero, but he winds up either unknown or a laughingstock; he's also mocked by Excelsior/Devlin (Patrick Baladi), an arrogant, sexist jerk who gets all the fame, fortune, and women that elude the Hotness.  Electroclash/Sarah (Claire Keelan) can control machines with her voice, but she'd rather steal money from ATMs than help people; she also used to date the Hotness, though the two have trouble not insulting each other.  Timebomb/Don (James Lance) can see 60 seconds into the future and is an expert on torture, but he's an alcoholic and drug addict who has sex with strange men in public toilets.  She-Force/Jenny (Rebekah Staton) is "the third strongest female in the world" but is quite desperate for romance.  Oh, and the bounces at the Fortress is Thundermonkey/Simon (Jim Howick), who can summon and control monkeys -- but he has to wait for them to get to where he is, which usually takes 45 minutes.

There are a couple of comic book references here and there through the series -- drinks like "V for Vodka," the Paradise Island strip club where the women all wear Wonder Woman costumes -- but No Heroics revolves mainly around the four dysfunctional friends.  And the show manages to be damn funny with them, dealing with everything from cape-rape to pathetic fans (when one lonely guy tells Electroclash "You were seminal," she replies, "You smell seminal") to trading cards to superhero therapy (shown below).  There's even some pretty hilarious dark humor in the final episode, "Monkey Gone to Heaven."

No Heroics only has six episodes and wasn't released in the U.S. on dvd (though all the episodes are currently on YouTube) but it's definitely worth watching for any comic book fan with a slightly dark sense of humor.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch




They got the band, er, news team, back together!  Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues brings almost all of the original cast from the first movie -- and several of the jokes -- for more relentless stupidity that's often pretty funny.

Anchorman 2 is about the ups and downs of Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), the dim-wittes, self-important television newsman, in 1980.  The movie stars with Ron in the dumps, as his wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) gets a lead anchor position while Ron gets fired; they also separate, with Veronica getting their 7-year-old son Walter (Judah Nelson).

Ron is down in the dumps until he gets an offer from producer Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) to join the new 24-hour news network GNN.  Ron agrees, reassembling his old news team: investigative reporter and would-be ladies' man Brian Fontana (Paul Rudd); sportscaster who knows nothing about sports and everything about racism Champ Kind (David Koechner); and thoroughly idiotic weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell, stealing every scene he's in just like in the first movie).  Together they plan to take cable news and New York by storm.
There are obstacles and new characters, of course.  Jack Lime (James Marsden) is the pretty-boy anchor who's an immediate rival to Ron.  Linda Jackson (Meagan Good) is Ron's new boss who is put off by his racism (when he first meets her he can't stop saying "black") but falls for him anyway.  Kench Allenby (Josh Lawson) is the Australian owner of GNN who wants to kill a story that could hurt his Koala Airlines.  And Chani (Kristen Wiig) is Brick's intellectual equal and love interest.  Along the way there's a bottle-fed baby shark, the world's worst blind man, a near-catfight, and the invention of the news people want to hear instead of the news they need to hear.

Anchorman 2 follows very closely in the footsteps of the original (and towards the end, the sequel has many of the same jokes as the original).  Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy may make a journey of self-discovery, but he spends most of the movie blurting out inappropriate things, and occasionally making an accurate comment on how ridiculous something is.  The cast is good, but they haven't really changed anything since the first movie.  And even though the sequel moves the action from the 1970s to the 1980s, the only change in time is in the soundtrack music.  There are plenty of funny moments in Anchorman 2, from the big battle at the end to Ferrell's over-the-top character; but in the end, Anchorman 2 sticks a little too closely to the original.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Plenty of games have players building the most productive, mightiest empires -- but few do it with such deceptively simple rules mechanics and advanced planning as 7 Wonders.  This card game from Asmodee Games has players working against each other (while often helping each other) to pursue several paths to victory.
7 Wonders takes place over three ages.  In each age, each player has seven cards.  During each turn a player can buy a card (some are free, some cost gold, and some cost resources), sell a card for three gold, or build their empire's wonders, from left to right.  Cards can provide victory points (which ultimately determine the victor), resources (to buy more cards), scientific discoveries (which give victory points at the game's end), military strength (which give points at the end of each age), gold, letting them buy a building in the next age for free, or other benefits.  Players can also buy resources from the players to their left or right for two gold each -- and the other players can' refuse to sell them.  Each player's first and third wonder give victory points, while the middle wonder gives them a unique benefit, from building once per turn for free, to military strength, to even more victory points.

After each turn, players pass their remaining cards to the next player; clockwise during the first and third age, counter-clockwise during the second age.  When players have two cards left, they choose one to use and discard the final one.   And at the end of the third age, the victory points are totaled up and whoever has the highest score wins!
7 Wonders does numerous things very well.  First, the game is easy to learn (with only three options each turn) and very fast (average games are 30-40 minutes).  Second, there are several paths to victory: Players can focus solely on points, or scientific discoveries, or military strength, or getting enough resources that they don't have to buy from other players.  Third, passing cards around the table means players have to adjust their strategy on the fly: They can't focus on using several cards from their hand, since other players could wind up using the other card themselves.  In fact, a large part of the game's strategy is keeping adjacent players from getting the cards they need, while still getting the cards you need.  And fourth, the unique ability from everyone's second wonder adds to the game's diversity, as each player has their own unique edge they can pursue or ignore.  Finally, the third age has several special buildings that give points based on types of cards players have -- but these special buildings are picked at random, so you can't plan based on getting on, as it may not come into play (or another player could keep you from getting it).

I really enjoy playing 7 Wonders: It's easy to learn, teach, and play.  It keeps everyone involved.  There's no one path to victory.  The artwork on the cards is beautiful.  And you can play several times in a fairly short time.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



December is a mix of the good and the bad.  Unfortunately, more and more radio stations get taken over by Christmas carols.  Fortunately, some of the most beautiful women in the world strut their stuff down a runway in lingerie.  The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2013 brings the annual 43-minute commercial back to television.  Life is good.

The show features the Victoria's Secret Angels modeling everything from lingerie to costumes to borderline haute couture, with a variety of themes (Birds of Paradise, Shipwrecked) and behind-the-scenes features (such as how they stay in shape, or the Angel who fell and hurt herself at last year's show).  The actual outfits worn aren't sold in the stores, but are often the inspiration for future clothing.

Music is prevalent through the special.  Live acts included Taylor Swift (shown below), Fall Out Boy, Neon Jungle, and A Great Big World.  Current pop, rock, and rap songs played in the background the rest of the show (which also had the weirdest censoring I've ever heard, as Miley Cyrus' song "FU" had the letters "f" and "u" bleeped out over two different lines).

Another tradition is the Fantasy Bra.  If you thought that Victoria's Secret merchandise is expensive, the Fantasy Bra is bejeweled and valued at millions.  This year's Fantasy Bra (shown belo) was modeled by Candice Swanepoel, made of diamonds and rubies, and costs $10 million.  If any readers get one for Christmas, kudos!

The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2013 continues this shamelessly commercial, prurient, and fun showing-off of amazing lingerie and the amazing models who get to wear it for us.  As long as they don't start playing Christmas carols in the background, I'll keep tuning in.

Written by James Lynch


Britney Spears, BRITNEY JEAN (deluxe version)

Britney Spears had states that her latest album would be her most personal -- but that must have been before the producers decided to go in a more club-oriented direction.  Britney Jean (deluxe version) feel like more of the same standard pop that Spears had been delivering for years.
Britney Jean seems to start off more personally, as the song "Alien" has Spears talking about her isolation ("there was a time/I was one of a kind/lost in the world of me, myself and I") and finding companionship.  But then the electronics and beats kick in, whether making working hard a club anthem ("Work B**ch") or synthesizing her voice until it's almost unrecognizable ("It Should Be Easy").  After that, the songs fall into the usual Spears topics: sex ("Tik Tik Boom"0, partying ("Body Ache," "Chillin'"), breakups ("'Til It's Gone," "Don't Cry") and romance ("Brightest Morning Star").  The overproduction removes most of the emotion or uniqueness from the songs; and as for the lyrics, well, did we really need Britney Spears telling us "I'm gonna mark my territory"?  It's with perfume, but still...

The bonus track "Now That I Found You" has a fun, bouncy guitar riff that didn't get overdone, and "Work B**ch" is a catchy guilty pleasure.  Overall, though, Britney Jean (deluxe version) feels like it lost Spears' appeal in far too much studio production, getting away from letting her do her thing.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch


There are plenty of holiday classic movies that warm the heart and remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.  Then there's the amazingly low-budget one about Martians kidnapping Santa Claus and a couple of kids.  The latter may be thoroughly awful -- but it's perfect comic fodder for Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett in Rifftrax Live: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
 This latest Rifftrax feature has the trio taking on an awful movie that they first tack\led back on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  And there's plenty to make fun of here, from the aliens' cheap helmets (or are they their heads?) to the "comic" relief of the lasziest Martian to the stock footage of the military to Alex Trebek's funeral march.  Sometimes the jokes can be a little juvenile -- one villain's bushy mustache leads to numerous There Will Be Blood quotes -- but there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.  And before the feature there are funny movie cards (such as Rejected Christmas Gifts, which include "Blitzen Scat" and "Google Plus Account") and the equally-bad short Santa Claus and the Fairy Snow Queen.

Christmas may not be about green men with plumbing on their heads (as least not the last time I checked), but it's the perfect time of year for Rifftrax Live: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



What if monsters were actually lovable, harmless, and fun?  You'd have Hotel Transylvania, a movie with classic monsters aimed squarely at little kids.

Dracula (Adam Sandler, doing a continual Bela Lugosi imitation) built the Hotel Transylvania as a refuge for monsters to come out of the darkness, relax, and hang out.  He also built it keep his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) safe, after her mother was killed by humans.  Mavis wants to explore the world, but Dracula wants to keep her safe from humans; he even creates a fake village to scare her from leaving.

To celebrate Mavis' 118th birthday (the monster equivalent of turning 18, apparently), Dracula has all of their monster friends over to celebrate: Frankenstein and his wife Eunice (Kevin James and Fran Drescher), the wolfman Wayne and his wife Wanda (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon), Murray the mummy (CeeLo Green), and Griffin the invisible man (David Spade).

Then there's the uninvited guest: Jonathan (Andy Samberg), a young man who loves to travel and who stumbled across the hotel by accident.  Dracula wants him gone, both to keep him from scaring the monstrous guests and for his safety ("Are these monsters gonna kill me?"  "Not as long as they think you're a monster."  "That's kinda racist.") but every time Johnathan tries to leave, something brings him back.  He also has an instant romantic connection with Mavis, and everyone but Dracula love his free-spirited approach to holding a party.

With all these classic movie monsters, I wish Hotel Transylvania had a bit more humor for adults.  There are some jabs at Twilight and a few jokes blue enough to move the movie from G to PG, but the monsters are basically silly, probably to keep from scaring the kids.  The actors all do decently with their voices (though Samberg stands out as the surfer dude-type who just wants to have fun), but the story is a pretty straightforward one about a parent learning to stop controlling/protecting his daughter.  There are plenty of cute moments through the movie -- and a creative chase involving flying tables -- but this doesn't succeed in appealing to grown-ups as much as to the kids.  (Dvd extras include a mini-movie, some storyboards of deleted scenes, and interviews).

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



The business world can be cutthroat -- but in the hands of Brian De Palma it also becomes a virtual cesspool of betrayal, kinky sex, drugs, madness, and even murder.  This is the world of Passion, which despite its title is a flat mystery-drama.

Christine Stanford (Rachel McAdams) is the boss at a European ad agency, with Isabelle James (Nooni Rapace) as her protege.  But things aren't good between them: Christine takes the credit for Isabelle's daring new ad campaign, while Isabelle is sleeping with Christine's boyfriend Dirk (Paul Anderson).  And Isabelle's assistant Dani (Karoline Herfurth) hates Christine and may have a crush of Isabelle.

Christine is highly narcissistic and manipulative, from a kinky sex life (including a white mask that looks like her) to alternating between seducing and humiliating Isabelle.  Isabelle has her own secrets and problems, which aren't helped by the stress of the job.  And soon there's a murder...
Passion may be trying to be daring and risque (it's a remake of the French film Love Crime), but it comes off more melodramatic that either enticing or suspenseful.  De Palma has often been accused of copying Hitchcock's style, and that's certainly true here; it especially shows near the end, as the shadows and lighting are used to show Isabelle's darkened state of mind.  Both McAdams and Rapace are stuck in one-dimensional roles that don't give them much room to stretch, and the movie's final twists and turns aren't satisfying.
Passion isn't a terrible movie, but it is terribly routine.  For a movie trying to be risque, it's pretty ordinary.  (Dvd extras consist of interviews with the director and two stars.)

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



How do you provide a challenge for Thor, one of Marvel's mightiest beings?  In the first movie, they took away his powers.  In Thor: The Dark World there's an ancient threat that could destroy Earth, Asgard, and just about everything else.  There's almost the entire cast of the first movie, plus a little too much humor.
At the start of Thor: The Dark World, big things are happening on Asgard and Earth.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is battling armies stirred up by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and being urged by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to prepare to be king -- and to romance the Asgardian warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander) instead of pining for the human Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).  Loki is imprisoned, urged by his mother Frigga (Renee Russo) to think about what he's done.  Back on Earth, Jane is investigating a strange anomaly with her intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) when she's transported to a strange realm and infected with a reddish energy.  And Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) has been arrested for running around Stonehenge naked with some scientific equipment.

It turns out that a race of dark elves (I'm not sure why they're called that, since they're pale white) want to re-create the universe as a place of darkness -- and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) wants to use a convergence of the universes to accomplish this task.  He transforms an ally into the hulking Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and plans to use a nigh-indestructible energy called the Aether to destroy our universe and create the new one.  But the Aether is what's infected Jane -- and what's slowly killing her.

Thor: The Dark World is high on energy, with numerous battles ranging from a desolate wasteland to a trippy fight as things pop in and out of dimensional portals.  The movie has a bit too much comedy from start to finish, possibly because of Kat Dennings' popularity on the show 2 Broke Girls.  The bag guys have imposing physical presences (especially Kurse, as a stony Hulk-type monster) but little personality, and Hemsworth's casual swagger is about the same as the first movie.  Not surprisingly, Hiddleston steals every scene he appears in, knowing Loki isn't to be trusted and reveling in that fact.  And there are some nice cameos, not to mention two post-credits scenes.

Thor: The Dark World may skimp on character development (and use Loki's illusions a few too many times), but it's pretty exciting and entertaining.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



With H.P. Lovecraft's work filled with unspeakable madness, eldritch entities, and forbidden knowledge, I suppose it's a perfect match for heavy metal.  The folks at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society noted the parallels and turned Lovecraft's short story "Dreams in the Witch House" into Dreams in the Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera.
Dreams in the Witch House follows the original story pretty closely.  With the spoken framework of Frank Elwood (Andrew Leman) telling his story in a confession to Father Inawicki (Sean Branney), the rock opera tells the story of Arkham student Walter Gilman (Mike Dalager).  His studies in the title locale lead to the spirit of Keziah Mason (Alaine Kashian), a witch who vanished in ancient Arkham -- and who seems to be influencing Gilman's studies and dreams, leading to other dimensions, her rat-like familiar Brown Jenkin (Chris Laney), human sacrifice, madness, and even the dread entity Azathoth.

And it's all set to heavy metal music!  There's a sexy song from Keziah trying to turn Gilman to evil ("No Turning Back"), a dueling song between Gilman and a professor ("Bridge to the Stars"), an almost sympathetic power ballad for Keziah when she was alive ("Legends and Lore") and plenty of songs about madness and temptation.  There's a certain intense fun to the songs here, as everything is delivered so earnestly it sometimes borders on comedy, and the shrieks, musical duels, and loud electric guitars so prevalent in metal are featured throughout most of the songs here.

Dreams in the Witch House shows that Lovecraft's stories and themes fit rock opera quite well.  This metal opera is faithful to the source material while blasting away from start to finish.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Cheap, bad movies can have a certain appeal (case in point: the Syfy original movie), and Deadwood Studios USA takes this to the next level by having the players working as actors on a B-Western movie studio.  This is an expanded version from Cheapass Games, which used Kickstarter to add new art from Phil Foglio and new rules.  And the game remains fun, if somewhat repetitive.
Players are represented by six-sided dice, starting at rank 1.  Over the course of several "days" the players want to get the highest score, which is the fame and money they accumulate, plus their rank multiplied by their final rank.  The board consists of: 10 movie cards (face down), roles for extras, and 1-3 shot markers; the trailer (where the players start); and the casting office (where players can spend money or fame to increase their rank).
When a player moves onto a space with a face-down card, the movie card gets flipped over. Each movie has a budget (from $2 million to $6 million) and 2-3 roles (between 1 and 6).  A player can take an available role on the card (as a star) or as an extra (off the card) equal to or less than their rank; other players can move to that space and take any available role as well.  Once a player takes a roll, on their next turns they try to advance the scene by rolling the budget or higher on a six-sided die.  If a player on the card succeeds, they advance the scene (remove a shot marker) and get two fame; if they fail, they get nothing.  If an extra succeeds, they advance the scene and get one fame and one dollar; if they fail, they still get a dollar.  When a movie's last shot marker is removed, the movie wraps.  Players on the card get paid by rolling a number of six-sided dice equal to the budget, then spreading the money from high-to-low value among the roles.  (So for a $6 million budget with 3 roles, the highest role gets the 1st and 4th highest dice, the 2nd-highest role gets the 2nd and 5th highest dice, and the last role gets the 3rd and 6th-highest dice.)  If a movie wraps with at least one actor on the card, extras get paid the value of their role; if no actor is on a card when a movie wraps, they get nothing.  A player can also spend a turn rehearsing, which means they don't roll to advance the scene but do get a token giving them +1 on all future rolls for that particular job.

Players stay on a role until the movie wraps, after which they can move to a different movie.  They can also go to the casting office, where they pay fame or money to advance in rank.  Each day ends when the 9th movie wraps: All players go back to the trailer (anyone working on the last movie gets nothing), they keep their rank, 10 new movie cards go face-down on the board, and the next day begins.  The game ends at the end of the 4th day (or, for 2- or 3-player games, the third day).

Deadwood Studios USA is a silly, enjoyable little game.  While the strategy is pretty basic (be a star on movies that will wrap quickly, be an extra on movies that will take a while to wrap), being able to rehearse means you won't spend the whole game on a $5 or $6 million movie.  The movies are pretty funny, with titles like "How They Get Milk" and "Support Your Local Quilt Maker," with roles ranging from Man on Fire and Judge Robert to a Talking Corgi and Pharaoh Imhotep.  And each role has its own line, which are fun to say out loud (the first time -- not after rolling 8 or 10 times).

The downside is that the die rolling can get repetitive, especially when on the same role for numerous turns.  There's also not a whole lot of strategy involved, especially at the start when everyone has to go for roles that are rank 1.  That said, Deadwood Studios USA is a nice, easy, fairly quick game that's good for some light playing.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch




"Be careful about getting in over your head" is a simple message that's common in life, in movies, and certainly in The Counselor.  This drama has a terrific cast in a very formulaic story.
The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) seems to have it all: rich friends, extravagant lifestyle, and a beautiful girlfriend named Laura (Penelope Cruz), for whom he buys a very expensive diamond engagement ring.  But he's also getting involved with his friends -- the carefree Reiner (Javier Bardem) and the far more cautious Westray (Brad Pitt) -- with a huge deal involving a Mexican drug cartel and a cocaine shipment worth millions.  Despite Reiner and Westray trying to scare the Counselor with tales of how ruthless the cartel is, the Counselor is all in.  And Malkina (Cameron Diaz), Reiner's girlfriend from Barbados, is a sexual, amoral, greedy being who Reiner rightly fears is smarter than him.
Of course, the drug deal quickly goes south, as the shipment (hidden in an old sewage truck) keeps switching hands.  The Counselor panicks, as his confidence and friends quickly abandon him.  And those horror stories about the cartel weren't exaggerated...

The Counselor is a fairly ordinary movie.  With a screenplay from Cormac McCarthy (whose No Country for Old Men was far superior), we wind up with a protagonist who spends the whole movie running around not knowing what to do.  There are plenty of contrasts -- the innocent Laura and the scheming Malkina, the seemingly expensive world of the main characters and the dirty poverty of those handling the truck with its dangerous, expensive cargo -- but in the end it's watching someone dabbling in a dangerous world he's unprepared to handle.  The cast is very good, yet their roles are pretty one-dimensional.  And the movie's frequent departures into theories and philosophy (including a discussion with a cartel leader that's all about creating worlds) often feels quite artificial.  The Counselor has some interesting elements, such as the contrasts and often telling instead of showing what could happen, but it's still pretty routine.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch


Lou Reed 1942-2013

Lou Reed, the singer-songwriter-guitarist who influenced rock and roll for generations, passed away on October 27th.
Lou Reed rose to fame as the lead singer of the Velvet Underground, whose four albums -- The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico, White Light/White Heat, and Loaded -- were both poetic and gritty, dealing with everything from drug use ("I'm Waiting for the Man") to sado-masochism ("Venus in Furs") while still celebrating the simple joy of music ("Rock & Roll").  After leaving the band, Reed enjoyed substantial success as a solo artist, creating "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Perfect Day."

Lou Reed managed to elevate song lyrics into poetry while dealing with the weird, seedy, or dangerous elements of society in a very objective manner.  His music -- with the Velvet Underground and afterwards -- affected everything from glam rock to punk to alternative music.   Brian Eno said that while The Velvet Underground & Nico only sold 30,000 copies in its first years, "Everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band."  Lou Reed showed that the combination of writing, guitar, social awareness and distinctive vocals could accomplish.  He will be missed.

Jim Lynch
(who ranks The Velvet Underground & Nico as one of his top 10 albums)




The Rifftrax folks are wonderful at taking apart terrible movies -- but what happens when they Riff on one of the most iconic and beloved horror movies ever?  The results are pretty good, as Halloween comes early to movie theaters with Rifftrax: Night of the Living Dead.

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy warm up with another installment of the Norman films (about the world's most pathetic sad sack), then they leap into their zombie classic.  While Night of the Living Dead deserves its reputation, they find plenty to make fun of: the slow start, Barbara's near-catatonia, Harry's dickishness, and the movie's relentless carpentry.  There are also pop culture references a-plenty, from Weekend at Bernie's to How I Met Your Mother to "Tori Amos has gone feral!"

If there's one complaint, it's that the source material is too good, giving the Rifftrax trio less terrible acting, effects, and story holes to play with.  Still, they found plenty of comedy here, and they manage to have fun with it (wisely skipping the enormously depressing ending) without reducing the quality of the original.
Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch


Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, UNVARNISHED (Best Buy Exclusive)

What happens when punk rockers get older?  Some shift to different sorts of music (like Elvis Costello), some continue with the same sort of music they always did (like the Ramones did and Green Day does), and some deal with different topics.  Unvarnished by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts continues the band's signature sound and mixes it with more mature topics.

This is not the Joan Jett who "don't give a damn 'bout my bad reputation."  Instead, Unvarnished has the rock singer pondering mortality ("Hard to Grow Up," "Fragile"), promoting individuality over bullying ("Different"), and complaining about oversharing on social media ("TMI") and the vapidity of reality television ("Reality Mentality").  The opening song "Any Weather," co-written with Dave Grolh, is a response to what happened with Hurricane Sandy.  There's no sex here, and the opposites-attract song "Bad as We Can Be" is offset by the love-ends musings of "Soulmates to Strangers."

Not that this shift is a bad thing.  While these songs lack a lot of the energy and rawness of Jett's early works (underscored by three of the four bonus tracks on the Best Buy exclusive being live versions of her early songs), Jett's voice and her band's music remain as strong as ever.  They can still rock hard, and if the lyrics are occasionally a bit too sentimental, Unvarnished is still a pretty solid album.  It may not quite have the energy of past albums, but it features a singer looking to the future instead of living in the past.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Sometimes a movie has a perfect storm of all the right elements coming together at once.  This happened in 1976 when an amazing cast and director Brian De Palma came together to adapt Stephen King's first novel for the movies.  The result was Carrie, a horror classic -- and the dvd release does it justice with its special features.

Somewhat prescient of both the impact of bullying and the dangers of school rampages, Carrie is the story of a high school outcast with a supernatural power.  Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is an introverted high school girl who gets no relief from either school at home.  When she gets her first period in the school shower, the other girls all taunt her and pelt her with tampons and towels.  At home, her mother Margaret White (Piper Laurie) is a religious fanatic who sees sin everywhere and locks Carrie in a dark closet to pray.  Carrie also has a power: When she gets emotional, she can move things with her mind.

Unfortunately, even the folks trying to help Carrie seem to hurt her.  Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) is the only teacher who wants to help Carrie, so she punishes the girls involved in the hazing.  Sue Snell (Amy Irving) feels bad for what she did, so she has her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) ask Carrie to the prom.  By contrast, the girls' leader Chris (Nancy Allen) is banned from the prom, so she and her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) plan their revenge against Carrie at the prom.  And with Carrie's ability manifesting itself when she's angry, things will not end well...

Carrie works on just about every level.  The acting is superb -- Spacek and Laurie got Academy Award nominations for this movie -- and the story moves at a quick pace, combining the humor and cruelty of high school and family.  Director Brian De Palma used many different ways of filming here -- split screen, slow motion -- and never overdoes any of them.  The dialogue is sharp and very quotable ("They're all going to laugh at you!") and this movie has numerous memorable scenes, from the prom inferno to the final dreamlike ending (which has been copied in most horror movies that followed).

For extras, the Carrie dvd did it right.  The director, screenwriter, and almost all of the movie's stars (except Travolta) are brought together to discuss everything from trying out for the movie (many auditioned for Carrie and Star Wars at the same time) to what it was like shooting the movie.  Betty Buckley also discusses her brief role in the the Broadway musical adaption.  There's also text from Stephen King about the movie; I'd have preferred it if he'd shown up to talk about the movie instead of just writing, but it's still informative.

Carrie is everything a horror movie should be: scary, funny, well acted, socially relevant, and memorable.

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch