Not a lot happens in Schenectady, New York -- which may make it the perfect setting for The Place Beyond the Pines.  This drama in three acts focuses on the lives of two very different people that wind up intersecting in a tragic way.
Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a quiet stunt motorcycle rider for a travelling carnival.  When he returns to Schenectady after a year, he is surprised to find out that his fling with local waitress Romina (Eva Mendez) created their son, Jason.  Luke quits the carnival and wants to stay to help raise his son; but he doesn't have any prospects for the future, and Romina and Jason live with Kofi (Mahershala Ali) in his home.

Luke gets a job as a mechanic working for Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), a decrepit garage owner.  Robin also has a plan that will make them both some dough: Luke will rob banks, speed off on his motorcycle, and quickly drive into Robin's waiting truck.  This seems to work for Luke and his fledgling family, until things start going wrong.
Next is Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a rookie cop with a law degree, ambition, and honesty.   He finds himself suddenly turned into a public hero -- and facing corruption in his precinct, mainly from the elderly Deluca (Ray Liotta).  He also has domestic tensions, as his wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne) wants him to retire and stay at home with her and their baby Avery Junior, but he wants to keep advancing.

For the final act, we jump ahead fifteen years.  Avery "AJ" Junior (Emory Cohen) and Jason (Dane DeHaan) are teenage delinquents, happy to ditch class, buy and steal drugs, and get wasted together.  But they don't know that their parents' lives had crossed before; and that will have tragic consequences.

The Place Beyond the Pines starts out almost terminally slow, yet when the focus shifts the threads of the story start connecting and bringing everything into place.  The actors all give fine, laid-back performances as their characters struggle with both family and success in a quiet, uneventful town.  This movie is at times a little too deliberate with its pacing, but by the end it delivers a fairly satisfying conclusion.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Comic books can create an unlimited word of fantasy, imagination, and creativity.  Comic book stores, however, aren't quite as fascinating.  The cable series Comic Book Men covers both what buddies do and talk about all day at work, and some less-than-thrilling transactions.
Comic Book Men revolves around the workdays of Ming Chen, Walter Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, and Mike Zapcic, four friends who work at Kevin Smith's comic book tore Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash.  (Each episode begins and ends with with four chatting with Kevin Smith in a radio studio about their recent exploits.)  While the four employees shoot the breeze about their theories and opinions on comic books and their characters, each episode has them doing something together: preparing for a Kevin Smith book signing, training for a zombie marathon run, running kids' birthday parties at the Stash, etc.  They also negotiate the purchase or sale of various items for assorted customers in each episode.
Comic Book Men is a very... casual show.  There's no high drama or tension, and most of the jokes are about each other.  The transactions are pretty minor and not that interesting (seeing people haggle over $40 or $100 isn't that involving), and there's a definite silliness to most of the "big" events of each episode.  In many ways this fits Kevin Smith's style of filmmaking, as it's about some regular guys just chewing the geeky fat and hanging out, not doing much.  It's not bad -- and certainly far less manipulative than most other reality shows -- but Comic Book Men is really mildly entertaining.

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's time for head back to the woods with the cursed book, dilapidated cabin, and demonic possessions in Evil Dead, a remake of the cult classic horror series.  This remake, directed by Fede Alvarez and produced by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, offers paper-thin characters and good scares.
This time around, five young adults head to the family cabin to help Mia (Jane Levy) kick her drug addiction.  Mia's brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) is concerned for her -- and guilty he wasn't there with Mia when their mother passed away.  Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) is a high school teacher, Olivia (Jessica Lucas) is a nurse, Natalie (ELizabeth Blackmore) is David's girlfriend -- and that's about the sum total of their personalities.  While David is hopeful for his sister, the others know she stopped and relapsed before; they are prepared for her to say or do anything to get more drugs, and they're determined to keep her there.
Unfortunately, the cabin was the site of the pre-opening credits scene where some folks used a cursed book to kill a woman possessed by a demon.  And when Eric finds the book (wrapped in paper and barbed wire) and starts reading for it, he unleashed a demon -- who possesses Mia.  The others think she's just in withdrawl at first --but then the yellow eyes, moving objects, and gruesome murders start.
Evil Dead has many elements of the first two movies (the living woods, limbs getting cut off, lots of fluids, an evil being in the cellar) without redong the original plot scene-by-scene.  The remake is almost humor-free, which is both good and bad: While they don't try to re-create the hammy fun of Bruce Campbell, the movie is also almost uniformly grim.  Fotunately, director Alvarez keeps the movie going at a steady, tense pace.  And the combination of non-cgi special effects and R rating (no wimpy PG-13 sorta-scary stuff here) keeps this movie appropriately violent,gruesome -- and scary.  Evil Dead doesn't offer more than generic teens fighting for survival -- but it delivers it very well.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


CD reviews, April 2013

It's been a while since I reviewed anything here -- life keeps getting in the way -- but I figured I could fit some quick reviews into my time constraints. The goal is to do this once monthly, and I'll start with a couple of things I got to a bit late but are worth commenting on.

Rodriguez, Searching for Sugar Man (Original Motion Picture Soundrack) (Sony Legacy, 2012): Detroit folksinger Sixto Rodriguez fell straight through the cracks in his home country, but thanks to bootlegging he had developed a big following among apartheid opponents in South Africa. The movie (which gets an A+ simply for telling an amazing story that happens to be entirely true) tells how a pair of South African music journalists tried to find any information on what happened to him, ultimately found out that he was still alive, and brought him to South Africa to do some shows. The scene in the film where Rodriguez gets wildly cheered by an audience he never knew he had, and the audience gets to embrace a much-loved performer whom they had assumed for decades was dead, is as poignant as cinema gets. The music from the film comes mainly from Rodriguez's two studio albums Cold Fact (1970) and Coming from Reality (1971), but includes a couple of previously un-released songs from that era as well. Perhaps his best music doesn't match the best protest songs of Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs, but the simple fact that Rodriguez deserves to mentioned in the same sentence as the elite folk singers of that era makes his complete obscurity unfathomable. This soundtrack shows that Rodriguez had a number of really good songs whose power and relevance have not diminished in the four decades since they were written. To name one example, the song "Cause" is a product of inner-city Detroit in the early seventies, but the lines about corporate bosses taking home their bonus pay after exploiting their employees, or the powers that be giving a medal to replace a woman's son, still hit the mark today. It should never have taken a documentary so long after the fact to give Rodriguez an audience in this country, but at least we have the opportunity now to hear and appreciate some very worthy music. Overall grade: A

Mumford & Sons, Babel (Glass Note, 2012): When I reviewed their 2009 debut CD Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons struck me as an OK band that would appeal to fans of The Pogues. Now that their follow-up Babel has sold over 2 million copies in the U. S. and won a grammy for Album of the Year, I think it's safe to say that I underestimated their ability to connect with mainstream audiences. I had been somewhat critical of the first CD for their over-reliance on dramatic shifts of mood and tempo in the middle of each song, and even on Babel that criticism still holds. Their energy is undeniable, however, and songs like "I Will Wait" and "Hopeless Wanderer" show that the band can really soar when the spirit moves them. I'm still baffled that these guys are getting so much mainstream airplay, but hey, getting a decent write-up from me shouldn't disqualify a group from making a buck or two, should it? Overall grade: B+