So, if there was a show that was nothing but funny people sitting around telling jokes, would it be a good show for making us laugh, or a bad show for having no real creativity?  This is the dilemma of @midnight, the latest show from Comedy Central that jumps on a trend -- this time, the Internet.
Hosted by Chris Hardwick, @midnight is a gameshow with loose rules and no prize.  Each episode has three comedians and/or actors competing to "win the Internet" (meaning bragging rights as the funniest person online until the next show -- meaning no actual prize).  Competitors guess which of three online items are true (sometimes all are true) or most popular, write fake promotions, comment on videos, and create their own hashtags and bad ideas.  Contestants get points for correct answers (or just for making Hardwick laugh), and near the end the person with the fewest points is eliminated (bathed in a red light).  In the final competition, For the Win (FTW  -- read it backwards if you don't get the joke), the last two players have to write something about a topic.  Hardwick reads both answers, and whoever wrote the one that gets the most applause wins the Internet/

@midnight is both enjoyable and frustrating.  Not since Whose Line Is It Anyway? has there been a game show where the points and competition matter so little, considering there's no prize.  It's like a bunch of friends hanging out, making funny comments, and getting carried away with how funny they are.  (It also seems like the competitors get the topics and info beforehand, as there never seem to be any failed jokes.) Fortunately for the show, the comics are pretty funny, letting the goofy and bizarre jokes fly free and fast.  The show gets some celebrities to do readings, such as Walter Goggins reading a Craigslist ad for an unpaid human pinata, or Joe Manganiella -- who played a werewolf on True Blood -- reading an Amazon review for the three wolf moon t-shirt.  And Thomas Lennon's fake Buzzfeed suggestion "16 Squirrels Who Look Like Radiohead" led to that being created:

@midnight isn't innovative or creative, but it's a chance to listen to some comics making pretty good jokes at the expense of the Internet.  If you're still up when The Colbert Report ends, it's worth sticking around for (unless you're tired).

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Nostalgia has a way of brightening up the past, so director Wes Anderson's stylized technique perfectly matches the trip down memory lane that is The Grand Budapest Hotel.
This movie is a story within a story within a story.  We first see a student at a memorial to an author.  We then go back to 1985, where the author (Jude Writer) is staying at at the old, fading Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional country of Zubrowka.  He is intrigued by Zero Moursafa (F. Murray Abraham), a rich man who insists on staying at this hotel.  Zero then tells his own story, going back to 1935 -- and the glory days of the Grand Budapest.

Young Zero (Tony Revolon) is a bellboy at the Grand Budapest, and his boss, mentor, and friend is M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge at the Grand Budapest.  Gustave insists on culture and civility, providing for his guests and quoting poetry (though inclined to curse when surprised or speaking privately).  He also sleeps with a lot of elderly hotel guests.  This last trait has him in the will of an elderly woman who dies under mysterious circumstances and leaves him a priceless painting called Boy with Apple.  This gift angers the woman's eldest son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and Jopling (Willem Dafoe), an assassin and sociopath working for Dmitri.  Gustave swipes and hides the painting, is framed for murder, and goes on the run with Zero.  There are a number of odd characters along the way: Henckles (Edward Norton), a law officer after
Gustave; Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), a baker and Zero's sweetheart; and a number of characters played by Wes Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman and Tom Wilkinson.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is delightfully artificial.  The characters all speak and move very self-awarely, which may be the lens of the elderly Zero thinking fondly of the good old days.  Ralph Fiennes is very fun as the M. Gustave, making him an eccentric character who believes first and foremost in manners and politeness even amid the craziness surrounding him.  The rest of the cast does well (even if some come and go in minutes), and Anderson keeps things going at a zany pace.  The deliberate artificiality can be a bit distracting at times, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is as enjoyable and frothy a treat as Agatha's pastries.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



What do giant rampaging monsters and Yahtzee have in common?  They are both an integral part of King of Tokyo, a silly and fun dice game.

Designed by Richard Garfield (who created Magic: The Gathering), King of Tokyo has the players taking on the sort of monsters who can be seen in Japanese monster movies wearing big rubber suits.  Each player chooses a monster (the monsters have no unique benefits -- at least in the core set -- so the selection is based on fun more than strategy) and gets the monster's matching card.  Victory goes to the player who reaches 20 victory points first or who reduces the other monsters to zero health.

Each turn, a player rolls the six special 6-sided dice.  After the first roll the player decides which dice to keep, then rolls the rest.  After the second roll the player once again decides which dice to keep, and rolls the remaining dice one last time.  A player getting three of the same number gets that many victory points (three ones give one point, three twos give two points, three threes give three points) with any additional matching dice giving an extra point.  Each heart rolled heals the player of one life point.  Energy results give energy cubes, which can be used to buy cards (which do everything from give extra dice to take away other players' victory points to doing more damage).  Three cards are always shown, and when one is bought it is immediately replaced.  A player can also spend two energy cubes to discard all three cards and place three more.
But would a giant monster game be without attacks?  When Tokyo is empty (at the start of the game), the first player to roll an attack becomes... King!  Of!  Tokyo!  This is both a blessing and a curse.  When a player becomes King of Tokyo, they immediately get a victory point.   If a player starts their turn as the
King of Tokyo, they get two victory points.  And when the King of Tokyo attacks, they deal the damage to every other player.  But it's not easy being King (of Tokyo): Every other player's attack hits the King of Tokyo, and the King of Tokyo can't heal by rolling hearts.  The King of Tokyo can withdraw from Tokyo after being attacked, and the player who attacked them becomes the new King of Tokyo.

King of Tokyo is easy to learn, easy to play, and tremendous fun.  The game is very quick, with the different monsters jumping in and out of Tokyo almost constantly.  Players gamble with every roll of the dice (Go for points?  Heal up?  Get energy to buy that card you really want?  Maul an opponent?) and it's as frustrating to miss a combo by one die as it is glorious to make the roll you needed.  The cards' artwork has a goofy feel to them, and while some card combinations work well, there's no one strategy that guarantees victory.  King of Tokyo is a terrific game to teach little kids, and it's also a blast for adults to play.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch


Kylie Minogue, KISS ME ONCE (deluxe)

Except for The Abbey Road Sessions, Kylie Minogue has always been a pop princess, mixing dance and disco to create her own songs about falling in love and hitting the dance floor.  Kiss Me Once (deluxe version) follows this formula pretty closely, and it works as much as it doesn't.

Kiss Me Once is relentlessly upbeat (except for the my-man-cheated song "Sleeping with the Enemy").  Many of the songs are about love, whether it's a long-standing romance (her duet "Beautiful" with Enrique Iglesias), falling in love ("kiss me once/and you will watch me fall/kiss me twice/and I will give you my all"), or the power of true love ("If Only").  Kylie also sounds pretty randy throughout Kiss Me Once, as evidenced by several songs ("Sexy Love," "Sexercise," "Les Sex") and not-so-subtle lyrics ("Hey Hey Mr.President/I'll be your Marilyn").

As with previous albums, there are times Kylie gets overshadowed by synthesizers and electronic gimmicks that feel generic.  At the same time, a lot of the songs on Kiss Me Once make it into the "fun fluff" category, where Kylie's voice shines through or she seems to be having so much fun we don't mind that she's not taking herself seriously.  Kiss Me Once is a likable pop album that is far from deep or consistent, but there's a bit to enjoy.  (The deluxe version has two new songs and a dvd with a music video and several behind-the-scenes features.)

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Lots of comedies use an unlikable protagonist as the source of dark comedy -- and Bad Words is no exception.  Starring (and directed by) Jason Bateman, this movie begins and ends with his role as a man everyone loves to hate.
Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is a 40-year-old proofreader with a strange plan: to win the Golden Quill Spelling Bee.  While this competition is for kids, Trilby takes advantage of the loophole that the participants cannot have passed beyond the eighth grade and Trilby never graduated from grammar school.  And Trilby couldn't be a worse competitor: He revels in the hatred of the parents of the other competitors, plays horrible mind games on the kids right before they take their turn, and curses and insults just about anyone who speaks to him.
Trilby is followed by Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), a reporter (and meaningless-sex buddy for Trilby) for whom getting information from Trilby is like pulling teeth.  Young Chaitanya Chopa (Rohan Chand) is an irrepressibly chipper kid and speller who decides to make Trilby his friend despite all the curses and abuse.  Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) is the director of the Spelling Bee who'll do anything to keep Trilby from winning, and Dr. Bowman (Philip Baker Hall) is the dignified creator of the Spelling Bee who warns Trilby about making a mistake by winning the Spelling Bee.

Jason Bateman is very good as both director and star of Bad Words.  He makes Trilby revel in being as offensive as possible, while admitting in voiceovers that he doesn't think things through or consider consequences.  Unfortunately, almost every other part of the movie falls to the wayside, existing only to react to Trilby's bad behavior.  There's the ticking clock of the three-day finals, some movement towards sappiness to keep Trilby from being totally unsympathetic, and some revelations that aren't all the surprising.
Bad Words is a movie based solely around the main character's bad traits.  Bateman does well with them, but the rest of the movie is almost deliberately forgettable.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Captain America is back in action -- and dealing with a lot more than just super-powered villains -- in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  This movie adds a bit more nuance and thinking to the superhero formula, without shying away from some pretty intense action.
The Winter Soldier opens with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) working with S.H.I.E.L.D., helping Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natasha Romanoff/the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) take down some terrorists.  But Fury had his own agenda, and Captain America is getting tired of secrets and being lied to.  In addition, Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) are about to launch Project Insight, which will send three heavily-armed Helicarriers in the air to protect (and strike) anytime there's trouble.  Fury thinks this will stop problems before they start, while Cap thinks it's creating fear, not freedom.
Then things get complicated.  When Fury is looking into Project Insight, he's ambushed by heavily-armed men and managed to drop a flash drive off with Cap before heading to the hospital.  Soon Cap is branded a traitor by Pierce, and the all-American hero is fleeing from S.H.I.E.L.D. while trying to uncover the truth and figure out who can be trusted.  Along the way he's joined by Sam Wilson/the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), a fellow soldier who apparently has unlimited access to a high-tech flying outfit.  There are surprises and twists, old enemies, a threat to millions of people, and the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a powerful assassin with a robotic left arm.

The Winter Soldier joins The Avengers as one of Marvel's best superhero movies.  The cast is terrific, especially Chris Evans as the hero who finds himself adrift not in the modern world's technology and society but in its duplicity and scheming.  There are plenty of appearances from characters in past movies (Cobie Smulders as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Garry Shandling as a senator) and references to other Marvel comics to make fans of the comics happy, while providing enough information for folks who know this universe through the movies alone not to feel lost.

Not all of the twists in the story are surprising (as in many movies, politicians are not to be trusted), but The Winter Soldier manages to combine action, suspense, and mystery into a movie that could have been just more good guys in colorful costumes hitting bad guys in colorful costumes.  The Winter Soldier is a very entertaining superhero movie for adults.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch