Are the universal languages of the world food and love?  They are in The Hundred-Foot Journey, a movie that mixes the delights of cooking with the breaking down of barriers.
As a young boy in India, Hassan has a love and appreciation for food.  Learning to cook from his mother, he became skilled at combining foods and spices into great combinations.  But when political uprisings led to an attack that destroyed the family restaurant and killed his mother, Hassan (Manish Dayal) and his family moved: first to England, and then (when the foods in England weren't flavorful enough) to France.  There, Papa (Om Puri) decides that they'll open an Indian restaurant for the locals, who don't like Indian food because they've never had it.
Unfortunately, the new restaurant is right across the street from the restaurant of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the proud and stubborn owner of a upscale French restaurant which has one coveted Michelin star -- and she wants two, then three.  Madame Mallory finds the new restaurant beneath her, and soon she and Papa are in a virtual duel, as they each interfere with the other's place of business (leading to numerous complaints to the poor mayor of the town).   And Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) is both a romantic interest of, and competitor for, Hassan: She helps the family out initially and gives Hassan books on French cooking, but she's a sous chef working for Madame Mallory.  What will Hassan do between his pushy father, condescending rival restaurant owner, and beautiful French woman?
The Hundred-Foot Journey is an enjoyable movie.  The film celebrates the preparation and consumption of food the way other films feature their sweeping landscapes and impressive special effects.  Manish Dayal makes the perfect leading man for this sort of film: He's both handsome and sweet, intelligent and humble, and talented while conflicted.  Om Puri and Helen Mirren are excellent together, providing comedy in their stubbornness while not letting the characters become one-dimensional or foolish.  The story is fairly predictable, and after some violence about halfway through much of the film's tension just vanishes.  But The Hundred-Foot Journey is a feel-good movie that is funny and truly revels in its culinary creations.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



For several years, Sports Illustrated followed its no-sports, all-swimwear Swimsuit Issues with hardcover portfolios collecting photos that didn't make it into that year's issue.  These seemed to stop with the 2011 issue -- until now!  And to tide sports, er, sexy women in bikini fans over until the October 28th release of the hardcover portfolio book, a preview hit the magazine stands with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2014 Extra: Idyllic Shores.
Idyllic Shores has photos that somehow didn't make it into the 2014 Swimsuit Issue, featuring nineteen models from that issue.  Each model gets eight pages of photos (except Kate Upton, who got ten pages), along with the names of the photographer and location, plus a few comments about the model.
As always, the photos are absolutely beautiful.: not just the models, but also the stunning locations.  This makes it easy to forgive them when the actual swimsuits are barely in the photos.
Loathe as I am to find fault with a collection of beauties wearing swimsuits or less, there are two slight problems with Idyllic Shores.  The first is that Sports Illustrated could and should have given a lot more pages to each model.  The second is that the first problem may be solved in the upcoming portfolio book (with about 50 more pages), but that book would effectively replace this magazine.  But while this may not be as many pages as the original or the upcoming, it's still quite lovely to look at.  To quote Troy McClure from The Simpsons, "If that's what they cut out, what they leave in must be pure gold!"  And these cut-outs are  pretty close to gold themselves.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Sometimes plenty of drama and discovery happen during the regular course of growing up.  Writer/director Richard Linklater explores this with surprising verisimilitude in Boyhood, a movie that was shot over twelve years with the same cast.

Boyhood is mainly the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), who go from 6 to 18 during the course of the movie.  They're raised by their single mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who's trying to balance raising them, working, and going to college.  Their dad Mason Sr. is the "fun" parent who takes his kids camping and to baseball games; he also never seems to have a steady job.  And along the way Mason and Samantha grow and deal with everything from friends to romance to adolescent philosophy ("what is it all about?) to moving repeatedly, whether due to work or Olivia's unfortunate tendency to get involved with abusive, alcoholic men.  Some things are serious (like deciding what direction their lives will take), some are comic (Mason Sr. having the "sex talk" with Samantha), and some seem critical (losing friends, dating) but are quickly forgotten.
There's no grand drama or conflict in Boyhood, just the regular course of a boy and his family exploring who they are (while avoiding homework -- a consistent feature through all ages) and what they'll become.  As such, Boyhood has a quiet magic to it, a very genuine feeling of real life without any contrived situations or forced drama.   The cast is very good (especially Patricia Arquette, as the mother who knows the doesn't have all the answers but struggles on anyway) and Linklater's direction has a tremendous feeling of naturalness.  The movie is a little long -- at several points near the end I was ready for things to wrap up, but it kept going -- but Boyhood is a very, very nice exception to the standard movie drama by focusing not on effects or drama, but on the complexity of everyday life.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Math and planning are frequent companions in games, and they're the very heart of Quartile.  This game from SimplyFun Games is easy to learn and progressively more challenging to play.
Much like Dominoes, Quartile is about placing and matching tiles.  But Quartile takes planning a step further.  Each square tile has a number in the center and 1-7 dots on each side of the square tile.  Players start with four tiles in hand, and a face-down tile in the middle whose sides can be considered any number.  On a player's turn, they place a tile on the board, making sure all the numbers on their tile match up with any tiles that new tile is touching.  The player then scores the points on the middle of the tile, multiplied by how many other tiles their tile is touching.  They then draw a replacement tile, and then the next player goes.  When all the tiles have been picked and played, the player with the most points wins.

I like Quartile.  There's not a lot of depth to the rules, but planning is a large factor: You can score a lot more points by planning two or three placements ahead, preparing a spot where your placed tile can score double or triple points.  (Of course, an opponent's placement can ruin this for you.)  It's always easy to find a spot to match up one side of a tile, but the multiple-side placements are where the scoring opportunities are.  The production values are also excellent, with a fine wooden box and red-brown wooden tiles.  Quartile is a good, quick, simple game that may not be the headliner of a game night but will be a fun part of one.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Rifftrax Live!: Godzilla

1998's Godzilla movie was so reviled, many fans still refer to its title creature as GINO, meaning "Godzilla in Name Only."  So between this awfulness and this year's Godzilla movie, it's no surprise that the Rifftrax trio of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett managed to make a successful Kickstarter campaign to riff on the 1998 movie.  And so we had Rifftrax Live!: Godzilla in movie theaters last night.
I hadn't seen this Godzilla before, and I hadn't missed anything: the incoherent plot, the terrible acting, and the giant lizard that changes size as the script dictates.  Fortunately, the problems that cause regular viewers so much pain only provide fuel for the Rifftrax comedy.  They had lots of material, from cracks about New York (thanks largely to Hank Azaria's thick Brooklyn accent) to Matthew Broderick's varied career to the title creature's ability to avoid massive amounts of firepower by ducking.  (Sadly, due to the length of the feature there were no short features before the main event.)
I share the riffers' surprise that the original movie made $380 million -- but at least it led to Rifftrax Live!: Godzilla.  I leave it up to the cinematic philosophers to decide if that made it all worth it; at least it made for an entertaining evening.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



History is often distorted by the lens of emotion or forgetfulness -- but booze'll do the job too.  Drunk History takes the webseries of inebriated teachers of history to Comedy Central, where it works quite simple.
The format for Drunk History is pretty simple.  Each episode focuses on three events that happened in a particular city of state.  Host/creator Derek Waters meets someone (often a comic, sometimes an actor), shares drinks with them, and listens to them relate a historical tale from that area.  In addition, actors in period costumes act out the story, lip-syncing the storyteller's dialogue exactly -- including curses, mistakes, and distractions.  Some of the actors have included: Adam Scott as John Wilkes Booth, Fred Willard as Deep Throat, Jack Black as Elvis Presley, and Winona Ryder and John Cena as people from the Salem Witch trians (shown below), and many others.
Drunk History is often pretty silly -- but it's also pretty funny.  The recreations are quite amusing, and it's fun to hear history from the mouths of people trying not to fall on the floor or mess up their words.  There are no worries about dull, dry history lessons with Drunk History.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel's latest superhero movie, is both predictable and fun.  It takes a bunch of hardened adversaries who turn out to have hearts of gold, a failure of the past made up for in the present, and lots of former enemies rallying together.
At the start of the movie (1988), young Peter Quill runs out of the hospital after his mother dies (and he was too scared to take her hand before the passed away) and he is promptly abducted by aliens.  Jump to the present, and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a criminal, heartbreaker, and scam artist in outer space.  He calls himself "Star Lord" (though he's the only one who does), hoping to build a reputation; and his most prized possession is the Walkman and tape he had when he was abducted.  And his latest job -- getting and delivering a mysterious orb -- had everyone after him.

This is where the plot gets complicated.  Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a Kree fanatic, has promised to give the orb to Thanos (Josh Brolin) and in exchange Thanos will destroy the planet Xandar, home of the Nova Corps.  Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is Thanos' adopted daughter who wants to get the orb -- but to keep it away from Thanos; her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) suspects betrayal , and will engage in some of that herself.  Since Peter didn't deliver the orb like his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) wanted, Yondu puts a bounty out on Quill.  This leads to his running into two unique bounty hunters: Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a cybernetic raccoon who's gun-crazy, inventive with electronics, and acerbic; and Groot (Vin Diesel), a large humanoid tree who only says "I am Groot."  And soon enough Quill, Gamora, Rocket and Groot meet up with Drax the Destroyer (former wrestler Dave Bautista), whose family was killed by Ronan and who only wants to kill him in return.  Oh. and the Nova Corps wants to arrest Peter.  And the orb turns out to contain an extraordinary power.

As I stated earlier, the movie is predictable -- the stars go from bickering and fighting to bonding and friendship; the bad guys get more and more evil -- but the borderline silliness makes the film enjoyable.  Chris Pratt is pretty funny as the action hero who knows he's not trustworthy, Bradley Cooper practically steals the movie with Rocket's one-liners and bad behavior, and Vin Diesel manages to put a lot of emotion into his character's only three words.  Dave Bautista gets a lot of mileage of both Drax's action and his taking everything literally.  Zoe Saldana is given less comic material, but she kicks a lot of ass as the martial arts expert.  There's also plenty of action -- from a high-tech jailbreak to shoot-outs to an epic battle to save a planet -- and the special effects are terrific, from making Rocket and Groot almost believable to the alien worlds and weaponry.  Guardians of the Galaxy may be goofy, but it's also very funny and often pretty exciting.

I'm not sure how Guardians of the Galaxy will fit into the new Marvel movie universe (though Thanos was part of The Avengers, and there are hints the Guardians sequel could have them on Earth) but it works pretty well as a summer blockbuster.  It's dopey and effects-heavy, but it's helped tremendously by a nice mix of comedy and action, plus a terrific cast.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch