Young romance can be tough to navigate -- especially when one of them is undead.  Life after Beth takes on the tribulations of a rocky relationship, tossing in zombies just for fun.

When we meet Zach (Dane DeHaan), he's in mourning.  His girlfriend Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza) had been hiking alone when Zach didn't want to go with her, and she got bitten by a snake and died.  Zack's gloom isn't helped by his parents or militaristic brother Kyle (Matthew Gray Gubler), so he spends more and more time hanging out with Beth's parents.  Geenie Slocum (Molly Shannon) is generally positive, while Maury Slocum (John C. Reilly) plays chess and shared weed with Zach.  When Zach confides that he and Beth were having problems, Maury advises him to focus on the good, not the ending.

Zach is surprised when Maury and Geenie stop taking his calls.  Investigating, Zach is more surprised to find... Beth!  At first Zach assumes that her family faked her death, but the truth is stranger:A few days after her funeral, Beth dug her way out of her grave and returned home.  Zach is concerned that Beth might be a zombie, but Maury is thrilled that she's been resurrected ("Like Jesus!") and wants to keep her hidden,
Eventually Zach comes around, seeing this as a chance to do everything with Beth that he didn't do before.  Soon, he's trying to get her out of the house, while Maury is becoming the overprotective dad who only wants his daughter doing things at night.  As for Beth, she's changing: She forgets a lot of things, she gets jealous and violent, and she's super-strong and impervious to pain.  Soon Zach starts experiencing the same problems he and Beth had before -- plus wondering if she's going to eat him.  Also, other people start turning up and acting like Beth...
Life after Beth is an interesting little idea that isn't really explored.  While Aubrey Plaza is suitably weird as the ex-girlfriend whose return is full of pitfalls, the movie starts too slowly and Dane DeHaan isn't that funny.  John C. Reilly does a good turn as the overprotective father, but Molly Shannon doesn't have much to do.  There are some funny moments through the later parts of the movie, but it doesn't go beyond the basic joke of what it's like to be dating a zombie.  I liked Life after Beth sometimes, but it doesn't come close to Shaun of the Dead as a brilliant zombie comedy.  (Dvd extras include deleted scenes and commentary.)

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch



With so many superhero movies aimed at adult fans of comic books, it's refreshing to have one made pretty much for little kids.  Big Hero 6, inspired by a Marvel comic book and made by Walt Disney Studios, is entertaining, if a little simple for the older viewer.
Sometime in the slightly futuristic city of San Fransokyo, robotics prodigy Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a teenager making money and getting in trouble by entering robot fighting games.  His older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) wants Hiro to do more, which Hiro resists until Tadashi brings him to his university.  Hiro loves the advanced technology, likes Tadashi's scientist friends -- burnout Fred (T.J. Miller), happy Wasabi (Daymon Wayans Jr.), flower power-type Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodrigues), edgy cool chick Go Go (Jamie Chung) -- plus robotics legend Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell).  Hiro also likes Tadashi's creation Baymax (Scott Adsit), an inflatable medical robot (that, for comedic purposes, sounds and acts drunk when its battery is low).

Hiro's application project for the school is microbots, small robots that all combine together and are controlled by a headband.  Everyone loves it; businessman Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk) wants to buy them, but Hiro passes.  Hiro's accepted, but before he can celebrate the school burns down, killing Tadashi and Robert, plus destroying all of Hiro's microbots.

Or did it?  Weeks later, as Hiro is moping and Baymax tries to help him, Hiro finds a microbot -- and it's pulling towards others.  That leads Hiro and Baymax to a villain in a kabuki mask controlling massive numbers of microbots -- that he uses to try and kill Hiro!

Hiro decides that "Kabuki Man" stole his microbots and set the fire that killed Tasashi and John to cover it up.  Since the police don't believe him, Hiro decides it's up to him to find and capture the villain.  He upgrades Baymax with everything from kung-fu skills to battle armor with jets and a rocket fist.  He also talks Fred, Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Go Go to help, making them armors that match their interests and personalities.  And then they're off to find and expose Kabuki Man -- while unraveling a mystery about a bird logo.

Big Hero 6 is both fun and basic.  The animation is nice, and the action sequences are well done.  But this is fairly typical superhero origin story material -- loss, anger, redemption -- and the movie only has two sequences with the six heroes together.  Big Hero 6 is likable, but definitely more for kids than grown-up superhero fans.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



 Here's an unusual mix of a movie.  Birdman: or, (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is part comedy, part drama, part roman a clef, part theater, part satire, and part insanity -- overlaid with a jazzy drumbeat.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, who's something of a dark parody of Keaton.  Riggan had been a blockbuster movie star playing Birdman in three movies over two decades ago.  Now he's a washed-up actor, staking everything -- his reputation, his finances, even his sanity -- on a Broadway production of  theRaymond Carver short story "What We Talk About When We Talk about Love"  that Riggan adapted, directs, produces, and stars in.
 Naturally, the play -- still in previews -- seems to have nothing but problems.  Riggan's lawyer and friend Jake (Zack Galifanakis) is working to keep everything working together.  Riggan's cynical daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is fresh out of rehab and wandering around as an assistant.  Laura (Andrea Riseborough) is one of the plays' stars, and tells Riggan that she's having their baby.  When a stage accident takes out an actor, Broadway newcomer Leslie (Naomi Watts) brings in her boyfriend Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), who's box office and critical gold; he's also amazingly hard to work with.  Oh, and when he's alone Riggan hallucinates that he has superpowers and that Birdman is talking to him to get him to do more Birdman movies.
Birdman is a whole lot of things, as it meanders from comedy to introspection to fantasy to drama as much as the (seemingly) single camera shot that jumps from characters to characters for the whole movie.   While it works, it's also disjointed and somewhat disorienting.  The movie has terrific acting, and there are plenty of laughs (especially the Times Square walk) and moments of tenderness and discovery.  But it's hard to settle in and enjoy or appreciate one scene or tone before the movie jumps into a new one.  Birdman is definitely unique and enjoyable, but I wish it had come together or held together a little bit tighter.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



When Sports Illustrated released its Idyllic Shores magazine special, it was a taste of what was coming.  Well, that day has arrived with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Portfolio: Idyllic Shores -- and its very familiar to those who read the magazine special.

The Portfolio contains all the photographs of the models that were in the magazine special, plus the exact same introduction and comments that introduce each model's photographs.  So why go with the Portfolio instead or or in addition to the magazine special?  A couple of reasons, actually.

The Portfolio is a coffee table book, meaning the photos are larger -- and the beauty of the models and the locales are brought out more with the bigger area.  Also, there are additional photos for many of the models, giving something with the Portfolio that's not available in the magazine special.

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Portfolio: Idyllic Shores might have been more exciting if so much of it wasn't already shown in its magazine preview.  But that's doesn't detract from the absolute beauty of these models and the locations -- or the extra photographs of this book.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


Taylor Swift, 1989 (deluxe version)

There's something refreshing about Taylor Swift finally ending her county-pop hybrid music albums and releasing a "pure" pop album.  1989 (deluxe version) has a dual significance to its name: It's the year she was born, and it also has the pop sound and sensibility of the 1980s.  And the deluxe version from Target (disclaimer: I work for Target, but not in their artificial intelligence division) has three extra songs and her notes/demo versions of three other songs.

lifIt's no surprise that almost all the songs on 1989 are about romance (except for the generational love/hate song "New Romantics") -- but there's a nice spectrum.  There are plenty of sappy, feel-good love songs, like "How You Get the Girl" and "You Are in Love."  There are also lost of post-romance tunes, from the longing "I Wish You Would" to the angry "Bad Blood" and the recovering romantic "Clean."

This time, though, Taylor is aware of her past/reputation and works that into the music.  Several of the songs, such as "Blank Slate" and "Wonderland,"  have her knowing that dating her will be both great and terrible ("life was never worse but never better").  "Shake It Off" is about Taylor's reputation for short-lived relationships; or her impromptu dancing; or dealing with bullies and criticism in general.

1989 (deluxe version) is an entertaining album.  Swift's voice hits the right notes for both bouncy fluff and tearjerker songs.  The songs are all solidly in the world of pop, but they all work in there (although I found "Bad Blood" to be a little too sing-song-y).  The bonus tracks are good (though I could take or leave the "songwriting voice memos" at the end) and this is very enjoyable to listen to multiple times.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



As the news becomes more violent and sensationalized, it makes sense that there are those ready to help with the exploitation for money and fame.  This is the world of Nightcrawler, a drama about one man who finds his calling filming and selling the worst Los Angeles has to offer.

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is odd.  When he talks, his speech is filled with self-empowerment phrases, business theories, and lots of ambition.  But he's unemployed, living in a tiny apartment, and a thief who's willing to get violent to get what he wants.  When Lou sees Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) arrive at an accident to film it and sell it to the news, Lou is hooked.

Lou pawns his latest theft to get a camcorder and police scanner, and then he's off at his new job: speeding through the L.A. streets to be the first to videotape and sell accidents.  He starts selling his footage to Nina (Renee Russo), the morning news director for a local tv station who explains that they don't just want blood and death, but material that makes their upscale viewers nervous: urban violence in suburban areas.  Lou also hires Rick (Riz Ahmed), a homeless and desperate kid whose only qualifications seem to be his ability to use a cell phone to guide Lou through the streets.  (Lou strings Rick along with promises of a potential raise at a future performance review.)  And Lou's off on his nighttime quest for murders, crashes, and other material he can shoot and sell.

Nightcrawler is a very good, one-person-focused drama.  While it's hardly a revelation that news is more interested in ratings and demographics than truth or information, this film shows what can happen to the audience (and the news field) when sensationalism takes over.  As for Gyllenhaal, it's on him to carry the movie -- and he does so quite well.  He makes Lou Bloom an enigma, someone who may be a sociopath, or just arrogant and humble at once, or just disconnected with the rest of humanity.  The movie might have worked better if the morally-questionable final scenes were introduced a little earlier in the movie, but Nightcrawler is entertaining and disquieting.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch