Back to the sea!  Over a decade after Finding Nemo introduced us to a fun underwater family, Pixar/Disney return to the characters with Finding Dory.  This is a different search for family, but the movie still maintains the hope, friendship, and creativity of the original.

A year after the events of Finding Nemo, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is living happily with nervous Marlin (Albert Brooks) and adventurous Nemo (Hayden Rolence).  Dory is an unofficial member of the family, helping out while telling almost everyone she meets how she suffers from short-term memory loss.

When Dory suddenly starts getting memories of her parents Jenny and Charlie (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) living at the Jewel of Morro Bay, Dory, Marlin, and Nemo head to find her.  Crossing the ocean to California turns out to be the easy part.  It turns out that Dory's memories are of an aquarium -- where Dory gets separated from her friends.  While Marlin and Nemo try to find Dory, Dory keeps looking for her parents.  She finds help from Hank (Ed O'Neill), a seven-legged octopus ("You're a septopus") who's great at camouflaging himself, hates being touched, and agrees to help Dory in exchange for her tag that would get her sent to Cleveland; Destiny (Kaitlin Olsen), a friendly but near-sighted whale shark; and Bailey (Ty Ferrell), a beluga whale whose concussion keeps him from using echo-location.
 Meanwhile Marlin and Nemo get more outside help, whether from the pair of rock-obsessive sea lions Fluke and Rudder (Idris Elba, Dominic West) or a seemingly scatter-brained bird called Becky.  There are the perils of a touch-the-fish exhibit, the ticking clock of the truck heading to Cleveland, and assorted creatures -- plus Dorys working with others so she doesn't forget why she's there in the first place.
Finding Dory works on so, so many levels.  As with most Pixar movies, the animation is amazing: The underwater creatures and environment are stunning, as is Hank's ability to blend in whenever he needs to.  While there are plenty of jokes little kids will enjoy, there's a lot of humor for adults, from a H.P. Lovecraft joke to the repeated intercom announcement "I'm Sigourney Weaver."   The voice talent is great (especially Ellen's rambling chatter and Ed O'Neill's grumpy ally) and there are plenty of both funny and touching moments through the movie.  Finding Dory is one of the best movies I've seen this year.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's only natural that since summertime brings people to the beach, there are movies designed to elicit scares from what happens at the beach.  The latest entry in this genre is The Shallows, an almost one-person struggle for survival against a killer shark.

At the opening of The Shallows a little kid is running along a beach, littered with part of a surfboard and a helmet with an attached camera.  He watches the video, which shows someone surfing, then flailing around underwater, then attacked by a shark.

Cut to Nancy (Blake Lively), being driven to a "secret beach" in Mexico by Carlos (Oscar Jaenada).  From conversations with Carlos and phone conversations with family, we learn that Nancy's late mother loved this beach, Nancy's friend is stuck at the hotel with a hangover, and Nancy is considering leaving medical school.  But that's all forgotten at the beach!  It's as beautiful as one could imagine, and the only other folks are two fellow surfers (one of whom is wearing the helmet seen at the start of the movie).

As the day goes on, the two surfers pack it in while Nancy decides to make a long trip to a nearby island.  On the way, she sees a dead whale floating in the water -- and she's suddenly attacked by a shark!  The massive creature chomps her leg and separates Nancy from her board, but Nancy manages to make it to a mostly-submerged rock.  And while Nancy's about 200 yards from the shore, she's essentially trapped: Her leg is still bleeding despite her improvised bandaging and suturing, so every time she puts it in the water the shark returns.  There's a large steel buoy anchored nearby.  Occasional items float by, which it's a struggle just to get to.  Hunger, the burning sun, and the chilly nights sap her strength.  Her only companion is a bloody seagull.  And the isolated beach means anyone else helping her is unlikely -- plus those few who do stop by tend to meet a grisly fate.
The Shallows is a pretty straightforward and effective horror/suspense movie.  While the setup is almost a mathematical problem -- how to get to a nearby shore with a giant hungry shark nearby and only small islands and a buoy nearby? -- Blake Lively carries the movie, effectively portraying the struggle of someone whose fun surfing vacation is suddenly a primal struggle for survival.  The movie mostly and wisely holds back showing the shark, having is mainly as a shadowy figure moving beneath the waves; when it does emerge, it's truly fearsome.  The Shallows won't replace Jaws as the iconic shark movie, but it is good scary summer fun.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been around long enough for several anniversaries.  Naturally, before there was the 25th Anniversary Edition, there was the 20th Anniversary Edition.  While this doesn't have quite as many extras and movies as the later anniversary edition, this is still a quality collection of movies lacking in quality -- with two very nice extras.

As with most MST3K collections, the 20th Anniversary Edition has four episodes of MST3K.  This time around, viewers will join the folks on the Satellite of Love as they watch First Spaceship on Venus (the only episode here with Joel Hodgson), Laserblast (the final MST3K episode on Comedy Central), Werewolf (one of my favorite episodes ever) and Future War (which has forced-perspective dinosaurs, a cheap Jean-Claude Van Damme copy, and an odd amount of theology).  This is a fine collection of episodes, and the jokes are flung at and inspired by these movies with great results.
As for extras, there are two big ones here.  "The Oral History of MST3K" is a series of interviews, spread over three of the DVDs, with most of the actors, writers, and producers from the show.  This covers everything from the very first episodes through the end of the run.  Then there's the 2008 Comic-Con MST3K Reunion Panel, which has most of the actors and some producers and writers discussing the show -- with Patton Oswalt hosting.  "Variations on a Theme Song" is a lesser but nice extra, featuring all the different openings and theme songs from MST3K's entire run.
While the 20th Anniversary Edition doesn't have as many episodes as the 25th Anniversary Edition, it does have four terrific episodes and two very good bonus features.  Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition is another collection that should make any MST3K fan very happy.  (Folks can also shell out more money for a set in a tin box with a toy Crow.)

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Buddy comedies usually rely on opposites working together -- and it's hard to picture two more physically opposite actors than Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson and Kevin Hart.  The two actors are brought together for a light, dopey, but enjoyable little comedy: Central Intelligence.

The movie opens at a high school in 1996, where Calvin "the Golden Jet" Joyner is speaking at a student assembly.  He seems to have it all: popularity, grades, ambition, hot girlfriend Maggie.  When some bullies humiliate "Fat Robbie," Calvin is the only one who helps him.

Jump ahead 20 years, and Calvin (Hart) is unhappy.  He's an accountant, good at his job but passed over for promotion and surrounded by idiots.  He's still married to Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), but she wants them to attend their 20th high school reunion and Calvin feels like a loser who peaked back in high school.  Then a Facebook invite changes everything.

Calvin runs into Robbie, who's now Bob Stone (Johnson), a fairly nerdy guy who's incredibly enthusiastic, an instant friend to Calvin, and a buff guy who beats up bullies with ease.  When Bob asks Calvin for a little help with his online payroll account, things get complicated.

Bob says he's actually a C.I.A. agent, out to retrieve some stolen satellite codes and find a rogue agent called the Black Badger -- who killed Bob's partner Phil (Aaron Paul).  But C.I.A. Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) is convinced that Bob is the Black Badger and a dangerous psychopath -- and she wants Calvin to help bring him in.  What follows is a lot of shooting with very few deaths, a predictable storyline, and no real surprises.

Despite that, Central Intelligence has plenty of enjoyable moments.  Dwayne Johnson plays up the giant lovable goofball from start to finish, and he does it very well.  Kevin Hart manages his yelling and frantic delivery pretty well, as the nervous everyman suddenly thrust into the middle of gunfire and international espionage.  Central Intelligence is pretty much pure fluff, but it still manages to be funny.

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Few phrases make me more skeptical in a movie than "based on a true story."  When that "true story" is a controversial and disputed case of paranormal activity, I become even more doubtful.  But despite that element, The Conjuring 2 is an effective and thoughtful delve into the horror genre.

When the movie opens, Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) are investigating the events at the house in Amityville.  This case gives the couple fame as paranormal investigators -- and criticism as promoting frauds and fakes.  In addition, Lorraine has visions of a demonic being dressed as a nun, and of Ed being killed, so she wants them to stop investigating supernatural cases.
Meanwhile in Enfield, England, the Hodgson family (a now-sing mother and four young kids) are encountering unnerving events in their small two-story home.  At first these seem like small events -- such as noises in the middle of the night, furniture moving, and toys rolling around on their own -- but soon the events become more extreme and violent.  Worse, 11-year-old Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) is walking in her sleep, seemingly talking to someone who isn't there, and seems to be the focus of the events.  The Warrens are called in, er, over to investigate and to determine whether the church should get involved with the case.
Director James Wan, who also directed The Conjuring, continues to combine the procedural drama with the supernatural.  The signs of the haunting might otherwise be a cliche of horror, but here they feel more real as the family struggled and wearies, while the Warrens try to balance their work, their family (the daughter seems to have similar visions to her mother), and their religious faith with what could be a hoax or could be something out to destroy a family.  The Conjuring 2 isn't quite as tight and focused as its predecessor, but it's still an intelligent and fairly spooky trip.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



British cartoonist Tom Gauld has a deceptively simple, quietly quirky style that manages to convey a lot in a few panels.  You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack is a collection of Gauld's cartoons from the Guardian newspaper -- and it's quite satisfying.

Gault draws his figures as either slightly developed stick figures or inanimate objects given life with eyes and small arms.  His subjects aren't current events or observational comedy, but rather takes on different genres (the title of this book refers to several strips where "serious" genres look down on science fiction), inserting unusual elements into common ideas (Charles Dickens as a superhero!), or numerous lists and aspects of one thing.
You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack showcases Gauld's quietly bizarre humor very well.   The cartoons here are all amusing and cover a nicely wide range of topics.  His simple drawing style suits the variety of strips here, and these strips are quirky in a pretty unique way.  You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack is a pretty funny and definitely different cartoon collection.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Between comedy sketches and their band the Lonely Island, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone have plenty of experience with both humor and music.  That should have made Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping a funny take on the narcissism of celebrities in the music industry.   But...

Popstar is a fake documentary about the predictable rise and fall of a self-involved, self-aggrandizing star.  Friends Conner (Samberg), Lawrence (Schaffer) and Owen (Taccone) achieved fame early with a gangsta-boy band combination called the Style Boyz.  As Conner became more famous, the band felt stresses and conflict: Owen left to work on a farm, while Conner kept Lawrence on to produce the music for his shows (which is run through an iPod).  The movie begins weeks before the release of Conner's second solo album, plus his ever-more-ridiculously-elaborate tour.  There are also Conner's enabling manager Harry (Tim Meadows) and publicist Paula (Sarah Silverman) along for the ride, plus Hunter the Hunter (Chris Redd) as Conner's opening act whose popularity keeps growing.  And numerous real-life musicians pop up to talk about how much they loved the Style Boyz and reflect on Conner's decline.

Popstar is far, far, far from This Is Spinal Tap -- or the music of the Lonely Island, for that matter.  The movie makes Conner a ridiculous character, and takes his one-note selfishness and runs with it for almost all of the movie.  There are some slightly funny moments, but they're offset by the predictability of the story and focusing on the silly main character instead of the music industry and famous lifestyle.  Popstar could have been so much more...

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch