Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its sequel The Return are wonderfully goofy and funny comedies, and the numerous musical numbers between the movies are often delightful.  So, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return -- Original Soundtrack should be a thing of wonder.  However...

This album begins very well, with plenty of music from the new series.  There's the new opening theme song.  We get a rap about kaiju from around the world.  There's a commercial for a dinosaur barbecue restaurant.  ("Jingle!")  Mark Hamill even appears, as a barker for a spectacular circus that he has to describe because it's held in the dark.  This is all very good, with plenty of laugh-out-loud songs.

Next, though, are instrumental songs from the new series.  These may have been useful during the skits, but the instrumentals aren't really amusing on their own.  And these songs take up about a third of the album!

The last third of the Original Soundtrack are some popular songs from the original series.  These would be great -- except these are also instrumental songs!  (Mary Jo Pehl almost sneaks back, but...)  Since the humor comes from the lyrics, these songs tease funny classic hits and pulls the rug out from under us.  Instead of giving us classic jokes, the album plays a cruel joke on the listener here.

I so wanted to like Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return -- Original Soundtrack, and the first third of non-instrumental songs is great.  But the bizarre inclusion of so many instrumental songs on a comedy album really brings things down.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



The war between good and evil continues, between outer-space ships and persuasion and temptation, in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  This movie has its share of strengths, weaknesses, and some pretty substantial plot holes.

Following almost immediately from The Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley) meets up with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to be trained as a Jedi.  He wants nothing to do with training, wishing that the whole Jedi tradition would just vanish.  He agrees to teach her three lessons, though.
Meanwhile, it looks like the entire Rebellion has been reduced to three large ships, which are slowly being pursued and attacked by several Imperial Destroyers.  Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) scored a victory against them almost solo, but his free-wheeling ways earn him the ire of both General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern).  Somehow the First Order has found a way to track the Rebellion ships through hyperspace, when those ships are running out of fuel.  So Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) head off on a secret mission to get a codebreaker so the Rebellion fleet can sneak away.
And what about Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)?  He's still being humiliated by Snoke (Andy Serkis) and prone to fits of rage.  He's also in telepathic connection with Rey, and each of them are trying to bring the other over to their way of thinking.
If it sounds like there's a lot going in The Last Jedi, there is -- and the movie spends 2 1/2 hours going over it all.  We have plenty of space battles, lightsaber battles, and alien races (including the Ewok-replacing cute Porgs).  And yet, the movie didn't seem to capture the magic of the original films like The Force Awakens did.  We get one spaceship able to destroy the enemy almost single-handed, a ship able to depart from and return to a fleet under siege with no problem, and Luke wanting nothing to do with the Jedi yet teaching and training his successor.  Some of the action scenes are good, and there are even some emotional moments, but there were numerous times later in the movie when I was very ready for things to wrap up, and they kept going and going...  The Last Jedi isn't a bad movie, but it's certainly flawed.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Pixar has often dealt with families in its movies -- but what happens when you toss in the afterlife as well?  Coco is an entertaining, visually stunning movie about family, dreams, skeletons, and lots and lots of music.

The Rivera family hates music.  This began when a man left his wife and daughter Coco to pursue a career as a musician.  His face was removed from family photos, his wife learned to survive by making shoes, and since then the family has been shoemakers -- and hated all things musical.

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is a young boy living with his family and his silent and still grandmother Coco.  He wants to be a musician, building his own guitar and worshiping the late superstar Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).  Miguel also feeds the stray dog Dante, who follows him around everywhere.  When Miguel's family finds out about his dream, they smash his guitar.  Miguel then believes his mysterious great-grandfather is Ernesto; and when Miguel goes to "borrow" Ernesto's guitar to compete in the talent show on Dia de los Muertos, Miguel (and Dante) wind up in the land of the deceased -- all of whom are skeletons.
Miguel's late relatives are upset because he knocked over the photo of his great-grandmother, preventing her from visiting her family.  He can be sent back with a wish from a relative -- but they add in that Miguel must give up music forever.  Miguel decides that his only change for returning and not losing his dreams is to get Ernesto to wish him back.  But Ernesto is very busy and hard to reach; and if Miguel doesn't return by sundown, he'll be trapped in the land of the dead forever.
While Miguel is pursued by his deceased relatives -- and their dragon-like spirit creature -- he gets help from an unusual source.  Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) keeps trying to scam his way back to the land of the living, hoping to see his daughter one more time before he is forgotten.  (Spirits who are forgotten in the land of the living turn to dust and blow away.)  He'll help Miguel meet Ernesto, if Miguel brings Hector's photo back to the land of the living.

Coco is a delightful movie.  There's a strong Mexican theme through the movie, from the spectacular visuals to the frequent musical numbers.  The skeletons quickly go from scary to familiar; and in a nice twist, the skeletal spirits are more frightened by the living boy in their midst.  The movie has a few twists and surprised, and there's plenty of both humor and action.  Check out Coco!

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



The end of Batman v. Superman didn't just hint at the creation of the Justice League -- it showed us which DC characters would be part of it.  Justice League continues the story with a new threat, heroes coming together -- and one returning from the dead.

The movie starts with Batman (Ben Affleck) dealing with the chaos in the wake of the death of Superman (Henry Cavill).  Batman is looking into Parademons, insect-like creatures who feed on fear -- and who have been leaving a symbol of three squares in their wake.  It turns out that those creatures are soldiers for Steppenwolf (Claran Hinds), a giant alien with a powerful ax.  He wants to gather the three Mother Boxes, which together have the power to destroy the world.
Batman is putting together a team to stop Steppenwolf.  Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and the Flash (Ezra Miller) join immediately, but Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) are less willing to join the fight.  And there's a plan to use one of the Mother Boxes to bring Superman back from the dead...

Justice League was uneven.  The first half was a bit boring, from a general lack of action to the redundancy of having two reluctant heroes being pitched.  Things pick up in the second half, though, and once the League comes together it did have the feel and action of a good comic book.  The actors are good (though Ezra Miller won't replace Grant Gustin as the Flash in anyone's mind), but Steppenwolf was a bit generic as a villain.  So Justice League may not match Wonder Woman or most of the Marvel movies, but it's still a decent movie.

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch



All good things must come to an end, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 vol. XXXIX is likely the last DVD collection of episodes from the original series.  (After this, it seems it'd be too expensive to get the rights to the rest of the movies being riffed.)  This collection wraps things up nicely for the series -- and has an interesting bonus for those of us who ordered it early.

MST3K XXXIX has three episodes, all from the Mike Nelson time of the show.  Girls Town is a black and white borderline-exploitation film with tough gals, teenagers in gangs, reform school nuns, and even a few musical numbers from crooners.  The Amazing Transparent Man is a blend of a crime movie and the invisible man.  And Diabolik is about a groovy criminal mastermind -- and the final episode of the original show.  While these aren't iconic episodes of MST3K, they all provide plenty of laughs.  Each disc also has extra features as well.

For something different, the fourth disc -- Satellite Dishes -- has just the host segments from several episodes, from the third season (when TV's Frank joined the show) up to Quest for the Delta Knights.  While it feels a bit strange watching the bits that would be around the movies without the actual movies, these demonstrate that MST3K had plenty of humor on its own, from musical numbers to Crow's evil dark specter twin (Timmy) to the early invention exchanges.

And folks who ordered this collection early got a bonus DVD: The Complete Poopie!  This has two different sets of bloopers, plus Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy segments trying to sell this collection during the Turkey Day Marathon.  And they're all funny -- especially as the folks on screen would keep going or crack jokes after they knew they flubbed their lines or part of the puppets or set fell apart.

I'll miss seeing new collections of the first Mystery Science Theater 3000 series (while hoping the new series gets released on DVD), but at least Mystery Science Theater 3000 XXXIX is a nice way to wrap up the releases from the series.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Who'd have guessed a movie with such strong apocalyptic themes would also have such a large amount of humor?   Thor: Ragnarok is one of the sillier movies in the Marvel cinematic universe, though there's plenty of action as well.

Things begin well enough for Thor (Chris Hemworth).  He slays the demon Surtur, who was foretold to have brought abour Ragnarok, the destruction of Asgard.   He exposes Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who had been pretending to be Odin, and the two brothers find the real Odin (Anthony Hopkins) on Earth.

That's when things start going bad.  Odin passes away, and with his death his previously unknown daughter Hela (Kate Blanchett) is released.  Hela is the Goddess of Death, and she is tremendously powerful: casually flinging weapons from her body, slaying Asgardian soldiers by the dozens, and even shattering Thor's hammer.  Her goal: conquer Asgard, then use the Rainbow Bridge to conquer the Nine Realms with her army of undead soldiers and giant wolf.

As for Thor and Loki, they get lost in transit, winding up on a war-planet, where Thor is captured by the Asgardian warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and forced by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) to fight in gladiator-style combat.  Worse, the Grandmaster's champion is the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who liked being there and has no problem fighting his fellow Avenger.

Thor: Ragnarok is one of the lighter Marvel superhero movies, but it's still enjoyable.  There are numerous cameos from Marvel characters from the movies and comic books, plus humor coming from seemingly everywhere.  In addition, the cast is quite good, and Cate Blanchett makes a very menacing villain, fine with slaughtering anyone to get what she wants.  The action sequences are good (if very CGI-filled) and this ties into the overall Marvel cinematic universe without overdoing the connections.  This is far from the best superhero movie of 2017, but I enjoyed it.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston led an interesting life, many elements from which can be found in his famous female superhero creation.  Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a biopic that explores Marston's relation ship with two important women -- and how it all led to Wonder Woman.

The movie opens in the 1940s, with William Mounton Marston (Luke Evans) being grilled on the salacious elements of his Wonder Woman comic book by Josette Frank (Connie Britton), a member of the morality police.  This is intercut with flashbacks to Marston's life.
In the 1920s, Marston was a professor at Harvard, teaching the then-new science of psychology and working on inventing the lie detector; he also teaches his students DISC theory, which includes dominance and submission elements and the idea that women would do better running the world than men.  He worked with his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), a blunt-spoken psychologist who's unhappy she's not being given the same degree as her male counterparts.

Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) is a student of Marston's who also becomes his research assistant.  She also inspires a tangle of emotions and desires between the three people, leading to the two main sections of the movie.  Early on, there's a question of what will happen, as everyone seems attracted to each other (though Olive has a fiancee).  Later in the movie, they adopt their "unconventional lifestyle" and deal with the consequences, both good and bad.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is an enjoyable look at some unusual people.  The movie is very pro-kink, as the intricate connection between the trio is more than just a man wanting to be with two women, but all of them having relationships with each other.  While not heavy-handed, the movie shows how experiences in Marston's life became part of Wonder Woman's world, from the lie detector becoming the lasso of truth to a BDSM demonstration (and prototype for Wonder Woman's costume).  The actors are all good, though Rebecca Hall has the most fun as the woman always ready with a quip or sarcasm.  Given the popularity of the recent Wonder Woman movie, this is an informative (and adults-only) look at how she came to be.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



There have been plenty of times through history when the differences between men and women have been determined by all sorts of competition.  Battle of the Sexes is a biopic depicting this direct clash on the tennis court in 1973.

The early 1970s were a great time for Billie Jean King (Emma Stone): She was the premiere women's tennis champion in America and, in fighting for equal rewards for female tennis players, founded her own all-female tennis league.  She also began an affair with Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), which Billie wanted to keep under wraps, both for fear of hurting her husband and for fear of losing her sponsors.

Meanwhile, 50-something Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) had his own issues.  A former tennis champion, he loves gambling and hustling, while chafing at working at an office job set up by his father-in-law.  His plan to return to competition and fame: Set up big tennis matches between him and female tennis players, with him taking on the role of a sexist villain.  ("I'm putting the show back in chauvinist.")  Billy turns him down, but when she's beaten by Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) who then gets trounced on the court by Bobby, Billie takes up his challenge for the dignity of female tennis players -- and women everywhere.
Battle of the Sexes is decent but uneven.  While Steve Carell is pretty much regulated to a self-involved clown,  Emma Stone is the focus of most of the movie as Billie, a woman being pulled in several directions -- champion, wife, lover, defender of womankind -- in the public eye.  While she's good in the role, the movie seems to spend far more time on her same-sex affair than on the tennis issues, making the big match seem almost like an afterthought.  Battle of the Sexes could have been a period piece, if it didn't let itself get so distracted.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Well, I think I found my worst movie of 2017.  mother! is pretentious, artificial, and really made me wish that I didn't sit through every movie until the end.

None of the characters have names, but here goes.  Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a house in the country with her husband, Him (Javier Bardem).  She spends most of the time working on the house, which belong to Him (His?) before it burned down.  Mother also has hallucinations, including imagining that the house is alive.  As for Him, he's a poet working on a new work but suffering from writer's block.  He also has a large crystal that's the only thing saved from his original house.
The couple is interrupted by Man (Ed Harris), who mistakenly thinks the house takes visitors.  Him is delighted to let Man stay with them, while Mother is annoyed.  Then Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), Man's wife, shows up and makes herself at home -- and pesters Mother with lots of personal questions.  Pretty soon there's a virtual parade of people coming through the house -- which, somehow, leads to a nightmare of crowds, war, celebrity, motherhood, religion, and whatever else happened to be running through writer-director Darren Aranofsky's mind when he made this.
I don't think there's a single thing I liked about mother!  A cast of normally fine actors is wasted here, as every line feels phony and no characters interact in any way remotely approaching the real world.  The story (such as it is) wants to comment on everything but winds up saying nothing.  And I wanted the movie to end far, far before it finally wrapped up.  This one was painful from beginning to finish.

Overall grade: F
Reviewed by James Lynch



The world of gaming is wonderful and varied -- but there's a lot that goes into it.  How does one play well with friends, strangers, and family members?  What goes into hosting a gaming session?  What can you expect at conventions?  How do you deal with dicks at the game table?  The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming: Rules Every Gamer Must Live By by Teri Litorco covers all this and more, providing both concrete instructions and etiquette advice for the rookie and experienced gamer.

The Civilized Guide provides plenty of advice for playing, preparing, and teaching assorted games.  There are step-by-step rules for being a good player -- in both victory and defeat -- for getting players, for teaching players, and even for building one's game collection and loaning out games.  Manners are also handled, whether it's behavior at one's friendly local gaming store (FLGS), at conventions, and even online.  There are numerous references to actual games for illustration, and Litorco mixes in small-but-nice doses of humor to keep the discussion from becoming too dry.

Having dealt with the best and the worst of gamers, I can highly recommend The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming.  This is a quick read (sections can be read individually, and many chapters can be finished in minutes) that has plenty of practical advice and very little I disagree with.  Whether you're looking to start playing games with others or to improve your experience with gaming, this book will help you.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



 While the characters in the comic Knights of the Dinner Table usually role play in the sword and sorcery world (HackMaster), they sometimes branch out into new genres.  Knights of the Dinner Table: Men That Hack has the characters branching out into the James Bond-esque world of espionage, with two full-length, disaster-filled adventures.

The first story begins with Pete persuading the burned-out B.A. to pick up Hacknoia: The Role-Playing Game of Conspiracy, the Unknown, and Espionage.  B.A. is convinced his adventure will be "the best adventure I've ever run."  He has Bob, Dave, Sara, and Brian playing NSB agents sent, unarmed, to investigate mysterious crop circles in Canada (which Dave never stops believing is a Communist country).

Unfortunately, Bob and Dave trying to find out what's in the secret envelopes they pass to B.A. leads to to a "it never happened" reset.  Then the players arm themselves at Ahkmed's Guns, Booze, Chew, and Ammo (plus Bob stealing a stapler from R&D), get in a massive gun battle at customs, run into the descendant of an enemy from HackMaster, and turn on each other.

The next story happens two years later, as B.A. returns to Hacknoia.  ("But you hate that game!"  "I never said that."  "Dude, you drop kicked your books off the Jackson Blvd. bridge.")  This time around the players are trying to find a nuclear bomb being delivered to Canada.  This time the players are bristling about the fact that there are two NPCs with them -- and one is assigned the lead in the mission.  Chaos (and another trip to Ahkmed's) ensues.

I've had the first story in Men That Hack as part of my KODT live readings for years, and the additional material by Jolly Blackburn suits the strips quite well.  The second story, put together from webstrips and new material, is also quite funny, from Bob and Dave paying to roll up decent characters (and suffering from the dreaded Appendix Q table) to the overarmed and under-intelligent players messing everything up.  There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments through both stories, and Men That Hack shows that the Knights can be as amusingly incompetent in the spy world as in the medieval fantasy world.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



There was a time when television networks would get "horror hosts" to introduce, and comment on, the horror movies the networks were airing.  American Scary is a look at this tradition, from its beginnings, success, and vanishing.

Most of the horror hosts have a good deal in common: incredibly low budgets and production values, silly and corny sense of humor, appearing on regional/local TV stations, and either adoring or trashing the movies that they were showing; many of the female horror hosts amped up their sex appeal.  Heck, the names themselves give a feel for the sensibility that they gave: Ghoulardi, Vampira, Svengoolie (and Son of Svengoolie), Baron von Wolfstein, Elvira, A. Ghastlee Ghoul, etc.  Many of these former or present horror hosts are interviewed; and there are commentaries by such folks as Leonard Maltin, Neil Gaiman, and Joel Hodgson.

The horror hosts appeared as a way to add something more to a movie that was often not that good, and over time many of them became as or more popular than the movies they were showing.  As many of them appeared long before the VCR, lots of people would sneak around or stay up late just to see them.  Some horror hosts used the Internet to communicate with each other and the fans, while others migrated to the Web for their fans.
After the gushing and fandom, there's a real sense of loss when the horror hosts went into decline as television stations had less and less local programming and more national shows.  But there's a sense of revival when Neil Gaiman had the chance to be a horror host for a time, and how Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of carried on the tradition.
I've seen few of these horror hosts (except for the new Svengoolie on MeTV), but American Scary makes me wish there were more of these hosts, to inform and joke about the horror movies that get broadcast.  While this documentary is unabashedly all in favor of the horror hosts, it provides a great look at their history and influence in the television world.  These folks may not be scary, but this is worth checking out.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's always kind of weird when the folks at Rifftrax set their sights on a movie or TV show that I actually like.  This was the case with the Rifftrax Live: Doctor Who -- The Five Doctors.  Fortunately, the trio were able to get plenty of laughs from this special Doctor Who episode.

The evening began with Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy taking on Play Safe, a British safety film where two animated birds talk safety while kids act amazingly stupid around power lines and power pylons.  ("I feel a My Girl moment coming up.")  From there, they moved on to The Five Doctors.
Much as I liked this "special" Doctor Who episode, there's plenty that doesn't hold up -- and the Rifftrax trio made fun of just about all of it.  There's the first Doctor being replaced by a new actor, a character inexplicably falling down and being stuck at a small hill ("Take that, Mad Max: Fury Road!  An old man just helped a woman up a slight incline!") or the elaborate and silly costumes.   ("Time to get back to my Faberge egg cosplay.")  The laughs were big and consistent, with humor coming throughout the evening.
If  Rifftrax Live: Doctor Who -- The Five Doctors streams on the Rifftrax site or returns to the theaters, it's very worth checking out.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Tabletop games are more popular than ever -- but what about the folks behind these games?  Wizards of the Tabletop: A Rogues' Gallery of Board Game Designers and Conspirators by Douglas Morse is a coffee table book that provides both written and visual information on this diverse group of professionals in the game world.

As one might expect, most of the features folks are game designers, and we get a brief biography of them -- in and out of the gaming world -- usually accompanied by a photograph of their game on the opposite page.  It's a simple and effective way of learning about the person and then seeing what they've created.
There are some additional folks covered.  We learn about some of the people publishing the games, the website BoardGameGeek, the webseries TableTop, the group the Game Artisans of Canada, and even the folks at Geek Chic, who design custom furniture for gamers.
Wizards of the Tabletop is a very good look at both the greatness of the tabletop gaming world and the men and women who are vital to its success.  The people covered are interesting and enthusiastic about the game world; and the photographs really help to illustrate what they're talking about.  This is also a nice source for learning about games that might interest you.  (At the end of a book is an index of all the games discussed; in addition to the page it's on, it includes the year it was published, the publisher, its designer, its artist, and awards it won at Spiel des Jahres.)  Wizards of the Tabletop is a really good read mixed with really good visuals.  It's a must-have for any gamer -- and a good gift to get non-gamers interested in gaming.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



While Atomic Blonde is being advertised as "a female James Bond," it doesn't go into fancy gadgets and gimmicks.  It does have a solid plot, some very good (and brutal) fight scenes, and lots of fun for star Charlize Theron.

The movie opens in 1989, days before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.  We see British agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) killed by KGB agent Yuri Bakhtin (Johannes Haukur Johannesson), who steals his watch.

Next we jump to an office, where British spy Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is being debriefed by MI6 execitive Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman).  Gasgiogne has obtained a list of all covert British agents, which he had on microfilm in his watch; the list also had the identity of Satchel, a British double agent who had been providing information to the Communists.  Lorraine (who had been Gasciogne's lover) was sent to both East and West Berlin to get the list and learn the identity of Satchel.
Unfortunately, the mission is a disaster almost from the start.  Lorraine is quickly identified and attacked.  Her British contact is David Percival (James McAvoy), an agent who's gone native and seems more interested in drinking and partying than getting information.  Agents from numerous governments are after the list, and going to and from East Berlin is a challenge.  Then there's Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), a nervous man who claims to have memorized the entire list.
Atomic Blonde is a decent spy movie.  Charlize Theron does a great job as the title character, an agent who always seems to keep her plans, ideas, and suspicions very private; she also does quite well in the numerous fight scenes.  As for the rest, the plot is a fairly standard spy setup -- who can be trusted?  Who will survive?  Who's the double agent? -- with some twists but no big surprises; and the near-constant pop hits from the 1980s get overdone somewhat quickly.  This is an action movie that's not revolutionary but is satisfying.
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Romance is tricky -- especially when something tragic happens.  This is the surprising basis for The Big Sick, a mix of romantic comedy and drama.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a young Pakistani-American happy doing stand-up comedy in Chicago. along with driving an Uber and working on a one-man show.  He also has regular dinner with his family, which almost always involved his mother having single Pakistani women "just drop by."  Kumail resists these set-ups, though he keeps the pictures of the women in a cigar box in his apartment.

Kumail meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) when she either calls out to or heckles him during his comedy act.  They date for a few months, until she finds his box of photographs, realizes why he'd been so reluctant to introduce her to his family, and they break up.  Some time after that, he gets a call to visit Emily in the hospital; when her infection is far more serious than first thought and she has to be put in a medically-induced coma, he decides to stay by her side.
The hospital is where Kumail meets Zoe's parents, Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter).  Terry is laid back and friendly to Kumail; Beth is openly hostile to him, but then defends him against a racist heckler during his act.  They keep getting together as Zoe's situation progresses; there's also plenty of tension between Terry and Beth, making Kumail uncomfortable.
The Big Sick is quite a few things: comedy, drama, romance, reflection on dealing with a family from Pakistan while being a pretty mainstream American.  The movie handles them all well, though there's a largely low-energy feel to the movie.  There are several funny moments (though oddly usually not from the comedy club scenes) and the cast is good (especially Holly Hunter as a passionate, almost manic, mother).  While all the parts of the movie are good, none of them are really great.  The Big Sick is, overall, a pleasant film.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's time for the portrait of the superhero as a teenager.  Spider-Man: Homecoming is the latest summer superhero film, with a whole lot of high school drama as well as superheroics.

Homecoming wisely skips the very familiar origin story and jumps into the life of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) after the events of Captain America: Civil War.  Peter is bored by stopping petty crimes and wants more action, even hoping to join the Avengers.  But he's being watched and mentored by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), who want him to remain "a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man."  They also give him a "super suit" with numerous setting and a talkative A.I. named Karen.

When a gang is stealing and selling advanced and alien technology, Spider-Man sees a chance to prove himself by taking down the gang and keeping it a secret from his handlers.  But the gang is led by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who dons a truly frightening high-tech Vulture costume to step in when his gang is threatened.
All of this is accompanies by plenty of high school drama.  Peter lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), who he doesn't want to know he's Spider-Man.  Peter's friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) finds out he's Spider-Man and geeks about it all the time.  Peter has a crush on Liz (Laura Harrier), is bullied by Flash (Tony Revolori), and always seems to run into sullen Michelle (Zendaya).  And Peter thinks if he becomes an Avenger, he can completely skip school to be a full-time superhero.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is pretty good.  Tom Holland perfectly captures a teenager whose duties as a hero keep interfering with his personal life, and one who's learning as he goes along.  Michael Keaton is a suitably creepy villain, and the high school characters are all solid.  The action is done well, and there's plenty of comedy, from Peter's nervousness to Captain America's very square recorded PSAs played for high school students.  I do think the movie spent a little too much time in high school, which made the film feel a little long.  But Spider-Man Homecoming is a worthy addition to the Marvel cinematic universe.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



When it comes to alternative music and a punk-new wave sound, the Pixies are legends.  And while most of their albums were released in the late 1980s-late 1990s, they've released two albums in the 21st century.  Head Carrier, released in 2016, continues their tradition of amazing guitar riffs, dubious lyrics, and a good amount of shouting.

This time around, the Pixies are made up of Black Francis, on lead vocals and guitar; Paz Lenchantin on bass (replacing Kim Deal); David Lovering on drums; and Joey Santiago on lead guitar.  They all fit together very well, supplementing each others' sounds and making the songs feel very tight.

As for the songs themselves, Head Carrier has a pretty wide variety.  There's balls-to-the-walls screaming in "Baal's Back."  There also plenty of sentimentality, from Paz singing "Might as Well Be Gone" to the closing "All My Saints."  There's plenty of lunacy, from the band-loving "Oona" to the weird and wonderful "Um Chagga Laga."  There's even the surprisingly straightforward "Talent" about the sycophants in the music industry.

Head Carrier is a great reminder that alternative music is still out there.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch