Tons of style, slick car chases, and massive amounts of music are the foundation for Baby Driver, the latest summer action movie.  There's not a lot of substance here, but what is here is pretty slick.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the main getaway driver for robbery crews put together by Doc (Kevin Spacey).  Baby stays mostly silent, constantly listening to music on a variety of iPods to drown out the ringing in his ears.  Doc puts together crews of three robbers, they do the job, and Baby drives them away.  Baby is working off a debt to Doc, which happens after the opening job of the movie.
Baby is happy to get away from crime -- working at pizza delivery, romancing waitress Debora (Lily James) at a diner, taking care of his deaf foster father -- and things seem to be going fine.  But them Doc brings Baby back into the world of crime, with the promise of money and not-so-thinly-veiled threats against his loved ones.  Worse, the crew for the latest robbery is Bats (Jamie Foxx), a self-proclaimed crazy man and killer; and Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), who may be as nuts and dangerous as Buddy.
Baby Driver is pretty much all style. from the elaborate car chase sequences to the soundtrack provided by Baby's soundtracks.  (An early scene has words from the song popping up as Baby dances down the street.)  Ansel is good as a decent guy stuck doing bad things for bad people, and the rest of the cast is solid as well.  Baby Driver is solid summer fare.
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Quite a few years ago, there were a few dark comedies about men at a bachelor party dealing with the death of the stripper they hired.  I suppose it's gender equality that the formula is being reversed in Rough Night, where the women have to deal with this problem.

About a decade ago, Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoe Kravitz), and Frankie (Ilana Glazer) were sorority sisters and best friends in college.  In the present, Jess is dragged away from her political campaign and fiancee Peter (Paul W. Downs) for a bachelor party at a glass-walled house in Miami Beach, thrown by the other three friends -- and Pippa (Kate McKinnon), Jess' friend from Australia whos presence causes tremendous jealousy from Alice, who sees herself as Jess' best friend.

The women party it up -- drinking, clubbing, even doing coke -- and they hire a male stripper for Jess.  He gets a bit rough with Jess, and when Alice tries to jump him she accidentally kills him.  Worse, they look very guilty -- they have cocaine, they moved the body to a sex swing to keep it from being seen -- so they decide to get rid of the body.  This involves everything from driving the body through town in a tiny car to dealing with the creepy swingers (Demi Moore, Ty Burrell) next door.  Meanwhile, Peter is freaking out because he can't get in touch with Jess, so he winds up in his own misadventures when driving down to win her back.  And, of course, another male stripper turns up, and folks come looking for the dead stripper...

Rough Night is a pretty basic crude comedy.  There's lot of raunchy humor, from the near-continual profanity, to visual jokes (like the corpse being "disguised" by wearing sunglasses with a penis nose).  The cast is good, with Jillian Bell standing out as the seemingly wholesome teacher who's hornier and raunchier than all the other women.  Unfortunately, this movie follows some pretty predictable patterns: The women all blowing up at each other, a transition to almost being an action movie, and a schmaltzy "best friends forever" ending.  But there are a lot of laughs for most of the movie, making Rough Night good (if somewhat standard) entertainment.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Wow, that is an awful lot of music!  The Bob's Burgers Music Album has over 100 songs from the very funny cartoon show.  However, getting so many songs on the two CDs is possible because of the majority of extremely brief songs.

Most of the songs on this album are sang by the cast of Bob's Burgers -- H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Miriman, John Roberts, Kristin Schaal -- along with numerous guest stars (notably Megan Mullally, who voices Aunt Gayle and does a dead-on Tori Amos impersonation).  At the end of the album, several bands (including St. Vincent and the National) cover some earlier songs off the album.

Most of the songs are the short tunes that play over the end credits of the show.  There are numerous covers ("99 Red Balloons," "One Way or Another," "You're the Best"), a few full-length songs from the show (the Thomas Edison song "Electric Love," the Die Hard-Working Girl medley "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl,"), and plenty of scatalogical humor ("The Diarrhea Song," "BM in the P.M.").  There's also a wide variety of songs, from '80s songs to country music and boy bands.
I love the show Bob's Burgers, and I really wanted to enjoy The Bob's Burgers Music Album.  But the shortness of most of the songs (most last less than a minute) can make them hard to enjoy -- and hard to find on the album, since you may need to go through dozens of songs to get to a specific one.  This is good for remembering scenes from the TV show, but I'd rather have fewer full-length songs instead of so many very short songs.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



After reading I Hate Fairyland, you'll never hear the word "fluff" the same way again.  This is a comedy from Image Comics filled with massive violence inside a brightly colored fantasy world -- and it's funny as hell.

A little girl named Gertrude wished she could be on a grand adventure in a magical land.  She gets her wish, being transported (face first) to Fairyland, a magical place full of magical creatures, vibrant colors, and all sorts of animated life.  Queen Cloudia gives her a simple quest: Find a magic key, use it to unlock the door, and return home.  She's given a companion -- the talking fly Larrigon Wentsworth III -- a map of all the known lands, and a small bag that can hold very large things.

Twenty-seven years later, Gert is still wandering around Fairyland.  She hasn't grown physically, she's no closer to finding the key, and she takes her frustrations out on the denizens of Fairyland, usually slaughtering them (even the narrator at the star of the issues) with a battleaxe or cannon.  Larry is sick of Gert but is stuck with her, while Queen Cloudia can't directly harm Gert, as she's still a guest of Fairyland.  The Queen can, however, encourage others to take out Gert -- and she has a plan to make Gert a permanent part of the fantasy workd.
I Hate Fairyland is a demented and delightful reversal of the saccharine-sweet world of some fantasy.  Gert is a true anti-hero, perfectly willing to use or kill anyone in order to get back home.  It's hard not to feel sorry for her, but harder still to really support, well, just about anything she does.  (This is reflected by Larry, who clearly wants to be rid of Gert but can't; he also sometimes pulls out a pistol to help her.)  The first collection, Madly Ever After, sets up this twisted fantasy world quite well; the second collection, Fluff My Life, has the consequences of the cliffhanger at the end of the first collection, plus a little kid in a dragon costume and post-apocalyptic Gert.  If you have a sick sense of humor, I Hate Fairyland is for you.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Who would have guessed that building a galactic empire would revolve around rolling six-sided dice?  In Roll for the Galaxy, from Rio Grande Games, players vie for victory through developments, planets, and lots and lots of dice rolling.

The object of Roll for the Galaxy is to have the most victory points when the game ends.  Players begin the game with: a cup for rolling dice; a starting tableau of a faction tile (two developments) and a home planet; a construction zone mat with the Citizenry and spots for development and planet tiles; a phase strip, with all the possible roles; a screen which also has all the rules inside; three Home (white) dice in the cup, and two Home dice on the Citizenry, plus any dice given from the home planet.  And a number of victory point chips, based on the number of players, are placed in the middle of the table.
At the start of each turn, players roll the dice in their cup behind their screen, assign the dice on their phase strip to one phase, and all lift their screen together to enact the phases.  Dice normally go under the phase matching the symbol on the dice.  In addition, players can assign any one die to the phase regardless of the die's facing; players can also use the Dictate power to set one die to the side and then assign any other die to any phase.
There are five phases.  Explorer gives players two choices per die.  They can Scout, discarding any number of development or world tiles from their Construction zone mat, drawing a number of tiles equal to the number of discarded tiles plus one, choosing which side to use (one side has a development, the other side has a planet), and putting the new tiles under the tiles already on the mat; or they can Stock, gaining two galactic credits.  Developer puts the dice on the top development tile.  If the dice equal the cost of the development, the development goes into the tableau and its powers start immediately.  If there are fewer dice than the cost, the dice stay on the development; if there are more dice than the cost, dice above the cost go on the next development in the stack.  Settler works exactly like Developer, but for planets on the mat.  Producer puts each die used as a good on available planets, one die per planet unless a development allows more than one.  And Shipper gives two choices per die.  A player can trade goods, for three to six galactic credits, based on the color of the planet.  Or a player can consume goods, getting victory point chips: Always one victory point, a bonus victory point if the die matches the color of the planet, and a bonus victory point if the Shipper die matches the color of the planet.  And the Consumption (purple) die matches all colors and gains a bonus victory point.
After these actions, all dice used by a player go on the Citizenry, and unused dice go back into the cup.  Players can also take dice used on developments, planets, or as goods and place them in the cup.  Players they use their galactic credits to move dice from the Citizenry to the cup, at one die per galactic credit used; if a player has no credits, they automatically gain one.  Then players roll the dice in their cup, assign them to a phase, and  so on.

The game ends when a player has thirteen or more developments and planets in their tableau (including the three they start with) or the pool of victory point chips is empty.  Players then add up the victory point chips, plus they get victory points equal to the cost of their developments and planets; some 6-cost developments and planets give bonus victory points.  Whoever has the most victory points wins!

I really enjoyed Race for the Galaxy.  There is no combat with or blocking of opponents, letting players focus more on their own strategy than that of opponents.  The game starts slowly, but as players get more dice from planets and more benefits from developments players get a lot more dice to use and options for using them.  Players can work to end the game when most beneficial for them, while checking to see if an opponent is close to ending things.  And since active dice don't go back in the cup, earning enough galactic credits to add dice to the cup can be as important as getting more developments and planets.

The one slight downside is that this game requires a tremendous amount of trust: You have to be sure you and your fellow players aren't illegally changing the facing of dice behind the screens before revealing them.  But as long as the players are trustworthy, Roll for the Galaxy is a nice blend of luck and skill in creating a star-spanning empire.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Ah, summertime.  The season for beaches, barbecues, swimming, and... terrible short features?  Rifftrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party continues the MST3K/Rifftrax tradition of joking during terrible movies -- only this time the subjects/victims are short features.

The Summer Shorts feature is hosted by Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy.  This time around, however, they're joined by MST3K alumns Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and Bridget Nelson (Mike's wife), along with comedian Paul F. Tompkins.  The guests riff on the shorts with or instead of the three regulars, and everyone joins together to take on the evening's final short feature.

As for the shorts, they prove as terrible -- and therefore ripe for being the subject of jokes -- as the feature films.  There's a safety film involving a magic owl that looks like a furry with a beard.  There's a sexist black and white feature on women in the office.  There's the "exercise" of rhythmic ball movement.  And it all wraps up with two burlap sacks coming to life and being chased by their owner.
It's hard to believe some of these shorts ever got made -- but it's great that the Rifftrax folks got hold of them.  There were a tremendous amount of laughs during all the shorts, and the variety of short features kept the subject matter quite varied.  Even though none of the shorts were beach or summer related, Rifftrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party was a very fun way to spend a summer evening.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



So, what happens when you combine a plague, paranoia, and a low budget with a cast of less than a dozen people?  It Comes at Night is such a movie -- and it's painfully flat and boring.

The movie opens with someone apparently infected and sick, being taken to the forest for a mercy killing and body burning.  We're told (not shown, alas) that there's some sort of incredibly infectious disease that's caused the collapse of civilization.  Paul (Joel Edgerton) survives, with gas masks and plenty of firearms, in his house in the woods with his teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and the family dog.  They follow Paul's rules, live simply, and barricade themselves in the house at night.
Their existence is changed when someone tries to break into the house at night.  This would be Will (Christopher Abbott), who's searching to trade food for water for his family.  Paul is initially skeptical, but he eventually allows Will's family -- young wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) -- to integrate with his family, living and working together.  But Paul's fear of infection remain, there are mysterious sounds in the woods, and Travis is having both nightmares and fantasies about the newcomers to their home.
While bare-bones movies can sometimes work (Clerks, The Blair Witch Project), It Comes at Night doesn't work on so many levels.  We never get to learn anything about the characters, making it hard to root for or sympathize with any of them.  (The bland acting doesn't help either.)  Most of the scares come from Travis' nightmares, which isn't an effective source of terror.  And there's little payoff for the few mysteries introduced in the movies.  This was a huge disappointment.

Overall grade: F
Reviewed by James Lynch



So, what happens when a movie about a sex worker isn't really about sex?  The Girlfriend Experience, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is a non-sequential drama that's as much about the economy as it is about sex-for-pay.

Chelsea (Sasha Gray, real life former porn star) is a sophisticated, high-end escort living and working in Manhattan.  In addition to sex, she offers her clients "the girlfriend experience," where they talk about whatever they like -- before, after, or even instead of sex.  In her narration, she describes her meetings with the clients: Who they are, what she wore, and what they did on their "date."  She also describes her work to a journalist (Mark Jacobson) and we hear her conversations with her clients.   And she's working on expanding her brand, from investing in ways to increase her online presence to opening a clothing boutique.
There's also Chris (Chris Santos), Chelsea's boyfriend.  He's fine with her work but upset by her belief in "personology," a kind of astronomy where she thinks some clients could be her soulmate.  He works as gym instructor and is working to get ahead, at his gym, other gyms, and possibly selling clothes.  And he wonders if Chelsea'd be bothered if he went to a guys' weekend to Las Vegas.
All of this is happening before the 2008 presidential election -- and worries about the state of the economy and where it's heading are omnipresent.  There's far more discussion about money than sex in The Girlfriend Experience.

But does it work?  This movie skips a traditional linear plot in favor of (mostly) brief scenes scattered: meetings with clients, friends, investors, etc.  Sasha Gray plans Chelsea as almost always emotionally closed, which interesting to a point but hard to get invested in her.  The Girlfriend Experience may not be consistent, but it is interesting.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



After the last two horrible DC movies (Batman V. Superman, Suicide Squad), DC got it right with Wonder Woman.  This movie is faithful to the comic book character, very exciting, and inspires the sort of awe epic comic book characters deserve.

As a child, Diana grew up on the hidden island Themyscira, populated by warrior Amazons.  Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells Diana (her daughter) tales of the gods, with Zeus defeating Ares and the Amazons destined to destroy Ares, while he tries to corrupt humanity with war.  Hippolyta doesn't want Diana to be trained for battle, but is persuaded that she be trained more than any Amazon ever.  And the adult Diana (Gal Gadot) is the most skilled Amazon.
 Everything changes when pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on the island, followed closely by German forces.  The Germans attack the Amazons, Steve defends them, and he explains to the isolated Amazons about World War I.  He's on a mission to deliver a book to British intelligence.  Diana believes Area must be behind the War and -- arming herself with magic lasso, shield, and a sword called the Godkiller -- joins Steve Trevor as he returns to Europe.

Diana and Steve have allies in London with perky agent Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) and elderly planner Sir Patrick (David Thewlis).  On the opposite side, General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) hates the peace talks and believes one big German victory will turn the tide of the war.  And scarred scientist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) has two major discoveries: a form of mustard gas so deadly it shatters gas masks, and another gas that gives someone superhuman strength.
Wonder Woman works on most levels.  Gal Gadot strikes the right balance between caring and warrior, intelligent woman and innocent exposed to the world for the first time.  Chris Pine is good as the cocky soldier and spy, and the villains have the right amount of menace.  The action sequences are awe-inspiring, even getting me to enjoy slow-motion moments.  The quest takes them from the natural beauty and isolation of Themyscira to the bustling London to the Front (with a multi-ethnic group of supporting characters).  While it was easy to figure out the two "surprises" well in advance, the story moves along well.  And there's some nice humor peppered throughout the movie.  Wonder Woman is a terrific film that's great summer entertainment.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch