R.I.P. Harlan Ellison 1934-2018

Harlan Ellison, one of the greats of speculative fiction ("Call me a 'science-fiction' writer and I'll come to your house and nail your pet's head to the table"), activism, columns, film criticism, and countless other areas of literature, cinema, television, and entertainment, passed away today.

Harlan Ellison may be best known for his writing.  He has written novels, short stories, and television scripts (including the original script for the Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever") and has won countless awards for his work.  His short story "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" is one of the most-translated stories in English.  And he's responsible for innumerable great quotes; possibly his most famous is "The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity."

Ellison was also a passionate and prolific critic.  When he hated a work, he'd trash it endlessly.  When he loved a work (or person), his praise was limitless.  He was an outspoken activist as well, weighing in on all sorts of political and cultural issues.  He was also an advocate for the creative, and his "pay the writer!" rant is famous for standing up to those who see writers as less.  And he engaged in (and usually won) several lawsuits to protect his creations and intellectual property.
I was fortunate enough to have heard Harlan Ellison speak several times at the I-CON convention in Long Island, New York.  He was a brilliant, energetic, and thoroughly engaging speaker.  I also got to meet with him as well, and several books that he signed for me are among my most prized possessions.

Rest in peace, Harlan Ellison.  You will be missed.

James Lynch


Steven Soderbergh directed the classic modern heist movie with the remake of Ocean's Eleven, so it's oddly appropriate that years he'd direct a heist movie with a redneck spin.  Logan Lucky takes the planned heist to a different level, appropriate for its West Virginia-Charlotte, NC setting.

The Logan family has infamously bad luck, and that's certainly true for Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum).  He just got fired from a construction job for not revealing his limp.  His ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) is considering moving out of West Virginia with their young daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie).  And Sadie wants her dad to attend her performance at a child beauty pageant.  And it looks like Jimmy has no money.
What Jimmy does have is a plan.  At his last job he worked on fixing sinkholes at a North Carolina racetrack, he knows how the money is moved to the vault, and he puts together a crew to steal it.  There's Clyde Logan (Adam Driver), Jimmy's bartender brother who lost much of his left arm in the Gulf War.  There's Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), the explosives expert who's unfortunately incarcerated.  There are Joe's brothers Fish and Sam Bang (Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson) who can provide computer support.  ("All the Twitters, I know 'em.")  And there's Mellie Logan (Riley Keough), Jimmy and Clyde's sister, who can provide speedy driving.  When the plan has to be moved up a week, the gang finds themselves working during a NASCAR race -- with far more security than normal.
Logan Lucky is both different and familiar at the same time.  The movie skips the usual Hollywood beauties and casual upper middle class wealth of most movies (and television shows, for that matter) for a look at a far more Southern lower-class lifestyle.  This is played for laughs sometimes, but there's also a bit of pride there: One of the most moving moments is a sing-along of Bob Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads."  Besides that, though, the heist itself is something we've seen numerous times before (including from Soderbergh), with perfect timing, incompetent authorities and security, and a good deal of suspension of disbelief.  The cast has fun, and the end result is enjoyable enough.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



What happens when grown men obsessively play a kid's game well into their adulthood?  This is the basis for Tag.  Based on a true story (as the film reminds us at its beginning and end), this movie is silly, goofy, and often funny.

Five friends have been playing the same game of tag since they were nine.  As adults, every May even though they live in separate cities the group can use disguises, surprise, and whatever they can think of to tag each other.  At the end of the month, the last person tagged has to live with the "shame" of being it until they play again.
 This year Hogan "Hoagie" Malloy (Ed Helms) tracks down and gets together with his friends Bob Callahan (John Hamm), Randy "Chilli" Cillaino (Jake Johnson) and Kevin Sable (Hannibal Burress) with a mission: They all team up to tag Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner), the friend who's never been tagged and is retiring from the game after this year.  Hoagie thinks they have an edge: knowing when Jerry is getting married and using that knowledge to tag him.  But Jerry is insanely focused on winning (his encounters with his friends are slow-motion strategic battles) and seems ready for whatever the others come at him with.
While the five friends have a "no girls allowed" amendment for their game, most of the supporting cast is female.  Susan Rollins (Leslie Bibb) is Jerry's fiancee who supports the game but declares the wedding and related events off-limits for tagging each other.  Anna Malloy (Isla Fisher) is Hoagie's wife who's ultra-intense in helping her husband win the game.  Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis) is a reporter whose business article about Bob quickly turns into an article about this game of tag.  And Cheryl Deakins (Rashida Jones) is the former crush of both Bob and Chill, brought in by Jerry to distract them.

Tag is fun, if pretty light.  The movie doesn't delve into how a kid's game is so important to grown-ups, apart from a few scenes showing how the game intersects with big moments in their lives.  The movie also gets more serious and sentimental near the end, with a slightly-telegraphed twist.  But the comedic action scenes are pretty funny, and the cast's enthusiasm carries into pretty consistently funny scenes.  Tag is goofy -- and it's amusing too.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



The original Incredibles is considered by many to be the best superhero movie ever made.  Fortunately Pixar had 14 years to work on the sequel, and Incredibles 2 manages to live up to the entertaining legacy of the original.

Set immediately after the original movie, Incredibles 2 finds the Parr family (the Incredibles)  family pretty low.  "Supers" are still illegal.  A battle with the villainous Underminer left the city with massive property damage, which the Incredibles are blamed for.  And the government agency which had helped the Parrs has been disbanded, leaving the family with two weeks in a motel before they face homelessness.
 Relief comes from the brother-sister duo of Winston and Evelyn Deavor (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener).  He's great at sales and persuading people, she's great with technology, and together they have a giant, successful company -- and a plan to make Supers legal again.  They want to make Elastigirl/Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) the new face of superheroes, by recording and broadcasting her crime-fighting.  This leaves Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) feeling left out of the action.  While Elastigirl is battling the mysterious villain Screenslaver, who hypnotizes people through TV screens and monitors, Bob is run ragged as a stay-at-home dad.  He has to deal with speedy Dash (Huck Milner) dealing with new math in school, daughter Violet (Sarah Powell) deal with a boy who she was supposed to date until he literally forgot she exists, and baby Jack-Jack manifesting all sorts of powers.
Incredibles 2 is another excellent movie from Pixar.  There's plenty of humor, from Jack-Jack's uncontrollable powers to director Brad Bird's return as fashion designer Edna Mode.  There are exciting action sequences, surprises with the plot, and several new supers who add to the action.  Incredibles 2 is smart, funny, and thoroughly entertaining.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



One of the most beloved episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 was their making of the 1980s sci-fi disaster Space Mutiny.  So it's no surprise that the movie got a redoing with Rifftrax Live: Space Mutiny.  This comedy feature had all-new jokes, several scenes not shown in the MST3K episode, and lots and lots of humor.

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy (the latter dressed as Alex Jansen) began by riffing "The Magic Shop," a short feature based on a story by H.G. Wells.  Next came a preview of their next Rifftrax Live feature, Krull.  And from there, it was on to Space Mutiny!

For better or worse, seeing extra scenes of Space Mutiny doesn't improve that movie in the slightest.  However, that just gave the three hosts even more material to make fun of.  There are lots of new nicknames for the muscular, dim hero Dave Ryder.  (Max Roidrage!  Bacon von Meatwich!)  There's the heroine who seems as old as her father, the dead character who shows up alive back at her post, and the scenery-chewing villain Calgon.  There also the "spaceship" full of brick walls and pipes, footage shamelessly taken from Battlestar Galactica, and lots of propane tanks lying around.  None of it is spared by the comedy trio.
Rifftrax Live: Space Mutiny is a very funny take on a very bad "classic" movie.  We get everything from jokes about the awful combat ("Why'd you have to kick and shoot me in the crotch?") to how Bill will cover up some nudity without a gorilla-gram.  The humor is consistent from start to finish, and the new jokes made it fresh even for those of us very familiar with the original MST3K episode.  This was a lot of fun!
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Family issues and haunting concerns are featured in Hereditary.  This movie is sometimes effective, sometimes wandering in the tone it wants to set.

The movie seems to begin as a ghost movie.  Ellen Graham has passed away from cancer in her 70s, and her family deals with her death in different ways.  Daughter Annie (Toni Collette) has conflicted feelings about her late mother and throws herself into her art: making miniature scenes from her life.  Her teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) seems concerned with teen interests, like getting high and women in his class.  Quiet younger daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) makes clicking noises and has a disturbing reaction to finding a dead bird outside her classroom.  And father Steve (Gabriel Byrne) just wants to hold his family together.
The movie also enters into ghostly territory: figures appear in the shadows and vanish when lights are turned on, a blob of light seems to flow along the walls or follow people.  But when a horrible tragedy strikes the Grahams, the movie shifts into a different mode: family drama, where the amily members deal with a new horror, often in destructive and vindictive ways.  Then the movie shifts a final time into near-gonzo horror, where things really go insane.
This shift in tones weakens Hereditary, but there's plenty that does work here.  Toni Collette is very good as the mother dealing with both her issues with her late mother and concerns about her family.  Milly Shapiro is nicely creepy as the kid who may have something sinister going on in her own little world.  The miniatures add to the disturbing atmosphere, and while the end phase is crazy it also builds suspense and horror.  I just wish there was more consistency here.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch