The British love rugby.  To them, that version of "football" can inspire intense fandom, violence, and a mixture of the two.  Terry Pratchettputs a goofy spin on this love in Unseen Academicals, a Discworld novel about politics, athletics, romance, and hapless academics.

In the city of Ankh-Morpork, football is played in the streets to great enthusiasm and violence, with few rules and lots of competition.  This all changes when Lord Vetinari, the city's beloved ruling tyrant, makes the very strong suggestion to Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully that the wizards of Unseen University form a football team and play against others -- without using any magic -- or risk losing the funding for their nine meals a day.  And the wizards are not accustomed to any sort of physical activity, so their team -- the Unseen Academicals -- needs a lot of help.

The real focus, however, are some low-level workers at the Unseen University.  Trev makes candles for them, but he's the son of a famous football player who died playing -- and Trev promises his mum he'd never play football, despite being great at kicking a can around.  Nutt is a goblin who's well versed on just about everything -- and who harbors a dark secret.  Glenda Sugarbean makes delicious pies, reads romance novels, and watches out for the dim Juliet -- who's caught the romantic interest of Trev and the fashion world of dwarves.  And the four of them try to navigate this world where politics and football seem to be intertwined, dangerous thugs have their own agendas, and everyone in town is ready for the big match.
I liked Unseen Academicals, though I suspect I would have gotten a bigger kick out of it if I were a rugby fan.  There's a nice contrast between the out-of-touch professors of magic, the ever-scheming Vetinati, and the street-level quartet who are the main characters even though they're pretty low when it comes to status and authority.  The big game takes up surprisingly little of the novel, but Terry Pratchett's humorous turns-of-phrase and comic situations make getting there fun.  Unseen Academicals isn't my favorite Pratchett novel, but it is a nice one.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



A good horror movie requires several elements, from scares and originality to consistency and following its own rules.  Us, the latest movie from writer-director Jordan Peele, manages the former pretty well but falls short of the latter.

Back in 1986, young Adelaide wandered away from her parents at a carnival in Santa Clara.  She wound up at a creepy, dimly-lit hall of mirrors ("find yourself") where she saw something that left her traumatized.

In the present, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o) finds herself on vacation at a summer house in Santa Clara with her family: laid-back husband Gabe (Winston Duke), cell phone-focused teen daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and young son Jason (Evan Alex), obsessed with a magic trick and usually wearing a monster mask.  They meet up with friends and have a good time, but Adelaide feels like several coincidences are building up around them.
Things start to happen late at night when the Wilson family find themselves under siege by their doppelgangers.  Four people, dressed all in red and wielding extremely long scissors, are pursing the Wilson family -- and the duplicates are seemingly stronger, faster, and more twisted than the originals.  Red, Adelaide's duplicate and the only one who talks, explains that the copies are the Tethered and they want to kill the originals, or take their places, or... something.
Us has its scary moments, but the movie makes less sense the more one tries to think about it.  The motivations of the Tethered seem to switch from scene to scene, as are their abilities.  Some plot elements are forgotten about, while others seem to come and go as is convenient for a specific scene.  And there's one big plot twist that simply makes no sense.  The cast of the Wilson family do double duty as themselves and their evil counterparts, and Lupita Nyong'o has a lot of intensity as the mother fighting for her family, but Us is just uneven.

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch



There is a type of game where players have to pitch an idea or product to the other players, getting them to select what they pitch as the best.  Bad Medicine from Formal Ferret Games is such a game, for 3-8 players, and it's all about promoting the best, funniest pharmaceuticals to one's opponents to score the most points.

The person who most recently swallowed a pill goes first.  Players get a hand of seven cards, and at the top of the card is a one- or two- syllable word.  Underneath that is the Descriptor, a generally positive word or phrase.  And underneath that is a Side Effect.  For the first turn, a random card is placed under a Malady card so the Side Effect is showing.  Side Effects can be devastating, bizarre and humorous -- conviction that wood tastes good, permanently crossed eyes, inability to turn left -- and this Malady is the problem each player is trying to cure with their drug.

Each player (or team of players, with 5-8 players) uses the cards in their had to create a wonder drug to cure the Malady.  Three cards are used simply to give the drug a pseudo-scientific name.  The player/team then uses two more cards' Descriptors, explaining to all the other players how those benefits will take care of the problem.  This is the really fun part of the game, as logic and reasoning is often stretched pretty far to explain the benefits of, say, enamel, nerve endings, or articulation.
But the turn isn't done yet.  After the pitch, every other player/team passes a card to the current player/team -- and that player/team has to incorporate the Side Effect from one of those cards into their pitch, usually minimizing its bad effects or even explaining why it's a good thing.  And the player/team whose Side Effect was used gets a point.

When the pitch is done, players draw back up to seven cards, the next player/team clockwise makes their pitch, and this repeats until everyone has gone.  Then everyone votes for their favorite drug -- they can't vote for their own -- earning two points for each vote.  The Side Effect for the winning drug becomes the new Malady (if two or more drugs tie, all their Side Effects are used) and the next turn begins.  After three turns, whoever has the most points wins!
Bad Medicine is a simple party game that's also a lot of fun.  Anyone who's dealt with numerous medicines can relate to the long, often nonsensical names players will come up with for their drugs.  (It is hard not to hear "Cthuh" and think of "Cthulhu" or "Nyuk" and be reminded of the Three Stooges.)  The different Side Effects are varied, weird, and funny, providing plenty of fodder for treatment.  And those treatments vary from the far-fetched to actually curing the Malady.

This game does require a certain charisma and persuasiveness among its players (one poor player had little energy and never scored a single point), and cutthroat players can keep track of points to not vote for whoever's ahead and deny them the win.  But for those who get in the spirit of the game, Bad Medicine will prove a lot of fun, with silliness and and a good deal of replayability.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



For Marvel's latest entry in their cinematic universe, Captain Marvel takes a trip to outer space -- and the 1990s -- to introduce their latest, possibly most powerful hero.

Vers (Brie Larson) is a Kree warrior.  Part of a military squad battling the green shape-changing Skrulls, she can project powerful energy beams from her hands.  She also has dreams and memories of a life that she can't quite identify -- and her squad leader Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) tells her she needs more focus.

When Vers is captured by the Skrulls, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) scans Vers' mind and learns that Vers has a past with scientist Mar-Vell (Annette Bening), who developed a lightspeed drive on Earth.  And the Skrulls want it.
Vers escapes and makes her way to Earth, where she joins up with young secret agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, digitally de-aged).  Since the Skrulls are there as well, the two can only trust each other as they search for Mar-Vell -- and the truth behind Vers' past.  Yon-Rogg and his team are also making their way to Earth -- and trying to keep Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) from solving the Skrull infestation with a massive bombing.
Captain Marvel is a decent entry in the Marvel cinematic universe.  Brie Larson is solid as the lead, playing a super-powered Jason Bourne, and there are some impressive fighting sequences through the movie and cosmic effects at the end.  But the movie does slow down a lot in the middle during the investigation, and the movie does go a bit overboard with the '90s nostalgia.  There are some surprises along the way, and while Captain Marvel isn't the best Marvel movie, it is entertaining.
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch