High school has seen plenty of improvements and still has its share of angst and navigation.  Love, Simon is a movie that explores this world through the eyes of someone's big secret.

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a high school senior with a very typical life.  He has a good family with with his therapist mom (Jennifer Gardner), always-joking dad (John Duhamel), and little sister (Talitha Bateman) who's always experimenting with cooking.  Simon has a nice social life at school, hanging out with his friends Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp), and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.).  Simon is part of the school play, gets invited to parties, and seems well liked.
And Simon is gay -- something he doesn't tell anyone, friends or family.  When Simon reads an online confession by a closeted gay teen calling himself "Blue," Simon starts corresponding with him, using the pseudonym "Jacques."  Soon Simon is obsessed with getting messages from Blue, as they chat about what it's like being gay but not letting anyone know.
Pretty soon Simon is looking around his high school, imagining that something Blue mentioned might indicate means a classmate is Blue.  Unfortunately, annoying theater nerd Martin (Logan Miller) comes across Simon's correspondence with Blue and threatens to post them to the school unless Simon helps Martin get with Abby.  This puts Simon in a rough spot, since Nick is interested in Abby.

Love, Simon is a mix of drama and comedy, and it's a nice movie.  The movie takes a pretty even-handed approach to Simon's several dilemmas (though the ending may go a little over the top with the high school's acceptance) and it's a fairly realistic look at the teenage dramas that are part of high school.  Nick Robinson is quite good as the regular guy with his one big secret, and the rest of the cast is solid.  (Kudos to Tony Hale as the vice-principal trying way to hard to be cool and fit in with his students.)  Love, Simon is a sweet, good movie.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



What happens when a popular push-your-luck dice game adds in player-to-player combat -- and a dragon?  You get Dragon Farkle, a game from Z-Man Games for 2-5 players where players work the dice and combat each other to raise an army and attack a dragon.

Players use their six six-sided dice, plus an Event Die, to raise an army or combat each other.  Players also get a Companion card (which affects the turns) and a Magic Item (which helps the player, but is discarded after use; players can also only have one Magic Item at a time).

To recruit soldiers, a player rolls their dice and Event Die.  If a player's dice combination earns them soldiers, those soldiers are placed over the player's mat and the dice used are set aside.  If a player didn't get any soldiers, they Farkle, losing any soldiers and Magic Items earned that turn and ending their turn.  If the Event Die came up blank, nothing happens.  If the Event Die shows a Dragon, it eats any soldiers earned that turn; if a player didn't get any soldiers, the Dragon lets them ignore the Farkle and either continue or end their turn.  And if a Rally side (represented by axes) shows up, a player can either double the number of soldiers they'd get on that roll, or get a Magic Item.
 If a player earned soldiers, they choose to either end their turn or continue.  Ending the turn means all the Soldiers and Magic Items earned move onto the player's mat.  If a player continues, they roll any remaining dice, possibly earning more soldiers -- or losing all the soldiers they earned that turn if they Farkle.

Attacking another player is very similar to recruiting soldiers.  The attacking player rolls the six dice and Event Die, earning soldiers (unless they Farkle).  The defending player rolls five dice and the Event Die, earning soldiers.  After both sides roll, the side with more soldiers steals soldiers from the losing side equal to the difference in the soldiers earned that turn; the winning side also gets 500 soldiers from the stockpile.
When a player has 5000 or more soldiers, they can try to win the game by attacking the dragon.  The dragon takes three damage to kill.  A player rolls the six dice and the Event Die.  A Dragon on the Event Die does one damage to the dragon, a Rally does two damage to the dragon, and the blank side does no damage.  However, the results of the scoring dice are subtracted from the player's soldiers.  If the player Farkles, or runs out of soldiers, their turn ends, the player loses their Companion card and gets a new one, and the dragon heals all damage.  A player who hasn't lost all their soldiers can choose to stay and attack the dragon again on their next turn, or they can recruit soldiers or fight other players.  The first player to defeat the dragon wins!

Dragon Farkle is enjoyable, if not radically different from its source game.  The sword and sorcery aspect of the game works well, and the push-your-luck element remains intact, whether recruiting soldiers, fighting other players, or trying to slay the dragon.  This is a nice game, moreso for people who like both Farkle and Dungeons & Dragons.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Gems and jewelry await!  In Splendor from Days of Wonder, 2-4 players collect gems, create jewelry, use discounts, attract merchants, and score points to get 15 or more points and win the game.

The play area is set up with cards.  There are four rows of development cards placed horizontally: a row from level 1 (cheapest to buy, fewest rewards), a row from level 2 (more expensive, more valuable) and a row from level 3 (the most expensive and valuable).  Several nobles, equal to the number of players plus one, go at the top of the cards.

On a player's turn, they take one of four actions.  They can take three gems -- emerald (green), sapphire (blue), ruby (red), diamond (white), onyx (black) -- of different colors.  They can take two gems of the same color, as long as there are least four gems available before the player takes two.  A player can reserve a development card, taking it from the play area and putting it in their hand; they also get a gold (yellow) token; players can only have a maximum of three cards in their hand, and they can only be gotten rid of by purchasing them.  And if a player has more than ten gems and gold at the end of their hand, they have to return gems until they have ten.

Players can purchase a development card, from the middle of the table or from their hand.  Development cards have a cost, in gems, on the bottom left of the card.  Players can pay the listed cost of the card.  Gold can be used in place of any single gem, and bonus from previously purchased cards can be subtracted from the cost of the development card.  When a development card is purchased, a replacement is drawn, if possible, from the deck in its row.

The top right of each development card shows its reward: points, bonuses, or both.  Points are added up to victory.  Bonuses show a gem color, and it's subtracted from future development card purchases.  Bonuses are cumulative with multiple development cards, so as more and more development cards are purchased future purchases become much cheaper -- and it's often possible to buy development cards for free.

Finally there are the nobles.  If a player's bonuses equal or exceed the quality and type of bonuses shown on the noble tile at the end of their turn, one noble goes to that player and adds their point value to the player's points.

When a player reaches 15 points, the game almost ends.  Every other player then gets one final turn, and after everyone takes their final turn the player with the most points wins!

Splendor is a fun and competitive game of strategy.  While the game starts off slow, as players rely solely on their gems and gold to buy development cards, once players start accumulating bonuses there's a snowballing effect of discounts, making cards easier and easier to obtain.  Initially players have to decide between development cards that give points or bonuses, but later on players will aim for those cards that give both.  The strategy isn't deep (though inevitably someone will buy development cards right before someone else would have) but Splendor is light and enjoyable.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Plenty of comedies revolve around characters thinking a real situation is fake -- and seeing how long the movie can draw that out.  This takes up the early portion of Game Night, a movie where friends' gathering to play assorted games spirals out of control.

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are a happily married couple who seem obsessed with playing games, either with or against each other, and with their friends: married couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury); Ryan (Billy Magnussen), who always seems to bring brainless bimbos to game night; and Sarah (Sharon Horgan), an Irish coworker of Ryan who he brought as a ringer.  Max also has issues with his older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who seems more successful and better liked that Max.  Max and Annie also want to avoid letting their creepy next-door-neighbor police officer Gary (Jesse Plemons) worm his way into their game night.
Brooks takes control of game night, and he has everyone over to his house for a murder-mystery type game: Someone will be kidnapped, and whoever finds the kidnapped person first gets a cool car.  Soon enough, masked men seem to beat up and kidnap Brooks -- and the game is on!  Max and Annie trace Brooks' cell phone to find him.  Ryan and Sarah go to the company Brooks employed to find out the last clue.  And Kevin and Michelle are locked in a room by Max and Annie and have to escape -- while bickering over what celebrity Michelle slept with.
Max and Annie find Brooks, and they think the game is over and they won the car.  But it turns out that Brooks is a smuggler, and his kidnapping was real.  Brooks promised to deliver a Faberge egg to a criminal known as the Bulgarian, and soon the friends are all working together to get and deliver the egg, save Brooks, and keep the police from getting involved.

Game Night is a decent comedy that's slightly uneven.  Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are very good as the couple who go quite a while thinking all the craziness is just part of a game, and Jesse Plemons is nicely weird as the just-off neighbor, and the rest of the cast is decent.  Some of the humor works fine (amateurs removing a bullet, getting blood off of a white dog) and some falls flat (the shift to borderline action movie).  Game Night is okay, though better than most movies based on actual games (and probably the ones coming soon).

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Like it or not, soccer (henceforth referred to as "football") has never really caught on here in the United States.  So when a kid's comedy largely revolves around football humor (even the title refers to early Manchester football fans), it can fall flat.  This is a problem for the Aardman Studios' stop-motion animated comedy Early Man.

Dug (Eddie Redmayne) has a simple but happy life with his caveman tribe and pet hog Hognob.  They live in a lush valley, hunt rabbits (with limited success), and all have their own quirks.  Dug would rather hunt larger animals, like mammoths, but Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall) wants to continue hunting rabbits because that's what they've always done. 
Cultures clash when bronze-armored mammoths invade the valley, driving the caveman out of the valley and into the desolate badlands.  Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) is obsessed with bronze and decided to mine the valley for it, not caring what happens to the cavemen.  When Dug ends up in Lord Nooth's city, Dug learns that Nooth's people are obsessed with "the sacred game" of football -- and Dug realizes that his tribe's cave paintings showed his ancestors playing this game. So Dug challenges Lord Nooth's championship team to a game of football: If Dug's tribe wins they get to live in the valley in peace, but if Lord Nooth's team wins the tribe works in the mines.

This would seem to be an impossible task, considering Dug's tribe has never played football before.  But Dug remains optimistic because their ancestors played.  He also gets help from Goona (Maisie Williams), a football fan from the city who's told she can't play because she's female -- so she plays with the tribe.  And there are a few twists, lots of football jokes, flagrant cheating, and a dinosaur-sized duck.

Early Man is more cute than funny.  The cast is game with their voices, but most of the football jokes just fall flat and there aren't many surprises in the story.  As a result, this movie is another kids' movie that just does the minimum to try and entertain.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch



While Marvel has done amazing work with their shared universe of superheroes, Black Panther brings them into a new area: nation building.  The movie has a mostly African-American cast for its fictional country of Wakanda -- and it works very well.

Things seem to be going well for T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman).  He's become the new ruler of Wakanda, even temporarily giving up his powers to battle a challenger in combat.  His "panther powers" include super strength, speed, reflexes, and healing; and he also has an incredibly tough super-suit.  His young sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is a tech genuis, working in all areas of the country's vibranium-powered technologies.  His ex-lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) is a spy for the country but returns for his coronation.  And his bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurira) is one of the nation's most powerful warriors.
Yet T'Challa is uncertain about keeping his country's amazing scientific advances to themselves and maintaining the illusion that they're a poor nation of farmers.  When Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) --a  terrorist with a mechanical arm who stole vibranium from Wakanda, killing many of its people in the process -- surfaces, T'Challa and his allies go to capture him.  But Klaue is working with Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a killer with a mysterious past whose plans would affect both Wakanda and the rest of the world.

Black Panther has plenty of what we've come to expect from Marvel movies -- super-powered folks slugging it out -- but there are also deeper issues, from loyalty to leaders who one disagrees with to isolationism being in opposition to altruism.  Chadwick Boseman brings a regal attitude to the role of T'Challa, making him both more heroic and more conflicted than the standard super hero.  Michael B. Jordan makes his killer sympathetic at times, and the rest of the cast manages both action and humor equally well.  Black Panther is a fine addition to the Marvel cinematic universe.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



Growing up on Long Island, New York I was fortunate to be able to travel to the Tower Records store in Manhattan, and later to a much closer store near my home.  I spent plenty of money there -- and saw the store close and the shelves emptied in its last days.  All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records is a talking-heads documentary about the creation, success, and ultimate failure of what could be the most famous music store of all time.

All Things Must Pass spends most of its time on several people who had been with Tower Records from its early days in California in the 1960s -- especially its founder, Russ Solomon.  He had an easygoing way of running the store: People could wear what they wanted, treat the customers how they wanted, and even show up drunk or stoned, as long as they opened the store on time.  The people who stayed got promoted, and as the the stores expanded -- to the east coast, and internationally -- these people often moved on to run other stores.
We also hear from musicians -- Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Sir Elton John -- and David Geffen, all sharing their memories of how great the store was at a time when there was no Internet for music lovers to discover new sounds and connect with fellow fans.  And there's plenty of archival footage of the shoppers in the stores, flipping through actual records.
As for the history of the store, this documentary focuses on the early years and the final ones.  We know that the store was a hit with the hippie generation, and near the end the store suffered not only from Napster but other stores selling CDs, taking on lots of debt, and the failure of some of their expansion stores.  There's a definite bias against the mean, strict financial people closing the stores down that's a sharp contrast to the fun and freedom the employees enjoyed in the store's early days.

Despite the overwhelming positive attitude towards the store -- employees loved working there, musicians loved shopping and visiting there -- All Things Must Pass is a good look at how Tower Records became famous and successful -- and how it all came crashing down.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



The Ramones were masters of the punk rock movement in the 1970s, and Rocket to Russia -- their third album -- showcases not just their punk chops but their other talents as well.

Rocket to Russia has plenty of the Ramones' fast delivery (no song reaches three minutes) and and the anger and repetition familiar to punk.  There's the destruction of the family unit in "We're a Happy Family," the lack of interest in anything in "I Don't Care" ("I don't care about this world/I don't care about that girl"), the world of not having material goods in "I Can't Give You Anything," and support for the societal underdogs in "Cretin Hop" and "Sheena is a Punk Rocker."

But there's more going on with the album.  There's a loving feel to romantic ballads ("Locket Love"), teens hanging out ("Rockaway Beach") and the joy of dancing.  ("Do You Wanna Dance?")  There's also a wicked sense of humor in many of the songs, whether it's opening a song by shouting "LOBOTOMY!" ("Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em/that I got no cerebellum") , the fun little rhymes ("LSD, golly gee") or the pitch-perfect cover of "Surfin' Bird."

Detractors of the Ramones could say a lot of the songs sound awfully alike musically -- but there's plenty of variety to be found on Rocket to Russia.  All these years later, the album still remains tremendous fun.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch




Sometimes a drama can be almost solely about a relationship, without external crises or events.  Phantom Thread, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is such a film.

In 1950s London, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis, in what he says is his final film role) is a dressmaker to the wealthy, famous, and royal.  He has a close personal and business relationship with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), a demanding nature that upsets many women, a rigid lifestyle, and some issues relating to his late mother.
During a trip in the country, Reynolds meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a French waitress in a restaurant.  Reynolds is smitten with her -- but more about designing dresses for her than anything romantic of sexual.  Alma becomes a part of his life and household, initially as a muse and then as a source of change and frustration.
Phantom Thread is a subtle film.  There are few blow-ups or big happenings but rather the evolution of the relationship between Reynolds and Alma.  The two leads are terrific in their roles, with Day-Lewis making Reynolds both passionate and very difficult, while Vicky makes Alma both a regular person and someone not cowed by the strong personality of her man.  The end result is quite moving and very impressive.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's back to the magic/cursed game Jumanji in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.  This movie has teens transported to a video game jungle -- in new bodies.

The movie starts in 1996, when some kids find the Jumanji board game and one says no one plays board games anymore, returning to his video game.  The game magically transforms into a game cartridge, and the boy disappears.

Jump to the present, and four teens have gotten detention.  Spencer (Alex Wolff) is a thoughtful student and nervous hypochondriac who got busted for writing papers for Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), a football player who used to be good friends with Spencer.  Bethany (Madison Iseman) is a high school popular beauty who couldn't stay off her iPhone.  And Martha (Morgan Turner) is a quiet thinker who speaks out against gym class.  While the four are stuck cleaning a room, they find the Jumanji game (now a video game console) and find themselves zapped into the world of the game.
The teens are now the video game characters, with their skills and weaknesses.  Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) is the muscular leader with no weaknesses.  Fridge (Kevin Hart) is a zoologist who's slower and weaker, plus he carries everyone's stuff in his backpack.  Bethany (Jack Black) is now a pudgy male -- but she still can't deal with not having a phone.  And Martha (Karen Gillan) is a beautiful martial artist in a skimpy outfit.  Their mission: Find the magic gem stolen by evil explorer Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale, who has little to do but look menacing) and return it to its place in a giant statue.  Each teen has three lives, and when they die they fall from the sky to continue the game.  NPCs show up, with limited reactions and often repeating the same lines over and over.  And the four run into Alex (Nick Jonas), the teenager who got sucked into the game back in 1996 and has been trying to get out ever since.
Despite enough cursing to get this movie a PG-13 rating, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle feels a lot like a kids' movie.  The teens start as strangers or former friends who grow to be good friends, and their characters' skills let them work together to complete the game.  A lot of the humor comes from the stars acting atypically (Dwayne Johnson constantly scared, Jack Black effeminately) or video game cliches brought to life, and the movie doesn't give any surprised or take any real chances.  This is a cute movie, but not terribly funny or exciting.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch



Given the flamboyant and grandiose nature of P.T. Barnum's circus, it makes perfect sense that The Greatest Showman, about his life and creation, is a musical.  And with impressive musical numbers, fine acting, and a compelling story, it works very well.

Phineas Barnum had a rough childhood as a dreamer and the poor son of a tailor -- and that didn't make his romantic interest in the upper-class Charity any easier.  As an adult, Phineas (Hugh Jackman) and Charity (Michelle Williams) got married and had two little girls.  While they are poor and Phineas has trouble holding down a job, Phineas wants to give her and his family something more,
With a bit of fraud, Phineas opens up a shop of oddities, hoping to attract customers to seeing the unusual.  On his daughter's advice he changes the museum to a live show, advertising for the unusual and outcasts of society.  He gets quite a lot, from Tom Thumb and the singing bearded lady to acrobatic brother and sister Anne and W.D. Wheeler (Zendaya, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).  The show proves to be a popular hit, and now P.T. Barnum buys his family a huge mansion while acting as the host for the performances.  But the show generates controversy, from both the upper class (and a newspaper critic who thinks it's all trickery) and the lower class (who resent the so-called "freaks").
Barnum brings in playwright Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron) to expand the circus' appeal to the upper classes.  He's interested in Anne, though she's concerned about how they could be together when society frowns on mixed-race couples.  Meanwhile Barnum gets distracted from his circus by Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), an European opera singer who appeals to Barnum as a genuine talent (and possible threat to his marriage).  And the other issues haven't vanished either...

There is so much to enjoy about The Greatest Showman.  The musical numbers are catchy, visually stunning, and engaging, and they fit in perfectly with the story.  Hugh Jackman plays Barnum perfectly, as a grandiose promoter and dreamer who's fine bucking society but who gets tripped up by actual success.  Zac Efron and Zendaya provide both a romantic subplot and a look at the racism of the time, and the rest of the cast is terrific.  The Greatest Showman embodies the best of the musical spectacle.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch


X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time!

After Showtime's documentary on the greatest adult movies of all time, it makes sense that they'd follow it up with a documentary on the adult industry's biggest stars.  X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time! does better than the original documentary, as this one provides more structure and information.

Hosted by Mr. Skin, this documentary is a mix of talking heads (from the adult movie industry, plus Whoopi Goldberg, Rob Zombie, and Steven Soderbergh), and movie clips of the featured star.  Hosted by Mr. Skin, X-Rated 2 is divided into several sections, each with their reason for what makes their subjects the greatest: popularity, longevity in the industry, men (though males appeared in the other categories as well), colored/minority performers, alternative/kinky performers, dramatic actors, those who crossed over into mainstream/pop culture, and the two biggest stars of all time from porn.
In addition to the people commenting on the choices, each "greatest adult star" also appears, either interviewed for the documentary or in archival footage.  Most are positive about the work, though several are quite candid about the problems in the industry, such as when Misty Rain talks about how white actors get paid more than minority actors.  We get the years each performer appeared in adult films, and the clips of the stars are accompanies by the name of the feature.

Such a listing is fairly subjective, and there are plenty of stars who were left off that should have been here.  (For me, the big absence is Asia Carrera.)  This is acknowledged by Mr. Skin: "It's fair to say that the list is far from complete."  That said, X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time! is a fine documentary.  It makes a case for every person who made the list, it gives some good behind-the-scenes information, from the classic era to those still performing, and the simply providing the information on the stars and clips provides the curious with some movies to look for.  Best-of lists are tricky, but X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time! handles it quite well.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



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