2.28.2015

LEONARD NIMOY 1931-2015

Leonard Nimoy passed away on Friday, February 27, 2015.

Nimoy is best known as portraying Mister Spock, the half-Vulcan science officer and first officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the original Star Trek series.  While the character espoused logic and stoicism, Nimoy brought an underlying humanity and empathy to the role that made the character human as well as alien.

Nimoy had a long and varied career outside of Star Trek.  He starred in Mission Impossible, the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  He had a recurring role on the show Fringe, provided the narration for In Search Of... and directed the film 3 Men and a Little Lady.  He even appeared in music videos by the Bangles and Bruno Mars:



But it was Spock that always drew him back.  Nimoy played Spock in every Star Trek movie, appeared in back-to-back episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and is the only cast member to appear in J.J. Abrams' reboot of the franchise.


Nimoy's distinctive voice and fame in the science fiction community also allowed him to provide vocals in many features.  He spoke on the animated series Futurama, The Simpsons and Robot Chicken.  And when he "appeared" on The Big Bang Theory, Nimoy's voice gave "life" to a doll of Mister Spock.
Mister Spock's most famous saying was "live long and prosper."  Leonard Nimoy, who brought the character to life as no one else could, had a prosperous career and a long and hopefully happy life.  He will be missed.

Written by James Lynch




2.27.2015

V2 by Russell James

Some guys truly have all the luck.  Photographer Russell James has fortune and fame, which largely comes from photographing Victoria's Secret Angels.  And if that wasn't enough, during a 2009 swimsuit shoot at Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, many of them agreed to let him shoot them -- often naked --  for some unofficial pictures.  The coffee table book V2 is a collection of those personal pictures -- and it's not quite what one would expect.

Following introductions from Ed Razek (from Victoria's Secret), Richard Branson (who let them shoot at his home), and Russell James, we get right into the photographs.  Models Brooklyn Decker, Miranda Kerr, Candice Swanepoel, Erin Heatherton, Emanuela de Paula, Jarah Mariano, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Lindsay Ellingson are all featured, whether frolicking in the ocean, concealed by branches, or simply reclining on the sand.   Most shots are black and white photos, though a few color ones pop up throughout the book.
While the though of naked Victoria's Secret Angels is, frankly, intoxicating, V2 is not about simple nudity.  James captures the essence of the models, with photos ranging from the playful to the languid.  And while more of the models' bodies are show than would be allowed in a VS catalog, that is hardly the focus.  Sometimes James opts to zoom in on one area of the body; other times his subject blends in and almost vanishes in the beauty of the natural setting.  The photographs show how beautiful these women are -- but they're hardly cheesecake shots.

V2 is a quite beautiful book, capturing the beauty of some of the world's most beautiful models without devolving into mere prurience.  It is creative, talented, a bit surprising, and quite stunning.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



2.24.2015

THE HARE & THE TORTOISE

In Aesop's Fables, the race between the fast-but-lazy hare and the slow-but-steady tortoise illustrates that determination, rather than natural talent, is key to victory.  In the game The Hare and the Tortoise from Iello Games, more animals are racing -- and the keys to winning the race are betting, bluffing, and playing cards.

This game has five animals (Hare, Tortoise, Wolf, Coyote, and Lamb) racing along an 11-tile track.  The first place animal gets five points, second place gets three points, and third place gets two points.  Before the race starts, though, players have to bet.  Each player gets one random animal card for one of their bets.  Then, after players get their starting hand of seven cards (each card has one animal), players choose a second card to put under their starting bet for their other bet.  Players can go with two animals in the hopes at least one will win, or double their first animal to double its points (which is bad if the animal doesn't finish in the top three).

Next, players play cards.  A player can play 1-4 cards of the same animal, provided afterwards no animal has more than four cards and there aren't more than eight cards total.  (After playing cards, players draw back up to six cards.)  If an animal has four cards or there are eight cards in all, the race starts; if not, the next player plays cards, and so on around the table.


When the race starts, the animals go in this order:

-- If there are 1-4 Hare cards, the Hare moves two tiles.  But if the Hare is in first place or tied for first place and four Hare cards are played, the Hare takes a nap and doesn't move at all.

-- The Tortoise moves two tiles, and one tile of 0-3 Tortoise cards are played.  So the Tortoise moves even if none of its cards are played!

-- The Wolf moves one tile with 1-2 Wolf cards, 2 tiles with 3 Wolf Cards, and 3 tiles with four Wolf cards.  In addition, three Wolf cards show the Wolf howling; if one of these is played, no other animals move that turn.

-- The Coyote moves one tile for each Coyote card played.

-- Finally, the Lamb moves a number of tiles equal to the number of Lamb cards played plus one.  But when the Lamb reaches a tile with a river, the Lamb stops moving and takes a drink instead.

The game ends when three animals cross the finish line, right past the final tile.  All players reveal their bets, and whoever has the most points wins!

The Hare & the Tortoise is a family-friendly game that also works very well for adult players.  Little kids will like the cute animals, with no violence or scary stuff happening in the game.  But there's a lot of strategy involved for grown players.  No animal is better than the others (I've seen all five cross the finish line), and having the first bet random keeps players from always going with their personal favorite.  Playing cards is key, as you not only want to advance your animal(s), but also to do so in a way that doesn't make it obvious who you want to win.  There are times you'll play cards to get them out of your hand, and times you just want your animal(s) to speed ahead as much as possible.  This game is relatively simple, but with plenty of fun, replayability, and strategy as well.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

2.17.2015

ZERO CHARISMA dvd

Movies take different approaches to geek culture.  Some take a humorous but loving look at their genre (like The Gamers: Dorkness Rising), while others focus on the ridiculous (King of the Nerds).  Zero Charisma takes both approaches, as its main character seems to embody all the worst possible traits of the stereotypical tabletop RPG game master.

Scott Weidemeyer (Sam Eisdon) is the game master of his home-brewed sword and sorcery game (searching for a publisher) that he's been running for three years with his four (and possibly only) friends.  Scott loves running the game, but it quick to put down anything he disagrees with.  The other players go along with it; and Wayne (Brock England) seems to slavishly follow Scott around and do whatever he says.

Outside of the game, though, Scott's life is pretty pathetic.  He's overweight, has never had a girlfriend, has a room covered in fantasy posters, thrashes to heavy metal, and paints miniatures.
Scott works as a delivery boy for Donut Tacos Palace II, and he often has to make deliveries to the game store that fired him.  Scott lives with his grandmother Wanda (Anne Gee Byrd), who happily interrupts his games; and the reappearance of his mother Barbara (Cyndi Williams) leads to embarrassing stories and more conflict.

When Scott loses a player (who quits to fix his marriage), Scott's search for a replacement leads to Miles (Garrett Graham),  While Miles fits in with the group, he quickly turns out to be the opposite of Scott (solving a geek hypothetical quickly, working for a popular geek website, having a hot girlfriend (who thinks nerds are sexy) and his own home, being funny and social) and overshadows Scott with the gaming group.  And as things get worse for Scott outside the gaming group as well, his bad nature keeps getting worse and worse...

While Zero Charisma makes its lead an amalgam of some of the worst traits of gamers, it's hard for any experienced gamer to recognize some (or all) of the traits in protagonist Scott.  Fortunately, the movie manages to find humor not in mocking the genre or its fans, but in the clash of personalities between a wannabe alpha male and the new, popular guy.  Sam Eidson is nicely unlikable as the GM who finds his iron fist of control over his game slipping away, and the rest of the cast is decent.  Zero Charisma certainly isn't a recruiting tool for getting more people to play tabletop RPGs, but it's a funny little movie that experienced gamers will certainly relate to.  (DVD extras are deleted scenes.)

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


2.13.2015

LEGO DC COMICS SUPER HEROES: JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. BIZARRO LEAGUE dvd

Lego has been doing very well with the DC superheroes, from the toys sets (of which I own several) to video games -- and movies as well.  DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League may be product placement, but it's also cute and pretty fun.

JS vs. BL takes place in a universe where everything is made of Legos.  At the opening, assorted villains are robbing the city, and the Justice League is easily mopping them up.  (These are almost all characters from the last two waves of figures; though I doubt we'll ever see an official Giganta figure.)  Everything is going fine for the heroes -- until Bizarro shows up.  This opposite version of Superman just wants to help, but his opposite nature means he keeps messing up, doing more harm than good.

Superman wants to help Bizarro (and he's tired of people assuming Bizarro is his twin), so he takes his opposite to a square planet in another dimension.  Here on "Bizarro World" the laws of physics don't work as they usually do, Bizarro builds his own version of Metropolis, and Bizarro thinks the yellow rocks are his citizens to protect.  So Superman leaves him there to enjoy himself.  Problem solved.


One year later, Bizarro's back, raiding Lex Luthor's building.  When the Justice League tries to stop him, Bizarro zaps them with the duplicate day that created him, making Bizarro versions of Green Lantern (the Guy Gardner one), Wonder Woman, Batman, and Cyborg.  These duplicates, like Bizarro, are powerful but the opposite of their originals: Guy Gardner is brave, while Greenzaro makes teddy bears to hug; Wonder Woman is dignified, while Bizarra is crude.

It turns out that Bizarro needs help as much as friends: Darkseid is attacking Bizarro World, stealing the citizens, er, rocks to power a weapon that threatens Earth.  The Justice League and Bizarro League join forces to stop them; but can the Justice League do much when their powers are affected, and can the Bizarro League do anything right when they keep doing the opposite?


This may all sound like typical comic book fare, but it's both silly and fully through most of the movie.  We get Batman as the dark loner suspicious of "the alien" Superman -- who knows about Batman's suspicion and remains friendly.  Khary Payton voices Cyborg on Teen Titans Go! and plays Cyborg here with the same enthisiasm (and "Booyah!"s).  Hawkman likes to end his sentences with a loud "Ca-CAW!" and the whole universe is stuff the heroes can break apart and put together as they need to.  The story and humor is aimed more at little kids than grown-ups, and it's impossible to forget or miss the tie-ins with the current Lego sets, but DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League is funny and fun, if very light.  (DVD extras include the previous feature Lego DC Comics: Batman Be-Leagured and a mini-documentary on Bizarro in comics and in this movie.  And it comes with a Batzarro Lego figure too!)
Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



2.11.2015

Gamma World

Most of my RPG activities tend to focus on some sort of medieval fantasy gaming, which gets called “High Fantasy,” on some occasions. I have played Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition, D&D 4th edition, and most recently Pathfinder.
Being a fan of science fiction, I have also enjoyed playing SciFi RPG’s. Back in the early 1980’s, this included Star Frontiers, a TSR game. StarFrontiers was a progressive game with a pure d100 system, that meant percentile dice were rolled for all rolls. The world of Star Frontiers is a very optimistic view of the future, which focuses on planetary exploration adventures. The Sathar are the principle evil doers, and the Interplanetary Federation provides a clear order to the structure to the milieu. While the game is fun to play, and in my opinion ahead of its time, it is not likely a very accurate vision of the future. While there is still user development of SF, it has not been officially supported for almost three decades, and there remain many gaps in the rules that a second edition that never was published could have fixed.

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SWIMSUIT ISSUE 2015

Yes, it's that wonderful time of year when millions of people who don't care a thing about sports go out and buy a copy of Sports Illustrated.  The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue 2015 follows in the publication's annual traditions -- and, as always, they work damn well.

SISI 2015 features numerous famous and returning models, such as Chrissy Teigen, Hannah Davis (who landed this year's cover), Lily Aldridge, Emily Ratjakowski, Nina Agdal, and Irina Shayk.  (Conspicuously absent is Kate Upton; perhaps she was busy playing Game of War?)  The rookies include the likes of Erin Heatherton (going from Victoria's Secret lingerie to bikinis), Rose Betram, Ashley Smith, and others I'm sure we'll see more of as these issues keep coming out.  There are also the literally-painted-on "swimsuits," plus athletes Ronda Rousey and Caroline Wozniacki adding the slightest bit of sports to this issue.

Possibly the biggest change in SISI 2015 is the locations.  Previously, the Sports Illustrated folks traveled the world to shoot their models in exotic locations.  This time around everything happens in the U.S.: All the shooting took place across 17 states.  And while this may not be as exotic as faraway lands, the domestic beautiful beaches and natural backdrops still work just fine with the models.

The other big addition is: humor!  DirecTV has a print variant of its "I'm Rob Lowe, and I have DirecTV.  And I'm [silly] Rob Lowe and I have cable" campaign in the issue, as Chrissy Teigen, Hannah Davis, and Nina Adgal appear in swimsuits saying they have DirecTV, then on the next pages frumpier versions say they have cable.  And Snickers continues its "You're not you when you're hungry" with an ad on the back cover that several stores set facing the front.  I don't know how they thought this was the cover of the SISI 2015:


Overall, SISI 2015 is another great collection of hot women in bikinis in a magazine that mysteriously keeps the word "sports" in its title for this non-sports issue.  The models are sexy and beautiful as ever, the swimsuits are barely there (always in shot, but not always worn; lots of arm-bras here), and SISI 2015 carries on the great Sports Illustrated once-a-year tradition.
Overall gradeL Woot!  I mean, er, A
Reviewed by James Lynch






2.10.2015

AMERICAN SNIPER

American Sniper, based on the life of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, is an unusual film in that it's a war movie that's not really about war.  Instead, the movie focuses on the effects of war on the soldiers who fight -- even when successful.

Bradley Cooper portrays Chris Kyle.  Initially, Kyle is a simple good ol' boy from Texas who wants to be a cowboy.  But when Americans are killed overseas, Kyle responds by joining the military, passing the amazingly hard Navy SEAL training, and becoming a sniper so skilled in Iraq that his comrades nickname him "the Legend."  And along the way, he woos, marries, and raises a family with Taya (Sienna Miller).
But it all takes a huge toll on Kyle, who went back to Iraq for tour after tour.  Taya fears that when Kyle is away he'll be killed, and when he's home that he's suffering from the horrors of war and a desire to return and keep fighting.  In Iraq, Kyle can't stay immune to the difficulties of  killing people through a scope, or the brutality he sees from the terrorists he fights.  And it's pretty clear that his military life has a huge impact on his family and himself.

Director Clint Eastwood, as he's done in other films, passes on the heroism and glorification of violence to tackle the deeper impact of battle on individuals.  American Sniper is very apolitical, skipping questions about the causes or need for the Iraq war and instead focusing on the lives of the soldiers and the family they have back home.  Bradley Cooper delivers another terrific performance, making Chris Kyle heroic and human at the same time.  Apart from him, Sienna Miller's Taya is the only really developed character in the movie.  A duel between Kyle and an equally-skilled Iraqi sniper feels a little tacked on, but American Sniper is a well done movie: exciting, thoughtful, and very attune to the lives of those who see combat.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

2.05.2015

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 Vol. XXIX

Mystery Science Theater 3000 was the silly, wonderful show that skewered terrible films on a weekly basis from 1988 through 1999.  While full seasons haven't been released, there are four-episode collections on dvd.  Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIX covers a wide range of seasons and genres with the folks aboard the Satellite of Love.

MST3K XXIX features four very different movies: Untamed Youth, a teen exploitation flick; Hercules and the Captive Women, a cheesy Italian action movie; The Thing that Couldn't Die, a black and white horror movie; and The Pumaman, the worst superhero movie ever (and my favorite MST3K epsiode).  The dvds also feature plenty of extra features for each movie: the movies without commentary, interviews with the movies' stars (such as Mamie Van Doren of Untamed Youth and Walter G.. Aton, Jr. of The Pumaman), MST3K folks talking about the behind-the-scenes events of the show, and mini-posters for each movie.

I'm happy to say that for both episodes I've seen and new ones to me, MST3K remains as funny as ever.  The jokes come fast and plentiful, and while some of the references can go over people's heads (especially older actors and directors), it's hard not to laugh at things like "Quick!  Everyone pretend that you don't have blood!" or "Meanwhile, in the very same scene..." and reacting to seeing Pumaman fly by commenting "It's Scoliosis Man!"


I was a little put off at first by the differences between episodes from different seasons (in order: one, five, nine, and ten), but on reflection this showed how the show evolved, changed, and, yes, improved.  Fans can debate whether Joel or Mike make the better main character, but they're both funny -- and both shown a lot here!  (I definitely prefer Kevin Murphy as Tom Servo.)  MST3K XXIX is a nice look at how the show has changed -- and it's funny as hell too!


Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch