Seth MacFarlane conquered the television world with Family Guy, a fairly common animated family sitcom whose politically incorrect humor and constant pop culture references made it a massive hit (and gave MacFarlane several other shows). With his new movie Ted, MacFarlane writes, directs, and voices his own story of a childhood fairy tale gone in a very grown-up direction.

The movie begins in 1985, when lonely Boston boy John Bennett wishes that the teddy bear he got for Christmas was alive. The wish comes true -- Ted lives! Over the years, Ted becomes a celebrity for a time, before being forgotten. And in the present, John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane; at least the movie has the self-awareness to point out how much Ted sounds like Peter Griffin) are still "thunder buddies," best friends who like to drink, get high, swear (a lot), and throw parties.

But John also has a girlfriend. Lori (Mila Kunis) and John have been dating for four years, and she thinks Ted has been keeping John from growing up and moving on with his career (at a rental car place) and his life. So Ted moves out, getting a job as a cashier (and oddly doing better the more he insults his boss) and dating the white-trash Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). But John and Ted keep hanging out, to Lori's exasperation. Then there's Rex (Joe McHale), Lori's boss who keeps hitting on her; and the creepy Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) with his fat son Robert (Aedin Minks), who want to buy Ted away from John.

Ted really, really feels like a slightly more cohesive version of Family Guy. While the movie doesn't have any random flashbacks, it does have wildly inappropriate humor (covering everything from obesity to Lou Gehrig's disease to 9/11), plenty of cursing, a musical number of sorts, and potshots at whatever celebrities MacFarlane feels like mocking. (A few of these celebrities show up in the movie, poking fun at themselves.) The cast (quite a few of whom are regulars on MacFarlane's carious shows) is good (though Kunis, as the most responsible person in the movie, gets the most respect and least laughs), and there are quite a few laughs to be found here. Overall, though, Ted feels far too much like a MacFarlane show (something not helped by the large number of actors from his shows) to feel original, and the initial setup of a children's story (narrated by Patrick Stewart) is abandoned to see a teddy bear cursing, using a bong, and humping everyone he can. Ted is often funny, but it's more of a long, uncensored sitcom episode than a really funny movie.

Overall grade: B-

Reviewed by James Lynch


What is it about Charlie Sheen that makes people base fictional characters around his actual life? On Two and a Half Men he played a character named, well, Charlie, who seemed as hedonistic as the real-life Charlie Sheen. And now, following his very public breakdown and blow-up, Charlie Sheen returns to television in Anger Management, playing a character named, well, Charlie, who's trying to put his life together after a very public blow-up.

The setup of Anger Management is very simple. Charlie Sheen plays Charlie Goodson, a former minor league baseball player whose anger issues led to him publically injuring himself and ending his career. He then became a therapist, hoping to help other people deal with their anger issues. But he still has to deal with anger issues in his own life.
Anger Management seems to take all of its ideas from the painful cliches of sitcoms. The therapy group consists of a gay guy (Michael Arden) stuck next to an insulting homophobe (Barry Corbin, so wasted here), and an angry woman (Noureen DeWulf) and the nerdy guy (Derek Richardson) who finds her aggressiveness hot. So it's a "wacky" group of people who don't get along all stuck together! What fun!

Of course, there's the ex-wife (Shawnee Smith) who likes to see Charlie suffer, and the teenage daughter (Daniella Bobadilla) to give Charlie the obligatory responsible parental moments (and cheap laughs from her O.C.D.). There's Selma Blair as Kate, Charlie's sex buddy with no emotional attachment. Michael Boatman plays Michael, the fun-loving next-door neighbor. Brett Butler plays Brett (why so many actors use their own names for character names is beyond me), Charlie's bartender.

Anger Management is painfully unfunny. While Charlie Sheen opens the show with some none-too-subtle jabs at his last job, he runs through every scene playing Charlie Goodson exactly like Charlie Harper, from the hedonism to the timing. The supporting cast isn't funny, the joke setups are painful, and the jokes just aren't funny. I never saw Charlie Sheen's excesses as a recipe for humor on his last show, and they don't work at all on Anger Management either.

Overall grade: F
Reviewed by James Lynch



Anthropomorphic animals are fairly common in fiction, from cute characters for kids to allegorical tales like Orwell's Animal Farm. In Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 (collecting the first six issues of the comic book series), writer-artist David Petersen combines what could be adorable little mice with a gravity of duty, honor, and batting against impossible odds.

In medieval times, mice are not only intelligent but organizes into separate cities. Following a successful war with a weasel warlord, the elite soldiers known as the Mouse Guard serve as "escorts, pathfinders, weather watchers, scouts, and body guards for the mice who live among the territories." This collection focuses on three members of the Mouse Guard: Lieam, Kenzie, and Saxon. Their initial mission involves finding a missing rice merchant, but it soon expands into the hunt for a traitor, battles against giant creatures, the discovery of a living legend, and an epic siege of a town.

I was introduced to this series by an offering from Free Comic Book Day, and Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 exceeded my expectations. While this comic could have gone in several juvenile directions -- silly situations, mouse puns -- Petersen manages to combine the initially cute mice with a tale of true heroism, from the sayings and lessons that open each chapter to the amazing battles of the heroes. The art is impressive, the story is captivating, and I look forward to reading the next collection, when this world has to face what could be its greatest challenge: winter. Until then, Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 is a truly impressive medieval adventure. With mice.

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch



Pixar returns to the movie theaters with Brave, its latest animated feature for both children and adults. This movie features magic, adventure, combat, comedy, and the movie studio's first female hero, er, heroine.

In medieval Scotland, Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) seems to have a pretty good life. She loves roaming the countryside on her horse Angus, practicing her archery and enjoying the natural wonders of the land. She loves her father Fergus (Billy Connolly), a joyful giant of a warrior who lost his leg to a giant bear, and her three mischievous young brothers. But, as with many teenage girls, Merida has a big problem: her mum.

Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) is always trying to prepare Merida for her duties as the future queen, from posture to etiquette. When Elinor surprises Merida with the news that Merida will have to marry the eldest son of one of the three other Scottish clans to keep the peace, Merida really rebels. After competing for her own hand, Merida follows the mystical will-o'-the-wisps to the home of a witch- wood carver (Julie Walters). Merida purchases a spell to change her mother, believing this will change her destiny. But as is so often the case in stories, the wish has a very unexpected result...

As with so many Pixar films, Brave is a delight. Visually, the movie is absolutely stunning, from the perky heroine's bright red hair to the beautiful Scottish landscape rendered via cgi. The movie is often funny (and, towards the end, pretty damn scary) and quite exciting as well. I would have liked the movie to spend more time after the curse than in the long setup, but the film manages to cover the testy relationship between mothers and daughters, the balance between personal freedom and royal duty, and the dangers of getting what you wish for. The voice talent is excellent, the animation is wonderful, and Brave is a terrific, entertaining movie. (And be sure to stick around through the credits for a bonus scene.)

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch



The 1980s are back -- sort of -- in the new movie musical Rock of Ages. This film, adapted from the Broadway play, is a series of stories based on the most popular hits of the 1980s -- all revolving around the fictional Bourbon Room club and concert venue in Hollywood, in 1987.

The first story is about young lovers. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is an aspiring singer off the bus from Okahoma who's in love with the music and clubs of Hollywood. When her suitcase is stolen, she's "rescued" by Drew (Diego Boneta), a wannabe singer and bartender at the Bourbon Room. He gets her a job there, they start dating, and he gets his big musical break. But can young love survive the pressures of fame and fortune?

Next are the Bourbon Club's owners, Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand). This pair are old-school rockers, true believers and colossal music fans. Their club is also almost bankrupt, and they're banking on a big concert (of course) to save the day. Their hopes rest on Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), the most popular rock star in America. But he's also notoriously unreliable -- and managed by the greedy, unscrupulous Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti).

And finally, there's politics. Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), wife of newly elected mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston), has decided that rock and roll is a danger to the youth of America, so she leads a moral crusade against Stacee Jaxx and the Bournob Club. (She also misses or ignores her husband's affair with his secretary every chance he gets.)

There are also some other supporting characters: Constance Sack (Malin Akerman) as the Rolling Stone reporter who breaks through Stacee's haze of fame; Justice Charlier (Mary J. Blige) as the owner of a strip club; and several cameos, from Eli Roth as a member of a boy band to Debbie Gibson as a rocker.

All of the acting, and the pretty cliches storylines, are all secondary to the music. While I think back on the 1980s as a golden time for alternative music, Rock of Ages goes for the more popular/nostalgic hits, from concert rock like Def Leppard, the Scorpions, and Whitesnake to to pop from Pat Benetar, Jefferson Starship, REO Speedwagon and Journey.

Rock of Ages is clearly aimed at the folks who think of the '80s as big hair and guys with eyeliner. To that end, the movie does capture the feel of that scene. That said, the movie does feel a little forced. Instead of a musical where the songs seem to spring naturally from the characters, Rock of Ages feels like it's just waiting for an excuse for characters to start singing. Some of the mash-ups are good (notably "Any Way You Want It" and "Harden My Heart" at a strip club), and the performers are all terrific singers, but the sudden bursts of music feel a little forced at times. (It also doesn't help that Glee beat this movie to the song for the uplifting big finale.)

The acting in Rock of Ages is as good as the story is chiched. The highlight is Tom Cruise, who captures both the decline from being a star and the passion that brought him to that level. Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta are decent as the young lovers (though I'm amazed as talented a dancer as Hough had few opportunities to dance), but Baldwin and Brand are more amusing as the true believers whose bromance may be a little more. The stories are exactly what we've seen before: the self-righteous crusader with her personal agenda, the wannabe star corrupted by business, and the young couple who connect, misunderstand, split, and find each other again. And the humor of Rock of Ages is mixed: sometimes very funny (notably a boy band, complete with ridiculous name), sometimes pretty painful (such as double entendres about a band whose name includes the word "balls").

Rock of Ages is aimed directly at the folks who are nostalgic for the most popular hits of the 1980s. It has a terrific cast and a good (if idealized) version of the rock scene back then -- but it also has some painful humor and obvious directions for its storylines. It's enjoyable -- to a point.

Overall grade: B-

Reviewed by James Lynch



In the classic game The Settlers of Catan, the players are on an island composed of hexagon-shaped tiles that they use to earn resources and build up the island. The action of Survive: Escape from Atlantis! , from Stronghold Games, also takes place on an island composed of hexagon tiles -- but this time the players want to get off there as quickly as possible.

In Survive: Escape from Atlantis! players control a number of people, worth one to six points each. (The numbers are on the bottom of each piece.) All the people start on an island of 40 hexes in the middle; hexes are beaches, forest, or mountains. During the game, players want to move their people off the central island to the four safe islands on the corners of the board; when the volcano is revealed (on the bottom of a mountain piece), players score points for the value of each piece on one of the safe islands, and whoever has the most points wins.

It's a bit more complex than that, though. Each turn, a player can use one tile they got (turned over) from a previous turn. The player then removes a tile from the central island (starting with beaches, then forest, and finally mountains) and either follows the instructions immediately or saves it to play later. Next, players have up to three points of movement: Pieces on land or in a boat can move one multiple spaces, but a piece in the ocean can only move one space. Finally, the player rolls a die and moves the creature rolled up to its maximum. Whales can move three spaces and remove an occupied boat from the board. Sharks can move two spaces and eat any swimming pieces (but not ones in a boat). And Sea Serpents move one space and destroy all people in their space.

Survive: Escape from Atlantis! has absolutely terrific pieces. In addition to the fairly generic "meeples" you're trying to get off the island, you'll move around the shark fin, a whale (with tail sticking out of the water), and the towering sea serpent. The island hexes are also appropriately thick -- mountains are higher than forests, which are taller than beaches -- giving the impression of topography. Gameplay is nice, if a little basic: You'll be trying to send the creatures away from your people and towards your opponent. Since the number of each figure can't be looked at once the game begins, you'll have to remember which pieces are most valuable while figuring out/guessing which are most valuable to your opponent.

Survive: Escape from Atlantis! is a nice game, with terrifically cute pieces and fairly basic strategy. This game won't fill up the whole day for you and your players, but it's fun for a few quick games or an introductory game for new players.

Overall grade: B-

Reviewed by James Lynch


How A Good Old Fashioned Orgy wasn't a teen sex comedy is beyond me, but so it goes. This movie goes for a mix of raunchy humor and friendly bonding, but it tends to miss out on the laughs.

Eric Keppler (Jason Sudekis) loves to get together with his buddies and throw summer parties at his father's beach house at Montauk, Long Island. The parties have themes (the movie opens at the White Trash Bash), involve lots of drinking, and tend to attract police attention. But when Eric's dad (Don Johnson, in a brief cameo) announces that he's selling the house, Eric and his party-animal buddy Mike (Tyler Labine) decide to throw an epic final bash at the house on Labor Day weekend. What they come up with: an orgy for the eight closest friends.

The friends -- therapist Alison (Leslie Bibb), neurotic Adam (Nick Kroll), musician Doug (Martin Starr), Doug's girlfriend Willow (Angela Sarafyan), shy Sue (Michelle Borth), and outgoing Laura (Lindsay Sloane) -- initially hate the idea. But one by one they come around, which leads to a ticking clock as each scene brings Labor Day weekend closer and closer.
Of course, there is light suspense for a lighthearted comedy. Will Eric's new relationship with realtor Kelly (Leslie Bibb) get in the way of group sex? Can the friends get in shape in time for the big event? What about newlyweds and new parents Glenn and Kate (Will Forte and Lucy Punch), who are upset about not being invited to the orgy? Will Eric and Mike learn any tips from swinger Vic George (David Koechner)? And when Labor Day arrives, can the friends actually... perform together?

In a weird way, A Good Old Fashioned Orgy isn't really about sex: The friends are more interested in spending time together before "their" party house is gone, than hooking up with each other. Unfortunately, the movie isn't all that funny either. The characters are very one-dimensional, casually tossing off one-liners while hanging out. Most of the visual jokes fall flat (a few folks wearing white tuxedos to a traditional wedding; folks turning up at the India-themed orgy dressed as Native American indians), and there's the sexism (or reverse sexism; I'm not sure which) of female nudity being hot while male nudity being a source of laughter. The cast has shown a lot of talent elsewhere, and they do pull off a camraderie of long-time friends, but A Good Old Fashioned Orgy doesn't really go anywhere past its title.

(DVD extras include commentaries, deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette called "How to Film an Orgy.")

Overall grade: D
Reviewed by James Lynch



There's a certain allure to spaceflight, of building one's own starship and braving interstellar perils on the way to fame and fortune. But what if your starship was put together from a bunch of building supplies? And what if chunks of it kept falling off during flight --or before it even launched? This is the world of Galaxy Trucker, a silly, strategic, and very fun game of starship construction and peril from Rio Grande Games.

The premise of Galaxy Trucker is that Corporation Incorporated has decided to save money by having the players build spaceships out of building materials that can be sold at the destination. During each turn (three turns per game), players first build their ship, then they face a number of obstacles (through cards) before arriving at their destination, where they get Cosmic Credits for arriving fastest, selling cargo, and having the best-put-together ship. (They also lose Cosmic Credits for ship pieces that fell off.) Whoever has the most Cosmic Credits at the end of three rounds wins.

Of course, it's not nearly that simple. The ship components include Cannons (for fighting pirates or blasting large meteors), Cabins (to provide crew members), Engines (for flight), Batteries (providing power), Shield Generators (which protect two sides of a ship), Cargo Holds (to store goods), and Structural Modules (to help fit pieces together). There are also Double Cannons and Double Engines, which are twice as powerful as regular ones, but they require power to use. Pieces have from zero to three connectors per side; three-sided ones are universal, but otherwise ones and twos have to match up. To make things harder, the pieces are all face-down in the middle of the players, and after turning a piece over you either have to add it to your ship -- or put it back down face-up, where another player can grab it. The order in which you finish building determines whose ship is first, second, and so on; and before flight the ships are chekced, with any illegal positions resulting in pieces being removed before flight. And if a lost piece means other pieces can't legally fit, those pieces are removed as well.

Things don't get any easier in space. Players go through Adventure Cards, which provide both opportunities (like planets to get resources on) and perils (like Meteor swarms that batter your ship). The player in the lead gets first crack at each adventure card, but some of them require spending days doing something, which drops their ship back and can let someone else take the lead. The dreaded Combat Zones force penalties on the ship with the fewest crew, rockets, or cannons. And, as with ship construction, losing pieces can cost you more chunks of your ship. (Two bad meteor hits once knocked about 25% of my ship off!)

Galaxy Trucker is a wonderful mix of silliness and heavy strategy. Putting a ship together is a very challenging task: You want to finish quickly, to go first in encountering cards, but if you rush you might have illegal connections; you never know if you'll need lots of weapons, engines, storage, or crew; and nothing can ever fully prepare you for the challenges ahead. There's a sense of fun to the game, from the rules (which "helpfully" advise adding as many of each component as possible) to the colorful pieces (including cargo, crew, and even aliens). There's even a nice visual sense to the ships, as a quick look will show which pieces fit together flawlessly -- and which ones don't. Galaxy Trucker is deliberately frustrating in the sense that you'll never get everything you want from your ships. But that's the challenge, and seeing your banged-up vessels limping to their destination and delivering their cargo is quite the reward.

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch


Where did humanity come from, and where are we going? These are two philosophical questions that become the backdrop to futuristic action and horrors in Prometheus, writer-director Ridley Scott's prequel to his Alien movies.

Archaeologists and romantic partners Elizabeth Shaw (Noonmi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) think they've found proof on ancient cave drawings throughout Earth that gigantic beings are (literally) pointing the way to a star cluster millions of miles away. The scientists think this is an invitation from "the engineers" who created humanity and, thanks to the Weyland Corporation, lead an expedition on the starship Prometheus to find the origins of humanity. The 17-person crew includes: Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the no-nonsense representative of the Weyland Corporation; Janek (Idris Elba), the ship captain who wants to keep everyone safe; and David (Michael Fassbender), the robot who's unceasingly polite and nearly identical to the humans.

At first, the expedition seems to be an absolute success. However, as usually happens in these movies, things start to go wrong very quickly. A storm separates the crew members, leaving some of them stranded with familiar-looking parasites that bleed acid and try to infest humans as hosts. (Sound familiar?) Meredith may have a corporate agenda she's keeping from the scientists -- and David may have its own agenda he's keeping from Meredith. Pretty soon there's paranoia, betrayal, and lots of killing and explosions.

Prometheus is, despite its massive budget and philosophical underpinnings, another action-horror movie in outer space. We're given a cast big enough to supply plenty of victims, lots of revelations and discoveries that only hurt the characters, and the almost-nostalgic look back at the aliens from the previous Alien movies. The acting tends to be pretty one-dimensional (though Fassbender does make David suitably creepy: a creation who can make others feel uneasy without quite knowing why) and by the movie's end there are plenty of slow-motion scenes and massive crashes. Visually, Prometheus can be quite impressive at times, from a couple of interesting aliens and alien ships to the H.R. Giger-esque caverns of an alien world. But the rest of the movie does feel pretty standard.

Overall grade: C+

Reviewed by James Lynch


RAY BRADBURY: 1920-2012

There are some works that are so influential, so timeless, and so revered that we almost forget that they were created by a flesh-and-blood humans. Sadly, the death of Ray Bradbury reminds us that while some works may grant a kind of immortality, the authors are all too mortal.

Born in 1920, Bradbury's became a paid writer in 1941 and quickly published a massive amount of fiction, from novels to short stories to essays. He resisted the phrase "science fiction" to describe his writing, though that genre covers much of his writing; he's also done everything from horror ("The Scythe") to the oddly sentimental ("I Sing the Body Electric").

Bradbury's work broke out of the sometimes narrow audience of science fiction to reach almost everyone. It's hard to imagine a high school not covering his novel Fahrenheit 451 (and its sadly timeless theme of censorship) or reading through his short story collections like The Illustrated Man.

I have copies of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles on my bookshelf, and I've read each of them several times. I'm sorry to say that I never met Ray Bradbury at any conventions or lectures, but he left behind an impressive body of work, both in style, theme, and a vision that often predicted what the future would hold.

He will be missed.

Written by James Lynch