GEEK LUST by Alex Langley

"They say that geek's becoming chic" sang Felecia Day in the song "I'm the One That's Cool," and a quick overview of pop culture confirms that.  Comic book movies are some of the biggest box-office blockbusters, video games and anime are insanely popular, and the Internet has made geek culture more accessible than ever.  In his book Geek Lust, Alex Langley acts as a tour guide through both the past and present of geekdom -- which turns out to be both the strength and weakness of the book.

Geek Lust has chapters devoted to the geeky side of science, television, movies, video games,  the internet. and books.  Chapters have information on how these areas are and/or have become beloved by geeks, along with: Geek Spotlights on actors and characters; top lists ("Ten of the Most Sought After/Hottest Cryptids," "Top Ten TV Geeks," "Twelve Lies Video Games Taught Me"); and the titles of additional works to check out in the genres.

Charting the past and present of the geek landscape is an ambitious task, and Langley clearly has both the intellect, experience, and sense of humor to make the trip fun.  (There are quite a few made-up items here, though the real ones seem more ridiculous.)  The problem is that covering so much in such a relatively small space (239 pages) means at times it comes across like a quick summary instead of a detailed look at these works.  Few entries have more than two pages dedicated to them (including Star Trek and Star Wars), and Langley usually picks a  person or two to focus on.  Horror gets a discussion of Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe, but nothing on H.P. Lovecraft, or Bram Stoker's Dracula, or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  Science fiction have discussions of Terry Pratchet's Discworld, but nothing on Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, or Ellison.  And simply telling readers "If you're looking for more cinematic superhero shenanigans, check out..." and then rattling off a list of movies doesn't offer much of a guide for what the movies are like: It makes Hancock and The Incredibles seem on the same level, which is far from true.

In his introduction, Langley states, "I've devoted this book to as many different areas of geekdom as I could cram into it."  Geek Lust certainly succeeds at that; and while it's more of an overview of the hobbies than a detailed look at them, Geek Lust is a solid introduction to the areas that we geeks so love.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's hard to remember the fear, mistrust, and misinformation that floated around at the beginning of the AIDS crisis in America.  Dallas Buyers Club is an entertaining and engrossing look at an unlikely hero from that time.

Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is a piece of work.  Living in Texas in 1985, Ron was an electrician by trade, a hustler by nature, and a trailer park good ol' boy with plenty of homophobia and racism.  He loves drinking, cocaine, and unprotected sex -- the last of which led him to a diagnosis of being HIV-positive, and a predicted lifespan of 30 days.  But Ron outlived his (literal) deadline, learned about alternative medicines to the AZT being pushed as the only cure for AIDS, and even found a way to make a buck: He'd smuggle AIDS drugs in from Mexico (and soon other countries), charge people membership to be in his club (called the Dallas Buyers Club), and give members the drugs it was illegal to sell.
While Ron's motives begin selfish, soon he begins to feel for others.  He partners with Rayon (Jared Leto), a gay transvestite, to get customers from the gay community.  He reads everything he can on AIDS and its treatments, which leads him all over the world to collect new drugs the FDA will not approve.  He becomes an expert on medicine, from knowing what holds promise to using the information from his group to create his own informal drug trials.  He battles the authorities out to shut him down.   He even romances Eve (Jennifer Garner), a doctor who has her own questions about prescribing AZT for every AIDS patient.  And Ron never loses his spirit, foul mouth, or sense of rebellion

Dallas Buyers Club is a thoroughly entertaining movie.  Matthew McConaughey delivers a great bad-boy performance as Ron, letting the character grow without losing his acerbic, coarse, charming-obnoxious roots.  Jared Leto is amazing as Rayon, a part of the community Ron initially hates yet who's willing to work with him for both money and improving the lives of others.  Rayon isn't perfect by any means, but the character will stay with you long after the movie ends.  Garner is decent (but without a lot to do) as a doctor suffering under the system; and the movie may be a bit too simplistic by portraying every medical authority as bad and the "clinical trial" approach as fundamentally flawed.  That said, Dallas Buyer's Club is intelligent, original, and quite touching as a look back at what was a real American health crisis and its surprising champion..

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


Few games have reminded me so much of the song "The Monster Mash" as Monster Fluxx.  This game, the latest Fluxx offering from Looney Labs, uses the Fluxx rules for classic movie monsters.

Monster Fluxx follows the same rules as previous Fluxx games.  Players play Keepers (people, monsters, and items), Goals (which let someone with the right combination of Keepers win), Actions (which do everything from let someone play more cards to steal or discard Keepers), and Rules (which affect how many cards players can draw, play, or have).  Since Monster Fluxx is a Target exclusive (disclaimer: I work for Target -- but I don't twerk for them), the slightly more complex Creepers and Surprise cards are absent.

Monster Fluxx uses classic movie and cartoon monsters and themes, from the Werewolf and Zombies to the Teenage Detectives and the Spooky Door.  The artwork isn't too scary, which keeps with the family feel of the game; and there's even bits of humor, like the Goal "Cereal Mascots," which gives victory to anyone with two of the following: Franken-Monster, the Vampire, or the Ghost.  Anyone who's played Fluxx before will have zero trouble playing this version, and it's easy to teach new people.  Monster Fluxx is a nice game for fans of not-too-scary monsters.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



 Evil, funny stick figures from the Internet invade the world of print with Punching Zoo, the third collection of comics from the online cartoon strip Cyanide and Happiness.   Kris, Rob, Matt and Dave deliver numerous inappropriate comics from their website, along with 30 new comics and a "Chew Your Own Adventure" feature.

As with the last two collections (and the regular online strip), the comics here are offensive, covering death, rape, stupidity, superheroes, Jesus, suicide, kids, and more.  In his introduction, reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian credits the comics' offensiveness, arguing that newspaper comics are designed to be benign and not offend anyone; he finishes the thought by wondering about all the jokes we never heard from twisted minds like Gary Larson because censors wouldn't print them -- and C&H has no such censorship.
 Does that mean the comics here are brilliant?  No, they frequently go for an evil punchline or plain ol' violence.  But they have a twisted sense of humor that often pays off, giving laughs at the same time they make you wonder if they could really just do and say that.  (They did.  Every time.)  Even the twist-a-plot "Chew Your Own Adventure" starts with a guy getting ready for a hot date and veers into him making dinner for his obnoxious son and fighting terrorists, often with less-than-stellar results.  ("You set the over to 350 and the timer for 30 minutes.  A chandelier falls on your head.  You die.  The End.")
Punching Zoo straddles the Internet and print by being "in murdered tree form" by being a physical book, but only available through the Cyanide and Happiness store.  For people with a sick sense of humor, it's definitely worth picking up.
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Computers and the internet have certainly changed how people date and interact, from Facebook to dating sites, but what happens when people can get emotionally involved with the technology itself?  her, written and directed by Spike Jonze, is a intelligent and delicate romance story in the near future that demonstrates that that even with amazing technology, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely guy.  He makes a living taking information from people and writing emotional letters to their loved ones (which a computer writes in the client's handwriting).  He's been separated from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) for months, but he can't bring himself to sign the divorce papers.  He spends time with his friend Amy (Amy Adams) and her critical husband Charles (Matt Letscher), spends a lot of time playing a videogame alone in his apartment, rarely dates, and has a humorously horrible experience with online sex.

Things change -- or do they? -- when Ted gets Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson), an operating system designed to learn, to be intuitive, and to grow.  Ted finds Samantha to be funny, smart, challenging, helpful, and it's not long before the two are dating, having sex (handled tastefully), and sharing their thoughts and dreams.  But along with the joy of new love comes the challenges of a long-term relationship: Ted's panic when he can't get touch with Samantha (usually omnipresent, thanks to Ted's earbud); worries about having less sex (and an attempt to spice things up that falls flat); fears one person is outgrowing the other; one verbal slip-up leading to a big argument,; and, of course, "we need to talk."

It would have been easy for her to be a treatise on technology, but while the movie has a lot to say about tech and people (Ted's job involves artificial creations; almost everyone walks around with a smartphone or earbud) it's more about relationships and emotions, as real for Ted and Samantha as for regular humans.  Joaquin Phoenix plays Ted perfectly, as a sensitive and sad guy who wants love and romance but always manages to get in his own way.  Scarlett Johansson's vocal performance is touching, as her character grows from a friend to lover to someone finding that there's more in the world beyond her boyfriend; it's very easy to forget that her character is a disembodied computer (or, as she'd say, an operating system).  There's lots of humor here -- the goofy early dating, Ted's co-worker Paul (Chris Pratt) having a man-crush on Ted -- but also a lot of the elation and heartache of love.  her may seem about a human-program relationship, but it's a moving look at how we interact with each other, for better and worse.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



Tradition and religion can be a dangerous combination when allowed to continue long after they were necessary.  We Are What We Are, a remake of a 2010 dark comedy, approaches a horrific family ritual with a Gothic feel.
Heavy storms in Delaware prove tragic for the Parker family.  When the mother Emma Parker (Kassie DePavia) has an accident and drowns, the rest of the Parkers grieve -- and continue.  Patriarch Frank Parker (Bill Sage) insists that their ways continue, with older teen daughter Iris (Ambyr Childers) taking over the role of her deceased mother.  14-year old Rose (Julia Garner) wants to rebel and just stop the tradition, while little boy Rory (Jack Gore) keeps complaining that he's hungry.  The traditions seem to stem from a late-18th century family journal, which describes what early settlers did to survive when starvation was rampant in winter.

Meanwhile, the elderly Doc Barrow (Michael Parks) thinks the storm has washed up a small human bone -- and notes three people a year have gone missing for 30 years -- including his daughter -- but the sheriff won't take him seriously.  Barrow turns to Deputy Anders (Wyatt Russell) for help, but Anders is sweet on Rose.  And more people keep disappearing.
We Are What We Are goes for more atmosphere than shock, which is both a strength and weakness.  Most of the movie skips the more common horror movie shocks and gore (which makes the brutality at the end even more surprising) in favor of a quiet build-up of the small-town horror.  This creates an atmosphere of dread, but also makes the movie a bit boring at times.  The conflict between older tradition and the rebellion of the young is put in a horrifying contrast here, though it's not explored too much.  And the "surprise" of the family tradition isn't that surprising, given all the hints and signs.  We Are What We Are isn't the greatest treatment of this topic, but its restraint and development make it a decent descent into horror.  (DVD extras are very sparse, consisting of interviews, commentary, and a behind-the-scenes feature.)

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Did you know that folks at Wall Street can be greedy, hedonistic, and criminals?  If you didn't know that, you've probably been living under a rock for a few decades.  If you did know that, there won't be much new for you in The Wolf of Wall Street, which tells a story so familiar even Martin Scorcese can't add much to it.

Based on the biography of the title character, The Wolf of Wall Street follows Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a Wall Street titan of industry and of appetite.  Belfort simply wanted to be rich, and he had the misfortune of getting his broker's license on the day the stock market crashed; this also led to his Manhattan employer going under.  Belfort wound up working from a brokerage in a Long Island strip mall, where he sold penny stocks (cheap stocks for barely-existing companies, sold to lower- and middle-class people) at an amazing rate.
Belfort became so successful he started his own company.  His employees were mostly drug dealers, along with his odd neighbor Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), who quit his job to work for Belfort as soon as he heard how much Belfort made in a month.  With Belfort's script and never-take-no-for-an-answer approach, soon Belfort made so much he moved to a Manhattan office, then a bigger Manhattan office.  He also turned work into a circus of excess, with everything from hookers to midget tossing to truly massive amount of drugs.  Belfort also "upgraded" from his wife Teresa (Cristin Miloti) to a hot blonde named Naomi (Margot Robbie).  And there was plenty of insider trading, getting the attention of everyone from the SEC to honest F.B.I. agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler).

The Wolf of Wall Street is surprisingly flat, given its director and star power.  DiCaprio does what he can with the role -- the scene where he motivates his staff to pitch the IPO his company controls is inspiring -- but a lot of the movie is just him talking about how much he spends and how great his life is.  The movie may not endorse greed, but it certainly wallows in showing off the excesses of Wall Street, from conspicuous consumption (Belfort's mansion and yacht) to obscene amounts of sex (this movie has the most female nudity you'll see outside of porn) and drugs, to the reckless partying that killed many of the players and kept the others entertained.  Given the movie's almost three hour running time, a lot of this should have been cut.  The Wolf of Wall Street has its moments -- especially and oddly primal scene where Belfort and Azoff, high on drugs, crawl around and slur-yell at each other -- but we've seen it all before, often done better.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch