Years before The Big Bang Theory brought us four lovable geeks, comic book writer and artist Evan Dorkin lampooned the worst of geek culture with his quartet of pathetic and antisocial geeks.  The Eltingville Club collects Dorkin's comics and strips of this club, plus a new strip wrapping things up and essays.

The Eltingville Club (full name: the Eltingville Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Role-Playing Club) is made up of four high school guys.  Bill Dickey is most interested in comic books and science fiction; he's also the most likely to lash out -- verbally and physically -- at anything he dislikes or anyone who disagrees with him.  Josh Levy is focused on science fiction and television shows; as the overweight member of the group, he suffers through constant fat jokes.  Pete DiNunzio is most interested in horror and is a bit pretentious in his views.  And Jerry Stokes is the group's gamer; he's the quietest and nicest member of the group, and also annoys the others with his frequent impersonation of Twiki from Buck Rogers.
The four guys meet in one of their parents' basement, where they rant and curse about everything they don't like about fandom, make trades, and often wind up with their hands on each others' throats.  They have no social life (in the middle of one meeting someone yells "Hey!  Holy shit!  Guys!  Do you realize our prom was tonight?!")   They have no jobs (and no skills or interests beyond the groups') and get money for their hobbies by yelling at their mothers.  When they go out, it's usually to shoplift whatever they want, or to stuff rare toys out of sight at Toys "R" Us so no one else can get them.  Their "adventures" include engaging in an hour-long trivia contest for a rare action figure, trying to stay awake for a 36-hour Twilight Zone marathon, making costumes for Wizard magazine's contest, going on a zombie walk, enduring an intervention, or getting their ideal job at a comic book store.  Their escapades usually turn into disasters, often ending with riots, trampling, fires, or arrests. And their final meeting happens at Comic Con, of course.

The Eltingville Club illustrates the worst of fandom -- and pretty bad humanity in general.  The memers of the club are misanthropic, selfish, sexist (the only women in their world are in porn or x-rated comic books), angry, and overall pathetic.  They're as likely to turn on each other as the things they hate; near the end someone meeting the group for the first time asks, "So, like, were you guys ever actually friends?" -- and the answer seems to be "no."  But it's amazingly funny to watch this group of horrible geeks self-destructing, whether tossing around constant geek references, battling with comic book replicas, or continually getting busted and yelled at by their parents.  There are some digs at geek culture in general -- the owner of Joe's Fantasy World comic book store makes The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy look handsome, polite, and professional --  but Dorkin's sights are mostly focused on the four Club members.  And after the strips about the Eltingville Club, Dorkin discusses the comic's origin, making the one-episode animated series, and provides another comic -- this time about pretentious geeks.

The Eltingville Club is full of cursing, grossness, and horrible behavior.  It's also laugh-out-loud funny; and, in the world of the Internet, disturbingly accurate.  It's savagely funny.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



Back to Burkittsville!  Blair Witch is a found-footage sequel to what could be the most successful found footage horror movie of all time, The Blair Witch Project.  This movie follows very closely in the original movie's footsteps (ignoring Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows), sometimes to its detriment.

The movie opens by saying it's put together from found footage.  James (James Allen McCune) is the brother of the Heather who vanished in the original film, and some recently discovered footage makes him think she could still be alive.  Lisa (Callie Hernandez) is working on a documentary project for school, so she decides to accompany James back to the Black Hills Woods in Burkittsville, Maryland to try and find Heather -- or the building where she vanished.  And their friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) tag along, for reasons never made clear.
The friends apparently raided Best Buy, because they're fully stocked with gear: all sorts of flashlights, walkie talkies with GPS tracking, earpieces that film, personal flashlights, and even a drone.  They meet up with Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), two weird locals who insist on camping with the friend in the woods and who share stories about the Blair Witch.  It's then into the woods, for camping and searching.  Before long night falls, those familiar stick figures show up, and we get a whole lot of first-person shots of people running at night.
The original movie was a masterpiece of economy, creating its own mythology and giving scares with no stars, special effects, or soundtrack.  Blair Witch has a similar format but doesn't deliver nearly as well.  Having numerous cameras means we get lots of different shots from different angles, which feels like a "regular" movie.  The mysterious sounds in the woods sound like the Blair Witch has a bulldozer instead of just trying to spook the hapless campers.  The characters are all paper thin.  And while there's some creepy claustrophobia near the end, the finale feels far too much like it's taken from the original film (with "characters constantly running in the woods" replaced with "characters constantly running in a decrepit building").  I'd pass on Blair Witch.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch


Britney Spears, GLORY (deluxe edition)

Britney Spears has made her career largely by combining radio-friendly big hits and barely-concealed sexuality.  Glory (deluxe edition) continues this tradition, playing up both elements of Spears' music.

Glory seems designed to create more hits for the radio.  There are no slow ballads or songs for her children.  Instead there are songs about sex ("Make Me..." "Private Show"), playful romance ("Clumsy," "Man on the Moon") or just having a good time partying ("When I'm Dancing").

This album relies heavily on electronics and synthesizers, giving the music a fairly artificial feel (and making the song "Liar" a mild surprise for featuring a harmonica).  Britney Spears' voice is okay,varying a bit to be almost a whisper, an erotic come-on or radio-friendly pop singer (even recognizable when she sings in French for "Coupure Electrique").

Unfortunately, the lyrics on Glory are trite, going for simple rhymes instead of anything interesting or really original.  (I also wasn't thrilled with the needless misspelling for "Just Luv Me.")  The songs didn't really stand out, either as guilty pleasure or surprising tender song.  Whether the regular album or the five bonus tracks on the deluxe edition, Glory just isn't that memorable.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch



Long before CGI was common in movies, puppetry was one way of bringing fantasy creatures to life -- and few were as famous when it came to puppets than Jim Henson.  While his attempt at fantasy with The Dark Crystal fizzled, Henson more than redeemed himself with Labyrinth, a fantasy film where everything came together almost perfectly.  Labyrinth: 30 Years, from Fathom Events, celebrates the movie's anniversary with a big-screen showing and a few new details about the movie and what happened after.

Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a 15-year-old girl with a rich fantasy life -- and some pretty typical teenage melodrama.  She's not happy that her fantasy playing is cut short so her father and "wicked" stepmother can go out and Sarah can babysit her baby brother Toby.  And when Toby won't stop crying, Sarah tells her a story about goblins that ends with her wishing the goblins would take him away.

Unfortunately, Sarah's wish is a spell of sorts, and she's immediately visited by Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie), who comes to take Toby away and turn him into a goblin.  When Sarah protests, Jareth makes her a deal: She had thirteen hours to traverse his labyrinth and find Toby at his castle.  If she does, she gets Toby back; if not, Toby becomes another goblin minion of Jareth.
Sarah's dropped into a fantasy world where almost nothing is as it seems.  There are shifting walls, a wide variety of creatures, puzzles, traps, temptations, and the interference of Jareth.  Sarah also finds some oddball allies: Hoggle, a self-proclaimed coward whose allegiance is always varying between Sarah and Jareth; Ludo, a gentle giant beast who can summon rocks and boulders with his cry; and Sir Didymus, a small dog-like knight who uses a dog as his steed.
Just about everything in Labyrinth works.  The young Jennifer Connelly does very well, as her Sarah starts off fairly bratty and selfish but grows along her journey.  David Bowie is absolutely terrific as Jateth: part rock start (there are indeed musical numbers), part seducer, part menace.  And the numerous creatures and entities that populate the labyrinth and very detailed and lifelike -- even if they're speaking walls or critters whose limbs and heads keep bouncing off as they dance.  There are some scares, lots of laughs, and a nice semi-epic journey.  Labyrinth is a delight for both little kids and adults.
Before the movie, the 30 Years special had a documentary about Labyrinth.  This included the surviving folks who worked on the movie fondly remembering Jim Henson and David Bowie, as well as discussing how the movie was made.  They also reveal what happened to most of the puppets used in the movie.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Bad things happen when scientists experiment with nature.  This is a very common trope of several science fiction movies, and now Morgan joins them.

Risk management consultant Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) has been hired to evaluate by an unnamed but slightly sinister company to evaluate and possibly terminate the L-9 project.  This takes her to the middle of nowhere, where outside are beautiful woods and cold, sterile concrete rooms are underground.
A handful of scientists have been working in seclusion on a genetic project.  They seem to have success with Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is five years old but looks like a teenage girl.  Morgan has great intellectual and emotional development; she also may have superhuman abilities, as she seems to know quite a bit about people she just met.  And when one of the scientists tells Morgan she can't go outside anymore, Morgan attacked her and blinded her in one eye.  Is Morgan a danger?  Will Lee end the project and have Morgan killed?  Or will everything spiral out of control?
Morgan is a dreary and surprisingly flat movie.  The story arc is predictable, and the characters are all one-dimensional; even the appearance of Paul Giamatti as a dour psychiatrist doesn't add much to the movie.  There aren't many scares or thoughtful scenes, and the images of the free person and imprisoned person reflected in the glass dividing them gets overdone quickly.  Morgan tries to be suspenseful but is actually boring.

Overall grade: D
Reviewed by James Lynch



With so many summer movies being franchises, fluff, or bogged down with special effects, it's a nice change of pace to see a movie that's quieter, self-contained, and quite beautiful.  Kubo and the Two Strings is a Japanese folktale from the stop-motion experts from Laika Studios that's both touching and harsh.

The movie opens during a storm, as Sariatu (Charlize Theron) is traveling in a small boat with her baby Kubo.  The journey isn't easy -- Sariatu is thrown out of the boat and hits her head on the ocean floor, while the baby is missing an eye -- but they make it to a cave in a giant mountain.

Years later, Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy who supports by his mother by going into town, telling stories, and playing a guitar that brings sheets of paper to life.  Sariatu has memory lapses and periods of catatonia, but she still tells Kubo stories about his past.  His father, Hanzo, was a samurai whose love was an insult to Saraitu's father the Moon King and Sariatu's evil Sisters.  They killed Hanzo and the Moon King stole Kubo's eye -- and he wants the other one, which is why Kubo must always return home before night.

Of course Kubo winds up in town after dark, which brings the creepy Sisters (voiced by Rooney Mara).  Sariatu sacrifices herself to save Kubo, telling him to find a magic armor, sword, and helmet to protect himself.  Kubo's little figure of a monkey has come to life, and Monkey (also voiced by Charlize Theron) is a humorless guardian of Kubo.  A paper samurai acts as a guide for the pair, and they're joined on their quest by Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a samurai turned into a human-insect hybrid with amnesia but a certainly he served Hanzo.  Together they face a giant skeleton, hypnotic sea monsters, Kubo's truly scary relatives, and revelations (including a twist I saw coming) and loss.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a very impressive movie.  The animation is stunning, from the largest stop-motion puppet ever to the emotional expressions of the characters (and the creepy still faces of the Sisters).  Unlike many other animated movies, this one has genuine loss and tragedy, and it's not magically reversed or changed at the end.  The voice talent is very good, and kids and adults alike will enjoy the bickering between Monkey and Beetle.  Kubo and the Two Strings may be a little scary for really young kids, but it's a delight for fans of both animation and originality.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



What happens when the American Western meets the decline of the American dream?  Hell of High Water puts a contemporary spin on the outlaw tale.

Brothers Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) rob banks.  Specifically, they wait for branches of the Texas Midland bank in West Texas to open, then they pull down ski masks and have the employees give them all the money from the cash drawers, $20s or smaller, no packets.  Toby and Tanner drive off, ditch their stolen car, get another one, and plan on hitting the next Texas Midland bank.

It's no coincidence that the Texas Midland bank is being targeted: It's about to foreclose on the Howards' property, following the death of their mother, and the brothers are laundering the bank's own money to pay off the mortgage.  Toby wants the land for his kids -- who he can't see because he owes his ex-wife child support.  And Tanner is an ex-con, recently out of prison and far more of a loose cannon.

Meanwhile, the two are being pursued by a pair of Texas Rangers.  Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is on the verge of retirement and has an almost languid approach to catching the robbers.  Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) barely tolerates Marcus' jokes about his Mexican and Indian heritage.   Together they find towns suffering from depression and poverty, and people who are fine with folks robbing the banks that seem determined to rob them,

Hell or High Water proceeds along its two paths -- the robbers out to get enough money, and the police focused on stopping them -- at a slow, deliberate pace.  The actors all do fine jobs, and among the numerous locations there's a feel of desperation as the economic downturn has hit all these small towns, and their occupants, hard.  Hell or High Water is far from a feel-good movie, but it's a modern Western with something to say about what happens to people in a downturn.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch