Blue Angels, Jones Beach 2010

The Jones Beach Airshow has become a Long Island tradition. This year, the headline act was the Blue Angels. They are the Navy's team, and the pilots are chosen from the very best of Naval aviation to fly the F-18's. While I have had issues in years past trying to get some decent pics of these fast jets (shutter lag, haze, etc), this year the planets aligned. Well almost. While the video camera turned out to be not charged, the stills turned out well. I sequenced the best shots together into an online slideshow. Comments appreciated!

Reviewed by Jonas

Overall Grade: A

THE BIG BOOK OF PORN by Seth Grahame-Smith

Sure, everyone knows something about dirty movies -- but what about their history? Their biggest stars, both male and female? What does it take to make one? What are the silliest titles? These are some of the areas covered by The Big Book of Porn: A Penetrating Look at the World of Dirty Movies by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Grahame-Smith's approach to this world is both informed and tongue-in-cheek. He has no problem recognizing the problems of his subject ("Most of today's pornos have the artistic content of a septic tank...") or bashing anything he doesn't personally like. He also has a sense of humor, keeping the mood light from start to finish: During his history of porn, dark or negative events are given the header "limp moments in porn history."

So what's in The Big Book of Porn? "A Brief History of Porn Movies" provides a quick, well, history of porn the movies, from the first movies made to 2005 (when this was published). "Know Your Classics" discusses twenty "essential" movies -- not chosen for their prurient value! "The Pantheon of Porn" goes through the author's picks for the most important stars (male and female) and directors in adult entertainment. "What to Watch, Where to Find It" gives porn genres, sources, and possible future. "It's a Small World After All" dedicates a paragraph or two to porn around the globe. "Make Your Own Porno" is a how-to guide to creating a skin flick, from start to finish. And "Extra Features" has various items: a glossary of terms, useful websites, a calendar of events for annual adult conventions and award shows, and 300 of the silliest, funniest, and unbelievable titles out there. There are also random inserts through the book, like the story behind the arrest of Paul Reubens (a.k.a. Pee Wee Herman) and a poem to the dirty old days of 42nd Street. And yes, there are photos.

The Big Book of Porn is a light-but-solid look at the universe of the skin flick. Many of Grahame-Smith's choices are subjective (I take issue with his leaving out star Asia Carrera and director Andrew Blake) and some of the topics are covered far too briefly (the "big book" is a little over 200 pages long -- a lot of which are photos). The author's humor helps diminish these problems, as he moves the tone of his book from a serious history or analysis to a fan chatting in earnest about his passion. The Big Book of Porn is far from the definitive work on adult cinema, but it's a fun read -- and a good start to further exploration.
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



What happens when an ancient epic poem becomes a fully computer-animated movie? You get Beowulf, a decent reinvention of what may be the oldest English work ever.

It's 507 A.D. and something is indeed rotten in the state of Denmark. King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is a merry old ruler, interested in celebrating and partying with his subjects -- and his reluctant wife, Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn). An attack by the giant, hideous monster Grendel (Crispin Glover) throws the kingdom into turmoil, leading Hrothgar to offer great rewards to a hero who can slay the monster.

Enter Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his faithful companion Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson), who braved a storm to gain glory by slaying the monster. Beowulf is a combination of braggart and hero, ready to exaggerate his victories while also proving a mighty warrior. His weakness is for women, which is a problem when faced with Grendel's Mother (Angelina Jolie), a sinister and slightly alien seductive demon.

This Beowulf is not the classic poem; as director Robert Dimeckis notes in the dvd commentary, "It's all about eating, drinking, fighting and fornicating." Beowulf certainly delivers when it comes to fighting, as the hero battles sea monsters, the horrid Grendel, and a giant dragon -- all of which are wonderfully rendered with cgi. (The same is true, in a very different fashion, for Grendel's Mother, clearly based on Jolie herself.)

Beowulf falters with its humans. While this movie's monsters are very impressive, the cgi humans looks like artificial creations from a 1990s video game. This is a shame, considering the voice talent is excellent, from Hopkins' regal and tired king to Wistone's hero that is aware of his flaws. And Angelina Jolie is literally irrestible here, with her evil yet captivating voice.

Screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary do a good job adapting this very long classic poem to a movie-length time, and the story holds together pretty well. I just wish that Beowulf didn't have such an artificial look to it. (Dvd extras include making-of features (including the actors working in extensive sensor-detecting devices), slightly unfinished extra scenes, and lots of background on the story and art.)

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch



Walter Iooss may be the most loved and least known man in America. What does he do? Fellow beach denizen Warren Buffett sums up Iooss' job nicely in his introduction to Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: Heaven: "For 38 years Walter has been taking the most beautiful women on the planet to its most extraordinary natural wonders, to photograph them mostly naked. Simple." Yes, Iooss has been taking photographs for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue special since the 1970s, and Sports Illustrated: Heaven is a gorgeous collection of some of these photos.

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: Heaven showcases some of the world's most famous models, many of whom got their start thanks to Iooss' pictures. This collection includes: Christie Brinkley, Cherly Tiegs, Carol Alt, Kathy Ireland, Heidi Klum, Rachel Hunter, Rebecca Rominj, Paulina Porizkova, Tyra Banks, Marisa Miller, Brooklyn Decker and Bar Refaeli. These are some of the most beautiful women in the world, from the 1970s to the present, photographed at their very best.

Belinda Carlisle sang that "Heaven is a place on Earth" but Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: Heaven makes a good case for Heaven being divided among several places on the globe. The pictures here were taken in numerous locations -- from Hawaii and Montauk to Brazil, Vietnam and the Maldives -- and Iooss' photos display the beauty of nature as well as that of his human subjects.

For those who can get their minds past the beautiful women here, this Sports Illustrated collection has something many of their other swimsuit collections lack: organization. At the start of this book is a table of contents that includes the location of the photographs, the models photographed there, and the years in which those pictures were taken. (The models' names are also printed near their photos throughout the book as well.) This simple feature makes navigating through this book, to find a particular photo or set of photos, very easy.

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: Heaven also has comments by Iooss about both the locations and the models. While most of these comments are about how beautiful the women are, there are a few surprises, like Iooss didn't like his photo of Cheryl Tiegs that launched her into stardom or how he didn't like the Cayman Islands: "There is no place to go, the whole island is overbuilt."

If there's one complaint with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: Heaven it's that, for some reason, a few of the photos were made into collages or had graphics put on their borders -- and if there were ever a bunch of photos that didn't need anything extra, it's these! But that's a small price to pay for seeing a master of photography displaying almost four decades of what may be the most beautiful women in the world -- in swimsuits! In a coffee table book! 'Nuff said.

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch



So, do you like rolling dice and eating brains? Then Zombie Dice is the game for you! This Steve Jackson Games has the players as zombies, competing to eat the most brains first.

The key to Zombie Dice is, well, the zombie dice. These six-sided dice have three symbols: Brain, which you need to win; Shotgun, which can end your turn; and Footprints, which mean your would-be victim got away. Dice come in three colors: green, which have three Brains, two Footprints, and one Shotgun; yellow, with two of each symbol; and red, with three Shotguns, two Footprints and one Brain.

Each turn a player shakes the cup holding the dice, selects three dice at random, and rolls them. If a player gets three Shotgun Blasts their turn ends. If not, they can stop or keep going. A player who stops scores a Brain for each Brain rolled (keeping track of them by something other than the dice), puts all the dice back in the cup, and passes it to the next player for their turn. If a player keeps going they set aside any Brains and Shotguns rolled, then reroll any Footprints, plus more random dice until they have three dice to roll. Players can get more Brains if the keep going -- but if they ever have three Shotguns they lose all the Brains they scored that round and their turn ends.

When a player scores 13 Brains, players finish the round (the rules don't specify exactly what this means; my interpretation is each player gets one more turn) and whoever has the most Brains at the end wins!

Much like Steve Jackson Games' Cthuhu Dice, Zombie Dice is very simple and very quick. I'd give the edge to Zombie Dice for having more strategy. This game does have a big risk-big reward element, and knowing just by color which dice are more potnetially helpful or harmful will influence whether or not a player pushes their luck. Zombie Dice is a fun, easy, diverting little game. Brrrrrrainsssssss...

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Ian Dury was one of the main forces of the punk/new wave music scene in England in the 1970s -- but what about Ian Dury the man, the artist, the father? Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is a look at this flawed genius.

Andy Serkis plays the adult Ian Dury, and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll focuses on Dury's life and career during three periods: His struggling music of the late 1960s, fame and success through the 1970s, and excess and failings in the 1980s. Through these times the most important people to Dury are his wife Betty (Olivia Williams), who Dury separates from but cannot divorce; Denise (Naomie Harris), Dury's mistress who sometimes gets on better with Betty than with him; and Baxter (Bill Milner), Dury's young son.

In this movie Dury is, overall, a rascal. He's passionate about both art and life, perfectly suited for partying and performing. (At one point he tells young people he thinks of himself more as an entertainer than a singer.) He's also reckless, self-destructive, and almost indifferent to the pain and chaos he brings to those around him. Flashbacks show Dury struggling with polio, while his limp in the present is the least of his problems.

As with many biopics, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll focuses almost solely on the star, with other characters existing to react to the central character. Fortunately, Andy Serkis is terrific as Dury, making him larger than life -- and very aware of his flaws while not trying to change them. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll isn't about the music (though the music performances here are energetic and show why Dury was so popular) but the man. The style of this movie is sometimes uneven -- fast flashbacks, slow dramatic scenes, occasionally having Dury telling his life story during a rock concert -- but director Mat Whitecross makes both Dury and the supporting cast real people instead of shallow stereotypes. For a portrait of the artist as a charming narcissist, check out Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Pornography is such a provocative and controversial item it's easy to forget about the people involved in it. This is addressed in 9 to 5: Days in Porn, a documentary that examines the lives of adult film professionals.

There are several different people (the director calls them "characters") in 9 to 5: Days in Porn. They include: married couple Otto Bauer and Audrey Hollander; new starlet Sasha Grey; sisters Alicia and Joanna Angel; superstar Belladonna and German star Katja Kassin; Dr. Sharon Mitchell, a former porn star that became a doctor fighting disease in the porn community; Mark Spiegler, agent to many new and established stars; and several other men and women working in the San Fernando Valley making porn.

The focus of 9 to 5: Days in Porn isn't the industry (nothing on the impact of the Internet or current trends) but what it takes to survive, professionally and personally, making a living by putting one's sexuality out there for all to see. Those shown here are quite a diverse group. Sasha Grey started with an ambitious and creative mission statement and proudly compares her line of work ("we're sexual athletes") with "normal" teens. Otto and Audrey are a couple with their own strengths and problems -- neither of which involve their roles with other people. Spiegler is pragmatic (warning about not throwing away one's earnings), while Mitchell warns, "Denial is the backbone of pornography when it comes to health care."

9 to 5: Days in Porn is a pretty good look at the people who make their living working in the adult entertainment industry. While the documentary sometimes avoids the doubts or problems of the subjects (director Jens Hoffmann said he didn't want to repay the people's trust in him by showing them crying or at their worst) it also doesn't glamorize the industry either. Several people note that the stigma of being a porn actor follows people after they leave, and they also warn that entering the industry for the wrong reasons can destroy people.

The goal, and achievement, of 9 to 5: Days in Porn is to show the people involved in porn as three-dimensional people, not stereotypes or airheads or victims. This documentary is a good behind-the-scenes look at the different types of people working in a very controversial and popular genre. (DVD bonuses include deleted scenes, filming at the AVN Awards Show, and a q&a with director Jens Hoffmann at a film festival.)

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



So, you want to be a cultist, serving Cthuhu and driving your fellow cultists mad, but you want to do so without spending a lot of time or learning a lot of rules or needing a lot of space. What to do? Cthulhu Dice, from Steve Jackson Games, is the perfect solution. Thie die-rolling game is very cheap, very simple, very compact, and pretty fun.

Each player in Cthulhu Dice is a cultist who starts with three sanity tokens. On a player's turn the main player is the Caster, choosing a Victim (another player) and rolling the special die that is the heart of this game. Roll a Tentacle and you get one sanity token from the Victim. Roll a Yellow Sign and one sanity token from the Victim goes to Cthulhu (an area in the center of the table). Roll the picture of Cthulhu and all players lose one sanity token to Cthulhu. Roll an Elder Sign and you get one sanity token from Cthulhu (if one is available). And if you roll an Eye, you get to choose the result of your roll. After the Caster is done, the Victim gets to roll against the Caster. After that the person to the Caster's left becomes the next Caster, and so on. If a player has no sanity tokens, they're Mad: Any tokens they get from other players go to Cthulhu and they can only regain Sanity tokens with an Elder Sign.

If a turn ends and only one player has any sanity tokens, that player wins. If a turn ends and no player has any sanity tokens, Cthulhu wins and all the players lose!

Those are all the rules to Cthulhu Dice. Each game takes 5-10 minutes, and each set comes with one die, 18 sanity tokens, and instructions. Since players don't need to roll dice simultaneously, it's possible to play with several people using only one set; serious gamers will want the four different dice colors, while hardcore gamers (yo) will also go for the two glow-in-the-dark dice available online.

Cthulhu Dice is one of the simplest games I own and among the simplest I've ever played. The only strategy per se is who to choose as your Victim and what result to use if you roll an Eye. So while skill is next to absent and luck is vital here, Cthulhu Dice is still fun. This is a game you can carry in your pocket, teach in almost no time at all, and play multiple times in just a few minutes. Folks looking for deep strategies in their gaming should look elsewhere, but Cthulhu Dice is a neat game for a few quick plays or something to play before a main event.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Superhero movies and sequels go together these days as much as superhero movies and cgi. Given the success of the original Iron Man, a sequel was all but inevitable. Despite having the same director and most of the same cast, Iron Man 2 is disappointing.

Six months after the events of the first movie, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is enjoying the spotlight, single-handedly bringing about world peace, and loved by the public. Unfortunately, radiation from Stark's artificial heart is slowly killing him. Russian criminal Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has created powerful electric whips, and business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) wants to undermine Stark Industries.

Every hero needs friends and allies. Petter Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is back as the concerned aide who is made C.E.O. of Stark Industries. Lt. Col. "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard from the first movie) is the responsible friend who will become War Machine. Director Jon Favreau steps in front of the camera as chauffer Happy Hogan. And, foreshadowing the eventual Avengers movie, there are appearances by Nick Fury (Sameul L. Jackson) and martial artist-super spy Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson).

The characters in Iron Man 2 are very one-dimensional, from all the people asking Tony Stark innumerable variations of "Are you alright?" to Justin Hammer as a ineffectual, unpopular copy of Stark's success. Robert Downey Jr. is still good in the role, but here he has less room for growth and discovery than in the first movie. And for an action flick, there are numerous stretches of this movie that are pretty boring. Iron Man 2 isn't terrible but it's not all that enjoyable either.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch


The XX, XX (Young Turks, 2009)

The XX are a London-based group consisting of Romy Madley Croft (vocals and guitar), Oliver Sim (vocals and bass), and Jamie Smith (programming). Their debut CD XX was recorded with a fourth member, Baria Quereshi, on guitar and keyboards. Their unusual arrangements combine vocal duets with minimalist instrumentation evocative of The Velvet Underground for a generally sparse, but emotive, ambience.

While XX received a good deal of favorable critical response for its originality, I felt that the album lacked sufficient quality material to hold up to the scrutiny that comes with multiple listens. In other words, a few songs grabbed my attention initially, but nothing really held it for long. Even the strongest track on the album, "Infinity," suffers from being derivative -- the Bm-A-E chord progression and the heavily echoed guitar come straight from Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." Having said that, there is something unique and intriguing about their sound. The light, simple playing fits the mood of the songs well, and the ability and willingness of Croft and Sim to share the spotlight equally bodes well for long-term collaborations.

I do think that The XX have a few good musical ideas, and they'll almost certainly have plenty of opportunities to develop them further. A number of music publications jumped the gun in naming XX the best album of 2009, though. The songwriting just wasn't memorable enough to warrant that kind of distinction.

Overall grade: B-

reviewed by Scott