Would you sacrifice the future to enjoy the present?  Conversely, how far would you go to protect the future?  These are some of the questions raised in Looper, a very original science fiction thriller that delves deeply into time travel -- and personal choices.

"Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been."  So says Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an assassin known as a Looper in the year 2042.  We're told that in 2072 time travel was invented and almost immediately outlawed, so it's only used by organized crime.  Since people are almost impossible to make vanish in the future, the mob sends its victims back to 2042 (hands bound, with a hood over their face), where a waiting Looper blasts them with a blunderbuss and collects a reward of silver bars tied to the victim's back.  However, there's a price: Since the mob wants to sever all ties with time travel, if a Looper lives to 2072 their 2042 version will kill their future self ("closing the loop"), enjoying a reward of gold and living it up until their inevitable self-termination.  Future versions don't get far (as injuries to the present version carry through to the future self), and Abe (Jeff Daniels) is a mob rep from the future who runs the 2042 Loopers to make sure nothing goes wrong.

Of course, something goes very wrong: The future version of Joe (Bruce Willis) is sent back, but he escapes and is determined to change the future.  "Old Joe" wants to restore the life he had and then lost, while "Young Joe" is determined to kill his future self to get back in Abe's good graces and return to a life of hedonism and self-destruction.  There are also flying vehicles, low-level telekinetics, farmer Sara (Emily Blunt) and her creepy kid Cid (Pierce Gagnon), and a mysterious future mob boss called the Rainmaker who single-handedly took over five cities.

Looper is an intriguing look at the potential of time travel -- and its potential abuses.  While I don't know why the mob wouldn't use time travel to make a fortune (from the stock market, betting on sports, etc.), the setup allows for a class of people who sell out their futures to party in the present.  Gordon-Levitt and Willis are great as two sides of the same coin: the young kid who wants to enjoy himself no matter what, and the older one willing to commit a horrible plan to fix the future.  There are times Looper falls into action movie cliches (like people dodging bullets), but this movie is exciting, thoughtful, and entertaining.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


So, what's it like making a living in the world of porn?  What cliches are ridiculous, and which common beliefs are true?  These are some of the "secrets" covered in The Secret Lives of Adult Stars, a 2004 documentary consisting of interviews with the people who make their living making adult entertainment.

This documentary takes a simple approach: Get some adult film professionals (mainly actors and directors) and let them chat about different topics.  The folks discuss everything from how they got started in the industry, to fans, to the challenges of maintaining relationships with people who aren't part of the industry.  They discuss the need to "approach women as a consumer," the rise of the internet and technology (the shots of vhs boxes suggest this was made right before the advent of the dvd), and how little male performers make compared with women.

Folks looking for deep, dark secrets won't find them here.  There are no outsiders giving different perspectives on the pros and cons of filming and selling sex, just industry professionals discussing mostly how much they enjoy working in the industry.  (All may not be perfect, as the stars who become more popular can work less.  Asia Carrera comments that she made "seventy movies in my first six months.")  There's no discussion of feminism, politics, or controversy.

What The Secret Lives of Adult Stars delivers is most of the big names of the adult industry, such as Brittany Andrews, Julie Meadows, Anna Malle, Nina Hartley, Julia Ann, Asia Carrera, Michael Raven, Steven St. Croix, and more.  (Notably absent is megastar Jenna Jameson.)  This documentary shows that the people in the adult entertainment industry are regular people, not sexaholics or damaged goods.  Beyond that, though The Secret Lives of Adult Stars isn't particularly illuminating on this fascinating genre.

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch


Pink, THE TRUTH ABOUT LOVE (Deluxe Version)

Love may be, as the poets say, a many-splendoured thing -- but it becomes something quite disappointing, thrilling, sexy, and addictive in the world of bass-ass singer Pink.  The Truth about Love, her latest album, shows that motherhood hasn't softened either her writing or delivery -- or her skills.
Following the opening we're-a-community-of-rebels anthem "Are We All We Are," The Truth about Love takes on love in all its glorious and reckless facets.  There's the simultaneous mix of love and hate ("True Love"), unconditional support ("The Great Escape"), the joy of sex ("Slut like You"), the shame of sex ("Walk of Shame"), co-dependent neediness ("How Come You're Not Here") and saying adios to an ex (the first single, "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)").  The Truth about Love isn't simple in its message, avoiding both excess sentimentality and man-bashing lyrics.

What the album has is Pink in fine form.  She keeps things nicely varied from start to finish, mixing up her sound to go from pop to rock to near-acoustic ballads.  Her songwriting doesn't pull any punches ("At the same time I wanna hug you/ I wanna wrap my hands around your neck/You're an asshole but I love you/And you make me so mad I ask myself/Why I'm still here or where could I go?") and her vocals carry both the jagged and soft songs with ease.  The album isn't perfect -- "Beam Me Up" is a weird mix of sentiment and science-fiction, and I could have lived nicely without the Eminem cameo -- but The Truth about Love is a terrific reminder of how forceful and terrific Pink can be.

The Target deluxe version (disclaimer: I work for Target -- as a ninja!) has four bonus tracks that don't quite fit in with the theme of the album but are still enjoyable.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



"Where did everybody go?" This is the starting point for plenty of horror/suspense where someone seems to be the only person left in the world. It's also the basis for After, though the movie goes more for sentiment than science in its trip to the end.

Ana (Karolina Wydra) is taking a bus home to Pearl, Maryland, when she's hit on by Freddy (Steven Strait). She's a nurse who's trying to write in her journal, and he's a comic book artist chatting her up. It turns out that they live on the same street, though they've never met. Suddenly there's a crash on the side of the bus.

In the next scene, Ana wakes up in her home. She heads to work -- only no one is there. No one is anywhere: Every home and office is deserted, cars are empty, and there's no answer on the radio or signal on the TV. Then she runs into Freddy, and the two of them decide to pair up and figure out what's going on.

That's when the weirdness starts (or intensifies). The whole town is surrounded by a wall of swirling black smoke, and it's slowly moving towards them and the center of town. Ana and Freddy seem to walk into each other's flashbacks, scenes from decades ago in their past. Somewhere in the smoke is the sound of a monster on a chain. And everything seems to have a connection with their past.

Writer/director Ryan Smith runs into the problem so many stories like this face: The explanation isn't as satisfying as the mystery. While Wydra and Strait do a good job with their roles -- regular people forced together by a nightmare situation -- as the pieces of After start coming together the situation gets less interesting. And, as is so often the case, the monster is more fearsome when it's just heard than when it finally shows up.

The intrigue of After is interesting (the swirling blackness closing in on the town, the giant door with hundreds of keys in front of it) while it lasts, but the payoff is a bit lackluster. This movie would have worked better if it had, to quote Iris DeMent, let the mystery be.

Overall grade: C-

Reviewed by James Lynch


THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO KINK by Tristan Taormino, et al

If you want to learn about a subject, talk with some experts on that subject. This simple principle is the guiding force behind The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge, edited by Tristan Taormino. She has collected essays by some of the "superstars" of the kinky community to write an essay or two on different aspects of the alternative sexual lifestyles. The results are, for the most part, terrific.

The Ultimate Guide to Kink is divided into two parts. The first half, "Skills and Techniques," provides information on the "mechanics" of kinky sex (as well as an overview of the terminology from Taormino herself), from training a slave to bondage, piercings, and er, things that can be done with a fist. Following that is "Fantasies and Philosophies," which encompasses everything from the basics of role play to the mindset of a sadist and masochist (different essays) to different genres of role play and the darker realms of the imagination.

The twenty essays from various writers give not just a variety of not just sexual arenas, but writing styles and attitudes as well. Many of the writers are as adamant about the necessary precautions as the erotic potentials ("Don't kill 'em, don't harm 'em, don't bore 'em") and most urge testing the waters carefully instead of diving right in. Some writers use humor (from "Homer Simpson rewards" to "Lord Eduardo, King of the Goats") while others get very personal; the last three essays delve into very dangerous territories, and Edge clarifies, "Finally, I'm going to sound like a psycho killer at times. I am not. Promise."

The Ultimate Guide to Kink works as much as a philosophical basis for kink as for a discussion of how to expand one's sexual experience into different areas. The writing is quite good for the most part, and even discussions of activities that don't interest a reader might still provide insights and possibilities for the reader in other areas. This book does explore some pretty hardcore areas, both physically and mentally, and it's certainly not for the faint of heart. (One description made me queasy.) With that in mind, it's easy to see why these authors are the superstars of their kinks, and Tristan Taormino did a great job gathering and editing their thoughts to create The Ultimate Guide to Kink.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



For those keeping score: We can clone a sheep, we can't clone a human, and Spike TV can definitely clone a television show. The network has taken the restaurant renovation show Kitchen Nightmares and copied it for troubled bars in Bar Rescue, from brash-but-knowledgable expert to near-hopeless owners and employees.

Bar Rescue features Jon Taffer, the expert with over 30 years of experience in fixing up bars and making them profitable. Each episode, the owners of a failing bar request his help, and the same things happen almost every episode. Taffer (or a friend) go in incognito to the bar to see how the service, food, and drinks are. He fills the bar with tons of customers, to see how the staff and management work under pressure. He brings in experts (usually a chef, a bartender, and a service coordinator) to work with the staff on proper and improved customer service. He packs the bar for a "stress test," seeing how well they perform under tough conditions. He plans and executes a renovation of the bar, from simple decor to new equipment (supplied, I suspect, by the show's sponsors) to sometimes changing the identity of the bar. A relaunch happens, testing how well the revamped bar does. And there's a brief report, from days to months later, on how the bar is doing.

Then there's the yelling and manipulation. If Taffer were an actor, he's be a great Brooklyn tough guy: He's loud, passionate, and profanity-filled as he screams about the mistakes made and problems found in the bar. (Basically, Gordon Ramsay without the British accent.) At the same time, Bar Rescue uses pretty standard reality tv trickery to play with our emotions: dramatic music to tell us how to feel, cuts to people talking to the camera in the middle of conversations, and plenty of editing to make the bad employees look even worse.

But there's entertainment to be found here as well. Brash as Taffer is, he certainly knows his way around a bar -- and the bars that take his advice seem to do well in the long run. (I think the toughest part of the show must be finding bars that are having massive financial problems, yet are run by people who ask for help but fight the changes and advice every step of the way.) It's somewhat fun to see how the bars improve, often turning things around in the space of less than a week. And there's plenty of drama that happens between Tafferty and anyone he considers incompetent.

I might like Bar Rescue more if it had come first (and definitely if it had fewer commercials), but it's still a somewhat enjoyable guilty pleasure. Where else can you see a bar virtually indistinguishable from its attached strip club get turned around, or a pirate bar go corporate?

Overall grade: C+

Reviewed by James Lynch



There has been plenty of comedy in most superhero comics, and there have been plenty of parodies of superheroes, but for sheer surreality and goofiness -- with a heart of gold and violence -- none have ever topped the Flaming Carrot. This bastion of lunacy, written and drawn by Bob Burden, has been around since 1979, jumping from publisher to publisher and entertaining fans to this day.

While most of us imagine being as smart and fearsome as Batman or as powerful as the Hulk, in our heart of hearts we know we'd probably be a lot more closer to the Flaming Carrot. His origin (video below) is similar to that of Don Quixote: After reading 5,000 comic books in a row to win a bet, a man suffered brain damage and became the Flaming Carrot. While he has no powers per se, his giant fake carrot head has a flame that can be increased or decreased, and he keeps a nuclear-powered pogo stick in his snout. He carries guns (and usually shoots the bad guys), gets a wide variety of weird gadgets, and always wears flippers (in case he has to swim).

Flaming Carrot is the defender of Palookaville, a neighborhood in Iron City. While he is something of a neighborhood hero, he makes a living by running a laundromat and taking the money he finds at crime scenes. He has battled mobsters, aliens, the cloned feet of Hitler, wannabe supervillains, and even a giant talking chicken wing (the latter in "Crouching Carrot, Hidden Hotwing"). He's teamed up with such local heroes as the Mystery Men (the team of second-rate heroes who inspired the movie of the same name) and Sponge Boy and appeared in comic books with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cerebus the Aardvark.

While parody is easy, there's a certain heart and charm to the world of the Flaming Carrot that elevates it past simple superhero jokes. This lunatic hero may be a crimefighter, but he also spends plenty of time doing regular things (in costume), from dating the ladies to performing as a lounge singer. He often speaks in sentence fragments, likes to exclaim "Ut!" when surprised or excited, and makes massive leaps of logic that usually turn out to be true (like assuming the evil Umpires in NY would be hiding at the Umpire State Building -- and then finding them at the Empire State Building). It's a weird, goofy world the Carrot lives in -- but it sure is fun!

The most recent new issues of Flaming Carrot Comics were a 4-issue miniseries put out by Image Comics in 2004, with an issue in 2006 using photos instead of artwork. The older issues are collected in black and white collections, and the Flaming Carrot Kickstarter Project has met its goal, which means more hardbound and digital copies of the classic stories will be available. The Flaming Carrot has also been on a t-shirt (which I had) and had his own action figure (which I have).

One of the Flaming Carrot collections proclaims "The wild shall wild remain" and that certainly applies to the orange avenger. With all the changes that have happened in the world since the Flaming Carrot first appeared, his unique charming lunacy remains as fun as ever.


Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch