MAXIM Hot 100 2013

Top lists are usually released at the end of the year, but Maxim has been bucking that trend by releasing its Hot 100 collection of beautiful women with its June issue.  This year's collection is very similar to last year's list: amazing photographs of beautiful women, brief comments, and popularity being as important as beauty.

Voted on by the magazine's readers, the Maxim Hot 100 2013 is, well, just that.  Each person picked has a photo (from the magazine in most cases), accompanies by brief, often humorous comments about them.  For example, Candice Swanepoel had this entry: "Our favorite South African scored a hat trick when, for the third time, she secured the cover of the Victoria's Secret swim catalog (way better than those stuffy issues they put out the rest of the year.)"  There are plenty of actors, singers, models, and other famous folks.  And in what I suspect is too perfect to be coincidence, Stephen Colbert lost the #69 spot he had in 2012 to Manti Te'O's fake girlfriend, "shown" below.

While it may seem amazing that such a list could have problems, the voters do display something of an... immediacy in their selection, based on the picks' popularity.  I'm just as sure that Heather Graham made the list for her "stripper with a heart of gold" role in The Hangover 3 as that Anne Hathaway got left off for her less-than-glamorous doomed prostitute in Les Miserables.  Previous mainstays got left off because of less current publicity (like Nicole Scherzinger, Jennifer Lopez, and Britney Spears), while Alice Eve made it in thanks to her gratituous underwear moments in Star Trek Into Darkness.

Still, Maxim has never taken itself too seriously, and the Maxim Hot 100 2013 is a visually stunning list of who's hot -- and a reflection of who's hot right now.  (It also lends support to my theory that female Disney stars become highly sexualized as soon as they get away from Disney, as former Disney stars make up four of the winners in the list's top 10 -- including the top two spots.)  While the spoilers about the selection hit the Internet before the magazine did, this is still an enjoyable little photographic romp of hot women in the public eye.

Written by James Lynch




There's a certain appeal for young folks in watching rich, spoiled, beautiful kids -- and in watching their downfall -- so it's no surprise that these sort of teens are the focus of the horror-comedy movie Bad Kids Go to Hell.  This non-serious movie, based on the comic book of the same name, revolves around the elite teens of the world, stuck in the detention from hell.

With echoes of The Breakfast Club (underscored by casting Judd Nelson as the headmaster), Bad Kids Go to Hell opens with the police breaking into a barricaded room, to find Matt (Cameron Deane Stewart) holding an axe and surrounded by corpses -- including a headless body that falls over.  We jump ahead eight hours earlier, when six Crestview Academy students are being locked into the school library for detention.  Veronica (Augie Duke) is a goth who believes in the supernatural.  Megan (Amanda Alch) seems like a shy nerd with an inhaler -- but she has a wild side.  Tricia (Ali Faulkner) is a vain beauty whose mother is an ambitious politician.  Craig (Roger Edwards) is a jock stumbling around on crutches.  Tarek (Mark Donato) gets flak for being Arabic.  And Matt has the biggest reputation as a troublemaker -- not to mention one of the poor kids at Crestview.

Dr. Day (Jeffrey Schmidt) somehow thinks locking these six troublemakers together for detention is a good idea, so on the first day of winter break he gets them together, confiscates their phones and electronics, and locks them in the library.  Only he and the slightly slow janitor Max (Ben Browder) seem to know they're there.
Rather than bonding, the students start sniping and fighting with each other.  But when things start to get weird -- and they begin dying -- there's no way for them to escape, or call for help.  Is what's happening revenge from the ghost of the Indian whose land was stolen to build Crestview Academy?  Is one of the troublemakers killing off the others?  Does it have to do with a conspiracy, revealed bit by bit in each student's flashbacks?  Or is something else going on?

Bad Kids Go to Hell revels in slickness and meanness, from the superficially perfect teens to the dark comedy of the killings and murders.  Alas, that doesn't make up for the fact that none of the characters are the slightest bit likeable (though it turns out Matt's reputation comes from his every attempt to do the right thing going horribly wrong).  There are some decent scares and misdirects, but Bad Kids Go to Hell ultimately feels more like a MTV original movie than a try at redoing suspense-horror for the teenage generation.  (DVD extras include standard behind-the-scenes material, plus comparisons between the movie and comic book visuals.)

Overall grade: D
Reviewed by James Lynch


Ljova, Melting River (2012)

Whether working by himself or with his group the Kontraband, the New York-based violist and composer Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin is always worth checking in with. His latest offering Melting River is a collection of works originally commissioned by Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton for her work "Project XII." The pieces in Melting River evoke specific moods, from subtle agitation in "There You Have It" to placid tranquility in the title track to the dreamy whimsy interrupted by fits of tension in "Birds." Ljova once again shows his creativity and versatility as a composer; "Birds" holds up really well as a modern classical composition, and "Asha" is a quick, fun tango. A few of the tunes will leave you wanting to know the context, but most of the tracks on Melting River stand on their own just fine.

The album is available for download through the bandcamp site.

Overall grade: B+



This past weekend, fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror, comics, gaming, and a lot more converged at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center for XCon World VI, the latest gathering of fans for all things geek.  The convention was a lot of fun -- albeit with the same problem that it faced last year.
Held mostly in one big hall, XCon World VI managed to squeeze just about everything together -- and that was reflected in the numerous costumes worn by the attendees.  Some characters were very popular -- I saw numerous Wonder Women, Harley Quinns, and the Doctor(s) from Doctor Who -- but there were also zombies and creatures a-plenty, video game characters like Lara Croft and the folks from Minecraft, Jedi and Starfleet Officers, medieval ladies and steampunk men, and even the first costumes from Breaking Bad that I've seen at a convention!  There was also a TARDIS (stationary) and a Dalek (which rolled around the convention.)

XCon World VI also provided plenty of activities for folks.  Little kids could get their faces painted, play in a bouncy castle, or receive balloon animals.  Old-school gamers could play the quarter-fueled arcade games, while a bus held XBox and PS3 games for those who subscribe to the new school.  (I saw a lot of Injustice: Gods Among Us played.)  A local Gaming Guild ran demos, including near-continuous sessions of the Pathfinder rpg.  Outside the building was a replica of the vehicle from Ghostbusters, while inside folks could get photographed with the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, shown below.

Vendors were spread throughout the convention, selling everything from toys to classic movie posters to t-shirts and varied medieval weaponry and costumes.  There were also numerous celebrities, from voice actors-animators Bob Camp and C. Martin Croker to scream queen Cindy Crotts to Deep Roy.  Several folks from The Walking Dead were there; I got to meet Travis Love!

The main stage of the convention had a variety of events, from costume contests and battle demonstrations to the Geek Dating Game and pro wrestling (shown below), which is even sillier live than on television.  Outside the building, a panel "room" was set up with folding chairs and fabric walls for discussions, lectures, and Q&As with the XCon World guests and professionals.

Much as I enjoy XCon World, there were a few problems.  The biggest one was with the panels: With only one location, there could only be one panel at a time, which led to less variety and a lot of time spent wandering around the convention area.  (The lack of real walls also made noise pollution a problem, especially from the traffic.)  A few events got moved or cancelled (alas, no Twister with the XCon Girls), and the sound from the main stage was sometimes hard to hear over the gathered crowd.  And I was slated for a lecture, but the organizers never quite found a place for me to deliver it.

I've been to XCon World twice now, and the convention seems to be growing each year.  My fervent hope is that they can get more space and rooms, so they can provide more panels to give more variety to attendees.  That said, the convention was a blast -- and I'll be there for XCon World VII!

Written and photographed by James Lynch



When the Star Trek franchise got rebooted, writer-director J.J. Abrams opted for new takes on the series' original characters.  This continues -- with mixed results -- in Star Trek Into Darkness, the latest (and most confusingly titled) movie in the series. 
Star Trek Into Darkness opens with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) after getting in trouble -- again -- by ignoring the Prime Directive to save a planet of primitive beings.  Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) manages to save Kirk's career, but Kirk is demoted to Commander and Spock (Zachary Quinto) is reassigned to another ship.  However, rogue Starfleet agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) carries out a number of terrorist attacks against Starfleet, and following the deaths and destruction Kirk and Spock are back where they were.
Following the attacks, Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) gives Kirk a new assignment: Follow Harrison to Kronos (the Klingon homeworld) and kill him with some experimental torpedoes.  Kirk captures Harrison instead, despite Harrison's near-superhuman killing skills, which leads to a Federation cosnpiracy, the return of a familiar villain, plots within plots, and sexy science officer Carol (Alice Eve) who has her own secrets.
Star Trek Into Darkness works best with the smaller interactions between the main characters, whether it's the lover's quarrel beween Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana), the perpetual grumpiness of McCoy (Karl Urban), or Chekov (Anton Yelchin) struggling to take over Engineering.  Unfortunately, Cumberbatch spends most of the movie absent, making him catch up rather than continue as a fearsome villain.  The action isn't consistent enough to be that exciting, and if Kirk was supposed to learn humility, well, let's just say that by the movie's end he's done more than ever.

Star Trek Into Darkness is enjoyable enough, but it's also a little too much of what we've seen before (and not just from borrowing heavily from an episode of the original series).

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch



There's something about working for Disney that makes its female actors and singers go from wholesome, G-rated characters to highly sexual and rebellious individuals as soon as they can.  Ashley Tisdale had wrapped up her work on the High School Musical series -- and had her first solo album, Headstrong -- when she released her sophomore album, Guilty Pleasure.

Tisdale tips her hand about this album in the first song when she sings "No, I don't think it matters/ if it's just real or just a role."  Tisdale was in her mid-20s when Guilty Pleasure was released, yet Tisdale takes on the role of a rebellious teen in almost every song.  The opening song, "Acting Out," has Tisdale proclaiming her independence and wild side by, well, acting out.  There are songs about dating and infatuation ("Hair," "Masquerade"), songs about dumping a lousy boyfriend ("It's Alright, It's Okay," Delete You"), songs showing her naughty sexy side ("Hot Mess," "Crank It Up"), and a wrap-up (before the bonus tracks) romantic power ballad ("Me without You").  The lyrics are as generic as the themes, and Tisdale's vocals don't stand out.

The most interesting thing about Guilty Pleasure is the frequent theme of deception.  There's the quote above about not caring if it's real or a role, the desire to be lied to rather than dumped ("Tell Me Lies,") and the false faces worn in "Masquerade."   But this is never developed, and Guilty Pleasure is just another standard album of a pseudo-teen trying too hard to act out.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Music Reviews May 2013

Hedningarna, &: This month's reviews start with the return of a legendary Swedish band from the 90s called Hedningarna. Their albums Trä (1994) and Hippjokk (1996) are required listening for their groundbreaking combination of the most primal elements of Scandinavian folk and modern electronics. Their new album & is their first studio release since 1999, though. Original members Anders Norudde (fiddles, bagpipes, and vocals) and Totte Mattson (lute and hurdy-gurdy) are joined by Samuel Andersson (fiddles, percussion, and a surprising amount of vocals) on this collection. & suffers a bit from inconsistency on the songs, but Andersson does a nice job on the fun, edgy polka "Mycket vil ha mera." The instrumentals (and mostly instrumentals) are predictably the strength of this current line-up, and tunes like "Torget" and "Soppan" will provide some happy reminders to long-time fans of how great this band was in their heyday. A-

Frigg, Polka V: This mostly Finnish (with one Norwegian) fiddling ensemble have entered their second decade with a bang. Polka V (their fifth studio album) has a handful of new twists -- the opening tune "Vierivä" has a great great guitar intro, the title tune ventures into hot club jazz, and "Seronda" is a reel worthy of the Emerald Isle. But really, the most apt description of the album is "more of the same, only better." Both the energy and overall musicianship are superb. Frigg have always been a fun listen, but Polka V is their strongest album to date. A

Midnight Oil, Essential Oils: If any rock band made better music than Midnight Oil during the years that they were active (1978-2002), I am not aware of them. "The Oils," as their fans call them, spent twenty-five years combining relentless intensity, superior musicianship, and a zealous belief in the power of music to make the world a better place; simply put, nobody meant it like Midnight Oil did. The comprehensive 2 CD retrospective Essential Oils (just released in the US this week) covers the band's entire history, featuring at least one song from each studio release. The band picked the songs for it, and while I might have done a couple of things differently -- most notably, I'd have included the heart-stopping live version of "Only the Strong" over the studio version -- I certainly can't dispute the choices. With so much of their history unknown to audiences outside of their native Australia, the album is aimed at people who might only know "Beds Are Burning" or "Blue Sky Mine" rather than the hardcore fans. This is fine, as the hardcore fans already know the whole catalog by heart. I'd still recommend getting every recording of the band you can find, but if you need an introduction (or re-introduction) to an often overlooked band who deserve to be ranked among the very best that rock music has produced, this will do. A+

reviewed by Scott



It's armor time!  There's lots of action -- and a good deal of investigation too -- as the Marvel superhero franchise continues with Iron Man 3.  This latest film adds a bit more angst to the mix.
Following the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a mess.  He hasn't been sleeping, is worried about protecting his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), keeps tinkering with his suits of Iron Man armor, and suffers panic attacks when he thinks about what happened in Manhattan.
There are also plenty of threats too.  A mysterious terrorist mastermind called the Mandarin (Kingsley) is orchestrating terror acts to teach America a lesson.  Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), once spurned by Tony Stark, is somehow connected with the Mandarin.  Killian also has a biological creation called Extremis, which lets people heal almost any injury in seconds, glow with amazing heat -- and occasionally explode.
James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) wants to help Tony but is busy -- as the Iron Patriot -- chasing down leads on the Mandarin.  Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), a one-night-stand of Tony's from years ago, is a biologist who may have information on Killian and Extremis.  And when a massive attack on Tony's home destroys everything, Tony goes essentially undercover and without resources (but with the help of a spunky kid) to figure out what's going on.

I suspect Iron Man 3 will wrap up Iron Man as a star, though I have little doubt he'll be in future Avengers movies.  As for this outing, it's something of a mixed bag.  Downey Jr. is great as always as Tony Stark, here given more vulnerability as well as genius as he seems to suffer from PTSD while still battling on.  The storyline also works quite well, as most characters rely on their intelligence rather than brute force.  That said, there are plenty of plotholes here (not the least of which is how Stark wanders through the whole middle of the movie virtually powerless, yet is able to call dozens of suits for the finale) and most of the other actors don't have much to do (though Guy Pearce makes for a fine villain).  In the end, Iron Man 3 is a good but not great, solid but not spectacular, wrap-up to Shellhead's movie trilogy.
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Aegis Secure Key

While we all would like our data to reside in "The Cloud," the reality for most of us is that our data is on a USB flash drive. When I look at my own data flow, I see 14 gigs of data, being used across no less than nine computers- five at home, and four at work. For the stuff I am actually working on, it is simply impossible to have it reside on one computer, and the flash drive is what makes this work pattern possible.

However, with that much data, some of it is bound to be sensitive stuff that is not for sharing. While I have never lost a flash drive, I know plenty of others that have, and in the end they are an accident waiting to happen.

Enter the Aegis Secure Key USB flash drive. This is the drive that purports to allow a user to have their flash drive, while having it secure if found. Security is provided via a ten key numeric keypad. The Secure Key ships with a default PIN, and it is a simple two minute process to customize the PIN to a new one from 7 to 15 numbers long. It also forces a random one for the "security lazy" as it will not allow a simple repeating PIN such as "44444444," or a simple progression such as "12345678."