Shakira, SHAKIRA (Target Deluxe Edition)

Shakira has changed.  On her self-titled new album Shakira, the Colombian singer is less inclined to shake her hips and more inclined to think about love -- and deal with bad boys.

Shakira seems divided between romance as a positive and a negative.  There are traditional love songs about dating when she's famous ("Spotlight"), a long-standing love ("23"), reassuring a skeptical love ("That Way"), or finding support from a love ("The One Thing").

More of the songs, though, seem to have Shakira wishing, to paraphrase Brokeback Mountain, she knew how to quit him.  The first single "Can't Remember to Forget You" has her wanting to leave but being drawn back by romantic memories.  Titles like "You Don't Care About Me" and "Cut Me Deep" are pretty self-explanatory, with lyrics like "You don't care about me/If you did you would let me go" and "You cut me deep/Your words are like steel/And now I can't sleep/'Cause I'll never heal."  Even the reassuringly positive song "Broken Record" has her tiring of repeating her love: "I need you to believe in my love/I feel like a broken record/And I told you 700 times/I don't need to keep looking -- my search is over."

Musically, Shakira has a nice variety.  Shakira's voice is as distinctive as ever, handling tender melodies and upbeat tunes equally well.  Most of the songs are ballads and pop songs, with a few forays into dance ("Dare (La La La)") and reggae on "Cut Me Deep" (until the song veers off in a strange direction of drawn-out words); and unlike her last studio album Sale el Sol, Shakira's latest only has a few songs in Spanish.

Overall, Shakira is a little too balanced: There aren't any bad songs, but not a lot of them stand out afterwards.  That said, Shakira is enjoyable to listen to and a step up from a lot of the music that permeates the top 40 music scene now.  And the Target deluxe edition (disclaimer: I work for Target -- but I play for the Mets.  No I don't) has three extra songs, though one is just "Dare (La La La)" sung in Spanish.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


While science fiction is immensely popular, it's also very open to parody and derision.  Filk music (folk songs based on science fiction and fantasy) has been popular at conventions for decades, so naturally much of that made its way to Dr. Demento's comedy radio show.  Dr. Demento's Hits from Outer Space features filk and other comic songs based on science fiction -- and the results are hit and miss.

Hits from Outer Space mainly features songs about Star Wars and Star Trek.  The songs "Stardrek" and "Star Trip" are juvenile, taking cheap shots at the cliches of the Trek universe.  By contrast, "Star Trekkin'" nicely sums up the each character in a few sentences, while "Weird Al" Yankovic (Dr. Demento's most famous find) turns Don McLean's "American Pie" into a summary of The Phantom Menace with "The Saga Begins." There's Leonard Nimoy reciting poetry ("Twinkle Twinkle Little Earth"), a summary of Star Trek: TNG ("Do the Picard") and a rap about the other Trek series ("What's Up Spock"), and a story of a shore leave gone awry ("Banned from Argo").  And for something a little different, Bill Mumy makes the show Lost in Space poignant with "The Ballad of William Robertson."

Surprisingly, some of the best songs aren't tied to a franchise.  "Carmen Miranda's Ghost" from Leslie Fish is an odd yet interesting look at what would happen if a celebrity's apparition turned up on a space station.  And Boots Walker's "They're Here" is a song of alien paranoia that feels like a kindred spirit to "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-haaa!"  It's too bad there aren't more original songs like these on the collection.

I believe true geeks have to be able to laugh at the eccentricities and flaws of their favorites.  The good songs on Dr. Demento's Hits from Outer Space poke loving fun at them, while others take a meaner, mocking approach.  The former outnumber the latter here -- but not by much.

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch



War is hell -- but what happens when war is fought by kids?   I Declare War shows how fun and games among children can turn into viciousness and betrayal.

I Declare War focuses on a game of "war" (whose origin is never explained) that's a mix of paintball and capture the flag.  Two teams have their own base, with a flag, in the woods, and a team wins by capturing the enemy's flag and bringing it back to their base.  The players can also shoot each other with paintball guns (making the victim paralyzed until they count out "one steamboat, two steamboat..." up to ten steamboats) and kill an enemy with a "grenade" that's a balloon filled with red liquid.

The teams, though, seem more like adults than kids.  Multiple war champion P.K. (Gage Munroe) is obsessed with tactics and history, coming up with numerous strategies and willing to sacrifice his teammates, and best friend Paul (Siam Yu), to win the war.  On the other team, Skinner (Michael Friend) took over by killing his side's general -- and Skinner might be willing to injure and torture players, for real, to win.  One kid is declared his side's chaplain because he was picked last and doesn't want to fight, "Joker" (Spencer Howes) imagines blowing people up with lasers from his eyes, and Jessica (Mackenzie Munroe) uses sex appeal and manipulation to sow doubt and dissent among the players.  Then there's Caleb (Kolton Stewart), who never speaks but travels with his dog and may be the most dangerous one of them all.
 I Declare War is a strange mix of innocence and mature decisions in these kids.  The makeup of the armies feels a lot like the typical characters you'd get in a war movie -- the thinkers, the cruel, the buddies, even the pacifist -- and things play out much as you'd expect from them.  At the same time, the kids can also act like kids: Imagining their paintball guns and water balloons are automatic pistols and real grenades, Joker's continual "Would you rather" questions about tough choices, or one character leaving the war briefly to get some juice.  But the game is all too real for some of the players, and the movie shows how even a pretend war can turn some to cruelty, sacrifice, and test friendships to their limits.
 I Declare War is no Lord of the Flies (which showed what kids can become when society's rules are totally removed) but it's an interesting look at how a fake war can change little kids.  The acting is good and the end is oddly satisfying.  (DVD extras include commentaries, plus the cast playing paintball together.)
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Linda Lovelace went from being America's biggest adult film star to an outspoken critic of that same industry.  The biopic Lovelace reflects this dichotomy, essentially looking at the title character's life in two halves -- with some factual changes made along the way.

Lovelace begins in 1970 with Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried) as a 20-year-old good girl stuck in a Florida home with an oppressively religious mother (Sharon Stone) and laid-back father (Robert Patrick).  Linda is swept off her feet by Chuck Traylor (Peter Sarsgaard), who's able to charm her parents while introducing Linda to a world of sex and drugs.  In no time at all, they're married.

But it doesn't take long for Chuck to get in financial troubles, and that's when he decides to get Linda into the porn industry to make some money.  He shows a movie with her, er, talent to producers Anthony Romano (Peter Noth) and Butchie Peraino (Bobby Cannavale), along with writer/director Gerry Damaino (Hank Azaria), and they decide to make her the star of their movie.  The resulting skin movie, Deep Throat, becomes a cultural phenomenon and one of the highest-grossing adult films ever, transforming Linda Lovelace becomes a household name.  But there's a dark side to her success...
Again, Lovelace is split almost directly down the middle.  For the first half of the movie, Linda's life seems pretty good: She's a celebrity, meeting people like Hugh Hefner (James Franco), being talked about by Johnny Carson, and giving interviews about her stardom.  But at the middle point, the movie looks at her life again -- this time with Chuck Traynor as a sadistic, selfish, controlling bastard who will rape, beat, or pimp out his wife based on what's convenient for him.  We get to see Linda suffer, struggle, and ultimately grow out of her marriage.

So how does Lovelace work?  It's a mix of positive and negative.  The only two actors with real screen time are Seyfried and Sarsgaard, and they do very well with their roles.  Seyfried captures both the early innocence of Linda (during her audition for the adult film she recites "Mary had a little lamb") and the fear and ultimate maturity from her abuse.  Sarsggard has an easier time of making Chuck into a monster, with a casual expectation that he is to be obeyed or else.  My biggest issue with the movie is its liberties with Linda Lovelace's life.  While the opening describes this as "based on a true story," the story here cherry-picks parts of Lovelace's life for its narrative.  For example, in real life Linda Lovelace became a crusader against the porn industry, yet here she only speaks out against domestic abuse; the contradictions and falsehoods in her public statements are also skipped entirely.

Lovelace isn't so much a movie about one of the most famous porn stars of all time as it is a docudrama about an abusive husband and the wife who overcame him.  Even with a terrific cast, that's a little disappointing given what this could have been.  (The only dvd extra is a big one, as almost every star and both directors talk about the movie.)

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Lots of games involve figuring out how to maneuver to a certain spot -- but none have the absolutely cute superheroes of Mutant Meeples.  This board game has players figuring out how to get the super-powered meeples in Meeptropolis to the crime scenes first, building their team and winning the game.

The game is played in Meeptropolis, a grid board with horizontal and vertical spaces labeled from A to Q, plus lines representing buildings.  (The harder board has fewer buildings.)  Eight super-meeples are on the board: They all have super-speed (a blessing and a curse) and a unique power (shown below; there are also two "sidekicks" with different powers).  Each turn, two letters are drawn and the intersection of those is the location of the crime scene.

Players can use up to three available meeples to reach the crime scene first.  Players select which meeples they're using and how many moves each meeple will take (including their power, which can be used once per turn).  The total of the meeples and moves is added up; after the first person makes their choice, the timer is flipped and everyone else has one minute to figure out their meeples and moves.  When everyone has decided or passed, the person with the lowest number tries to get their meeples to the crime scene.  If the player succeeds, they win the round and one of their meeples used goes on their team; whoever gets six meeples on their team first wins!  But if a player can't get a meeples to the crime scene with their combo, they lose a meeple from their team, the meeples go back to where they started the turn, and the player want the next-highest number tries to reach the crime scene.

But it's not as easy as that.  There are two big obstacles: super-speed and super teams.  Because of their super-speed, meeples have to move in a straight line -- and can only stop if they run into the edge of the board, a building, or another meeple.  And when a meeple joins a player's team, that player can't use the meeple again, making it harder to reach the crime scenes the closer a player gets to victory.

I like Mutant Meeples.  This game has a nice mix of silliness (who wouldn't smile at heroes heroes with names like Forrest Jump, Nacho Fast, and Skewt), and a blend of spatial planning and quick thinking.  While the game doesn't have a lot of strategic depth -- beyond deciidng which meeples to add to your team -- but it's a fun way to match with with other players.  So get your Mutant Meeples race to the crime scenes and build up your team!

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


The Gaslight Anthem, THE B-SIDES

Contrary to what The Office 's Dwight Schrute said, not every song sounds better acoustic.  The Gaslight Anthem try some new versions of their existing material, plus some odds and ends, on their latest album The B-Sides.  The results vary in quality.

The B-Sides is split almost evenly between acoustic versions of Gaslight Anthem songs and covers (the latter ranging from the Rolling Stones to Pearl Jam), along with one new song.  Unfortunately, while Brian Fallon's voice can keep up very well with the electric guitars and fast pace of the Gaslight Anthem's normal songs, it often feels loud and out of place on the acoustic songs.  As for these stripped-down songs, they mostly sound like pale copies of the originals (except for "Boxer," which here has a nice, different almost-industrial beat that distinguishes it more from the original).

The covers on The B-Sides are more respectable.  While "State of Love and Trust" is almost indistinguishable from the original, this version of Fake Problems' "Songs for Teenagers" is quite moving, and their take on "Tumbling Dice" suits Fallon's voice very well.

B-sides often give bands and singers a chance to experiment more, leaving their comfort and profitable zones to try something new.  The B-Sides shows that the Gaslight Anthem can do decent acoustic songs and covers but they may want to stick with their traditional sound.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch