Every Halloween the bookstores get flooded with horror anthologies. While some focus on a particular creature or author, some take a broader theme. My Favorite Horror Story, edited by Mike Baker and Martin H. Greenberg, goes to the experts: The stories are chosen by contemporary horror authors, who also write introductions to each tale.

The book's introduction serves as abrief-but-effective history of horror, then explains the the authors were asked to "choose the story that impacted them, the one piece of fiction that left an indelible imprint on them, and explain why they chose this particular story." The list of authors choosing their faves is impressive -- it includes Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Peter Straub, Joyce Carol Oates, and Joe R. Lansdale -- and reading a collection of their stories would be welcome. Their selections are truly impressive.

The fifteen stories in My Favorite Horror Story represent a truly wide spectrum of the horror genre. Stories come from all times, from classics from Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce to contemporaries such as Philip K. Dick and Richard Matheson. The stories demonstrate the potential of horror: There are religious tales ("Young Goodman Brown"), aliens ("The Father-Thing," "The Colour Out of Space"), supernatural ("A Warning to the Curious," "Sweets to the Sweet") and straight psychological horror ("The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Pattern"). Some stories have an abundance of gore -- notably the gruesome description at the end of "The Pattern" -- while others lack any sort of violence. There's a weird fetish element in "The Human Chair," while "The Inner Room" defies any sort of categorization. A full list of the stories is below; but the stories are all effective, usually chilling, and frequently unforgettable.

My Favorite Horror Story is, simply, wonderful. Defying most chiches of horror, these stories show just how disturbingly effective horror can be -- and the introductions provide very good guides to how these horror favorites achieve their effectiveness. My Favorite Horror Story is a great collection, perfect for Halloween or any time you want a good scare.

"Sweets to the Sweet" by Robert Bloch; "The Father-Thing" by Philip K. Dick; "The Distributor" by Richard Matheson; "A Warning to the Curious" by M.R. James; "Opening the Door" by Arthur Machen; "The Colour Out of Space" by H,P. Lovecraft; "The Inner Room" by Robert Aickman; "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne; "The Rats in the Walls" by H.P. Lovecraft; "The Dog Park" by Dennis Etchison; "The Animal Fair" by Robert Bloch; "The Pattern" by Ramsey Campbell; "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe; "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Abrose Bierce; "The Human Chair" by Edogawa Rampo

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



While most horror films today rely on gore, special effects and sadism, the 1963 film The Haunting proves that sometimes less is indeed more. This film uses intelligent writing, excellent acting, and camera angles and lighting to create what may be the greatest haunted house tale ever.

Based on Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting opens with Doctor John Markway (Richard Johnson) almost gleefully describing the history of murder and suicide that makes up the infamous Hill House in New England. Doctor Markway intends to stay in the house, with several associates, to prove the existence of the supernatural. He gets permission to stay there from Hill House's elderly owner, provided he brings her nephew Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), a ne'er do well who hopes to inherit and live off of the house.

Meanwhile, Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) is a miserable woman: She spent her adult life taking care of her mother, who passed away two months ago; she lives with her sister and family, who dictate what she can do; and she's never had a real vacation. Eleanor actually sneaks off to join Doctor Markway on his "experiment." The fourth member of the Doctor's team is Theorora (Claire Bloom), a psychic and free spirit who's very attracted to Eleanor.

Then there is Hill House itself. From the outside, the massive house looms over all who approach it. Inside, while there is nothing overtly menacing, the camera gives a creepy feeling to the marble statues that loom, the mirrors that seem to appear out of nowhere, the doors that tend to slowly swing open and closed. As Theodora observes, " Haven't you noticed how nothing in this house seems to move until you look away and then you just... catch something out of the corner of your eye?"

The heart of The Haunting is Eleanor. A woman haunted before she ever arrives at Hill House, Eleanor has her own fears and issues. Selected for a recorded encounter with a poltergeist when young, Eleanor is more obsessed with her own mother issues, her attraction to Dr. Markway (not knowing he is married), her feeling she should flee from Hill House, and her conviction that she somehow belongs there. Julie Harris does a wonderful job making Eleanor both childlike from her isolation and tired and aged from her trials and tribulations. Even her voiceover, reflecting her inner thoughts, may have felt forced if it wasn't so compelling. The rest of the cast is equally good, providing a gamut of responses to the things that go bump in the house.

And The Haunting is scary. Most of the scares come from the application of simple sounds and the reaction of the people in the house (usually Eleanor and Theodora) to them. Chills also come as Eleanor's mental state becomes more and more fragile, making every shadow and mirror a source of terror. The end result is scarier than the gallons of fake blood and gratituous sadism that sadly seem to dominate so many contemporary horror movies.

The Haunting is a great movie for Halloween, a great horror movie, and a great movie overall. While you need to be careful to avoid the absolutely terrible remake, the original film is a true classic. Watch The Haunting and discover the truth of Doctor Markway's statement: "It was an evil house from the beginning -- a house that was born bad."

Overall grade: A+

Reviewed by James Lynch

DOLL DOMINATION by the Pussycat Dolls

The Pussycat Dolls, the burlesque troupe turned girl band, return to the world of music with their second album, Doll Domination. There are an impressive sixteen songs on the disc, with five more on the bonus disc on the deluxe edition. Alas, this is the only impressive thing about the album.

It's not a good sign when the highlight of the album is a piece of fun fluff that uses the word "boobies" in its refrain. Sadly, the single "When I Grow Up" is one of the few memorable songs here. There's a generic feel through the album, which alternates between synth-heavy top 40-aimed dance tracks and saccharine-sweet slow ballads. A few of the songs here are decent -- including the upbeat "Magic" and "Halo," plus "Played," which is the only song approaching sensuality -- but there's little original or memorable here. And lines like "we go up and we go down, down down/like an elevator/we touch the sky, we touch the ground, ground, ground/like an elevator" give the feeling that no one cared what they wrote, as long as it rhymed.

For those keeping track, the Pussycat Dolls roster on Doll Domination is Nicole, Melody, Kimberly, Ashley, and now Jessica. The bonus disc has five songs, each featuring a different member of the band. While this was intended to highlight the member's vocal strengths, all it does is demonstrate how interchangeable the individual Pussycat Dolls are.

The Pussycat Dolls proclaim that they "took over the club/now we gonna take over the world." It's hard to imagine them achieving either of these goals with an album as mediocre as Doll Domination.

Overall grade: D

Reviewed by James Lynch


Hyperborea, Semmosta (Finnish Folk Music Institute, 2006)

Hyperborea are a Finnish quartet consisting of Frigg's Petri Prauda on cittern, mandolin, and vocals; Piia Kleemola on fiddle, viola, kantele, and vocals; Paula Suistaval on fiddle, nyckelharpa, and vocals; and Antti Paalanen on accordion. While not as frenetic as Frigg are, their sound is more firmly rooted in the Finnish pelimanni tradition. They play their waltzes, schottisches, and polkas in a graceful, melodic style that is very well suited for traditional dances. Their more conventional approach might not get them as wide of an international following as Frigg has, but their second album Semmosta is a very worthy endeavor full of good tracks. Highlights include the opening schottisch "Isua Enkeliskaa," the extended waltz "Pihlajatie," and the Väsen-like "Björkö-Polska." If you're looking for some New Nordic Folk that's a bit on the more purely traditional side, then I'd recommend Semmosta very strongly.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott


Frigg, Frigg Live (Frigg Music, 2007) and Economy Class (NorthSide, 2008)

With their self-titled debut CD and their sophomore effort Oasis, Frigg quickly established themselves as the best young band in Nordic folk music. Finns Annti Järvelä (bass and fiddle), Esko Järvelä (fiddle and piano), Alina Järvelä (fiddle), Tuomas Logrén (guitar and dobro), and Petri Prauda (cittern, mandolin, and Estonian bagpipes) paired up with the Norwegian brothers Einar-Olav and Gjermund Larsen (fiddle and hardanger fiddle) to create a fresh and energetic sound, rooted in the tradition of both their homelands but also branching out to encompass other folk music like bluegrass. With an independently released live album from last year and a brand new CD called Economy Class released in Europe over the summer (NorthSide will release it here next month), the core septet have been augmented a number of frequently recurring guest musicians, including some vocalists. The basic concept of Frigg remains unchanged, though, as does their commitment to quality output.

Not only are the first two albums are both well represented on Frigg Live, but Frigg run through early arrangements for several of the tunes they would record for Economy Class as well. On the shows recorded for this particular CD, Gjermund Larsen was replaced by Finnish fiddler Tommi Asplund, and Topi Korhonen filled in for Logrén on guitar. While the live performances do not necessarily add anything to what Frigg has put on record, they do reflect the band's superior musicianship and fervent energy. Frigg do tie some tunes together in different ways than they were originally recorded, though. For example, the disc opens with a performance of "Meltaus," a tune off their debut CD, leading directly into the rapid fire polka "Solberg," which originally appeared on Oasis. The last three tracks on the CD are medleys of tunes as well. The album is particularly noteworthy for including the band's first recordings of songs. The vocals on the Norwegian waltz "Tussepolis" and the encore "Lars Lenkelifot" were provided by a Norwegian choir.

All the original members are present on Economy Class, with Tommi Asplund and Tero Hyväluoma playing fiddle on most of the record as well and Topi Korhonen contributing some guitar on two tracks. The new album opens with "Jalla Jalla," one of the tunes that they had already performed for the live album. This version is much faster, though, and reflective of band's silly and playful side. The next two tunes keep up the same frenetic pace, before Frigg slow things down with the pretty waltz "When the Time Comes I'll Be Ready." The incorporation of vocals into Frigg's sound continues on the new album. The girl group Kardemimmit sing on the song "Viinalaulu," and the Norwegian choir teams up with the Kaustinen Wedding Choir on a slightly updated version of "Lars Lenkelifot." Still, on most of the album the band aims for an edgier, more abrasive feel than on the previous albums, with several of the tunes featuring brief but discordant interludes. This will likely please some people while displeasing others, but when the band kicks into gear during the title tune, it's very hard not to rock out with them.

Frigg Live is a solid summation of the band's music up to this point. People who like Frigg will certainly enjoy it, and it should serve as a good introduction to the band for newcomers as well. Economy Class is a bit more challenging, and whether you see it as a step forwards or backwards for the group might depend on individual taste more than anything else.

Overall grades:
Frigg Live A-
Economy Class A-

reviewed by Scott

Reprinted with permission from The Green Man Review
Copyright 2008 The Green Man Review

"Jalla Jalla"



Nellie McKay is a singer-songwriter-pianist who can alternate very quickly between soft jazz and rapping satire. (One critic beautifully described her first album as "a combination of Doris Day and Eminem.") Pretty Little Head, McKay's sophomore album, is a two-disc collection that goes just about everywhere.

McKay offers 23 songs on Pretty Little Head, ranging from angry rap ("The Big One") to tender love songs ("I Will Be There") to straight silliness ("Pounce"). Alas, the results are uneven. It's admirable that McKay is willing to try so much, but there are as many hits as misses here. Her light voice and omnipresent piano make for a different sound than standard top 40 music, but there are as many misses as hits here. (Cameos by Cyndi Lauper and k.d. lang don't add much to the album either.)

Nellie McKay's first album, Come Away With Me, was much tighter and much better. If Pretty Little Head had been edited down to one album with the best songs, it may have been a much better album. Let's hope that McKay's next release focuses more on her best songs.

Overall grade: C+

Reviewed by James Lynch



Back in 2002 Dead Gentlemen Productions made the straight-to-dvd movie The Gamers, combining low-budget effects and amateur acting with geek humor that was instantly recognizable to anyone who's ever played Dungeons and Dragons. The result was a hysterical movie that become legendary in gaming circles. Dead Gentlemen Productions has upped the ante, with more polished special effects and much more professional acting, with their semi-sequel The Gamers: Dorkness Rising.

Lodge (Nathan Rice) is the gamemaster with a problem: His players -- Gary (Christian Doyle), Cass (Brian Lewis), and Leo (Scott C. Brown) -- keep getting slaughtered in the adventure he wants to write for publication. But when new player -- and Cass's ex-girlfriend -- Joanna (Carol Roscoe) joins the group, with a new type of fighter, the adventure could get underway.

Much like the original Gamers, this movie alternates between the players in the real world and the adventure of their characters. Unlike The Gamers, in The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, the characters and players are represented by the same actors. Joanna becomes Daphne, a quick fighter. Gary plays the female mage Luster, who is Gary in drag except when he remembers that his character is female (at which point Luster is played by actual female Jen Page). Cass becomes the martial-arts monk Brother Silence, with bright orange robes and a bald head. And poor Leo tries playing the bard Flynn the Fine, who proves remarkably mortal. ("As if killing the bard would impress us!") Even Lodge gets in on the action, as he becomes the non-player character Sir Osric, the paladin sent to babysit the players.

The Gamers: Dorkness Rising is a lot of fun. Adding a novice player provides both a means to explain some gaming terms to non-gamers and a way to show that roleplaying can be about more than just hack and slash. Gamers will enjoy seeing some of the rules acted out in real time (such as Flynn the Fine seducing every female he can, no matter where they are, with a single die roll), and gaming references abound, from the weapons from Munchkin turning up in a treasure chest to Nodwick, the most famous henchman ever, making an appearance. The movie even includes pirates vs. ninjas!

Comparisons with The Gamers are inevitable, and the second movie does lack some of the first one's inspired lunacy. But the cast of The Gamers: Dorkness Rising does very well as both players and adventurers, and there are a tremendous number of laugh-out-loud moments. (Gotta love the Bard strumming his mandolin and making up little songs, almost always dying right afterwards.) After watching The Gamers: Dorkness Rising I felt happy, amused at one of my favorite hobbies -- and wanting to sling some dice!

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch

Devil of a State - Anthony Burgess (1961)

Anthony Burgess is probably most famous for his novel, A Clockwork Orange, but he is a man of wide-ranging interests having written over thirty novels, as well as poetry, sub-titles and scholarly works. Devil of a State is an early novel dealing with the situation in the African caliphate of Dunia, where uranium has been discovered and wealth is pouring in. Sort of.

The setting is almost irrelevant, actually, since the important bit is the decline of British Empire in the post-war (World War II, naturally) world. This is a common theme in much of the literature coming out of Britain in the 50s and early 60s. (It runs very strongly through Travels With My Aunt for instance and reading the two fairly close together was an interesting exercise.)

Our protagonist is Francis Lydgate, a man who has spent his life in service abroad and who has very little to show for it as country after country ejects their "colonial oppressors" - for some values of "ejects," since Europeans are all over Dunia building infrastructure and, of course, monuments to the whims of the sheik.

This is social satire at its most pointed. The British and all the other Europeans are mercilessly skewered, as are the natives and the new rulers who are woefully unprepared to rule a modern country but have exploitable wealth that gives them some leverage in the modern world. No one comes out looking very good.

The book is advertised as a comedy, and while it has some very funny moments, overall I'm not sure it succeeds as a comedy. I'm very much afraid that Devil of a State feels a little dated - the perennial danger of satire.

That said, there is certainly merit in the book. Burgess is an excellent writer and the linguistic bent that is so apparent in A Clockwork Orange manifests itself here in a variety of dialects and snippets from a variety of languages including the "National Language" of Dunia. The funny bits are very funny, but they are fairly few and far between, resulting in an uneven read in this day and age.

Overall Grade: C+



While the only two certainities in life may be death and taxes, getting fired has to be a close third. Annabelle Gurwitch took her getting fired from a Woody Allen play and used that as the starting point of Fired! This documentary explores what it's like to get fired in America.

While Gurwitch has no problem talking about her own experiences with the Woody Allen play, the bulk of Fired! consists of interviews with celebrities discussing their own experiences getting fired. She interviews such notables as Tim Allen, David Cross, Andy Dick (who takes a job serving food and demonstrates that he really should stick to comedy), Richard Kind, Sarah Silverman, and numerous other actors and comics. These interviews show that no matter how successful someone is, they had their own bad experience getting laid off.

Fired! also covers "regular" people, from a woman who was fired for smoking when off the clock to professionals whose job it is to fire people for companies, to the workers at a GM plant facing significant layoffs. Two economists also provide a broader perspective on the reasons for firing, and a human resources executive explains why you should never trust human resources. And a slew of dvd extras have the stars sharing other stories on other job horror stories.

Gurwitch chats with her subjects as much as she interviews them, adding her own comments and jokes. There's also a more positive perspective on getting fired presented at the end that may come as small comfort to the auto workers who got the boot. Fired! succeeds in showing that people from all walks of life have very similar experiences when it comes to getting the boot: the surprise, the surprising humor that comes in hindsight, and the fact that the memory remains vivid even years later. If you've been fired, or will be in the future, Fired! is a surprisingly entertaining look at losing one's job.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Back when I reviewed Pauline Reage's novel The Story of O, I mentioned that there have been three film versions made of this controversial novel. The most faithful, most paradoxical, and longest of these is The Story of O: The Series.

O (Claudia Cepeda) is a young, vivacious photographer who falls in love with Rene (Nelson Freitas). While their relationship seems like a storybook romance at first, everything changes when he sends her to a place called Roissy, where women are subjected to intense physical and psychological s&m training to make them the perfect slaves. After her training Rene passes O on to Sir Stephen (Paulo Reis) as her new master, Rene wants O to seduce the beautiful model Jacqueline (Gabriella Alves) , and Jacqueline's young sister Natalie (Marcela Altberg) falls in love with O.

The Story of O: The Series follows its source novel extremely closely. While the other adaptions took quite a few liberties with the story -- from removing controversial elements to changing the ending -- this series is as close a version as one could find. Claudia Cepeda's voiceover quotes from the novel often, and the action pulls no punches.

In terms of the eroticism and the prurient, The Story of O: The Series is almost contradictory. There sex is intense and quite often disturbing, but also less revealing than most adult films. (It's an unfortunate parallel of the movie's treatment of women that there's no full male nudity but plenty of women fully naked.) The movie's mostly about sex, yet the sex scenes take up 5-10 minutes of each hour-long episode. And like the novel, the movie strives for transcendence through absolute submission.

The production and casting are as solid as any mainstream series. Claudia Cepeda is terrific as O, a woman who takes a terrifying journey only to find that's what she was after the whole time. The rest of the cast is also good (and, as an aside, Gabriella Alves' voice reminds me a lot of Marina Sirtis from Star Trek: The Next Generation). The cinematography is quite enjoyable, the costuming is excellent (from the "specialized" attire at Roissy to the light, breezy clothing these beautiful, affluent people wear all the time), and seeing the novel acted out adds some humanity that the novel often abstracted.

The Story of O: The Series is not for the easily offended or faint of heart (or impatient: It's 10 hours long in total), but if you enjoyed the novel or are intrigued by its premise, this is one series that's definitely worth checking out.

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch


Maine Kantele Institute, Lisbon ME, August 3-9 2008

The Maine-based organization Kantele Laulu was started several years ago to promote Finnish music and culture in general, with a particular emphasis on the national instrument of Finland, the kantele. A harp-like instrument made in several different sizes and shapes, the kantele has existed for at least two thousand years and is featured prominently in the Finnish national epic poem the Kalevala. Part of Kantele Laulu's activities involve a performing group called The Maine Kanteles, who give concerts around Maine and in some nearby states. Founding member Sarah Cummings-Ridge, a schoolteacher of Finnish descent, wanted to expand the reach of the organization to people interested in Finnish music beyond the immediate vicinity. So in 2003, Kantele Laulu put on the first Maine Kantele Institute. Bringing in people from across the United Sates and Canada, this gathering combined instruction and performance on the kantele with a building workshop where people could build their own kantele with the help of a prominent Finnish luthier. While similarly structured workshops and camps exist in the United States for the music and dances of other Scandinavian countries, the MKI was the first American camp devoted specifically to instruction in the musical traditions of Finland. For the second MKI in 2004, group instruction in the Finnish pelimanni (group playing, traditionally involving several fiddlers and maybe one or two accompanists) tradition was added. The MKI first came to my attention that year; the pelimanni instruction made me curious enough to make the trip, and I wound up having a great time. A shortage of grant money put the Institute on hiatus for a few years, but happily the MKI returned last month, with four instructors and approximately 20 attendees.

St. Matthew's Episcopal Church

The primary difference between this edition of the MKI and the previous one was the change of location. It had gotten too expensive to hold it along the waterfront in South Portland, and this time around it was held further inland at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Lisbon Falls. Three of the four teachers remained the same. Vilma Timonen is a professional singer and kantele player. Topi Korhohen, who taught guitar and pelimanni class, has been a guest musician with the excellent Finnish/Norwegian folk band Frigg. Erkki Okkonen is an accomplished bassist, but is better known for his instrument-making skills. The new instructor was Anna-Karin Korhonen, who also taught kantele.

The first night performance (photo by Paul Taras)

The MKI convened on Sunday, August 3. The primary function of the first day was to arrive, greet everybody, and get acquainted with the location. I got to touch base with a number of people that I met four years ago, but there were plenty of new faces as well. Sunday evening featured a short performance put on by the four instructors. Most of the performance predictably revolved around the kantele, but Vilma is a really good singer as well, and Topi and Erkki are first-rate musicians. They had to compete with a thunderstorm outside however. Rain would be a frequently recurring theme throughout the week.

The classes started on Monday. Lessons ran in different rooms of the church from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. In addition to kantele instruction at several different levels of difficulty, there were two pelimanni groups, a singing and dancing course, and plenty of private instruction. I took a beginner's kantele course with Anna-Karin; I figured that since I went through the trouble of building a kantele last time, I should also go through the trouble of actually learning how to play it. I also played guitar and bouzouki in the one of Topi's pelimanni sessions. Like last time we lacked any fiddlers, but we still managed well enough. We had one other guitarist, a kantele, an accordion, and two professional-caliber flute players. We had no fiddlers, who dominate typical Finnish pelimanni groups, but we still had a pretty good balance of instruments. I also got some one-on-one guitar lessons with Topi, and picked up a few new tunes and some new ways to play chords as well.

Instrument builders hard at work

Each attendee had gaps between courses, allowing time to practice, to explore, or for many of us, to go to the "building building" and work on their new instruments under Erkki's guidance. Many kanteles of different sizes were built, but two intrepid people instead built jouhikkos for themselves. (The jouhikko is a very old fiddle-like instrument peculiar to Finland and Karelia.) I didn't see the need to build another instrument this time around, so I mostly practiced in my spare time, and took walks when the weather actually allowed. I also got to her the singing group practice in the main part of the church. They always sounded really good.

Chris and Tooty in the kitchen (photo by Paul Taras)

Lunch, dinner, and snacks were provided by Chris Frazier and Tooty Wilson, two members of the Maine Kanteles. They spent most of the week in the church kitchen cooking and preparing food. We ate like kings all week, and all of us who were there are very grateful for their efforts. The culinary highlight came on Tuesday, when the Finns were treated to their first Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey and all the trimmings. Lunch and dinner were communal affairs, and provided everybody with the best opportunities to socialize.

For the first three days of the week, dinner was followed by a discussion. The topics ranged from the history of the kantele and it's role in the Kalevala to the art of instrument building. Thursday night was much less serious, though. It's a custom in Finnish music camps to reserve a night for "Hupi Ilta" (literally "fun night"), which consists of a series of comedy sketches conceived and performed by both the students and the instructors, and the MKI has brought this custom over here. The evening was quite silly and entertaining. Highlights included a parody of the Olympics in which everybody participated, and the four instructors doing a hilarious song describing the week's activities.

From the Friday night concert (photo by Paul Taras)

On Friday night, the church hosted a concert open to the general public. The instructors headlined the show, but the Maine Kanteles played as well. In addition, some of the attendees played what they'd been working on all week. I got to go up with the pelimanni group, and we performed a waltz and a polska. The turnout was pretty good, and the whole show appeared to be well-received.

Topi and myself (photo by Paul Taras)

The musical activities ended on Saturday morning, with performance of everything learned during the week that people didn't get a chance to perform on Friday night. This was not a public show; rather, the attendees performed informally for each other. Along with one more pelimanni piece, I played a pair of guitar duets with Topi. One was a polska played by Frigg, and the other came from the Danish duo Haugaard and Høirup.

On Saturday night, we all drove down to Bailey Island on the Atlantic Coast. We visited the Land's End Gift Shop, and had dinner at Cook's Lobster House. The Maine coastline is quite beautiful, and the weather mercifully cooperated for the first time all week.It was a good place to do one last bit of socializing and say our goodbyes until next time. I'm not entirely certain when next time will be. It could be next year, it could be longer, depending on things like grant money and how frequently people are willing and able to make the trip. I will say that I've had a blast both times I've gone, and I certainly hope I can do this again.

Sarah Cummings-Ridge, Vilma Timonen, and Anna-Karin Korhonen



Between the popularity of pre-teen soap operas and nostalgia for anything slightly old, it's no surprise that the 1990s teen soap Beverly Hills 90210 got an upgrade as 90210. With its combo of conspicuous affluence, forced pop-culture allusions, and excessive "serious" problems for these kids, the show resembles the MAD TV parody "Pretty White Kids with Problems."

In 90210 15-year-old Annie Wilson (Shenae Grimes) and her adopted brother Dixon (Tristan Wilds, who may be the first African-American regular on any 90210 show) move from Kansas to Beverly Hills so their father Harry (Rob Estes) and mother Debbie (Lori Loughlin) can take care of Harry's mother Tabitha (Jessica Walter), an over-the-top former movie star. It doesn't help the kids that Harry is the new principal of West Beverly Hills High School.

This being television high school set in a rich area filled with nothing but beautiful students, Annie and Dixon feel overwhelmed (even though they're as unnaturally attractive as everone else). Pretty soon Annie has made friends with rich beautiful brat Naomi Clark (AnnaLynne McCord) and "rebellious" blogger Silver (Jessica Stroup), while Dixon has made friends and enemies on the lacross team, plus a friend in journalist cool guy Ryan Matthews (Ryan Eggold). And Ethan Ward (Dustin Milligan) was a semi-boyfriend of Annie's who is now cheating on Naomi and still has feelings for Annie.

Not complex enough? The two-hour opening also has: a student stealing from friends to pay for drugs, Naomi plagiarizing Annie's paper, a repeated gag about fellatio, a secret revealed in a text message, Annie going from stage worker to part of the play, Dixon being kicked off and brought back on the lacrosse team twice (wonder if this'll happen every week), a "not-so-sweet sixteen" party, Harry surprised to learn his high-school sweetheart is now an obnoxious mom who had his kid, Naomi and Silver once being friends but now at odds with each other, a date on a private jet, and samples of four current music hits in the first three minutes. Also, Jenny Garth and Shannen Doherty, from Beverly Hills 90210, are there for no other reason than to attract fans of the first show to this one (as is the character Nate from the Peach Pit).

I'm not a fan of soaps, shows featuring hot underage boys and girls (when the big 18-34 demographic drop to 15?) or the original Beverly Hills 90210 -- and 90210 did nothing to change my opinion. Everyone's cool, hot, and clever, their cliques aren't interesting, and the teen crises are almost bathetic in this world of affluence and beauty. If you want a superficial drama with love triangles and something approximating teen angst, you may enjoy 90210. I won't be revisiting this zip code anytime soon.

Overall grade: C-

Reviewed by James Lynch


Horror director John Carpenter has made some amazing and awful movies. In the Mouth of Madness is one of his lesser-known works -- and also one of his best. Despite some stiff acting, this film combines the ancient horrors of H.P. Lovecraft with the reality questioning of Philip K. Dick to create a terrifying film.

At the opening of In the Mouth of Madness we see John Trent (Sam Neill) committed to an insane asylum. For the flashback that is the bulk of In the Mouth of Madness, we learn that Trent is an insurance investigator who's great at spotting frauds. His latest assignment: Find Sutter Cane.

Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) is the world's biggest horror writer, outselling even Stephen King. His writing has an unsettling effect on his readers, some of whom riot and murder to get his books. (A creepy opening scene has a maniac smashing through a restaurant window with an axe, then asking Trent, "Do you read Sutter Cane?") But Sutter Cane has disappeared before delivering the last chapters of his upcoming book In the Mouth of Madness, so publisher Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston) hires Trent to learn what happened to the author -- and to get the rest of the next book. Trent is joined by Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), who was Cane's editor.

Trent is convinced the whole thing is a publicity stunt, and soon he and Styles are up in New England, finding themselves in the town of Hobb's End -- a town featured Cane's writings. Pretty soon they start meeting characters from Cane's books, and find very dark things happening in the town that may or may not be fictional.

Screenwriter Michael De Luca creates an original blend of monsters and mind games here, creating an environment where insanity may not be the worst thing that's happening. Neill is good (even if his whole "I refuse to believe it!" attitude goes on a bit long), though Styles is less convincing. Carpenter delivers plenty of scares, from the creatures that go bump in the night to the more calm, more unnerving questions about reality. Cane himself, portrayed very well by Prochnow) is neither maniacal nor violent, but a calm participant in the ultimate evil.

With the gruesome torture flicks and unstoppable killers so popular in horror right now, In the Mouth of Madness is a delightful, thoughtful change of pace. This movie is an excellent choice for Halloween -- or any time you feel like thinking while getting scared.

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch


Týr, Ragnarok (Napalm Records, 2006)

Originally settled by Vikings, the Faroe Islands are located roughly halfway between Iceland and the northern tip of Scotland. The islands, although mostly autonomous, are still formally considered part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Culturally speaking, the Faroese people are essentially Nordic, and their language is very similar to Norwegian and Danish. The nearest land to the Faroe Islands are the Shetland Islands, though, and as a result there is a bit of a Celtic imprint on the Faroese culture and traditions as well. The economy revolves around fishing, but recently the islands have begun exporting something else entirely -- heavy metal with pagan undertones, most notably in the form of a quartet called Týr.

Týr are led by Heri Joensen on vocals and guitar. Terji Skibenæs provides a second lead guitar, Gunnar H. Thomsen plays bass, and Kári Streymoy does the drumming. They specialize in making concept albums based on Nordic mythology, and their third album Ragnarok came out in 2006. In Norse legend, Ragnarok is an apocalyptic battle that concludes a cascading civil war that involves all the Norse gods and humanity. No gods survive, and only two humans are left to start over. It's a bleak topic to be sure, but this is heavy metal after all, and Týr presents the story in a way that gives the myths some modern relevance.

Ragnarok the album begins with an overture, followed by an opening scene featuring the most famous of the Norse gods. Thor captures somebody who had snuck in and cut off his wife's hair, but the intruder spares himself by offering Thor something he can't refuse. "Out of the fire of freedom, and out of the forge of dwarves, to hold in your hand now and forever more, I give you the hammer of Thor." As any veteran player of Dungeons & Dragons can tell you, you never thumb your nose at somebody offering you a weapon of the finest dwarven craftsmanship. And when the presentation of said weapon is accompanied by music that rocks, well hey, that's an added bonus. Predictably, things spiral out of control from there. Deceit leads to treachery, which leads to betrayal, which leads to revenge. The gods stop getting along, and willingly or not, all humanity becomes entangled in the conflict. The people persevere, knowing that they have to keep fighting in order to save something in the end, but also fully cognizant that "this war will throw us corpses in a heap."

Týr describe their music as "folk metal," and while the metal clearly dominates the folk, the traditional musical elements that do get incorporated into Ragnarok help to make the album very interesting and compelling. On "Wings of Time," a Faroese chant from a field recording is turned into a fiercely potent chorus. "Lord of Lies" is introduced with a Celtic-flavored traditional Faroese tune played by a folk band -- and then the melody becomes the guitar riff that kicks in the song. It sounds like a very strange combination, yet Tyr make it work.

The other compelling aspect of Ragnarok is that it is ultimately an anti-war album. For all the depictions of warriors and battles in the songs, Týr present the myth in a way that doesn't glorify war at all. Rather, the band combines respect and honor for the warriors with a healthy contempt for those whose deceit put them into their desperate predicament. The album's payoff comes in the epilogue "Valkyries Flight/Valhalla." An inspired conversion of an Irish reel into a metal riff leads into an angry dismissal of people who "pretend they have the answers to all. In awe they'll defend fictional visions of mist. I never believed in their stories, I never saw sense in their speech. All they ever taught me was hatred."

I can't really say I'm much of a metal fan, and the first time I played Ragnarok I didn't quite know what to make of it. By the third or fourth listen, though, I was totally digging it. People who simply don't like any heavy metal won't embrace Týr, and you could certainly argue that some of the album is hokey in a Spinal Tap "Stonehenge" sort of way. But there's something to be said for any record that rocks hard and has depth at the same time. And besides, if you find the combination of epic mythology and epic heavy metal in any way appealing, Ragnarok might be just the kind of hokey you're looking for. Týr already has a brand new album out called Land, so I'm going to try to review more from these guys soon.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

Heri Joensen leads Týr into battle


HARPS AND ANGELS by Randy Newman

Is Randy Newman mellowing out in his old age? Hearts and Angels, the latest album from the singer-songwriter-pianist, has as many light fluff tunes as songs addressing society and politics.
The opening song and title track has Newman's singer addressing a near-death experience, having a vision of the afterlife, and promising to be better (then inviting the listeners out for a drink). There are also tunes about lightening up ("Laugh and Be Happy") and missing loved ones.
Harps and Angels soon gets into Newman's trademark commenrary. After offering "A Few Words in Defense of Out Country" (by comparing American leaders to the Spanish Inquisition and Stalin), Newman jumps into a harsh economic attack ("A Piece of the Pie") -- then jumps into how great things are for those on "Easy Street." He then moves on to the joy of memory loss ("God bless the potholes/down on Memory Lane" ) a woman with scores of problems, and why Korean parents create the best students.
Harps and Angels is, ultimately, uneven. Newman's writing seldom reaches his previous highs, and while most of the songs are enjoyable none of them are great. It's nice to hear from Randy Newman again, but I would have liked to have heard more of his sharpness and observations.
Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch