Did you know Elvis didn't die? And that he's fighting supernatural evil? Neither of these are as glamorous as they sound in Bubba Ho-Tep, a terrific adaption of Joe R. Landsale's short story. And Bruce Campbell playing Elvis is truly perfect casting.

Well, it turns out that many years ago Elvis, tired of the fame and drugs and selling out, switched places with Elvis impersonator Sebastian Haff. A trailer park explosion destroyed all proof of Elvis' true identity, and falling off a stage (yes, Elvis made his living impersonating himself) led to mental problems and a broken hip. Now Elvis is old and ornery, tired and cursing at folks in the Mud Creek Shady Rest Convalescent Home in Texas. He suffers through strokes, a nurse (Ella Joyce) who doesn't believe him, needing a walker to get around, and a growth that may be cancerous.

Something is rotten in Shady Rest: A mummy, wearing cowboy hat and boots, is feeding on the souls of the residents. (Two undertakers hauling a body bag to their waiting hearse is a repeated scnee.) The only person besides Elvis who knows about this creature is Jack (Ossie Davis, in one of his last roles), who gets a lot of information on the creature. Of course Jack thinks that he is JFK, even having an elaborate conspiracy theory to explain how he wound up there. ("They dyed me this color!")

Bubba Ho-Tep is directed by Don Coscarelli, who has done several other horror movies (including the Phantasm series) and he does a terrific job balancing the comedy and horror of the material. The characters aren't goofy, cuddly eccentrics but foul-mouthed people frustrated by the ravages of age.

Speaking of the actors, the leads are wonderful. Bruce Campbell always does cocky well, and here it's tempered with the bitterness of a very steep decline. Ossie Davis also has fun with his role, delivering outrageous theories with a deadpan delivery and conducting himself with so much dignity, by the end you may think he is JFK. (He's not. I think.)
The horror in Bubba Ho-Tep is not all that scary (charging with a motorized wheelchair, battling a scarab beetle with a bedpan) but the acting and execution is great. Dvd extras include commentaries (including Bruce Campbell doing a commentary as Elvis), Joe R. Lansdale reading some of the original story, and deleted scenes.

Bubba Ho-Tep is goofy, it's foul-mouthed, and it's tremendous fun. Hail to the King!

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


For me, The Art of Bellydance was definitely an impulse buy: I know little about actual bellydancing and less about the music, but I thought I'd give it a try. It turned out pretty well.

The Art of Bellydance collects thirteen songs by artists I never heard of (no Shakira here). While some of the songs could be considered "typical" Middle Eastern-style songs, there's a good deal of variety here. The songs are divided fairly evenly between instrumentals and songs with vocals, and the latter include Arabic, English, and Spanish. Further, while some songs are traditional others have the influence of techno ("No Gravity"), rap ("Chicky") and Latin music ("Abdel Khader").

The Art of Bellydance is a good intro to this style of music. I may not go out seeking more music to bellycance to after this album, but I'll give this a listen when I feel like shakin' a little.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's safe to say that nothing has done more to promote song covers recently than the TV show Glee. Recently this show of singing teens got access to Madonna's music catalog, resulting in a whole episode revolving around her songs. The music from that episode has been collected on Glee: The Power of Madonna.

Most of the songs here are pretty straightforward covers. There are a few exceptions: a nice mash-up of "Borderline" and "Open Your Heart." Jane Lynch tosses a few lines about the show into "Vogue," and "What It Feels Like for a Girl" sounds oddly poignant when sang by men. And with only seven songs on the album, this is a pretty fast listen.

Glee: The Power of Madonna is decent, but if you know these songs you'll know what to expect.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch


There's something appropriately ridiculous about a Japanese woman in a schoolgirl uniform violently blowing away bad guys with her left arm -- which is now a machine gun. This is the whole premise of The Machine Girl -- Remix, a hyper-violent and stylized action movie.

Ami Hyuga (Minase Yashiro) is a happy college student. She lives alone with her brother Yu (Ryosuke Kawamura) after their parents were framed for murder and committed suicide. Yu gets mixed up with Sho Kimura (Nobuhiro Nishihara), sadistic son of former ninja and current yakuza leader Ryuji Kimura (Kentaro Shimazo) and his evil wife Violet (Honoka). Before you know it Yu and a friend are killed, and when Ami goes for revenge she's captured and her left arm is cut off.

But wait -- there's more! Ami escapes and winds up at the home of Miki (Asami) and Suguru (Yuya Ishikawa), parents of Yu's friend that was murdered. They also want revenge; and as mechanics, they naturally build a gatling gun-type machine gun to replace Ami's left arm. And Miki is a kick-ass martial artist as well.

The Machine Girl -- Remix proves that a movie can be completely violent and silly at the same time. There are innumerable scenes involving sadism, severed limbs, blood spurting, and very bizarre exotic weaponry. But it's all handled so goofily that this movie, much like Ichi the Killer, transcends violence and goes into the realm of comedy. It's hard to take a killer bra, or parents of killed children acting like ninjas in football costumes, all that seriously. (A dvd extra has a "spin off" in which several characters who were killed off are miraculously back -- and the machine gun is now in an... awkward place. It's even sillier than the main feature.)

Is The Machine Girl -- Remix entertaining? To a point. This movie may both revel in and parody the excesses of Japanese martial arts and violence, but after a while it feels as gratituous as what they're parodying. (And the "spin off" is pure comedy -- I hope.) If you have a strong stomach and a sense of humor, and want to see just how far Japanese "shock cinema" can go, then The Machine Girl -- Remix is worth checking out.

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch


Oumou Sangare, Seya (Nonesuch, 2009)

Oumou Sangare is a singer from Bamako in Mali. She built up a considerable following in Africa in the early nineties both for her voice and for her songs about female empowerment. While she has performed sparingly over the past decade, tending to many different business ventures in the meantime, her esteem in the African musical community has not diminished. This past year she released her sixth album, called Seya.

Sangare differs from her male compatriots like Habib Koité, Vieux Farka Touré, and Amadou Bagayoko (of Amadou and Mariam) in that she doesn't place such a heavy emphasis on the guitar. Instead, she prefers to build her songs around the lyrics and some subtle, graceful rhythms. Her style is also a bit more eclectic, incorporating some jazzy touches and some extended jams with a bit of an Afrobeat influence. But while the meaning in her songs will probably require translations to understand, it is her outspokenness that commands the attention of music listeners on her home continent. The primary lyrical themes on Seya are the right of women to marry or not marry as they see fit, and support and sympathy for Africans who emigrate abroad in the hope of bettering their lives.

She may not be as prolific now as she was in the past, but when Oumou Sangare talks (or sings), people listen. I would definitely recommend listening to Seya with the translated lyrics in front of you (they're in the CD booklet); it will make it a lot easier to appreciate what she's about. Musically, the song that worked the best for me were a couple of the longer, groove-oriented songs, "Wele Wele Winto" and "Iyo Djeli." But anybody with an interest in African music will find something to like here.

Ovverall grade: B

reviewed by Scott

The title song of Seya



What does it take to be a superhero? More than the title character has in Kick-Ass, a movie that (sort of) explores what happens when a regular kid tries putting on a mask and fighting crime.

Dave Liezwski (Aaron Johnson) is a very average teenager. Dave is invisible to the girls in his high school, he's bullied so often he hands over his money and phone without comment, and he hangs out with friends and chats about comic books. Dave wonders why no one's ever tried to be a super hero in real life, and after ordering a scuba suit online and "arming" himself with two sticks, he becomes Kick-Ass and sets out to fight crime.

Sadly, Kick-Ass lacks both powers and skills, and his first shot at stopping criminals almost kills him. As a result, though, he has steel on his bones and a lack of sensation from his nerves -- making him less a power and more of a more durable punching bag. When he saves someone from being mugged and it's filmed, Kick-Ass becomes a huge YouTube sensation and soon a pop culture phoenomena.

While Dave struggles to figure out what being a hero is, two professionals are doing what he does, far more skillfully and lethally. Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage) and his 11-year-old daughter Mindy (Chloe Moretz) want to take down mob leader Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), and they're both skilled killers. Inspired by Kick-Ass, they turn themselves into the superhero team Big Daddy and Hit-Girl.

When Big Daddy and Hit-Girl start killing Frank's criminals, Frank thinks Kick-Ass is responsible. Frank's teenage son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Please), who reads comic books, creates the fake superhero Red Mist so he can catch Kick-Ass and hand the hero over to his father. And on the romantic side, Dave starts up a friendship with beautiful Katie (Lyndsy Fonesca), who thinks he's gay.

The violence in Kick-Ass is ramped up to eleven, from shootings (including a night-vision view of a gunifght that feels exactly like a first-person videogame shooter) to beatings to limbs getting hacked off. The bulk of this ultra-violence comes from Hit-Girl, who in another movie would be an adorable little tyke but here bounces around like Yoda, curses up a storm, and kills and mains with gleeful abandon. Equally creepy is Nicolas Cage, whose Big Daddy is a loving parent training his little girl to be a killing machine. While a comedy, Kick-Ass is the most violent comic book adaption since Sin City.

Ultimately, Kick-Ass winds up becoming what it was spoofing: a superhero action movie. There is a lot of humor here (almost all of it dark), and Aaron Johnson does a good job as a regular nerd who's suddenly in way over his head. Most of the characters are pretty superficial, and the violence goes get tiring after a while. Still, Kick-Ass is entertaining, and while it may fall in love with itself this movie is a worthy entry in the comic superhero genre.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch


CYANIDE AND HAPPINESS by Kris, Rob, Matt & Dave

It's impressive how twisted creations can be made with simple stick figures. Cyanide & Happiness is a collection of the often evil, usually funny, sometimes clever comics appearing online at ww.wexplosm.net

George Carlin once said humor can be found in any topic, based on the exaggeration of that topic. Cyanide and Happiness doesn't so much exaggerate sensitive topics as twist them, as people standing and talking turn into animal attacks, cancer and AIDS, murders, births, sex, and a lot more.

I'm surprised it takes four people to make these comic strips: The art is very simple (if effective) and the stand-alone strips don't require advanced plotting or storytelling techniques. Cyanide and Happiness does manage to be funny most of the time, sometimes with visual puns but often with very dark humor. (Many strips end with a character staring silently in shock at what they just saw or heard.) For some evil chuckles, check out Cyanide and Happiness.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



The series of Munchkin games celebrate the excesses of players, and the James Bond films (and many other spy films) have an abundance of over-the-top action, gadgets, and seduction, so it's natural that the two should be combined. Munchkin Impossible gives this genre the Munchkin treatment, as the players become spies and government agents working with (and often against) each other.

As with previous Munchkin games, Munchkin Impossible has the players racing to be the first to achieve level 10. This is achieved by playing "Go Up a Level" cards, selling 1000 gold pieces worth of items for a level, or the main method of getting levels and treasures: combat! Players battle a variety of espionage enemies -- from the Level 1 Defective Defector to the Level 20 Super Spy -- hoping their level and bonuses from gadgets will be higher than the "monster" and its bonuses. Other players can interfere, making a sure victory a sure loss; the player can then get help from another player (usually by promising them treasure in return) or try and run away, risking Bad Stuff varying from losing items to death.

So what's new in Munchkin Impossible? The main addition is that of Loyalties: Players can have their characters American, British, Chinese, or Russian, getting certain benefits, being able to use certain Items -- and facing new bonuses or penalties against monsters. Players can also add monsters ending with "...in Black" to help other "...in Black" monsters/ Otherwise, the game mechanics are the same as in other Munchkin games: Classes (Assassint, Playboy, or Tourist), Hirelings, Training, Traps, Stuff, etc.
As one would expect, Munchkin Impossible is pretty similar to other Munchkin games. Fortunately, this includes their sense of fun too. The combination of thwarting other players and persuading them to help you (sometimes in the same turn) makes for an interesting dynamic, and the game gets quite cutthroat when players reach level 9. Munchkin Impossible has a great sense of humor), and anyone with even a slight knowledge of James Bond will get most of the jokes. So if you like laughing a lot while plotting against your fellow players, get ready to blast your way through Munchkin Impossible. (Accent optional.)
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


H20 by Howard Schatz

Water. It's the building block of life, it makes up a very large part of our bodies, and we need it to survive. But how does it work in art? Photographer Howard Schatz uses water as his medium in his book H20.

In H20 water is omnipresent, be it an invisible force suspending the subject in space or a very clear presence that reflects an image or has air bubbles drifting upwards. The models are primarily female, in varying amounts of clothing, doing everything from simple poses to a pair of models spelling out the alphabet with their bodies and several models creating an underwater version of The Last Supper. (A few photos are from commercial or specific requests: a few ads, a special on Cirque de Soleil, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.)

H20 is an original and impressive photography collection. While surprisingly few photos actually have titles (most are called "Underwater Study" and their number), there is a great variety and originality to the different photographs. Schatz resists the urge to simply revel in the use of water, instead making a variety of feelings and creations where water complements the subject instead of overwhelming it.

The discussion of the photogrpahy techniques here are focused mainly on the difficulty of finding and using models who can spend so much time underwater. There are actually long discussions of some series ("Atlantis," "War") that are followed by only one or two photos from that series. I enjoyed the photographic index at the end more, which has details on several individual photos.

If you enjoy unusual and beautiful photography (or you have hydrophilia), you'll enjoy H20. This coffee-table collection of Schatz' most recent underwater excursion is a lovely work.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


17 Hippies, El Dorado (Buda Musique, 2009)

As I've mentioned here before, I have a soft spot for eclectic albums. So when I first heard the album Heimlich by the thirteen-piece German musical collective 17 Hippies, with its quirky but catchy nods to folk music from across the globe, I was predictably impressed. Now, the Hippies are back with a new album called El Dorado. The band somehow manage to build on their large list of styles they play in and languages they sing in. The results are more mixed than last time out, but if their overall approach appeals to you, you will still find it worth your while.

Like its predecessor, El Dorado follows a pattern of alternating between different singers and different styles. The biggest difference on this album is the inclusion of a couple of songs in English, including "Welcome to My World," an original song evoking late 60's folk, and a version of the school bus anthem "Six Green Bottles." While most of the remaining songs are in German, accordionist Kiki Sauer does a nice impersonation of a French chanteuse on "Solitaire". You can also hear a variant of the Greek bouzouki called a baglama figure prominently in the instrumental arrangements; the paired strings are an octave apart, like a twelve-string guitar instead of an Irish bouzouki. The band take their typical musical voyage around the world but, just as on Heimlich, the strongest tracks are Balkan in flavor. The standout tune on the disc is the penultimate track "Kaukapol," an extremely infectious adaptation of a Romanian tune done in the style of groovy, brassy 60's soundtrack soundtrack music.

That one tune might be better than anything off of Heimlich, but Heimlich was a stronger album on the whole. I felt there were points on El Dorado where 17 Hippies tried a little too hard to be different, with the result sounding a bit forced. Having said that, I think people looking for something fun and eclectic will find plenty to like on El Dorado.

Overall grade: B

reviewed by Scott




Roman Polanksi loves exploring fear and claustrophobia, and these elements are present -- omnipresent, actually -- in The Ghost Writer. This is a combination political drama and mystery.

Ewan MacGregor plays a ghost writer (his character is never named, so let's call him the Ghost) who gets a seemingly ideal assignment: ghost-write the memoirs of Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), former Prime Minister of Britan now living in Cape Cod. Mike McCarra, the last person to work on the memoirs (and a friend of Adam's), either committed suicide or drowned accidentally. So the Ghost has to go to Cape Cod and take up where his predecessor left off.

Things become menacing almost instantly -- the Ghost is mugged and a manuscript he is carrying is stolen on his way home after getting the job -- and soon become more complex at Adam Lang's home. Ruth Lang (Olivia Williams), Adam's wife, seems extremely bitter and upset with him. Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) is Adam's assistant and possible mistress. Adam himself is quite mercurial, charming and relaxed one instant, angry and defensive the next. And his home is filled with security, leaving the Ghost feeling watched.

During the assignment, the news comes that Adam Lang is being charged by the International Court for war crimes, specifically an illegal kidnapping of terrorism suspects so they'd be turned over to the C.I.A. for torture. There's Professor Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson), who shares a past with Adam Lang. There's Rick Ricardelli (Jon Bernthal), a former political rival of Adam's who may be behind his being charged. And there are suspicious circumstances that come to light about Mike McCarra's death.

The strength and weakness of The Ghost Writer is its sense of dread and menace. There are times the "clues" that something bad is going on are heavy-handed: Characters comment that something doesn't make sense or just seems wrong. At the same time, there seems to be a tangled web of deception and lies that has been in place for years that the Ghost is always scrambling to understand. The acting is very good (Brosnan has relatively screen time, but his presence is always there) and the setting -- a rainy, isolated island -- works well to reinforce the Ghost's sense of being trapped and disconnected. The Ghost Writer is a clever exercise in justified paranoia.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch


The movie The Runaways showed the atmosphere of the 1970s that influenced the creation of the Runaways -- and The Runaways soundtrack reflects that period in time as well.

Rathter than jumping right into the Runaways' songs and cover, The Runaways soundtrack takes an overview of the alternative music scene of the '70s. Before a note of Runaways music is played, there are songs from Nick Gilder, Suzi Quatro, MC5 and David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel." Towards the end of the album the listener gets The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and The Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant." These are a nice reminder that disco was far from the only thing in the '70s. (Not everything from the movie is in here, notably the original of "Do You Wanna Touch Me (There)" which would later be covered by Joan Jett.)

A strength of the movie The Runaways was the music performed by Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart, and that music is here in all its glory. Indeed, one slight flaw with The Runaways soundtrack is the jumble of original songs and covers: The music bounces around between Runaways songs, Runaways covers, the Runaways performing live, and finally a post-Runaways song by Joan Jett. The Runaways soundtrack is ultimately a tribute to not just the Runaways but the culture they loved and joined.

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch