One Ring Zero, Planets (Urban Geek Records, 2010)

One Ring Zero are a quirky band from Brooklyn, led by singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalists Joshua Camp and Michael Hearst, but also featuring Ian Riggs on bass, Ben Holmes on trumpet, and Timothy Quigley on drums and percussion. For their newest record, Camp and Hearst decided to make a concept album about the planets in our solar system. The result, simply called Planets, is an intriguing but uneven assortment of spaced-out prog rock with some Eastern European touches.

The band save their most inspired work for the smallest bodies, Mercury and Pluto. "Mercury" features a nice blend of old-school psychedelia with Balkan brass music. And while Pluto is not technically considered a planet anymore, the song "Pluto" handles the demotion to a dwarf planet in a fun and reasonably accurate manner. Unfortunately, much of the rest of Planets plods along at a tepid pace. Most of the tracks start slowly, but don't really build up to anything. One Ring Zero could have developed the more exotic elements in their sound further on this record, especially given the credentials of Holmes and Quigley as members of the great Brooklyn gypsy band Romashka, but after "Venus" the band mostly settle for dreamy art rock without any real surges in the energy level.

Planets is an interesting idea with some good moments, but on the whole it was a little too slow and a little too serious. I could easily picture They Might Be Giants taking the same concept and having a lot more fun with it than One Ring Zero did.

Overall grade: B-

reviewed by Scott




The television network TV Land specializes in "classic" sitcoms, so it's no surprise that their original series Hot in Cleveland follows that formula. It features stars from sitcoms (and appearances by many of their old co-stars), plenty of pratfalls and crazy schemes, and even the opening announcement that the show was filmed in front of a live studio audience. The best thing Hot in Cleveland does is capitalize on the revitalized career of Betty White.

The setup is pretty simple: Three L.A. middle-aged women want a change. Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli, from One Day at a Time) is a sweet, romantic writer whose kids are in college and whose ex-husband just got remarried. Joy Scroggs (Jane Leeves, from Frasier) is a beautician to the stars, and she has horrible luck with men. Victoria Scroggs (Wendie Malick, from Just Shoot Me) is an egotistical star whose soap opera just got canceled and is only offered roles for older women. The three decide to move to Paris, but when their plane gets delayed in Cleveland they find that the men there think that they're sexy, so the three opt for Cleveland as their new home.

And since every sitcom needs a quirky elderly person, their home's caretaker is Elka Ostrovsky (Betty White). Elka is insulting, brash, very sexually active, possibly an alcoholic, and possibly a pothead. Fans of Betty White have seen her perform this sort of character many times -- from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to My Name Is Earl -- which may be why she does it so well.

The rest of Hot in Cleveland doesn't fare so well. While the show could find some depth with its comedy, instead it opts for pretty one-dimensional characters (Melanie's cute! Joy is cynical (but with a heart of gold)! Victoria is comically selfish!) and silly situations, from a series of bad dates to a cursed girdle. The show wants to mine humor from matching its stars with their past co-stars -- in two seasons there have been appearances from Bonnie Franklin (also from One Day at a Time), Peri Gilpin (also from Frasier), and when Olga winds up in prison, her cellmate is, of course, played by Mary Tyler Moore! -- but that just adds to the artificial feeling of this, well sitcom. The jokes are mostly one-liners or visual gags that get more chuckles than laughs.

Hot in Cleveland feels like a deliberate throwback to the television comedies of old. Given that all the stars are women, I'd have hoped for something more for women and less of the same old sitcom cliches. Betty White aside, Hot in Cleveland is very, very typical.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch


There are plenty of games where you can push your luck for greater rewards at greater risk, but none have the funky feel of the dice game Cosmic Wimpout. None of them force you to keep pushing your luck the way this game does either.

Using special six-sided dice (pictured here), players roll and score to be the first to reach an agreed-upon goal, usually 300 or 500 points. (After someone reaches the goal, everyone else gets one last turn to catch up or overtake the winner.) If players roll three of the same symbol or number on the same throw, that's a flash and worth a lot of points. Five matching symbols or numbers are a freight train and worth a massive amount of points; heck, rolling five stars makes you an instant winner! (Rolling five tens is Too Many Points, which is a Supernova and makes you lose, though.) The Flaming Sun on the black die acts as any result you want. If you roll no fives, tens, flashes or freight trains you Wimpout and lose any points you had earned this turn. And you need at least 35 points to start scoring in the game, so no one can hope to win by playing it safe early.

Two rules really make Cosmic Wimpout a challenge. According to the rule You May Not Want To But You Must, if you score with all five dice you mark down your score so far that turn, then reroll all the dice. And The Futtless Rule says that if you score a flash, you have to clear it by rerolling the other dice until they score (and they can't be matched up with the flash). Combine these rules and you often wind up scoring a flash, rolling the other dice until fives and/or tens come up, then because you scored with all five dice you start rolling them all over. It's easy to get over 100 points in a turn -- or hope you don't get another flash so you can score what you have instead of risking a Wimpout.

Cosmic Wimpout apparently has quite a following among hippies and Deadheads, and it's easy to see why: This game has a mystical feel, simple rules, and a very quick playing time. While there's no real strategy beyond deciding (when you can) whether or not to keep going or score with what you have, the compulsory element makes every round a bit riskier by often forcing you to go on when you might not. Cosmic Wimpout is another fun little game, terrific for playing before a more complex, strategic, or time-consuming game. Or when you want a game that can literally fit in your pocket.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Is looking like a celebrity a blessing or a curse -- and what can you do with that likeness? These are the two main areas of Just About Famous, a far-too-brief look at celebrity impersonators, or "celebrity tribute artists."

In this documentary, directors Matt Mamula and Jason Kovacsev travel to the Sunburst Convention, where professional celebrity impersonators meet from around the globe. Some of these folks could easily pass for "their" celebrity (like an Oprah look-alike who appeared on Good Morning America), while others only capture part of it (such as a Britney Spears who looks absolutely identical -- and speaks with a heavy Russian accent). The impersonators tell their stories, most of which are similar: They don't believe that they are actually the celebrity, they lead normal lives outside of this area of their lives, and most people absolutely refuse to believe that they're not the celebrity. Some have comedy acts (like Clinton and George W. singing together), some perform (like an Elvis impersonator, who'll sing for an hour or two), and others... we don't know.

Just About Famous is an interesting documentary with a truly fatal flaw: It's only fifteen minutes long! We barely learn anything about these people, as we only see them at the convention. Do or can they make a living as impersonators? How do family and friends feel about it? Is there competition among people impersonating the same person? (For that matter, we learn very little about the convention itself. Is there any sort of contest? Can they make business contacts, or is it purely fun? Can anyone go?)

I'd like to see Just About Famous used as the beginning of a documentary, not the whole thing. Follow two or three of these people around for a year, seeing them outside the Sunburst Convention. Are their looks, to quote Adrian Monk, a blessing and a curse? Are they really actors and performers? What does it take to be a professional "celebrity tribute artist?" As it stands, Just About Famous is interesting, amusing, and far too brief to offer any real insight into this potentially fascinating world.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch

Orkestar Bordurka (Orkestar Bordurka, 2009)

Orkestar Bordurka are a tounge-in-cheek band from Finland who specialize in festive Balkan music.  On their self-titled CD, they assume the guise of exotic foreigners (presumably Eastern bloc) bringing their party to bear on the masses -- except, of course, that theirs is the kind of "party" that people are happy to have imposed on them.  It's a silly affair, complete with fake accents and exhortations to dance that could have gone without saying, but when the band kick into full gear they are a force to be reckoned with.

The band consists of Roope Aarnio (guitar, bouzouki, vocals), Topi Korhonen (electric guitar, horns, vocals), Oskari Lehtonen (drums, vocals), Hannu Oskala (accordion, tuba, vocals), Sara Puljula (bass and vocals, also from the band Gjallarhorn), and Jarno Tastula (violin, mandolin, lead vocals). The tracks on Orkestar Bordurka alternate between songs and instrumentals, and the overall style owes quite a bit more to the traditional music of Greece, Hungary, and Bulgaria than it does to the traditional music of Finland. So naturally, most of the singing is in English. But while I made a comment when I reviewed the recent Vilma Timonen Quartet CD Forward that it benefited from more vocals, I think the opposite is true of Orkestar Bordurka. The English lyrics are tacky, at best, but the instrumental breaks are everything you'd want from a Balkan recording. Tracks like "Mountain Love," "Mythos," and "An Eyropeyishe Kolomeyke" roar with a frenzied spirit, while the slightly more subdued and extended "Diabolo" develops beautifully over nearly five minutes.

Orkestar Bordurka are an unusual band in the sense that, if anything, they don't take themselves seriously enough.  Their goofiness can be endearing, but it also sometimes gets in the way of the otherwise excellent musicianship.  Still, they could hold their own with the best Balkan-flavored bands in New York City, which is actually saying quite a lot.

Overall grade: B

reviewed by Scott

A sampling of Orkestar Bordurka's performance at the 2009 Kaustinen Folk Festival



Given that the game Cosmic Encounter is largely about alien races battling for control of the cosmos, I would have though "conflict" was a given. Nevertheless, that game's second expansion is Cosmic Conflict. It's familiar -- but that's a good thing.

Much like the previous expansion, Cosmic Incursion, Cosmic Conflict includes 20 new aliens (and Flare cards for them), a new color (black) of ships and planets (which, if combines with the last expansion, allow up to seven players), and a new type of cards.

As with the previous release, my favorite feature is the aliens (though a seven-player game is quite welcome). Quirky species include the Xenophile (which gets bonuses the more opponents successfully invade it), the disgusting Filth (too gross for any alien to share a planet with), and the Lunatic (which can join in on any attack on its own colonies -- more useful than it sounds). For sheer power, the Trickster can give any combat a 50% chance of victory, the Relic can gain a new colony whenever another player draws cards, and the Claw can snatch whole planets from opponents! Even the Empath returns, better than in the last edition of the game.

The Hazard cards -- a new feature -- add an additional element of randomness to the game. These come up at random encounters, and they do anything from give players more cards before the encounter to canceling the use of an alien power. Some folks may like them, but to me it's a little too random: They can obviate strategies and substantially change how the game is played -- especially for the ones that remain in play.

For me, Cosmic Conflict is an expansion with a lot of picking and choosing. I'll always use the new aliens and planets, but seldom will I opt to include the Hazard deck. But the former are more than fun enough to make this another fine expansion for the classic, varied, wonderful (and still unreviewed here -- for now) Cosmic Encounter.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Ruuti (Ääniä, 2009)

Ruuti are a folk trio consisting of Kukka Lehto on fiddle and vocals, Topi Korhonen onguitar, and Ilkka Heinonen on upright bass. While they hail from Finland, the polskas and schottisches on their self-titled debut CD are arranged to sound more like the folk recordings coming out of neighboring Sweden. Instead of the "wall of fiddlers" approach embraced by more familiar Finnish bands like JPP and Frigg, Ruuti only use one instrument on melody at a time, primarily Lehto's single fiddle. Korhonen's guitar accompaniment emphasizes chords with a touch of harmony, while Heinonen's bass line keeps things moving.

With one exception, the compositions on Ruuti are original. Heinonen wrote most of the tunes, but Lehto and Korhonen contributed as well. The trio format is somewhat evocative of the Swedish group Väsen; that's not an easy comparison to live up to, but I wouldn't make it if I didn't feel Ruuti were worthy of it. Their sound is a bit jazzier and less muscular than Väsen's, but they boast a similar combination of fine melodies composed within the tradition and solid, energetic playing. Despite the slight jazz influence, Ruuti's music is quite suitable for traditional folk dancing. The polska "Veteli" and the schottishes "Ektot" and "Jorma" would fit nicely in the repertoire of my group that plays for Swedish dances on Wednesday nights. Lehto's two songs, "Onneni tähdet" and "Muutoautto" add some nice variety, as does the peculiar but intriguing Hungarian-flavored composition "Vitahousu."

Ruuti are a promising trio. Anybody looking for new tradition music from Scandinavia will find plenty to like on their CD.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott



An evil villain! Kidnapped scientists! Fiendish traps! Neat gadgets! Volcano lair! A relentless countdown! This is the stuff of pulp adventures, James Bond movies -- and The Isle of Doctor Necreaux, a cooperative card game from Alderac Entertainment Group.

The setting: Doctor Necreaux has kidnapped some Scientists to force them to build a doomsday device. An advance team has planted a nuclear bomb in Doctor Necreaux' lair but then vanished. The players' team has to find the Scientists and get to the Escape Shuttle, without all dying and before the Countdown Clock reaches the end.

Each player has three Characters. Characters all have special abilities, some of which are always active and others require spending Charges to use. Every player gets three Characters at random, picks one, and passes the others on to the left. When each player has their team of three characters, it's time to find the Scientists!

At the start of each turn, the players decide on their Speed. The Speed determines how many cards the players uncover in the lair. Unfortunately, some Traps affect the players if they roll less than their Speed, while others affect them if they roll above their Speed. Since players need to draw until they reach the Scientists, eventually they'll have to go with a high Speed. And at the end of each turn, the Countdown Clock moves one space closer to zero (and defeat).
In addition to Traps, the lair also has Events (good and bad), Items, Rooms, and -- most significantly -- Monsters. Monsters have a Combat Value (CV), and to defeat it players have to roll above that number on a six-sided die to score a hit; a monster is defeated if it takes hits equal to the number of players. (Defeating a monster is one of the few ways to get an Item.) If the players roll less, the player takes damage: for each point of damage an undamaged Character can be flipped over (losing its abilities, unless the card says otherwise), or a flipped Character can be killed and removed from the game. The players can also retreat, taking one point of damage each and ending the turn.

Instead of moving, the players can opt to Rest. Rest lets each player flip over one Character and gain one Charge on a card; it also lets them look at the top card of the deck and choose to discard it or leave it. But taking a Rest action also means the Countdown Clock goes lower, bringing a loss closer and putting more pressure on the players to pick up the pace.

The Isle of Doctor Necreaux is an enjoyable game. The cards have a pulp feel to them, both with the art, the names (Etheric Phase-Inducing Elixir, Cell-Cloned Raptor), and the flavor text. ("What kind of madman intentionally breeds three-foot hornets?") There's no real strategy -- apart from choosing a speed, allocating damage, and deciding whether to Rest and lose time or press on with wounded -- but the challenges are a lot of fun. There's even a solitaire mode! So, if you're looking for a light, simple, very challenging game, take a visit to The Isle of Doctor Necreaux.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Can a superhero cartoon appeal to both kids and adults? If too simplistic and silly, they might not appeal to older fans; if too intense and violent, a young audience (or their parents) could be put off. The young sidekick was the original combination of young and old (as when the dark Batman was given Robin, a kid in bright colors), but now the cartoon Young Justice bridges the gap as the former sidekicks take center stage -- sort of.

In Young Justice, teen heroes are an offshoot of the Justice League, performing more covert missions. The roster includes: Robin (Jesse McCartney), the strategist who's often working on his portable computer -- and wondering about oddities in English; Aqualad (Khary Payton), the team leader able to shape and harden streams of water (so no more just swimming and talking to fish); Superboy (Nolan North), a teen clone of Superman with plenty of anger; Kid Flash (Jason Spisak), the fun-loving and juvenile speedster; Miss Martian (Danica McKellar), a shy, reserved girl -- who may be the most powerful member of the group; and Artemis (Stephanie Lemelin), the protege of Green Arrow -- and the least trusted member. Batman gives them missions, Red Tornado mentors them, Black Canary trains them in combat, but Young Justice is all about the, er, young.
Young Justice manages to balance the traditional superhero stories with elements for younger viewers. There are lots of big battle scenes and villains that will be familiar to longtime D.C. comic book fans (not to mention a mysterious new group, the Light). There's also plenty of teen elements: Kid Flash has a crush on Miss Martian, who has a crush on Superboy -- who doesn't notice her; Superboy's absent "father" Superman is uncomfortable around him; and they all want to be treated as adults, not just sidekicks.
Young Justice is fun. The animation is excellent, as is the voice talent, but having a show that aims for a younger audience without talking down to them is a nice touch for a superhero show. I may be well, well past my teens, but as a fan of superheroes I find Young Justice very entertaining.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

I AM LEGEND by RIchard Matheson

Richard Matheson is a tremendous horror writer. The book I Am Legend not only includes his novel I Am Legend -- one of the best, possibly the final vampire story ever -- but ten other short stories, all excellent.

While I Am Legend suffered the Will Smith action movie fate in the cinemas, the original story is one of science and psychology. In the "future" of 1976, Robert Neville may be the last human remaining on the planet. Every day he prepares, and every night his home is surrounded by vampires trying to get to him and kill or transform him. (One of them, Ben Cortman, continually shouts "Come out, Neville!")

The story of Robert Neville is far more than a simple us-versus-them conflict. We get inside the mind of this lone survivor, from his painful memories (losing a wife and child) to almost existential dread in a universe with no companionship and no hope. There's also the frustrated lust, the self-anger and survivor guilt, and the exploration into the cause, and possible cause, of vampirism. I Am Legend takes a thoroughly scientific view of the vampire, from how it spread so quickly to why garlic and sunlight are anathema to the creatures. I Am Legend is surprising, very moving (especially the ending), and a very new take on an old horror.

The short stories in I Am Legend are less detailed but very entertaining. There's a neurotic woman facing a killer Zulu doll. ("This is He Who Kills. He is a deadly hunter.") A strange carnival visitor has an unusual and frustrating talent. Some people of questionable mental stability do some monstrous things. Two stories even take on the funeral with a comic and disturbing flair. These stories, plus the title story, make I Am Legend a worthy read for any fan of horror.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



Copyright law ain't what it used to be. There was a time when using a character that looked too close to a licensed character or from a licensed show or movie resulted in swift litigation that meant either big changes to the work or ending its chance of being released. Somehow, the use of parody (along with the phrases "This Ain't..." and "Not the...") managed to overcome that, resulting in an incredibly large number of parodies that are amazingly close to their original sources, from character names to camera angles. This has proved a massive boon for an industry in need of a new success: theoretical physics! Wait, did I say theoretical physics? I meant porn.

There have always been scattered parodies in the world of adult entertainment, but the current floodgates opened in 2007. Writer-director Will Ryder decided it would be fun to do an adult version of The Brady Bunch. But he didn't just get some actors who sort of looked like the original cast and had them get naked. He watched the original show, he duplicated as much as he could (from plot to camera angles), and he made a parody that was impressively close to the original. And Not the Bradys XXX was a huge hit, both critically and commercially.

So how many parodies have been released so far? Well, I did some truly fun research and found quite a few titles. If you like your porn mixed with horror, there are adult versions of Friday the 13th, Psycho, Saw, and The Human Centipede. Mainstream movies given the XXX treatment include Avatar, the Twilight series, and Bonnie and Clyde. If you like superheroes that way (like me!), there are two versions of Batman (the '60s TV show and The Dark Knight), Superman (combining the first two Christopher Reeve movies), and Wonder Woman (for which they dropped the ball plotwise: She's been around for over 60 years and the best they could come up with is having her battle Iraqi spies out to steal America's porn secrets?).
What about television shows gone porn? Current or recent shows that are currently porn parodies include Glee, Scrubs, Sex and the City, Reno! 911, 30 Rock, Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Charmed, and The Office. Reality shows aren't immune to the trend, with skin-filled versions of Ghost Hunters, Cops, Hell's Kitchen, Dr. Phil, and Dancing with the Stars.

But, as this trend began with a "classic" television show, it's fitting that most of these parodies are of that genre. Here's a far-from complete list of older television that's been porn-parodied: The A-Team. Cheers. The Dukes of Hazzard. The Cosby Show. I Dream of Jeannie. Star Trek (original series, twice). Good Times. Roseanne. The Munsters. Home Improvement. Baywatch. The Bionic Woman. Who's the Boss. And The Flintstones.

Is this trend the result of the Internet's massive amount of adult-only fanfiction? Nostalgia mixed with lust? Or a cheap way to channel an existing fanbase? I couldn't say -- and I don't mind. This massive new genre of porn is as much a homage to the original material as a parody of it, and the result can be very entertaining beyond prurience. There seems to be no sign it's slowing down -- upcoming porn parodies include Top Gun, Risky Business, Harry Potter, The Simpsons, Spider-Man, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show -- and given the mainstream interest in remakes and superheroes, I doubt the adult world will lose interest anytime soon.

Written by James Lynch

P.S. The trailers below are from YouTube and have no sex or nudity. Sorry.