ALISON'S WONDERLAND edited by Alison Tyler

Fairy tales often have a sexual undercurrent, from the menacing allure of otherworldly beings to the handsome prince bringing the fair maiden to the dream wedding and then, er, happily ever after. Alison's Wonderland is a short story collection, edited by Alison Tyler, where these erotic subtexts become very clear.

The stories in Alison's Wonderland can be divided, more or less, into three categories: contemporary takes on the classics, new versions of the stories set in their original times, and new stories with mythical creatures. The three billy goats gruff become rugged handymen in "The Three Billys," helping the prim librarian Ms. Troll. The big bad wolf turns up as a burly truck driver in "Wolff's Tavern." The little old woman who lived in a shoe is transformed into "The Cougar of Cottage Hill." A granted wish has unexpected consequences in "The Midas F*ck." We even find that the happy ending is far from perfect in "After the Happily Ever After." Several other stories move the events of the past to the present, in characters or situations.

Next are the fairy tales in the "good old days." There are fewer of these -- most authors presumably liked modernizing the stories rather than staying too close to the originals -- but their presence here makes sense, as what was once suggested becomes explicit. You also won't be able to see or read Snow White again after reading "Gold, on Snow."

Finally there are the truly new tales with familiar figures. An artist is obsessed with his elven creation in "Unveiling His Muse." Online dirty talk leads to a real-world supernatural encounter in "Cupid Has Signed Off." A few authors have fun with the romance of Ireland. There's even a D&D game unlike anything I've ever come close to in "Mastering Their Dungeons."

Alison's Wonderland works decently -- ironic, given that the sex is often kinky and usually graphic. Some of the stories are quite creative, while at other times simply moving names from the fairy tales to the present was a little simplistic. There's a nice variety of tones in the stories -- true love, true lust, nostalgia, happily ever after, even revenge -- and I recognized a few authors from the Black Lace series of books. Alison's Wonderland doesn't revolutionize the world of erotica -- or fairy tales, for that matter -- but it is a fun, hot, quick read.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



When is a franchise past its prime? The original Scream movie was one of the first horror movies to feature characters who knew the rules of horror movies -- and then came two more sequels with that basic setup, from the aware victims to the horror movie-loving killer Ghostface. Eleven years after Scream 3 comes Scream 4 and an update for the Facebook and texting crowd -- sort of.

It's the tenth anniversary of the Ghostface murders, and they've become pop culture fodder in Woodsboro. We're told that Stab, the movie-within-the-movie, is up to part 7; Ghostface costumes and props abound; and high school students are celebrating the anniversary with "Stabathon," an underground viewing of all seven movies back to back. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is back in town, promoting her book about surviving the Ghostface murders. Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) likes the town quiet, and he's now married to Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), who left reporting but can't find anything else to do. Then a new Ghostface strikes again, stabbing through people left and right.
Of course a new Scream movie needs new high school students and lots of possible killers/ potential victims. The main teenager is Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), Sidney's cousin who is tired of being famous for their relation. Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) is Jill's best friend and a horror movie buff. Robbie (Erik Knidsen) is a film geek who videotapes everything for posterity, and his buddy Charlie (Rory Culkin) is a fellow movie buff with a thing for Kirby. There's also Trevor (Nico Tortorella), Jill's ex-boyfriend who keeps popping up.

Need more? How about Deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), who flirts shamelessly with Sheriff Dewey? Or Rebecca Walters (Alison Brie), Sidney's publicist who sees the killings as a massive cash cow? Could it be one of them -- or more than one of them? Not for long, as the body count increases very quickly.

Scream 4 promotions included the tagline "New decade. New rules" -- but that's far from the case with the actual movie. While there's lots of chatter about who can die in the world of the horror remake, in the movie itself pretty much anyone can die, at anytime. Writer Kevin Williamson acknowledges the potential cheesiness of the high-numbered sequel with a number of fake-out openings from the high-numbered Stab flicks. After that, though, it's very common situations from both horror and the Scream movies that came before: Is the caller in the house -- or even the closet? How does the killer manage to pop up everywhere and kill with virtual impunity? Does a character appearing in the shadows, or with a poor explanation of how they came to be there, mean that they're the killer?

I've enjoyed a lot of Wes Craven movies -- including and especially the first Scream -- but Scream 4 doesn't really offer anything new from this series (or from horror movies in general). From the self-aware references to the return of the original cast, nothing here is really impressive or creative. Craven does have a skill at jolting the audience, but everyone here should have looked at the original films and taken another horror-movie message to heart: High-numbered sequels are never a good thing.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



One of the great comic book traditions is the first meeting between two heroes. Are they immediate friends or antagonistic? What crisis brings them together? What sort of relationship do they have when they part? Moreover, how does this first meeting work when the heroes are Batman and Superman, icons of D.C. comics with very differing methods? All of this was handled very well in The Batman Superman Movie: World's Finest.

Originally airing in 1996 as part of the Superman animated series, World's Finest brings D.C.'s biggest heroes together through their biggest villains. The Joker (Mark Hamill, easily my favorite voice for the Joker ever) is broke, so he travels to Metropolis and makes a proposition to Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown): "Pay me one billion dollars and I'll kill Superman." It helps that the Joker has stolen a dragon statue that's made entirely out of kryptonite.

But Batman (Kevin Conroy) isn't the world's greatest detective for nothing, and soon he's heading to Metropolis, using a robotics project between Wayne Enterprises and LexCorp as a cover. Superman (Tim Daly) isn't thrilled to have a "vigilante" operating in Metropolis; he's also not happy that Lois Lane (Dana Delany) is getting romantically involved with Bruce Wayne.

World's Finest works on many, many levels. First is the impeccable voice talent. It's hard to listen to these actors perform and picture anyone else in the roles, whether it's Tim Daly as the always-moral straight-laced hero, Kevin Conroy's charming Bruce Wayne and dark, gritty Batman, or Mark Hamill's sheer lunacy. Kudos also go out to Arlee Sorkin as Harley Quinn, the Joker's gleefully demented assistant. And Mercy Graves, Lex Luthor's right-hand woman, is voiced by Lisa Edelstein, currently best known as Dr. Lisa Cuddy on House.

Second is the action and pacing. It's not easy to have menaces that work for both a Olympic-level athlete and someone who's bulletproof and flies, but World's Finest is filled with powerful robots, plenty of henchmen (who apparently never learned to shoot), the Joker's unpredictable schemes, a huge aerial finale, and that ever-present threat of kryptonite.

Third is the story -- or, I should say, stories. World's Finest perfectly captures the various personalities involved. Superman and Batman are after the same ends (protecting the innocent, catching the bad guys) but distrust the methods of the other. On the opposite end, Lex Luthor wants to take down his greatest enemy while maintaining the appearance of upright businessman, while the Joker is out for fun and mayhem no matter what. World's Finest also includes a very original love triangle, leading to a surprising twist.

The dvd extras for World's Finest are very basic (a little behind-the-scenes commentary, a few drawing lessons, and a "game" that uses clips from the movie) and the animation can be, at times, a little clunky. Overall, though, World's Finest is a terrific superhero tale, giving viewers the latest meeting of the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's nice to see a horror movie where the family actually decides to get the hell out of the haunted house, rather than just disbelieving and making excuses until the end. That's really the only new element in Insidious.

Moving is never easy, as the Lambert family soon discovers. Renai Lambert (Rose Wilson) takes care of unpacking, works on her music, and takes care of her young boys Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor), plus her baby girl. John Lambert (Patrick Wilson) works as a teacher, often staying late to avoid problems at home. They're an average middle-class family with their two story-plus-attic home.

And there are certainly problems at home. At first Renai experiences small things -- books that were packed are suddenly scattered, someone spotted through the blinds who isn't there -- but it escalates rapidly. Worse, after exploring the attic Dalton is in a coma -- though there's medically nothing wrong with him. And Renai keeps experiencing worse and worse things, so the family -- so atypical for this sort of movie -- packs up and moves.

Unfortunately, moving doesn't end the problems. Enter Elise (Lin Shaye), a psychic who's a friend of Josh's mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey). Elise has her two paranormal geeks (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) inspect the house, then she pokes around, then proclaims, "It's not the house that's haunted. It's your son." And that's when things really get going...

Insidious was produced by the same folks behind Saw and Paranormal Activity, and the influence is easy to spot, between the muted, depressing color scheme and camera shots that look like handheld amateur work. Unfortunately, it's largely a mash-up of horror movie cliches: family secrets, figures that are spotted moving quickly and then disappear, windows and doors slamming shut, a semi-zombie attack, a seance (with a variant of automatic writing), and a demon (who bears an unfortunate resemblance to Darth Maul). It doesn't help that most of the characters have descriptions (the nervous mother, the skeptical husband) rather than personalities. And when you toss in astral projection and "The Further" it becomes as cloudy as, well, the dark smoke-filled climax of the movie.

During the opening of Insidious I was struck by how loud and obnoxious the music was, blasting away as the camera zoomed through the house until we saw a face at a window and the opening credits. Neither subtlety nor originality are hallmarks of this entry in the horror genre.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch


DON QUIXOTE by Miguel de Cervantes

I recently decided to revisit a classic novel that I hadn't read in over two decades. Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes. On the recommendation of author Peter David, I found the edition translated by Edith Grossman -- and I was very, very pleased.

Don Quixote is a novel in two parts. The first part is about one of literature's most famous duos, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Don Quixote began as Alonso Quixano, a thin, elderly gentleman who read too many novels about knights and decided that he was a knight errant. With some very makeshift armor and weapons, and his trusty (if tall and thin) steed Rocinante, he becomes Don Quixote, a knight errant out to do good, win battles, promote chivalry, and win fame for his lady, the most beautiful Dulcinea of Toboso (even though Don Quixote has never even seen her). His squire is Sancho Panza, a plump, talkative (usually stringing together many, many proverbs), always-hungry man who follows his master on a donkey and believes his master will give him governorship of an insula (or island) in payment for his services. Several townspeople try to get Don Quixote back and sane: the barber, the priest, and the Bachelor Sanson Carrasco. And there are adventures, from the famous windmills mistaken for giants to run-ins with courtly lovers and inns believed to be castles. Don Quixote is a very unskilled knight, usually on the losing end of a fight and always blaming enchanters for what no one but he sees.

The second part of Don Quixote becomes... strange. Set months after the first part, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza sally forth again -- only in a world where the first part of the novel was published and famous, giving us two fictional characters adventuring in a world where people know them and their story. Further, a duke and duchess decide to have fun with Don Quixote, actually creating several situations where Don Quixote's delusions about chivalry, enchantment, and battles are made real. And yes, Sancho Panza seems to be made governor of his insula. The most encountered adversary in this half of the novel is the anonymous author who wrote his own history of Don Quixote, which the real Don Quixote seeks to disprove.

I'm still not sure what to make of Don Quixote -- and that's good. Cervantes certainly makes Don Quixote appear foolish and points out the ridiculous nature of the tales of knight errantry; yet he also had Don Quixote as an incurable optimist, and Cervantes often uses and seems to enjoy elements of knight errantry through the novel. (In an early part of the book, several villagers decide to burn the library that drove Don Quixote mad. They also comment on the books, praising and keeping some while setting the others to be burned.) Don Quixote are an unusual master and servant, each aware of the other's faults but friends despite the arguments and difficulties. (There's a lot of character growth between the two as well.) And the introduction of the "real" world of knight errantry by the duke and duchess adds a false layer of realism to the delusional knight's journeys. It's a lot to think about, and like any great book it doesn't give just one answer to its many questions.

Also, this 16th-century work feels quite modern, largely to the translation done by Edith Grossman. Rather than making a simple, dry translation, Grossman infuses this Don Quixote with life, humor, and lively wordplay. (One of the extras has a few paragraphs of her version and another one, and the difference is striking.) If you are afraid this will be a dull, dry classic, get this edition and enjoy an amusing odyssey.

Don Quixote may be the most famous knight (vying with King Arthur for the title) and is probably the least skilled night, but his journeys with the faithful Sancho Panza are quite literally the stuff of legend. This edition of Don Quixote is entertaining, thought-provoking, and immensely satisfying.

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch


Galactic, Ya-Ka-May (Anti-, 2010)

On their 2007 CD From the Corner to the Block, featuring guest appearances from a broad assortment of rappers, Galactic positioned themselves on the vanguard of the music emanating from post-Katrina New Orleans.  The quintet of Jeff Raines (guitar), Rich Vogel (organ), Robert Mercurio (bass), Stanton Moore (drums), and Ben Ellman (saxophone) grounded the modern urban sound with a solid backbeat of funk and soul rooted in the timeless music of their hometown.  Now Galactic return with a new album called Ya-Ka-May.  They again work with a variety of guests, but instead of focusing exclusively on rap and hip-hop, Galactic bring in performers covering the broad musical spectrum of New Orleans.

The guests on Ya-Ka-May range from Allan Toussaint, one of the founding fathers of New Orleans funk, to contemporary local rap artists like Big Freedia, Katey Red, and Sissy Nobby. In addition to covering a broad range of performers and styles, the album broadly spans the quality spectrum as well. The best song by far is "Heart of Steel," sung by the venerable Irma Thomas. (Her version of "Time Is on My Side" inspired the more famous cover by The Rolling Stones.) "Boe Money," featuring the spicy hot horns of the Rebirth Brass Band, is a rock solid instrumental. Unfortunately, none of the hip-hop selections come close to the best songs on From the Corner to the Block. "Do It Again," rapped by Cheeky Blakk, has the kind of profanity for profanity's sake that just gets tiring after a while.

If Ya-Ka-May has flaws, though, they have nothing to do with the performance of Galactic itself. The band are superb instrumentalists, capable of taking their songs in a bunch of different directions and still making them work. Their sense of all-inclusiveness makes for an uneven overall recording here, but there is still enough quality to justify giving the album a listen.

Overall grade: B-

reviewed by Scott

"Heart of Steel"