Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Weekly Wish List UPDATE Moneyball

It's not that Moneyball isn't about baseball, it's just about a different kind of baseball. Bennett Miller follows up his impressive debut with this story of a general manager changing the way people manage sports teams. With solid work from everyone involved and a script cowritten by two of the best dialogue writers working in cinema, Miller has made a fine film that deconstructs our national past time and shows its intricacies in scientific detail.

Miller seems obsessed with analyzing American culture and giving us a piercing view of what lies underneath. Capote gave us a stirring representation of the life of one of America's classic writers as well as giving us a view at post mockingbird Harper Lee. Here he has turned away from literature to sports and what could be more American than baseball. The flashbacks of Beane's rise and fall of his own career not only serve to give us a backstory on our lead, but also show how the game transcends generations. There is a lot of fight between the old and the new here. The aging scouts and their discussions of ball players are riddled with emotion and feelings and listening to your gut. Miller contrasts these talks with Hill representing a new school of thought and speaking with scientific accuracy utilizing solid number and figures to back up each point. It's a great conflict that powers most of the movie, but through it all Miller never fails to show the passion that everyone has for the game and how much joy it brings the fans.

That passion is perfectly represented with restraint by a great performance from Pitt. He's been getting a lot of attention for the role which is refreshing since the Academy usually goes after more "showy" roles. Pitt's role is not flashy at all, rather he is a simple man with a love for the game. He loves it so much he wants to see it evolve, he wants nothing more than to matter. He never made it as a player, so now as a general manager he has a chance to make a difference and affect the game in a big way. Its the opposite of a showy performance, but Pitt make it memorable by making the character incredibly charismatic and inherently likable.

Jonah Hill is Pitt's right hand man and a wunderkind of sports analytical. He is a huge champion of the work of Bill James and a threat to all of the older generation working for Pitt's general manager. He is getting a lot of accolades for his work, and I would say its not without merit, but I would never put it against Brooks in Drive or Plunmer in Beginners. It is a huge departure from his standard fare, and it shows the guy has something else to offer besides his Apatow schtick.

I hope Miller continues to take on various aspects of American culture and present them in new ways. It's yielded some solid work so far and I think going forward he will continue to provide strong adult dramas. Like I said I don't think Hill gives an Oscar worthy performance but it's a great example of him not being Jonah Hill. I love Pitt and thought he did an amazing job, no Fassbender, or Oldman but a good job nonetheless.

Bence

One last thought - I didn't even mention Hoffman in a small but great role as the coach who doesn't agree with Billie's new ideas. Hoffman is such an amazing actor and he shows just how memorable you can be with a small role.

Weekly Wish List 1/31 cool, collective, and kitano

Let's do this.


Drive - Nicholas Winding Refn
One of the best films of the year and one of the few that made it onto all three top ten lists here at the Maus. Here's my original thoughts. Refn is a strong force to be reckoned with and I cant wait to see what comes next.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Robert Mulligan
Classic American novel gets a great adaptation starring Gregory Peck in one of his greatest roles. Required viewing for all.

Outrage - Takeshi Kitano
This was on my winter wish list but I haven't gotten around to it, you can bet now that it's on Blu I'll make sure I check this out. Kitano is an eclectic director and it's exciting to see him return to the Yakuza films he was known for earlier in his career.

Bence

One last thought - Check it out mom now we can watch one of your favorites in hi def.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Tune Tuesday 1.24.12 - Amnesty Int'l presents the strangest, most eclectic Dylan cover comp ever, plus Dion, Craig Finn and more...

Beautiful Melodies telling you Terrible Things vol. New Tune Tuesday: 1.24.12

It's a new year. I could say something witty or mind-blowing about it, but in the end, who cares? Another new number here, another memory blown there. The beauty of it all? Fresh ear bud is always in season, thus we tackle the first new tune tuesday of the year. Best of all? We tackle it a day late and a few dollars short...

RELEASE OF THE WEEK: (1.24.12): Chimes of Freedom: the Songs of Bob Dylan, Amnesty International, various artists
"Through the wild cathedral evening, the rain unraveled tales,
For the disrobed faceless forms of no position.
Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts,
All down in taken-for-granted situations.
Tolling for the deaf an' blind, tolling for the mute,
Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother, the mis-titled prostitute,
For the misdemeanor outlaw, chase an' cheated by pursuit,
An' we gazed upon the Chimes of Freedom flashing..."

I'm a sucker for cover compilations, just because I enjoy hearing different and unique artists tackle songs, good or bad, trying to make it their own. There are enough Dylan compilations to sink a battleship, and very few that I personal would recommend. 'Chimes of Freedom,' in all it's over-packed 4-CD set of good, bad and ugly, is one of them. Covering Dylan has been big business in it's day, there was a time in the mid-60's in which 24% of the top 40 was made of Dylan penned tunes. So much so that Columbia's main marketing strategy for Dylan was a "nobody sings Dylan like Dylan" campaign. True enough, most people who say Dylan is a great writer divide into two camps: the (to recall a John Lennon quote) ones who know "you don't even have to hear the words to know what the man is saying with that voice," and those who think his words are best covered. I'll leave the opinion up to you...This release takes into account the 50th anniversary of both Dylan's career and Amnesty International, which is rather coincidental since more often than not Amnesty is using a Dylan song as their theme. The man has written more songs about the various underdogs of life than any other, so why not?

Record executive Jeff Ayeroff was one of the main people in charge of this project, and he has the best way to describe it, Ayeroff said "Whatever I learned in the evolution of the album, I know people who pay $20 for this are not going to like every song...there are several records inside this album: a country record, rock, pop, there's an all female record of women interpreting Bob Dylan songs, which is probably the most significant part of the album for me. It shows that Bob speaks with many voices for many people." Indeed. From recent record mainstays such as Adele, Maroon 5, My Morning Jacket, Cage the Elephant, The Avett Brothers, Gaslight Anthem to artists from all throughout the years - Flogging Molly, Lucinda Williams, Eric Burdon, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Jackson Brown, Patti Smith, Steve Earle, Tom Morello, the list goes on and on. Over 70 songs are represented on this 4-disc set, and the shocker? Kesha (who left off the pretentiously stupid $ of her name for the track listing) and Miley Cyrus not only aren't the worst ones (in my opinion), but you almost believe that they, you know, sort of meant it. I roll the dice behind my shades every time I hear Kesha mention her Dylan fanship, yet here she strips away her trash-pop sound and gives it her all on "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." I wouldn't say it's a favorite track on the set, as I'll be listening to, say, Lucinda Williams take on "Tryin' to get to Heaven," or Flogging Molly tackling "The Times they are a-changin'" more often, but, it was a surprise nonetheless. It's certainly not even the strangest track on the disc, another surprise.

The album appropriately opens with the version of "One too Many Mornings" from the 1969 Dylan/Cash sessions, with Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan (obviously), but with the Avett Brothers dubbed in (and yes, it works) and closes with Dylan's own version of "Chimes of Freedom," in between? A little bit of everything. Where are else are you going to find a bluegrass take on "Political World," a hardcore punk take on "Ballad of Hollis Brown," a mariachi flavored "Love Sick" or Evan Rachel Wood going almost old school jazz on "I'd have you Anytime" with a song that would make Zooey "Douche"-enel jealous? Right here...All in all I recommend this album, you're going to find some things you absolutely loathe, I know I did. But my opinion of trash maybe your treasure. There's something for everyone on this LP, and through the good, the bad and the ugly, you'll find some great covers of Dylan's material, while giving a few bucks to Amnesty International as that's where the proceeds go.

AVAILABLE ON: 4-CD Digipack including liner notes by Sean Wilentz, 2-CD condensed set at Starbucks, MP3 Download

Other Notable Releases (1.24.12)
Clear Heart, Full Eyes, Craig Finn
On break from his band The Hold Steady, Finn found himself in Austin, Texas making a record, and here it is. Portemaus' own Manny will love the title, referencing Texas based football show "Friday Night Lights," but this album isn't one that just any old fan of the Hold Steady will like. The Texas brewed songs certainly have their own style and own influences, and in my opinion it's an up and down title, songwriting is solid throughout but sometimes the production and sound falter. Not a bad album, and perfect for a winter release.
Available on: Vinyl, CD, MP3 Download
Hard Knocks, Joe Cocker
429 Records has built a reputation of grabbing well known artists who are perhaps now in their most famous period of career, grabbing them, and getting them to release some solid work. "Hard Knocks" will appeal to Cocker fans, as the classic Cocker sound, that mixture of soulful pop with the right amount of blues, is here in spades. Though I like the more bluesy less pop Cocker and also preferred his last effort, "Hymn for my Soul," fans should enjoy this one.
Available on: CD, MP3 Download
Tank Full of Blues, Dion
Bob Dylan (he appeared in some way earlier in this article I believe) once said Dion (who has opened for Dylan on tour many times) is a great singer, and even beyond that, is someone who's "genius has never deserted him." That's a big quote from a man who knows all to well the the way the muse can seem to come and go as it pleases. Continuing on from his bluesy and Grammy Award nominated return to form in 2006, "Bronx in Blue," we find Dion tackling an almost ragtime version of Chicago blues, and it's mixture of influences from Robert Johnson to Muddy Waters sets the stage for, as far as straight up "new records from a singular artist" go, my favorite release of the week. Study and full of the blues, the title hits the nail on the head. The opening title track, "Tank full of Blues," goes along with "Rides' Blues (for Robert Johnson)" and the spoken work "Bronx Poem" might be my favorite tracks on the disc.
Available on: CD, MP3 Download

That's it. See you next week as Leonard Cohen drops his first new record in almost a decade...


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Weekly Wish List 1/24 Too many to list this week, just make your way to the store now.

Really amazing week with multiple releases from two great directors.


50/50 - Jonathan Levine
Written by Will Reiser about his real life battle with cancer. This has picked up a few writing awards along the way and we'll find out tomorrow if it can make the jump to Oscar. Rogen can definitely turn a lot of people off, but Levitt is an exciting young actor. The guy picks challenging material and is alway game to try something different. Just check out his performance in Mysterious Skin or The Lookout. I missed this when it was in theaters, so I'm excited to get a chance to see it.


Manhattan - Woody Allen
So you should pick up both this and Annie Hall, but for this list I'm going to put Manhattan here. My new hometown(for now) is presented here in amazing black and white photography as Woody gives us one of his best films a a love letter to his first muse(before Europe came along). Like I said Annie Hall is out this week too, which is a great film, but I'm dying to see how the cinematography in Manhattan looks on Blu.


Rebecca - Alfred Hitchcock
This whole list could have consisted of this, Notorious, and Spellbound as they are all on Blu and all were previously out of print on DVD. I will say I have a bit of a soft spot for Spellbound and the dream sequences Dali designed. I have the criterion DVD set thanks to some digging from Mama Bence, and the behind the scenes stuff of Dali working on it is great. Notorious is also out this week, but we're here for Rebecca. Rebecca is just a masterpiece of cinema. A brilliant movie about the past haunting us and being caged in by our own fears. With an amazing performance from Olivier, and gorgeous cinematography this is one of Hitchcock's best film(I know that's a silly statement). To have this on blu, this would for sure be my choice of the three. They are all necessary buys, but this is the one that will get me in line Tuesday morning.

Bence

One last thought - Lucky McKee is a completely underrated director. His work on the outskirts of horror is unsettling and weird and kind of amazing. May is a huge triumph, and The Woods never got the release it deserved. I haven't seen this yet , but this sounds a bit rougher than his previous efforts.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Movie Night Special Edition The Two Best Films You Haven't Seen

I was originally going to include these in my top ten list for the year, most likely taking some top spots away, but I figured these both pushed it a far as how old they were. So even though they were just released in the US this year, on home video no less with no real theatrical distribution, I felt it better to place these two in a category all their own. Straight up these are the two best movies you haven't seen. And if you have, well I imagine the type of person that knows about these films is the type of person that would drink up all the amazing cinematic kool aid these have to offer.


Fish Story and Love Exposure are both pieces of such overwhelming creativity and brilliance that it's a wonder they are not getting more love on the states. They are both films that stay with you, and show you just how amazing cinema can be. I would say that Love Exposure edges out Fish Story, but they are both the kind of gem I hope to find as I scour the celluloid landscape.


Let's start with Fish Story, which was directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura, in which a comet is hurling towards earth and three men are in a record store while one of them makes the proclamation that a punk song will save the world. We then see a collection of segments based in different decades as we see how the song has influenced various peoples lives and just how these three men arrived at the record store. It's a puzzle of a film that begins to take shape and you realize how everything fits together. Somewhat similar to Tree of Life the film discusses the effect of every moment and every action on a larger scale. We see things pay off in the en that were barely hinted at in the beginning. It's an incredibly dense film that upon first glance seems quite straightforward, but with repeat viewings one really sees just how intricate the story is. I've seen the film twice now and I imagine every time I watch it I'll see something new. I don't want to talk too much more about the plot because it's definitely part of the fun of this movie.


A strong intricate puzzle alone though does not make a film. Without some good filmmaking no one would ever care about your subtly interlocking story lines. Nakamura has some chops though. As we travel through the decades each segment represents a different genre of film, and it's never too in your face obvious, but he switches up his filming style each time we switch decades. The first segment they discuss takes place in the eighties in which Nakamura treats us to a small teen romance as we see how this song, Fish Story, influences one mans love life. It a subtle touch, but offers a slight commentary on the changing trends in cinema. He manages to work successfully in each genre as he keeps an awkward sense of humor throughout, continually dropping hints at the bigger picture. Again I'll let you watch and see how integrates various genres to represent each decade.


The whole film hinges on this song, an the effect it has on all who interact with it, even those who write it. There is a thread about the importance and power of art throughout the film. We see how intentions matter little in the grand scheme of things. As the universe will take your work of art and mold it and change it as it effects everyone differently. When given the chance Manny and I make our way to museums and engage in spirited discussions on what we see. While both of our interpretations maybe different does that make anyone of them wrong? This film shows what can come from a simple piece of music, that art can affect the whole world. It can cross timelines and touch people decades down the line, in ways one never thought of. This film touches on all these ideas while taking you through the various periods of cinema of the past few decades.
Nakamura has crafted a wonderfully unique experience ad a great commentary on the power of art and music. He keeps the film entertaining throughout as he blends genre, subtly interweaving the bigger picture here. You'll probably put the piece together before the end of the film, but as it unfolds you will marvel at jut how intricate a film has been crafted. As great as this film is, the following film manages to be even better.


I'm not sure where to begin with Love Exposure. First and foremost there is absolutely no way I could do this film justice with words, this is absolutely a film that needs to be experienced in order to begin to understand how amazing it is. This is a four hour epic of love, religion, sexual frustration, family. There is a lot going on here, but it essentially concerns Yu and his quest for love. Before his mom passed, she told him to find a woman like the Virgin Mary. This causes Yu to have no interest on anyone except his ideal, even when he becomes a master of up skirt photography he takes little
sexual excitement out of it. It isn't until he meets his ideal girl, Yoko, who happens to be the daughter of a promiscuous lady who comes in and out of his father's life causing trouble. There begins a triangle between Yu, Yoko, and a young religious cult leader who has gone insane from an abusive father. She feels that there is a kindred spirit in Yu and does everything she can to prevent him and his ideal woman from being together. This is the main narrative force, but there are cults, cross dressing martial arts masters, family troubles, and some brilliant parallels across the characters.


The film never misses a step in the entire four hours. I was skeptical at first, I mean just trying to type up a brief synopsis the movie sounds ridiculous and not at all the type of story that would lend itself to four hour epics, but it really does keep you interested the whole time. It is a testament to the abilities of Sion Sono, that he keeps his story intact the whole time. Everything makes sense, even when it gets into the absurd. At no point do you believe that something is coming out of left field. At one point Yu, begins dressing like a priest and accepting the confessions of sex addicts in a crazy underground club. It a ridiculous thing to say but it manages to work perfectly and reference his earlier relationship with his father. It's a surprisingly tight script for four hours. Even the ending, which I'm sure some won' t enjoy, manages to offer up as much closure as you could expect from this film. Subplots develop and finish, and they all serve the main story of a young man trying to fulfill his mother's dying wish.


Much like Fish Story, this is a blend of genres. In Sion's film the genres dissolve into each other in a much more organic manner. So while Fish Story was comprised of distinct sections, Love Exposure weaves them together like an elegant tapestry. Mixing family drama, and action films, teen romance and absurdist comedies and more and more. It does this all with the hand of a master craftsman, as they all combine together to make a wholly singular experience. Again the film never skips a beat as it shifts from story to story, Sion makes the film evolve and makes complete use of his 4 hour time
frame. At no point does the film feel episodic, rather each pies end leads perfectly to the next.


There is so much to talk about when it comes to this film. I could write a whole piece on The religious imagery throughout the film and the parallels between the Zero occult and it's depiction of Christianity. It's depictions of love and it's various mutations within the film would keep me here for hours. But in looking back at the film I keep coming back to the same thing over and over. Sion has made a four film feel as brisk a possible. He has created a story that holds your attention for the duration and filled it with oddball characters an a heightened sense of ultra reality. Where girls in tennis outfits kidnap families and brain wash them, where adolescents become mini pornographers through the most ridiculous blend of martial arts photography. This is a film that tells a story unlike anything I have ever seen and makes it entirely relatable.

These are the two best films of 2011 that you haven't seen. Both of them completely represent the type of originality and creativity that I hope to find as I scour the cinematic landscape. I strongly urge all of you to seek these films out and let me know what you think. If you've read some of my stuff you probably have an idea of my tastes and will probably have an equally strong response, maybe you'll realize obscure Japanese cinema is the genre for you, or maybe you'll hate both of them explicitly. No matter what I'm sure they'll illicit a strong response. That about covers 2011, be sure to check out Manny's wrap up of the year found here and here, as well as Hawk's found here and here. This year provided one of the richest, fullest cinematic experiences for me, I can't wait to see what 2012 brings. Manny and I have a secret project that if we can get off the ground will be amazing, and another cinematic dream come true. But enough of that, I'll let you know as that progresses.

Bence

One last thought - for those of you wondering I do have a new edition of movie night coming soon, but I've definitely been backed up trying to catch as many films as I can before the year ended.

Weekly Wish List A few weeks worth of winter

Wow 2012 is off to a great start. Thanks to all of you out there who have made it your new years resolution to read PORTEmaus everyday. We appreciate it. Time for business.

Moneyball - Bennett Miller
This was originally going to be a Soderbergh film, but that eventually fell through. Millers' film made it into Hawk's top ten, I'll be honest I have yet to see it. I should be checking this out soon. I'm excited to see Brad Pitt's supposed career best, as well as Jonah Hill doing something different than his Apatow crew stuff. Who knows I might have to update that Oscar post from earlier

Film Socialisme - Jean-luc Godard
Do you really need a reason? The name alone means you're going to desperately seek his out or not. I'm sure you know my stance by now.

The Ides of March - George Clooney
Clooney is a good director. I would say he's far better than Affleck, at least in this point of their careers. Here he takes on the hypocrisy and corruption of political campaigning. Some amazing performances grounded by Gosling who really wants to take thy actor of the year prize away from Fassbender. Here's my original thoughts.


Belle du Jour - Luis Bunuel
Bunuel's masterpiece? Well I suppose that depends on who you talk to. Either way Criterion brings us this amazing film and Catherine Deneuve in hd. Criterion puts out top notch discs and I am so excited to have this on blu ray. If you've never seen this or are a fan of his work you owe it to yourself to check this out. A great way to discover one of the best directors of all time.

Traffic - Steven Soderbergh
Traffic is definitely where I discovered Soderbergh. I had seen Out of Sight, but after I saw Traffic I immediately sought out whatever I could find. Now it's hard not to say the batshit lunacy of Schizopolis isn't my favorite but Traffic has always been there. Looking back Out of Sight is a much better film, but Traffic still stands as one of his best. Excited to revisit this multi layered story on the drug war.

Bence

One last thought - looking ahead Criterion is going to be releasing this film. Begin salivating.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blue Sky Dreams of Oscar...

Oscars are right around the corner, so before they release their nominations in a few weeks here, I wanted to chime in with my choices in some of the major categories. Of course these are once again completely subjective, and again these are my choices, not predictions. For instance if I were predicting I'd put Clooney in for best actor, but I'm not saying who I think will be nominated I'm saying who I would choose. Enjoy, be sure to sound off with your choices below.

Best picture- see here
What about the new rules ? Well if there were only five nominees the. Take the first five on my list.

Best director
Tomas Alfredson - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Nicolas Winding Refn - Drive
Mike Mills - Beginners
Terrence Malick - Tree of Life
Kim Jee Won - I Saw The Devil

The first four are pretty solid, I don't know who I would ultimately pick out of Kim Jee Won or Steve McQueen. Here Kim has the edge slightly if only for his amazing juxtaposition of beauty and violence. For the win I'd have to go with Alfredson. A more meticulously crafted film I have not seen in quite awhile. So while Mills has my favorite film of the year and is an amazingly brilliant film, it's hard to deny the Kubrick like perfection that permeates every scene in Tinker.

Best screenplay
Mike Mills - Beginners
Peter Staughn & Bridget O'connor - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Scott Z Burns - Contagion
JC Chandor - Margin Call
Woody Allen - Midnight In Paris

Tough category, they all are great for different reasons, but I would give the win to Mills. His time shifting balance of character sadness and joy is expert writing. All the little touches that pepper the background like Mcgregors work life, historical consciousness, and his brief stint a Freud all come off as charming rather than trite. Definitely deserved here. It's subtlety hides deep complicated emotions.
Best cinematography
Emmanuel Lubezki - Tree of Life
Hoyte Van Hoytema - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Kasper Tuxen - Beginners
Mogae Lee - I Saw The Devil
Sean Bobbit - Shame

C'mon. Although you could make the argument for all of them, Lubezki should have received this award for Children of Men, but his work here is astounding as the film tells so much through image. I would say Beginners is right there with an absurdly subtle hand that yields very strong cinematic language. I could have easily doubled this, but this is what I have so far.

Best Actor
Michael Fassbender - Shame
Ewan McGregor - Beginners
Ryan Gosling - Drive
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Jean Dujardin - The Artist

Awesome year for actors, with just powerhouse performances across the board. This is quite possibly the easiest category to call though. Fassbender turns in a career making performance as the sex addicted New Yorker struggling with the reality of his situation. Even a career best from Oldman and an incredibly exuberant without being pandering performance from Dujardin can come close to the intensity and humanity in Fassbender's performance. I'm still hoping next year they give Oldman a best supporting nomination for TDKR, his Commisioner Gordon is just a iconic as Ledger's brilliant Joker.

Best Actress
Rooney Mara - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Stephanie Sigman - Miss Bala
Jessica Chastain - Take Shelter
Kirsten Dunst - Melancholia
Juliette Binoche - Certified Copy

I didn't see any of the "expected" nominees films. But I like this selection, each one did some daring work. I think I would give this to Mara though, she disappears into the role. Giving us a completely damaged soul, with just a glimmer of humanity emerging at the right moments, her Lisbeth is a wonderful heroine.

Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer - Beginners
Albert Brooks - Drive
Brad Pitt - Tree of Life
Ben Kingsley - Hugo
Min Sik Choi - I Saw The Devil

Another great category. I'd have to give a slight edge to Min Sik Choi's deliciously evil serial killer. His murderer is a force of nature bringing pain and sorrow wherever he's at, seemingly inhuman in his malice he leaves a wake of bodies in his stead. He does this all while making him insanely watchable, as you never look away while he's onscreen.

Best Supporting Actress
Melanie Laurent - Beginners
Kati Outinen - Le Havre
Berenice Bejo - The Artist
Carey Mulligan - Shame
Jessica Chastain - Tree of Life

Much like Fassbender in the same film, Mulligan is far and away the winner here, although Chastain makes it on the list twice.

Bence

One last thought - nominations are out on Tuesday. I'm guessing my
thoughts are about as far from what will actually be nominated as any online blogger.

Jon Huntsman... We Hardly Knew Ye...

It seems that the bloodbath that has become the 2012 Presidential Primary has claimed another victim. Jon Huntsman has hung up his cleats (or another non-sports related metaphor for quitting) and given up his bid for the Presidency. Now, I know what you are wondering, who is Jon Huntsman? I cannot believe you have forgotten the man who put all of his eggs in the New Hampshire basket and placed third. Then again, I doubt anyone could pick Huntsman out of a line up of one.

Well, we now know how far running a campaign based on being "nice" gets you... Third place... In New Hampshire. Honestly, Huntsman made a valid point that the political discourse in America is too toxic and that simply tarnishing a person's reputation should not be a prerequisite to getting elected. What a novel concept. Furthermore, the irony is not lost on me that the candidate who seemed reasonably sane from an intellectual perspective, had practical political experience and would rather discuss the issues was shown the door.

That is what made Huntsman an interesting candidate. Sure, I was not going to vote for him but in the field of "Not Romneys," he was the only one who did not seem to be frothing at the mouth ideologically (or require a straight jacket for warmth). He appeared to be a gent above politics having served as Ambassador to China for President Obama from August 2009 to this past April. It seemed this did not sit well with any Conservatives who considered him a traitor for working with the "enemy." I guess answering the call from your country, while maintaining the exact same beliefs as the people who you are trying to elicit votes from is a no-no. Glad to see that divisiveness is alive and well.

As someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum, it was not difficult to admire the approach of Huntsman to American presidential politics. A guy with seemingly no skeletons in the closet and running a campaign that focused on the issues not smearing his opponents (the other Candidates or President Obama) barely made a ripple. However, a man with multiple allegations of misconduct, a woman with crazy eyes and man whose time in the sun has long past have all been "front runners." I guess it is true what they say, nice guys do finish last or in this case, third... In New Hampshire.

Is that the roar of fireworks off in the distance?


Uncork the bubbly and put on your party hat...

It seems like yesterday that the Maus broke the milestone of twenty-thousand hits. In the grand scheme of things such an event is nothing more than a drop in the bucket especially if compared to such behemoths as Google. Well, it has not taken us that long to hit the twenty-five thousand mark! Honestly, such developments are exciting to myself, Bence, Hawk and Gonzi. I do not know if I have mentioned it before but not many people read this blog in the beginning. In fact, roughly 24,000 of these hits game from the period of April to December. Talk about a growth spurt!

Anyway, it is exciting to witness the continued growth of the humble website that could. If January 2012 is any indication then we are off to fantastic start and could be doubling this number very soon. Hopefully, you all enjoy the fruits of our labor on this site as we enjoy creating it.

Your humble wordsmith,
Manny Funkowitz

Monday, January 16, 2012

No Future in the Past: Hawk's 2011 Retrospect Pt 2: Music

Here we go, finishing up 2011 with my second half special (PART 1 was movies only, sorry music fans) of "no future in the past." 2012 is shaping up to be quite a musical year, with Leonard Cohen and Justin Townes Earle dropping new discs in the coming weeks, Flogging Molly hitting my local digs for a St. Patrick's Day show and who knows what could be in store for the Rolling Stones 50th anniversary as a band and Bob Dylan's 50th anniversary as a Columbia recording artist. But...first thing is first, We check back in with the year that was, with a Top-10 and a few "other awards" type list at the end. Hope your ears enjoyed the year as much as mine did...
10. Demolished Thoughts - Thurston Moore
This album is a bit more bittersweet from when I first reviewed it in "new tune tuesday" (found HERE) now knowing that Sonic Youth may never be again (stupid divorce) but it's still a good, unique album worth checking out. Check out the link a couple sentences up to check out a more in-depth look at the album and on Moore/Sonic Youth in general.
Key Tracks: "Orchard Street," "Benediction," "In Silver Rain with a Paper Key"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, MP3. Also note: The iTunes release has a bonus track, a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “This Train is Bound for Glory.” Which, in honesty, doesn’t seem as interesting as the rest of the LP.
9. Don't Explain - Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa
Blues and Americana again? Well, have you HEARD the version of Tom Waits' "Chocolate Jesus" found on this disc? It alone is worth the price of admission. This mixture of a bonafide blues queen and young guitar star set the stage for this emotionally charged, somewhat obscure, album. Lots of top notch covers, and in the end, if you dig the blues, it's an album you'll dig.
Key Tracks: "Sinner's Prayer," "Chocolate Jesus," "I'd Rather Go Blind," "Something's Got a Hold on Me," "Your Heart is as Black as Night," "Ain't No Way"
Available on: CD, Mp3
8. Metals - Feist
Well when originally released earlier this year, she got over-shadowed (not by much might I add) by a release that garnered 'release of the week' (and here in this list as 'compilation of the year'), my originally positive review (found HERE) of 'Metals' still stands, it's a somewhat quit, introspective disc, and doesn't have anything that will chart as high as "1234," and that's a good thing, this is Feist in a more introspective, "artist's art" type pop album. This is my favorite "pop" disc of the year, wonderful singing and writing, great pop production (take note Black Keys producers) and it's near 50 minute running time goes briskly, that's what I call a good album.
Key Tracks: "The Bad in each Other," "How Come You Never Go There," "Caught a Long Wind," "Comfort Me," "Bittersweet Melodies"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3

7. Harrow and the Harvest - Gillian Welch
Americana music seems to be pretty heavy on this years best of list for me, and here we go again. It's also another album that got sort of over-shadowed when I initially reviewed it (found HERE), and as the year end comes to us, it makes itself on the list, while the release that garnered my 'release of the week' then didn't even garner compilation of the year. Well, that's 'the way it goes' (pun intended on this albums opening track's name) in music sometimes. Welch is one of the most highly applauded Americana singers of her generation, and rightfully so, this album continues that trend and I look forward to her next collaboration with Dave Rawlings, who produced this disc.
Key Tracks: "Scarlet Town," "Hard Times," "Dark Turn of Mind," "The Way it Goes, "Six White Horses," "The Way the Whole Thing Ends"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3
6. The Whole Love - Wilco
This album has grown on me a lot since I first reviewed it HERE, it sort of got shafted in that I gave it a positive review but it got over-shadowed by the onslaught of Nirvana releases that week. Since then, after multiple revisit listens, I must say this stands alongside 'Sky Blue Sky' as Wilco's best work since 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.' I listened to this whole album repeatedly on a long plane flight a few months back and it grew on me, it's still not perfect, and I still prefer 'Sky Blue Sky,' but it's a good album that's more than worth checking out.
Key Tracks: "Dawned on Me," "Born Alone," "I Might," "One Sunday Morning"
Available on: CD, Deluxe Version CD, Vinyl, Mp3

5. Barton Hollow - The Civil Wars
They sort of came out of nowhere for me this year, sort of a Mumford & Sons for 2011. I enjoy this album quite a lot, and it's one that you you might not always be in the mood for (it is rather introspective and slow at times) but when you ARE in the mood, there's not a bad track on the disc. Their harmonizations are top-notch, reminiscent of The Swell Season, their melodies are catchy, their lyrics are well done. I can't complain about well, much of anything on this LP. I'd also recommend picking up a 45" single that features some covers, including an incredibly well down and original take on Leonard Cohen's "Dance me to the End of Love." But as far as this album of originals goes, well crafted Americana folk.
Key Tracks: "20 Years," "I Got this Friend," "C'est La Mort," "To Whom it May Concern," "Poison & Wine," "Barton Hollow," "Birds of a Feather"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3

4. Blessed - Lucinda Williams
She's been called America's best songwriter of her generation, she's been called "a unique singing voice at best," she's replied to critics of her voice with quotes such as "I'd rather be a female Bob Dylan than a pop singer with no depth," and she continually lives up to those reputations, this album included. Her voice isn't what most would call good singing, but she uses it as a great instrument in bringing her tales to tape. 'Blessed' isn't going to make anyone forgot how great 'Car Wheels on the Gravel Road' was, but it's likely to make people remember how great Williams is. She can rock out and bring an amazingly catchy melody to her melancholy, or strip down the sound and her vocals, looking not to break hearts, but be a voice for the already broken ones. The 'kitchen tapes' demos are fun, so I recommend the deluxe edition.
Key Tracks: "Blessed," "Born to be Loved," "Copenhagen," "Seeing Black," "Ugly Truth"
Available on: CD, Deluxe 2-CD Edition featuring "Kitchen Tapes" Demos, Vinyl, Mp3

3. Eleven Eleven - Dave Alvin
This, from the man who helped pioneer roots rock, is for the folks who like their rock mixed as a alt-rock country flavor with a shot of blues to help it go done with the right amount of rough. This album flat out rocks for those who like some electric guitar blues backing some great storytelling as told by a unique voice. Justified fans might recognize Alvin from his brief cameo in season 2 playing in a little bar venue, and if you liked that bit, you'll like this album. This album is made for road trips, and when you're listening to it while not on one, will make you want to go hit the road, whiskey in tow. This isn't shocking, as word is Alvin wrote the album while touring on the road, and it is justifiably (pun fully intended) showcased in the tracks. Mostly more intense, there are a few tracks that are softer, echoing some of the folk type stuff Alvin has been doing in recent years, but this is mostly a callback to the bluesy rock Alvin made a name for himself with in the Blasters. The sound is of a "sounds brand new and old at the same time" production, in many ways echoing the production on Bob Dylan's 2006 masterpiece 'Modern Times,' which is nothing but a good thing.
Key Tracks: "Harlan County Line," "Johnny Ace is Dead," "Murrietta's Head," "Run Conejo Run," "No Worries Mija"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3

2. Middle Brother- Middle Brother
Deer Tick's John McCauley headlines this quasi-almost-super-group's debut self-titled LP. This is a rock album for rock fans, ragged and dirty at face value, with drinking and heartbreak in the middle, and vulnerable in the back when needed. As far as fairly straight (with the right mix of indie alt-country-rock-scruff) "rock" albums go, this is the best new disc of the year for me, highly recommended. Drinking, stinking, love and loss and that teen angst youth vs Mom/Dad theme are at the heart of this rather distinct album. Plus, a cover of "Portland" of all Replacements tracks to cover? You gotta love it.
Key Tracks: "Daydreaming," "Blue eyes," "Middle Brother," "Me Me Me," "Portland," "Million Dollar Bill"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3, iTunes download with Bonus Track

1. Bad as Me - Tom Waits
It shouldn't be a shock finding this album so high up, after all back when I first reviewed it (found in the "new tune tuesday" HERE) I not only raved and gave it 'release of the week' status, but called it "album of the year." Ultimately when compiling this list, that's exactly what it gets, and the only fault I could find on a top of 2011 list of your own is this release not making it at all, now that would be a shame. Waits is incredibly consistent, and this is his strongest studio album since 1999's 'Mule Variations,' masterfully running through a mix and match of the wide variety of musical styles and themes he's been playing with since the 1980's. You can read the afore-mentioned review for more, but if you haven't already gotten it, well, your loss. The bonus CD is worth it, by the way, if for nothing else than the 'Orphans: Bawlers'-esque track "Tell Me."
Key Tracks: "Chicago," "Get Lost, "Back in the Crowd," "Bad as Me," "Last Leaf," "Hell Broke Luce," "New Year's Eve"
Available on: CD, Deluxe-2CD Edition, Vinyl, Mp3

A few last Hawk's, er, thoughts on 2011 music...

Best Compilation Album:
The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams - various
An album in it's gestation period for almost as long as Guns N' Roses Chinese Democracy, okay, let's be honest, nothing lasts in gestation THAT long (not even a Kubrick picture) but it took a while for this Dylan-led project to see the light of day. It was worth the wait, as across 12 brisk songs, various singer-songwriters of different styles and backgrounds from Dylan himself to Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Sheryl Crow and Alan Jackson and more, come together through one thing: their mutual love and admiration for Williams music. Plus, when else would you get to share writing credits with one of the greatest writers in music history? The "lot notebooks" are just that, literal notebooks of songs, unfinished and finished, and song ideas from Williams that never made it to a recording studio before his early death. Here we have only 12 of over 50 songs, so we can hope for more in the future. I go more in-depth in the "New Tune Tuesday" where it took home 'release of the week' honors, which can be found HERE

Key Tracks: "I'm so Happy I Found You" (Lucinda Williams), "How Many Times Have You Broken my Heart?" (Norah Jones), "The Love that Faded" (Bob Dylan), "You Know that I Know" (Jack White)
Available on: Vinyl, CD, MP3 Download

Best Re-Release/Archival/Special Edition Album:
Free Again: The 1970's Sessions - Alex Chilton
Alex Chilton is a highly influential name in rock history, in his time with Big Star he created some of the best rock albums of the era, and yet, you've probably never heard of him. Here we find Chilton at the age of 18, yes just 18, yet he had already achieved "teeny bopper musician" fame for a few years with the Box Tops. Here though, we find him in his time in between the Box Tops and Big Star, an 18 year old cash register, fronting a million-seller band and pushed into marriage. Not anymore, no, here he was "free again." Maybe my FAVORITE release of the year, but alas, not "new," but here it is. NOT AVAILABLE on MP3 download (I thank your ghost Alex, RIP) but only on vinyl (I was glad to find one of the 1,000 pressed clear vinyls) but also in CD form, with about twice as many tracks as the vinyl, including demo's, different mixes and unreleased tracks. Awesome stuff, children by the million indeed, I'm in love...with these songs.

Key Tracks: "Free Again," "I Wish I Could Meet Elvis," "All We Ever Got from them was Pain," "Come on Honey," "All I Really Want is Money," "If You Would Marry me Babe," "It Isn't Always that Easy"
Available on: Special Edition Clear 1,000 pressed Vinyl, CD

Best Live Album:
Ramble at the Ryman - Levon Helm
You can read my in-depth words on both the album itself as well as Levon Helm's musical history back in this oldie but goodie "New Tune Tuesday" HERE, where it took home 'release of the week" honors, so I won't add much. Just that as a fan of Americana music with the right amount of rock n' roll sensibilities, this is tough stuff to beat. A killer band with one of rock's great voices singing some of it's greatest songs, old and older. A almost perfect live mix of the soundboard and open air mic's just adds to the overall presentation.

Key Tracks: "Ophelia," "A Train Robbery," "The Weight," "Back to Memphis," "Baby Scratch my Back," "Wide River to Cross"
Available on: Vinyl, CD, DVD, MP3 Download

Best Concert Video/DVD/Blu-Ray:
Live at the Paramount - Nirvana
For those that followed my "new tune tuesday" reports, you might remember back when this (found HERE) was the only DVD/Blu Ray release to take home 'release of the week' honors. While the blu ray release did have some slight problems in audio/video sync,w which have yet to be fixed, I still stand by this release (though for now you might want to pick up the perfectly fine DVD in the meantime) being a representative of Nirvana at the peak of their powers, just at the initial cusp of huge fame, still having a blast. The 16mm (my favorite look for live concerts, beautiful unique color palettes mixed with a deep depth of field) footage is truly fantastic and will be the only Nirvana disc you'll ever find on Blu ray. Or at least, from source footage, this is the only Nirvana release that SHOULD be released as high definition.

Key Tracks: "Jesus Don't want me for a Sunbeam," "Drain You," "School," "Been a Son," "Polly," "Sliver"
Available On: Blu-Ray, DVD, CD (only in Super Deluxe 'Nevermind 20th Anniversary' package)

Best Musically Related Documentary:
George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Martin Scorsese
Scorsese did it not only once, but twice this year, not only at the helm for his first 3D picture (and freshest film in almost a decade) in Hugo, but was also in charge of the best rock-dock since 2005's No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, not shockingly also helmed by Scorsese. Truth be told, most credit deserves to go to (on both of these films) editor David Tedeschi (notice how quick Scorsese credits this man in ANY interview or speech about either of those documentaries) for his work on the film. Just as Thelma is his woman behind the Avid on his dramatic films, Tedeschi handles these documentaries masterfully. The footage seen drives the story so well, you almost go "how did they get that?" George will always be my favorite Beatle, this cements it further. It makes the Imagine documentary look archaic by comparison.

I have to give a runner-up shout out to "Color me Obsessed," which you can read my more thorough review of HERE for it's rather brave and unconventional approach, but in the end, timeless songs backed by great footage put together by true masters of storytelling still can't be beat by the unconventional approach.

And that's that...until next year anyways...