Monday, April 30, 2012

Weekly Wish List 5/1 For the bosse's Bday - A badass, a Beatle, and a boy.

New week, new films and another chance for me to catch up on some films I missed in theaters.

Haywire - Steven Soderbergh
Originally on my Winter Preview, I was sad I missed this one. Soderbergh has been on a roll with The Informant and Contagion being great films. Here is his version of a high octane action flick, and in a few months he will be giving us an in depth view of Channing Tatum's life as a stripper. For someone about to retire he sure is working a lot.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Martin Scorsese
Scorsese makes me happy. He is a true cinephile, and his talent and passion are undeniable. I love that he takes time to explore all aspects of film, here we have another foray into documentary filmmaking. I know music is Hawk's sandbox, and I would never dream of thinking I was in any way qualified to write about it. But this documentary on the most underrated Beatle has me excited. I relish the chance to learn more and be transported to a different time period with some great archival footage.

About a Boy - Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
I think Chris Weitz has a good movie in him still. He's not a bad filmmaker, and here he shows great promise with a small film about a throughly unlikable Hugh Grant. The movie is witty and funny and touching without falling into any sort of groan inducing stereotypes. It hits some dark moments, and takes our character on an honest arc. Great work by everyone involved. Hope he shows us that this wasn't just a fluke. After a brief stint in "big budget" films he gave us A Better Life, please sir continue on that road. Oh yeah, Beast is in the film too.


One last thought - awesome viral marketing getting everyone involved. This might be cooler than walking into Golden Apple in Los Angeles and finding Joker cards all over the floor.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Weekly Wish List UPDATE Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy BBC

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor. Rich man, poor man, beggar man. These are words that have been echoing through my head for the past two days. After seven and a half hours worth of Tinker, Tailor adaptations I walk with my back against the wall, insistent on wearing an overcoat with an inside pocket. Anytime a coworker wants to sit down for lunch I make sure to scan the scene for any member of the opposition, looking for wayward stares and shaky waiters. I know somewhere, someone is watching me on the train as a I transcribe the various treasures I write for the Maus. Even now as I put the figurative pen to paper I know my fellow countryman with a kindle across the way so engrossed in whatever James Patterson has cooked up this time, is stealing looks downwards to my screen. I quickly shift away to some twitter feeds I've been working on, making sure whatever info he gathers is just chicken feed. In other words, I've begun to channel my inner Richard Burton as I try to wrap my head around two incredibly well made and acted adaptations of Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

For those of you who don't remember I absolutely loved Alfredson's film, and while it didn't take the number one spot like it did for Manny, it made it into my top ten for the year with ease. Here are my original thoughts. But not all was fine in the land of Maus, there was cry that Alfredson had created a mere showcase for some fabulous performances. Our very own Tinker, Hawk, chastised the film for being uneven and incapable of handling the complexity of the story with such a short running time. Praising instead the BBC version with Alec Guinness starring as Smiley. With its elongated running time it allowed the characters to fully develop and give proper time to each subplot. I, of course, always one for some good comparative viewing was very excited to find the BBC version planned for release. So after rewatching the film I prepared myself for six episodes and five and half hours worth of cold war spy intrigue. After a marathon viewing session I have devoured both versions and like the story itself, nothing is as easily defined as good or bad.

I'm obviously going to make comparisons back and forth, but I'm going to try and keep the focus on the BBC version as much as possible. After all as a faithful reader you already know how I feel about the film version. So first off, I couldn't tell you which one I liked more. Beyond anything after spending so much time with the characters I am impossibly invested in their fictional lives. With so much more time in the BBC version we really get a chance to know our characters and dive deep into their state of mind. As great as Colin Firth was as Bill Haydon, Ian Richardson was an absolutely glorious drunk, far too intelligent for anyone but perhaps Smiley. He seemed as much in love with bucking the system as he was dedicated to the job, his smirks at any irreverence from Guillam were perfectly done in the background, and when you discover his try colors each laugh makes sense. This is really where the BBC version excels, you get to spend so much time with the characters that of course they become more defined. I want nothing more than to have a drink with Haydon while he schools me on the art of espionage and philandering.

The story obviously travels on a similar trajectory, but the interpretations of character offer up some analytical gold. I mentioned Haydon up there and him and Smiley are probably the two that have the most similarities. Guillam and Tarr are actually quite similar to, straight down to Tarr's scruffy look and bomber jacket. The other three, Tinker, Soldier,and poor man are very interesting. Before we get to that, I want to say one thing for sure. JOHN HURT IS A BETTER CONTROL. Hands down, no argument.

Ok so the other members of the circus get slight tweaks to their soul between versions. Percy Alleline, Tinker, is the man who takes over the circus once Control is ousted. He never should have a power of control, and he knows it. This is played up much more strongly in Alfredson's version. You get the sense he's in over his head and that he overcompensates for his lack of actual leadership. In the BBC version, his character is much more subtle, he is still played as the wrong person for the job, but there is no sense of incompetence. Toby Esterhase, Poor Man, is the ultimate worker bee. He blindly follows whoever he needs to to survive, his shifting alliances give him a sneaky sense of character, and in the Alfredson version he is definitely much slimier. In the BBC version he still has the lack of confidence that the other members have, but is played much more impotent than someone who follows whoever is in charge. Roy Bland, Soldier, is much more brutish, in the BBC version. Ciaran Hinds plays him as a more strong silent type, while in the BBC version he is definitely a warrior who has seen many battles, he isn't clean cut like the others and looks like he once had Tarr's position as a field agent.

These little differences offer the most interesting comparisons between the two, while the plot really doesn't differ from version to version each act is given more depth and more explanation. Perhaps my favorite addition was the extended visits Smiley and Haydon have at the end. Seeing the verbal wordplay between them was one of my favorite parts of the Alfredson version so to have more of it was a real treat. This also yields more clarity on Bill's reasons for his actions, in fact he kind of explains his whole lacksadaisical approach to life. I love that Smiley continued to see him, leading up to his murder from Prideaux. Even the murder was far more intimate, no single tear this time but Jim gave him the honor of being up close and personal.

These are two wonderful adaptations and at the same time a great film and a great television show. They each represent brilliant examples of what their respective medium can achieve. I feel like I could write a whole series of articles comparing these two towering achievements. For now I am forever in love with this story and care about each of the characters whether they're Commisoner Gordon or Obi-Wan Kenobi. I don't think I could ever say who did a better job. Brilliant film, brilliant TV Series, and the kind I challenging narrative that demands your attention. Highly recommended.


One last thought - both directors understanding the complexity of the plot would frame their characters in the middle of various maze like structures.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fashionably Delicious: Smorgasburg

The Brooklyn Flea, which has long been a hipster rendition of what flea markets could be, ventured into the food game last year. Launching Smorgasburg to great acclaim, the Saturday food fair has grown to include a wide variety of food representing different cultures and a dedication to the power of quality ingredients. Twincess and I finally made our way out to Williamsburg to enjoy the culinary delights that the Smorg has to offer. If you remember from last year we are huge fans of the Food Truck Rally so hearing about this collection of eatery stands located in hipster central intrigued us.

Like the food trucks there is a focus on ingredients, either locally grown, or organic, or grass fed, or homemade even to the obscure(grapefruit jalapeƱo soda anyone?). The big difference here is that there were just as many stands offering food on the go, to stands offering their own products to take home. There was jerky, preserves, sauces, coffee beans, and horseradish to name a few. The logistics of having a stand and walking up to a food truck obviously offer up different challenges. Perhaps the biggest difference, which in turn had the largest line, was the full size smoker serving up brisket by the pounds. Unfortunately the line proved to be stronger than Twincess and I, but fear not we sampled many an item. So I'm going to break it down into savory an sweet, even though we jumped around quite a bit. So let's start with the savory.

The first stand we checked out was Landhaus, an operation dedicated to bringing fresh meat straight to the table. Their slogan is even "from the farm to your sandwich." While they had a few sandwiches to choose from, the big draw was their BLT. So we ordered that and a "maple bacon stick."

The bacon stick is exactly what it sounds like, and just as delicious. This is maple glazed THICK cut bacon sprinkled with spices and grilled on a flat top. I can't stress enough how thick the bacon is, it might as well be pork belly. The result is a crispy piece of bacon with a meatiness too it, really allowing you to taste the pork in all it's glory. The maple adds the slightest bit of sweetness to it, playing off the salt nicely. Now as good as the bacon stick is, it is a tad gimmicky, the really all star is the BLT.

Remember when I said thick cut bacon, well this is intense to a new level. Add to that fresh lettuce and the most beautiful red tomato sliced perfectly to match the bacon all served on a piece of bread with some aioli. This was a perfect sandwich, the bacon obviously the main player, but the tomato added enough acid to soften the saltiness of the bacon and create a great marriage of flavor. This is all coming from someone who actually doesn't care for the BLT, but this blew my mind.

Next up was tamales from Solber Pupusas I had a big problem with the masa here, mostly it was soggy and not set up properly. The filling was fine, and the coleslaw was actually very delicious with a nice tang. I just have an issue when you serve tamales and the masa isn't as good or better than your filling. The masa needs to be the focus and it should have flavor and the proper texture, loose an slimy is not for me, not inedible but the most disappointing meal of the day.

Quick stop for RC's favorite...Red Hook Lobster Pound. What can I say, the boy has expensive taste. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, the lobster pound serves up the best lobster rolls around. We always get the Connecticut roll which is bathed in butter and scallions rather than mayo. This is simple and straightforward and delicious. I can't say enough about it, it's been a favorite of ours since we moved out to NYC.

Next up in the savory department was We Rub You, Korean BBQ in between two pieces of bread, as well as bottled sauces. You could smell the deliciousness five stands down as cooks chopped up marinated beef for the bulgogi on a flat top.

The bulgogi was perfectly grilled with a slight char and incredibly juicy. With garlic and soy and scallions permeating every bite. The cole slaw was the right amount of crunch and freshness to play off the richness of the beef all topped with a spicy chili sauce. The beef and coleslaw were so delicious on their own I don't think they needed a bun, add to thy the fact that they piled on the food, there was no way you could eat the meal like a sandwich proper without it falling all over the place.

So by the time you could close the bread, we were content enough just eating the bulgogi with a fork, still able to get cole slaw in each bite. Small complaint, but balance is so important in crafting a sandwich.

Last, but not least(although by this time we both were stuffed) was Porchetta. Quite possibly the most straightforward stand there. A place called Porchetta you'd expect them to serve what else? Exactly, porchetta. They put the meat up on a pedestal and carved it right in front of you so could see the savory masterpiece fall apart slice by slice as they filled bread with their tremendous pig. Stuffed with garlic, parsley and some other herbs the pork was cooked perfectly and even sitting out was incredibly moist(not juicy, moist). And with quite possibly the most confident presentation they serve it to you in between a small roll. And that's it, no vegetables, no aioli no mayo no balsamic drizzle. Just the meat and the bread. You can see how delicious it was. Amazing honest work. Truly honoring the pig here with some masterful cooking.

So that does it for the savory part of journey. Tough choice, but I'd say Landhaus takes the win for most delicious savory item we had. It was by far the most balanced sandwich, and each piece of that sandwich sang beautiful notes of deliciousness. All snug inside of two pieces of crispy bread. Great food all around, but elevating a BLT simply by using the best possible ingredients is cooking in simplistic brilliance.

Without further ado we reach the sweetest part of the article as we dive into various pastries, and popsicles. We'll go in order again.

First place we arrived at was S'more Bakery, which served the ultimate gourmet campfire treat. S'mores have long been a favorite of Twincess so we were both elated to try out the high class version of the childhood snack. Before we even get into this, have all of you tried homemade marshmallows? They are infinitely more fluffy and full of flavor than their store bought counterparts. Once you try them(any of them, in fact they are relatively easy to make) you will never go back to the dry styrofoam we feed everyone on our camping trips. Enough digression, S'more Bakery makes the treat a delicious dessert full of layered flavor.

We had the charmingly titled "s'morgasm" a madagascar vanilla and bourbon marshmallow sandwiched between cinammon honey graham crackers, and some semisweet chocolate ganache. They torch each s'more to order and the result is an irresistibly gooey, welcoming warm treat. The marshmallow is charred on the outside and as you eat it the inside spills out to blend with the chocolate in a marriage of sweet decadence.

The cookie plays off the two celebrating the cinammon more than the sugar, letting the marshmallow come through with the necessary sweet notes. I am not a huge fan of chocolate, but when used sparingly as it is here, it creates a symphonic dessert of pure childhood whimsy. Overselling it? Well that just means you haven't tried it

Next up was Biteme, a collection of mini cheesecakes. I still think this is a great idea, but like mini cupcakes, it's hard to get the right consistency at such a small level. We went basic here and tried an original and a chocolate lust. They both were fine desserts, with the original being the stand out, the chocolate reminded me much of fudge than anything else, while the original had a nice texture and creamy flavor that I want from cheesecake. They both seemed unable to have a successful crust tasting much more like pie crust than any sort of graham cracker or other cheesecake crust.

What better way to follow up mini cheesecakes than with what else? Mini cupcakes. Kumquat Cupcakery offers up a variation on the trendiest dessert of the past decade. They had the ubiquitous red velvet, a whimsical play on peanut butter and bananas, and of course a signature donut in the guise of a Maple Bacon concoction of savory and sweet. For me this was far more successful than Biteme, for one the texture of the cupcake was moist and light while being infused with quite a bit of flavor and not just sweetness. Their cream cheese frosting was very well made and I can only assume their red velvet was a decent addition to the millions out there. RC managed to inhale the cupcake before we could have a try. The peanut butter banana was very good, managing to blend the favors nicely while still tasting like a cupcake rather than banana bread with frosting.

As for the bacon cupcake? Well you know I'm a fan of bacon from my talks of Landhaus, I mean who isn't? It was delicious. The bacon flavor had been baked into the cake so each bite had this amazing blend of sweet and salty that married perfectly with the frosting on the top. All this with the slightest bit of maple flavor combined to make an amazing bite sized dessert, albeit with one major flaw. The bacon garnish was soft and flaccid. I don't know if it was meant to be or simply because it was resting inside of frosting for so long, but the garnish needed to be crispy. It would've added a new dimension in texture that could've made this one of the highlights of the day. All in all a delicious bite, that could have been sublime.

The last bit of sweet delight came from a request by RC for a popsicle. The boy loves his fresh fruit Popsicles, so seeing the stand for People's Pops, excited him completely their collection of favors offer up various combinations of fruit macerated and frozen to make a deliciously healthy snack. They also offered up fresh Italian Ices, we however, opted for the strawberry rhubarb. A perfectly tart dessert that was both slightly sweet and refreshing.

That does it for the sweets, and the winner of most delicious dessert? Absolutely without question S'more Bakery. The cupcakes had a chance and blew it with some limp bacon, as for the Popsicles, they were good, but not even close to that perfect S'more.

It was an amazing day filled with delicious food, and like the food truck rally, I imagine this will be one of our favorite spots for some culinary adventuring. So if you're in the area you should check it out on Saturdays at the Brooklyn Flea in Williamsburg. Let me know what you think. I'd love to hear what your favorite was. Comment down below or find me on twitter @bencemaus.

Bence and Twincess

One last thought - that's right....artisanal horseradish has arrived.

"Gentlemen, we are in a precarious position. We must be prepared to abandon ship:" A Night To Remember

Film Foray Cavalcade no. Cuarenta y Nueve: A Night to Remember

A Night To Remember
I must be suicidal to follow-up Hawk's epic review of A Night To Remember 

As far as disasters go, the sinking of the RMS Titanic by a rogue iceberg ranks up there with the Donner party or the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. Granted, this was nature responding to man's blatant hubris as it relates to our tenuous relationship. After all, man keeps raising the stakes and nature knocks us down a peg. Behold, the unsinkable ship! What is that up ahead, an iceberg? Full speed ahead, Lieutenant Wilde and be sure to scrape the side! Bollocks, we sank and we lost 1,514 souls. Many films have recreated the tragedy that was the RMS Titanic but few can boast being the most historically accurate film about the event as A Night To Remember or the honor of having elements lifted by James Cameron for his blockbuster, Titanic.

A Night To Remember re-enacts the final night of the RMS Titanic from the perspective of the people who sailed on the floating behemoth's maiden voyage. Unlike its modern counterpart, the event did not take a backseat to a tired love story. A large portion of the film is told from the perspective of Second Officer Charles Lightholler, the most senior member of the Titanic's crew to survive the disaster. The choice of Lightholler as a principle protagonist allows for a better interaction with many of the important people from this event in history. Plus, it does not hurt that the man survived the event while tirelessly coordinating the efforts for saving the doomed vessel's passengers. It definitely makes for a more compelling character than the tandem of Jack and Rose.

For being a fifty-four year old film, A Night To Remember holds up quite well and this is not simply referring to the special effects (namely, the models). Both the screenplay and cinematography stand out for recognition. This is quite evident by the fact that James Cameron not only re-used dialogue from this film but several shots framed by Geoffrey Unsworth. The folks over at the Criterion Collection did an exemplary job with the restoration and transfer of this film. Call me pretentious but I am sucker for a vivid blacks in an old black and white film, an aspect which makes a lot of the Criterion releases so fantastic. 

A Night To Remember definitely earned its place within "important classic and contemporary films" pantheon that is the Criterion Collection. I will be the first to admit that the Criterion Collection contains some great films but also some exasperating choices that have been included. A Night To Remember rightly deserves this recognition is a film that goes beyond its genre for the era that it came from. Outside of the Titanic sinking in one piece, the film really is quite accurate in its portrayal of the disaster. When this accuracy is coupled with the groundbreaking special effects of the time, top notch acting, and amazing cinematography, I cannot think of a better way to spend a Saturday night than drinking a bottle of great wine and watching an even better film. 

New Tune Tuesday (4.24.12): Passing the Ketchup (catch-up) with Dr. Dog, Jack White, Justin Townes Earle, Fun, Deer Tick and more...

It's been a while since I threw out a New Tune Tuesday article letting you know what fresh ear bud is out at your local record store waiting for your ears to enjoy, so we're gonna pass the ketchup and play a little catch-up with some albums that have come out in recent weeks. Some good, some bad, all with someone out there listening to it right now with the thoughts that it's the greatest album they've ever heard, event he bad ones, and that's the beauty of music: Even stupid people can enjoy it. Anyhow, let's dig in...
Be the Void - Dr. Dog
My goodness this is a pop-album. When I saw this is a pop-album, what I meant to say, is this is a great friggin' pop-rock album. Dr. Dog is a sound all their own, perhaps a bit more indie rock and slightly less bluesy than the Black Keys (the REAL Black Keys), might be a good way to describe the sound. Lyrically, their crazy good wordplay is miles above that band though (notice I said wordplay, not songwriting) and in fact the absurd word games Dr. Dog plays would make our old friend Beck clap his hands (get it, get it?). Here we have an album that has a jangly, loose and rambunctious feel that gives it almost a "we only did one take" feel to it, yet at the same time we have some amazing harmonies, hooks and deep production behind this loose approach. This is a carefully put together piece of work, controlled perfect pop chaos might be the best way to describe it. From the back porch twang that backs the romp and stomp opening tune "Lonesome," with our singer asking the simple question of "what does it take to be lonesome?" as he waits to catch his train (a review described this as "perfect as folky indie gets," and he was right), through the ramshackle closing tale "Turning the Century," the album is not only good, but it actually gets better as it rumbles on. I won't lie, it can be a weird album, it flips off Top-40 radio every once in a while, but if you can get into it, yore in for a rewarding ride. At this point, Be the Void is my favorite album of 2012. 
Key Tracks: "Lonesome," "That Old Black Hole," "These Days," "How Long Must I wait," "Do the Trick," "Warrior Man," "Turning the Century"
Overall: 4.5/5
Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About me Now - Justin Townes Earle
I've said it before and I'll say it again, when you're the son of Steve Earle and named after Townes Van Zandt, you're born for music. One of my favorite recent interviews with Earle is, while talking about a critic who disavowed this album because it wasn't another Harlem River Blues, Earle basically called him a twat and said "I'm a singer-songwriter, which I think means I don't have to pigeonhole myself in blues or in country, but that I can do whatever I want." Thank the good lord of that. Earle has taken his talents for songwriting and heavy personal vices through folk ballads, old-school styles country storytelling, Americana, the blues and now we land here, at the foot of Memphis Soul and just a taste here and there of Buddy Holly styled rockabilly rock n' roll,w which isn't surprising when we remember his rather well down Buddy Holly cover from the Rave On tribute from last year. Familiar themes are all around, such as the rather futile relationship he has with his famous Papa, the album opens up with Earle questioning the amount of his loneliness in that he wishes his father would call so he could hear his voice. We continue down other themes Earle finds near and dear to him, his vices are still strong ("It Won't be the Last Time"), running away from everything only to see it's us that need to change to fit a world that will never be right for some of us ("Unfortunately Anna"), girls that are so good because their bad ("Baby's Got a Bad Idea") and reminds us of his solo picking days with "So Different Blues." It's not all perfect though, there MIGHT be a bit too much in the horn section on this album, and it doesn't flow as well as some of his previous efforts. No album he's done yet have captured how REAL he can be as a performer like his live shows can, compare the studio version here of "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way you Feel about me Now" and then listen to the version he did on Letterman, perfect example. I'm still partial to his self-done Yuma EP, and while this is not his best, it's still worth a listen through it's brisk 32 minutes.
Key Tracks: "Am I That Lonely Tonight," "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way you Feel about me Now," "Lower East Side," "Won't Be the last Time," "Unfortunately Anna"
Overall: 3.5/5
Wrecking Ball - Bruce Springsteen
Let's be flat honest for a second. Bruce Springsteen has reached a point in his career longevity and reputation (not to mention readily available funds in the marketing department aka "we'll trade a cover story interview for a perfect review") that when he releases something new, certain publications (that's right Rolling Stone, I'm point my middle finger at you) are going to give it journalistic fellatio as the best thing since Jesus walking on water. Springsteen's last album, Working on a Dream, is a perfect example. High on the recent election of Obama, Springsteen crafted one of the most scatterbrained, pretentious and fluffy pieces of rock ever. But I'm not anti-Springsteen person, when he's good, he's flat out great. While I often find myself more fond of solo works such as Nebraska, Devils & Dust and We Shall Overcome, the E-Street has been MUCH better than Dream, case in point? Born to Run, The River or Magic. So how about Sprinsgteen's newest solo effort? Is it worth the (shocker alert!) 5-Stars Rolling Stone gave it? Well, no, but it's closer than Working on a Dream to one, for sure. First off, Springsteen thankfully ditched fluff-master-flash producer Brendan O'Brien, and second, he's a whole lost angrier. The sound and lyrics are more vital to our time and more intense, the songwriting is better, and he's experimenting with some interesting sounds, Irish working-song folk elements to some loops and electronic percussion you may find on a hip-hop record before you'd think it would show up here. Well, what are the problems then? Well, some of those experiments in sound work, some don't. Also, occasionally the lyrics slip into repetitive-ville, no better example than opening track "We Take Care of Our Own." The other problem is Springsteen's working-class- New Jersey vocal accent seems a little fake and forced at time, which can occasionally make the Irish folk sounds come off as pretentious rather than sincere, but thankfully, that's rarely the case. Besides, trying too hard (which he does in a variety of ways on this record) shouldn't be a letter of condemnation. The only other problem I have is we have Springsteen again schilling for the working class and in interviews going on about the 99% and occupy wall street, and yet anyone who's paid to see him in concert (I have) or seen the price of The Promise deluxe set, knows this is a bit far-fetched. This is the guy who, behind fire-breathing manager Jon Landau, turned, more-so than any other artist, rock n' roll into a business plan than an art form. However, despite elements of the pot calling the kettle black, Springsteen's on fire for most of this record and I'm a sucker for any of his versions of Immigration-ballad "American Land."
Key Tracks: "American Land," "Shackled and Drawn," "Death to my Hometown," "We are Alive," "Wrecking Ball," "We Take Care of our Own" (though not because it's good, because it's a single)
Overall: 3.75/5
Blunderbuss - Jack White
There are those who will love anything Jack White releases, worshipping the man as a music God, there are those who will hate on anything he touches, because he was the indie darling ten years ago. I'm in the middle these days, when he does something good, I'll praise it, but when he does something pretentious (a divorce party, really? The kids should love that) or quantity over quality (MOST of his 45" releases from Third Man) I'll rip it to shreds. This is an album that may split even his hardcore fans down the middle. At first glance this sounds like Jack White in the vein of the Black Keys after Danger Mouse strangled their sound to death. The difference is? While smoother and more produced, White can actually produce well, and so it's not badly done in this regard. It's more piano based than guitar based than most might expect, with some sounds that may callback to The White Stripes Get Behind me Satan or some of the Raconteurs work even. If you can get over this fact, that this isn't garage band White 2.0, you'll find this to be a very solid album. I wasn't impressed with the first single that was released, but despite some throwaway tracks, this is a very good album. 
Key Tracks: "Love Interruption," "Blunderbuss," "I'm Shakin'," "Missing Pieces," "Sixteen Saltines," "I Guess I should go to Sleep," "Take me with you when you Go."
Overall: 4/5
Tim - Deer Tick
Deer Tick once again showcase their inspiration from and admiration for The Replacements by naming this EP after the legendary 1985 'Mats album Tim. Besides the "Portland" cover in one of McCauley's "other bands," Middle Brother, this deserves it more than anything else McCauley's done as this short little EP does have a more Westerberg-ian approach to this. There's a little bit more fun and even dare I saw range in between the melancholy of these tunes. The twang is still there in the acoustic version of "Main Street," but it's not really present in the other 4 tunes. I have a hard time giving an EP too high of a rating, but as they go, this is a nice "in-between" release from these boys. If you haven't checked them out, pick up Tim and maybe The Black Dirt Session, I don't think you'll be disappointed. 
Key Tracks: It's a 5-song EP folks, let's be honest here...
Overall: 3.75/5
Some Nights - Fun.
Okay, let's get some things out of the way. From my little joke at Fun. in my Record Store Day article, you might think I hate this band. No, I do not. Going back in Nate Ruess' career, I liked the Format a lot, in fact I probably liked them before anyone reading this right now. I also doubt anyone reading this right now drive a number of hours to see the band live. Ruess is no poet and never will be, but he can write a really good little pop song, both lyrically and the instrumentation's he puts in these things. After the Format broke up and wrote his "FU" letter to the music industry, left AZ and headed out to New York to become a big label hipster. From the break-up came such bands as Steel Train (not any good, sorry, I've seen them live as well and it was a waste) and the main dog, Fun. The First album, Aim and Ignite was a rather consistent and, dare I say, fun album. This follow-up? Marred with problems, let's get to them: This is not a cohesive album, I'm not talking about going from a fast song to a slow song, I'm talking about a cohesive sound and approach to making a batch of songs a cohesive group of songs. The production is far overdone, too much goop all over this thing, pop music means a lot more production, but when you goop up an album this much you're simultaneously stripping a song of it's heart and ultimately setting your album up to sound dated about 5 minutes after it's release. A few years from now, people will look back and say Some Nights "sounds like the early 2010's." The other problem is the use of the Pro Tools auto-tune-esque Vocoder EQ tool. Auto-Tune and Vocoder are over-used and made fun of so much with artists using it as a "creative element" that you'd wonder why anyone would still use it this way, as it will leave your album to only be considered cool by 11 and 12 year olds. Trust me on this, Lady Hawk is a teacher, and the 11 and 12 year olds love them some Fun. I'm really being too harsh here, I'm not gonna rip them for sounding like Queen like some, because the influence is obvious and not an imitation, nor will I rip the songwriting. Yes Ruess, we get it, you're in your 30's now and your fun-loving (pun intended) still youthful life in sweet ol' New York has been built around long nights partying and pretending drinking makes you relevant. We get it...once again, I'm not going to rip this, because he can still build a solid pop song. Manny may have said it best, this album more than any other in recent memory NEEDS the Beatles Let it Be - Naked treatment. There's good stuff here. I swear. However as the album and songs are NOW, well, it would have worked better taking the best songs and doing this as a single and B/W or EP. 
Key Tracks: "Some Nights," "We are Young," "Carry On," "Why am I the One"
Overall: 2.75/5
Underwater Sunshine - Counting Crows
The Crows are back with their first ever independent self-release, and of all things, it's a covers album. No one should begrudge these, and I think everyone should do a cover album at some point. Here the covers range from Bob Dylan to Alex Chilton to Gram Parsons to the Faces to Norman Blake. I think Adam Durwitz, at his best, is a really solid songwriter, and I do hope one day they put out something original again, though I doubt they'll ever touch their mid-90's work again. Here there is nothing extraordinary, there's nothing that out-does the original versions, but there's plenty of good stuff here. The Crows do put their signature sound on some good songs, and fans should be pleased. 
Key Tracks: "Untitled (Love Song)," "Start Again," "Ooh la La," "Return of the Grievous Angels," "The Ballad of el Goodo," "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"
Overall: 3/5

Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection - Katy Perry
The big time element of the music industry is hurting, big-time. That's what happens when you screw customers for years on over-priced CD prices and are left hoping people download that sweet $.99 cent song. So the answer? Huge, expensive "deluxe" editions of albums and special edition releases after an albums sales have dried up, throw on some b-sides, outtakes and re-mixes and call it a chance to make some more money. Katy Perry pulls the double-dip trick here with her mega-selling Teenage Dream album. Her voice isn't great, her lyrics are mostly childish and full of innuendo (though I do give her credit for being involved in the writing process of these things), I doubt there's a real musician playing on this thing, and yet...I like it. There I said it...maybe it's the fact that it's a hot girl singing childish lyrics full of innuendo. It's not great, but it's a guilty pleasure. Still, guilty pleasure or not, it's not exactly hard to put these songs together, a clown could write these tunes...she's set a record for most #1 singles off an album, and it's really an easier formula than an Indiana Jones picture, the slow, steady beat start off, then kick it off, all while around tongue in cheek lyrics and a sweet innuendo hook. 
Key Tracks: The one with innuendo. I also like the song "Not like the Movies," it has a good message to the young girls she corrupts with every other song she sings. 
Overall: 2.25/5
Oh, did you just say "if writing those songs was so easy, why don't YOU do it Hawk?" Challenge accepted! Here, I leave you with this song I put together in a whole 30-seconds, Katy Perry's next #1 hit, I call it "Merry Go-Round (Up and Down)"....
(Start off with a slow, steady and hip electronic percussion beat, let Katy come in slow and sweet)
Let's be honest, my t*ts are where it's at,
Like the Mona Lisa, always starin' back,
Cute as cupcakes, they're all you ever saw,
But their not so big, I'm wearing a push-up bra,
We start a-kissin', kissing the night on through,
When we get done, your balls will be painted blue-eu-ooh-ooh-oh
(Kick that sweet beat and voice into high gear folks!)
Our loves like a Merry-Go Round,
Mary-go-round-then up and down,
Up and down, ooohhh, up and down,
By the time I'm thirty,
My career and boobs will be sagging to the ground!
Round and Round, 
My bodies your play-ay-ay-ground,
Mary-go-round-then up and down,
Oh Merry Go Round-oh-oh-ound, Merry Go Round,
By the time I'm thirty,
My career and boobs will be sagging to the ground!
(Hand my my Grammy and ASCAP awards now please)

Monday, April 23, 2012

"It is the Economy Stupid:" The War Room

Film Foray Cavalcade no. Quarante-sept: The War Room

The War Room

I was waltzing around the local record store one day and I immediately was drawn to D.A. Pennebaker's name on the front. With catlike curiosity, I flipped the bad boy over and quickly realized that the film was a window into Bill Clinton's 1993 Presidential Campaign. Needless to say, it went to the top of Manny's must purchase queue that evening. Then again, I was slightly worried that the film would not live up to the D.A. Pennebaker classic, Don't Look Back, which holds a very special place in my heart of coal (It spawned some great Bob (Dylan) and Bob (Neuwirth) routines acted out by Hawk and myself towards totally strangers). Anecdotal history aside, after watching this documentary, it was apparent that comparing this film to his prior work would be like comparing apples to oranges.

The War Room is a traditional documentary in a simple sense and offers the viewer a rare glimpse into an area of politics that we (the common man) never see. Furthermore, for those who happen to love our forty-second President (who doesn't?), there is virtually no William Jefferson Clinton. The viewer follows lead strategist James Carville and Communications Director George Stephanopoulos from the New Hampshire primary to Clinton's eventual victory over George H.W. Bush.

I went into The War Room expecting it to be like Don't Look Back and oddly enough, I was not too disappointed with this development. It is a fascinating film because of the insights that it provides to the viewer regarding the degradation of American politics. In many ways, Carville was ahead of the proverbial curve on noting how negative things have become. Moreover, it is quite easy to see where Dubya learned the political craft. For how nasty the portrayal of Hebert Walker Bush, one has to count their blessings that he was not re-elected.

Given my relative youth, I was rather naive to the dire straits that Clinton campaign was in (at the beginning of the film) and how it was able to get back on track or how heated the competition was between Clinton and his rivals. One of the most intriguing scenes came at the end of the film, when Stephanopoulos was checking the tallies of votes from across the United States and coming to the realization that Clinton was going to be president. While I thought that it would have been better to see this from Clinton's perspective (they were not given clearance to film the future President of the United States), it still was refreshing to see how it impacted the people who helped make this electoral victory possible. Much like Don't Look Back revolutionized the music documentary, The War Room changed how the average American understands the political process.

Parting thought: I do not understand how James Carville and Mary Matalin's  (George H.W. Bush's deputy campaign manager) marriage works.

Weekly Wish List 4/24 Spooks, Spooks, and Spooks

It's raining outside, sure wish I had the last disc to keep me occupied all day.
The Innkeepers - Ti West
This one caught me by surprise. Not that I didn't think West could do it, his last film showed promise but ultimately fell short in the end, by I was surprised by how much this film stayed with m after I watched it. This is a quirky little film about two slacker innkeepers spending one last night before the inn gets torn down. It plays out like a light buddy comedy with some dark undertones. But when shit goes down, it gets downright creepy as the inn shows its true colors. Here's my original thoughts.
The Red House - Delmer Daves
Always excited to find lost cinematic gems. Here is a story of taking a shortcut home and hearing tales of a house in the woods where screams and horrors lives. This of course means its time to explore right? This stars the always amazing Edward G Robinson, excited to check this out.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John Irvin
I mentioned this release last month when the Alfredson version came out. Hawk praises this as the far superior piece of work, and with near triple the running time I imagine we get a more fleshed out piece of work. I loved the film, and thought it impeccable made. If Hawk says this is even better, then I will absolutely be picking this up.

One last thought - trying to take over social media with a flood of our trademark charm and wit. Be sure to follow us @PORTEmaus, or myself where I'll be posting mini reviews @bencemaus. Also that Facebook button up there takes you straight to our page to stay up to date with the latest articles. Finally if you're a more visual person you can check out our Pinterest page....that's right PORTEmaus is on Pinterest.