Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Movie Night: Thor The Dark World

Say what you will but Marvel always brings the thunder.(see what I did there) For years now Marvel has been building a universe inhabited but an ever growing cast of interesting characters. Missteps along the way are sure to happen, but damnit if they're not swinging for the fences every time. The Avengers was an amazing success and it easily could've been a huge mess if not for the insane amount of prep that went into it. Now as we enter Phase Two we see the next chapter in each of our hero's lives. I was quite fond of Iron Man 3 from earlier this year and feel like it more than made up for the relative blandness of part 2. Then recently we have just been given Thor: The Dark World now with Alan Taylor at the helm. Does it make the same mistakes as Iron Man 2? Does it push is forward closer to the inevitable Age of Ultron? Well let's get into it shall we.

Before we get into this lets just reiterate where I stand. I really enjoyed the first Thor and thought Branagh captured the characters and Asgard perfectly. Some of the earth stuff fell short but overall I thought it was as close as we were going to get for a cinematic introduction to Thor. Alan Taylor takes the reigns and pushes the envelope even further. Some people have complained about Asgard not being as shiny, to which I say. The fuck?! This movie fully embraces the fantasy elements and throws in a healthy dose of sci fi. There are guns here that are unlike any kind of gun we've seen. The design of all the different realms is great and the dark elves are truly the substance of nightmares. I love the updated looks for Odin and even seeing Heimdall strip down a bit and have a beer with Thor. Fantasy elements...nailed it.

The earth stuff is still rather clunky, but this film is helped along by not having to explain everything. The story this time is much more exciting. The stakes here are very high and Thor is faced with some serious tragedy. Which of course allows an amazing team up with Loki which Marvel is smart enough to know that this is exactly what fanboys want. They minimize our time on earth and let us spend most of the film with Thor on Asgard. The whole thing moves at a breakneck pace and keeps you engaged to the final battle with ease. The smartest move here is really understanding what this film is and not trying to make it more than that. The filmmakers fully embrace the popcorn nature of this story and craft an enjoyable romp through the nine realms. Not the best marvel flick but loads better than Iron Man 2 and I would say edges out Thor 1 by a hair. The film is not without faults though to be sure.

First off Malekith is as cookie cutter a villain as you can get. Aside from being evil and destroying shit he does nothing to make you enjoy his presence. Thankfully the film knew this and spent it's time showing Thor and Loki planning and sparring. Eccleston does what he can but his performance never elevates beyond angry talking. The Warriors Three are fucking AWESOME...and so are their combined 5 scenes. Jaime Alexander does great work as Sif and seeing her contempt for Jane Foster bubble under the surface totally could have been mined for more substance. Lastly...a little easy that the Aether happened to find it's host in Jane Foster but whatever it moved the story forward.

Let's finish off with a look at how this film fits in the bigger picture of the Marvel universe. Since Avengers we've seen two films, and both deal directly with the effects Phase 1 has had on them. Iron man was struck with PTSD and broke our hero down only to force him to build himself up again. Thor has been traveling the nine realms trying to undo the Chaos that Loki created. So what's Thor's grand lesson...well he concretes the fact that he is a protector of worlds moreso than any king. Also we learn a bit of Loki's next play in this universe. As for that stinger at the end credits....Marvel is absolutely playing the long game here. We know Thanks is not the big bad for Avengers two, yet Marvel continues to seed the infinity gems and grow this cosmic world. I imagine Guardians of the galaxy will play a much larger part in the grand scheme of things than Marvel is willing to let on. Things are about to get weird, and I can't wait.


One last thought - Chris O'Dowd you are a funny British man

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Few Thoughts on The Doctor

The Doctor is here to save us all. The 900 year old alien who travels through time and space battling various injustices is the savior we all need. He's even helped Brad Pitt fight zombies in an appropriately enigmatic and dare I say "cheeky" cameo. The nerd culture mainstay is celebrating his 50th anniversary in a few weeks and I thought I'd chime in with a few thoughts. Ok ok, fine...a confession. As a self proclaimed nerd I am totally guilty...I never watched Doctor Who until a few months ago. I know I know...I love space and time Travel and whimsy and yet for whatever reason I stayed away. I had always meant to get around to it, but for whatever reason I never got into it. Until a perfect storm of podcasts, friends suggesting and availability clashed together and I took the plunge and watched Eccleston's first episode as the 9th doctor.

Of course I loved it. Burning through episode after episode I hurried toward the finish line absorbing every bit of awesome that dripped off each episode. As the series went on all I could think was ...this series was made for me. Why had I waited so long to meet the doctor. I mean he was a Time Lord...I LOVE time. He saved people....I am all about justice. He's whimsical...nothing better than some fucking whimsy. Point is, I had discovered a series made for me...and it's rabid fan base meant there were tons of other people out there who felt the same way. Maybe they have clocks tattooed on them as well? Eh I dunno but no matter I had drank the Kool - Aid and discovered the brilliance of Doctor Who. So with much passion and vigor I had devoured the series and three doctors later I was modern day Gallifreyan fan boy. But who was my fave? Shit....

Like many a fool before me I had attempted to break it down. But honestly how could you choose? Eccleston brought a dark and brooding nature to the role. We see the pain of being responsible for so much death across Eccleston's face. With incredible subtlety we see joy begin to seep back into his life as he begins his adventures with Rose. Eccleston was my first doctor and one I can never forget. He only had one season, but he nailed each favorite? I don't know but he deserves discussion as much as Tennant or Smith.

Then there's Tennant. Now truth be told I had just gotten used to Eccleston and then BOOM regeneration. But an episode or two in and I was bought in. Tennant brought the whimsy and the dark. Tennant nailed the emotion necessary to make the Doctor the tragic figure that he is, while still imbuing the series with an exceptional amount of fun. I'm pretty sure he's my favorite doctor, if anything he for sure has my favorite episodes. His episodes are by far the most rewatchable and easily the ones I've revisited over and over. It's the first time we see the Weeping Angels, we meet River for the first time. Most of all though his takes have the most emotion out of all the doctors. His goodbye to Rose, his sacrifice for Donna's Grandfather, his breakdown on Mars, all of them tear jerking brilliantly handled dramatic events. With Tennant you feel the stakes at every turn and you understand just how much the universe is on his shoulders.

Which brings us to the wonderfully playful Matt Smith. You all know I like whimsy, so Smith was an easy sell for me. He had the unfortunate task of taking over after Tennant, but he dove in and created something new with his take on the doctor. A bit more flighty than the others he nonetheless has a darkness that lives just under the surface. He also introduces us to the best companion with Amy Pond. While I'm a big fan of Smith, I think Tennant still edges him out. I never feel like Smith is in the same universe in terms of consequences. Also aside from a few references Smith has a completely new set of friends that don't seem to have any relation to the previous 4 seasons. I still love Smith, his Weeping Angels episode is amazing and it's hard not to love the Pandorica two parter.

So now what? Well now I sit here waiting for the 50th anniversary knowing that I stand in anticipation with thousands of other fans. All of us dying to find out why adventures our good doctor will have next. What alien race will try and imprison us, what horrible future humans will like like, what happens when cats take over and so on and so on. This is a sci fi geeks dream. It's a show I took far too long to try out and now I love it. I can't wait to see what Capaldi brings to the role. And if you haven't checked it out yet what are you waiting for? Allons It.


One last thought - favorite episode? The three parter close to the end of Tennant's run that culminates in Doctor Donna.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Movie Night: 12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen is three for three. With each passing film he tightens up his craft and continues to deliver pitch perfect adult drama. The guy is in a class all his own, creating beautiful yet difficult films that discuss the human condition in a universal manner without ever feeling preachy or manipulative. The last time we saw him he was taking Michael Fassbender down a deep rabbit hole of addiction, it also was my third favorite film of 2011. McQueen now takes on the story of a free man kidnapped and thrown into slavery, the result is harrowing and powerful all while seen through the lens of Sean Bobbit, who somehow gives us gorgeous images as we travel through Solomon's worst nightmare.

Let's start with the acting. Chiwetel is guaranteed a nomination. His portrayal is heartbreaking, but man he imbues Solomon with so much heart and perseverance that we are left staring in awe as he walks through his living hell. Chiwetel let's hope seep through ever so slightly and never completely loses his self respect. The scenes where he stands up for himself are inspirational and frightening as we see Solomon struggle to maintain his humanity. This being a McQueen film of course Fassbender had to make an appearance. Bringing his signature intensity, Fassender does intense like no one else. As a brutal slave owner battling his own insanity, he brings so many layers to a role that could've easily been a stereotype wrapped in a cliche. Make no mistake this is Chiwetel's film, but Fassbender proves once again that he is one of the best actors of our generation.

McQueen crafts films that incite discussion and debate, yet he never sensationalizes anything. His films are slightly detached without feeling distant. He brings you into these environments like a fly on the wall, be it prison, NYC, or the South. He shows us the beauty an savagery present in life. We travel through the south and see the opulence present in these plantations. With some amazing costume design the dichotomy between slave and master is ever present. One of the ladies kidnapped with Solomon is named Eliza, and when we meet her she is in a gorgeous dress just as nice as any of the other ladies in the film. But as the reality of the situation becomes all too apparent we see her dress turn to rags only to be replaced by the typical dressing worn by house slaves.

His camera is never invasive. Everything is meticulously planned out and he is no stranger to the long take. He creates wonderful tableaux as characters move in and out of the scene. One amazing scene has Solomon a bit worse for wear hanging from a tree and we see close to a full day pass as people just walk around him as he struggles to keep his feet on the floor. The camera never strays showing us Solomon in the forefront struggling to survive as life moves on behind him. A beautiful metaphor for his entire journey.

I want to talk quickly about the ending so ...sorry. What could easily be an extremely manipulative scene of reunion is instead a melancholy display of restraint. The emotion is so real and so raw, like most of McQueens work. Chiwetel nails the beats necessary as we see him incredibly happy yet somehow uncomfortable in his old clothes. His first words are heartbreaking, but the scene is allowed to breathe and by the end each tear is earned and we are left with another masterpiece by McQueen.


One last thought - sup Brad Pitt...write that part for yourself?

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Short Exploration of Ms. Brie Larson: Don Jon and Short Term 12

Are you ready for Brie Larson? Of course you are. Move over Zooey and Chloe cause a new indie darling is bursting onto the scene. With an oscar worthy turn in Short Term 12 and an oh so integral part in Don Jon, hipster mainstays are about to get shook up. Can she sing? I have no idea but if so then the torch will officially have been passed.

Let's start with the masturbatory would be masterpiece from the incredibly talented Joseph Gordon Levitt. When I heard Levitt was going to write and direct his first film, I was incredibly interested. The kid is a great actor and he picks interesting projects. His work with HITRecord shows that he has a deep love for the creative process, so yah super curious as to what would come from his first foray into feature length filmmaking. Then it was announced that it was a film about a jersey douchebag with an addiction to porn. Well, still interested, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit disappointed.

For JGL though I'd give it a shot. The result? A solid first film, that hides behind the Jersey Shore facade to reveal some interesting thoughts on masculinity and love in the modern age. It's not going to make any top ten lists, but Levitt does some interesting things here. Not the least bit is that he makes his characters incredibly likable, if not completely enjoyable. There is an energy that fuels the film and his script gives everybody a nice amount of scene to chew. Tony Danza, way to go.

Perhaps most interesting is his use of repetition. It's an incredibly powerful filmmaking tool, that most either never use or never notice. Here he uses it expertly as his character is shown going through routine after routine after routine. And as the film evolves so does his routine, and it is the subtle differences that start to show his characters evolution over the course of the film. It's hard not to like the multiple dinner scenes or his weekly confessionals, but for me, my personal favorite was by far the scenes driving and him having various degrees of road rage.

Perhaps most interesting is his use of repetition. It's an incredibly powerful filmmaking tool, that most either never use or never notice. Here he uses it expertly as his character is shown going through routine after routine after routine. And as the film evolves so does his routine, and it is the subtle differences that start to show his characters evolution over the course of the film. It's hard not to like the multiple dinner scenes or his weekly confessionals, but for me, my personal favorite was by far the scenes driving and him having various degrees of road rage.

What's that? A Brie Larson article? Yah she's his sister, she has like one line. Nails it though.

Let's move on to Short Term 12, a film by Destin Crettin about a home for youth in between foster homes. Brie Larson plays the head counselor as we follow the lives of the staff and what it takes to work in this kind of situation. This is an amazing film, that completely caught me off guard. Crettin never takes the easy way out, this type of story inherently walks a razor thin line of being too manipulative and he is careful to give us interesting and well defined characters. We know these are troubled youth but he doesn't go for the sob stories of why everyone is there, rather he picks and chooses who's back story we hear. And that's really what I want to focus on

Crettin has made a film about the human condition and how stories can bring us together and help is through tough times. It is no mistake that the film starts and ends with a story told by the most mentally stable person in the film. In between we constantly hear that opening up and telling people stories are a way to move past all the pain in their life. It's a great device and we hear different types of stories throughout the film, whether it is a toast at a party, a ready confession from a new team, a funny anecdote to make one feel at ease, or even a long in the making relegation. About ones self.

Fancying myself a writer this resonated with me so deeply. To see Brie Larson nail each emotional beat as she works with these kids to make their stay as healthy as possible was one of the best performances I've seen all year. To finally hear her story and we see just how powerful the idea of "story" can be. This is how we communicate with each other, how we pass down history and how we express emotion. Crettin has made something special here and I strongly encourage all of you to check it out.

So get ready everybody Brie Larson is on her way, with an enigmatic turn as the sister of few words or the young social worker with secrets of her own! she is poised to become the next big thing. Watch out Winona Ryder, Ms. Larson is gunning for you.


One last thought - Crettin does this amazing shot over and over in which he uses spatula relationship to emphasize the juxtaposition of distance and sensitivity that a social worker must have.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fall Movie Update: Gravity

Well well I'm back once again with apologies and excuses to spare. No matter, the point is I'm here and I'm so excited to talk about my adventures at the cinema this week. Summer is fading fast and with it blockbusters and superheroes are hibernating for the time being. And while I have no problem devouring the recent trend of costumed heroes and cumberbatch, I enjoy a refreshing glass of class and prestige as much as the next guy. So as a our legends sneak away in the night, the celluloid gods begin to bless us with hope as cinematic brilliance dances across our multiplexes. What has excited me so much about diving back into the deep end and exploring all cinema has to offer well, nothing less than Cuaron's long in the making Gravity.

Cuaron doesn't care about act structure or complex plot mechanics, and in doing so he offers a seemingly simple story. Sandra Bullock is a new astronaut, debris comes and causes havoc, she loses her partner and she floats around trying to survive. That's it. It's a great deception, because once you start looking back at the film you start to see all the layers all the meaning and all the beauty of what he's showing you.

Let's get some simple stuff out of the way. As a straight forward movie, Bullock holds your attention the entire time. She is a broken soul and you feel every emotion with her as hope quickly faded away.For the whole time you are glued to the screen trying to figure out just how you escape an impossible situation. Clooney is fine, doing Clooney if he was an astronaut. And for me that's all I need. But this is Cuaron, the guys has things to say, about cinema and about life.

I could talk about this film for hours, but I'll spare you the dribble. So I'll just say that for me this film boiled down to "how do we live" and "why do we live." The films starts with title cards explains how life is impossible in space. Once the shit hits the fan, the whole movie becomes an exercise in survival against impossible odds. There are constant shots of Bullock silhouetted against space. They're gorgeous shots that show humanity flailing against the vastness that is space. And while most could read that these are showing just how small we are in this infinity that is the universe. I saw it much more as a representation of our struggle to belong. We see Bullock floating through space struggling to find something to hold on to and there are times where she almost disappears into space. And when clooney disappears we see, we are part of this huge universe. We are a piece of this enormous puzzle and while we are microscopic in scale, we are no less important. Because this universe is a collection of everything. It's scope and existence is nothing without all that constructs it. Even though it is "impossible" to live in space, humanity can push through and overcome these obstacles. We are a piece of the puzzle and with perseverance and motivation humanity is just as necessary as anything else in the cosmos.

The hard comes with why? Here Cuaron wears the theme a bit more on his sleeve. Bullock talks about what she's lost, and we see her struggle with being able to push on. But ultimately we see that life and existence is the most beautiful awe inspiring thing in the world. Earth is constantly peaking at us from the edge of the screen. And everything we see it we are looking at our world from a whole new perspective. It is some of the most amazing images of the earth and Clooney captures it best with a simple line about the Ganges. Looking at the earth from this perspective and you see just how amazing and beautiful existence is. Another standout scene is when Cuaron shows us a sunrise. We've all seen sunrises a million times on film, but Cuaron is showing us a sunrise in a way we've never seen before. In the middle of this horrible catastrophe we see the brilliance of a star passing by a planet and this act that we all have experienced over and over is shown to us once more like a new event worthy of pause.

I could just keep going and going, I haven't even begun to talk about the craft of the film. Let me just leave with this. Lubezki deserves the Oscar, if only for the second big set piece with a space station, his work is seamless and gorgeous and like the film shows us cinema in a new light. This is a movie that deserves multiple viewings on the largest screen you can find. This is a movie to share with loved ones and to discuss about for hours after. Cuaron has crafted a masterpiece and I couldn't be more excited. He is pushing the capabilities of cinema forward and doing a frakking amazing job. Go see this movie.Now.


One last thought - explosions without sound might be the coolest thing to experience
all year, that and space tears.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Get That Hitchin' Thumb Out, We are Going On A Birthday Adventure!

Today is the second of October and we here would like to celebrate the birthday of one of our own. Here is to you, Bence, you old so and so. How does it feel to be getting older? Well, put those sad and altogether depressing thoughts aside! Do I have a fantastic day planned for you!

After an pretty filling breakfast, all of us PORTEmaus gents will venture north to one of the wonders this world has to offer, The Grand Canyon! Let me tell you brother, you have not loved live until you have hawked a loogie over this side of that bad boy! It really puts things into perspective. It leaves you reflective nay contemplative.

So, get that rucksack packed because we are leaving straight away. Seriously, I am on my way, right now. Wait. The Grand Canyon is closed? Damn, shutdown!

Well, looks like the PORTEmaus jaunt is canceled... Happy birthday anyway. Lousy government shutdown ruins everything. At least we can look at pictures of the Grand Canyon on the National Parks website... What do you mean they closed the website down too!


Seriously though, Happy Birthday!


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Football season is upon us? Crank up the quality research, analysis and commentary by the greatest aspect of journalism! (Alt title: Why I hate sports journalism)

Tim Tebow Sacked Patriots Eagles

I had to take a break from the mental exercise of composing a piece on Syria to pen a sports brief. As one might know, the football (American football not global football or futbol) season is nearly upon us. As a football fan, I figured that I would piggy-back upon Gonzi's post (Which you should read... do not worry, I will be here when you get back) and discuss what I truly despise about America's favorite pastime. If you think my vitriol to the news media is bad, you do not understand how much I despise its step-cousin, sports media.

Do not get me wrong, I enjoy football but seriously, media coverage on the subject is not only lazy but horrible. Analysis is practically non-existent and discussions range from Rex Ryan's tattoo of Mark Sanchez, noted sociopath Aaron Hernandez or Tim Tebow for every hour of programming. Frankly, for the period of four months nothing else matters (save for a smattering of new about how great the Patriots or Packers are). Today was roster cuts and wouldn't you know it, Tim Tebow was cut by the Patriots (really killing two stones with that story)... Then my morning coffee was interrupted with this breaking news. Evidently, the guy whose inability to play quarterback set the position back to 1923, is front page news. Especially laughable is that he was fighting for a third string spot! Oh the humanity! What will the NFL do now!

This news spawned two lengthy articles on Yahoo! about how moronic the move was and how
the Patriots should have kept him for his presence in the locker room. Now, I get it, if Tebow is not on a team, all of those sportswriters, bloggers, producers and analysts will have to think of something else to cover. Granted, it will be difficult to do since all of these former journalism majors picked the easiest aspect of news to get into will actually have to do some research. Heaven forbid! They will have to find something to occupy fifty-four minutes of airtime each hour now! It is a shame that they only have four-six teams to cover! Ah screw it, I am going back to baseball... What?!?! Justin Morneau was traded to the Pirates... I am done with sports!

Addendum: For anyone curious, I do not hate Tim Tebow or his beliefs, I happen to enjoy his "gee golly" politeness and demeanor. He is an affable and amiable gent, who cannot play football at the professional level.

Addendum version II: Justin Morneau has not been the same player since 2010. I understand the trade but as a Twins fan, it is a bummer (besides being a Twins fan these days).

Friday, August 30, 2013

Public Reaction to Affleck's Selection as Batman Reveals America has too Much Time on Their Hands

Did you hear the news? Of course you did! No, I am not talking about the purported use of chemical weapons in Syria or Ruth Bader Ginsburg officiating a same-sex marriage in Washington D.C. (What, was Scalia busy?) tomorrow. I am referring to something much worse and more newsworthy than anything else on the Interweb these days (Which I hope that Miley Cyrus does not detract from its perpetual relevance). Warner Bros. has selected Ben Affleck to be Batman in Zach Snyder's sequel to the mediocre Superman reboot, Man of Steel. Rabble rabble... Won't somebody think of the children!... Rabble rabble. You know, I am still perplexed why didn't they ask Clooney to come back, that would surely quell any animosity that the fan boys would have to this upcoming film, right?

I am going to be honest, I could give two (spoiler: curse word coming) shits about this casting decision. Do not get me wrong, I love Batman and I have indoctrinated my children into loving Batman... But, I am too burnt out by superhero movies to care at this point. Has Affleck come a long way from the being the "go to" guy for spending all of his on-screen time mouth breathing? Probably. Should he be Batman? Probably not. Does that mean you need to put your life on hold to start a "We The People" petition to force the Obama Administration to intervene and forcefully remove Ben Affleck from the cast? Um... Seriously? Evidently, it does as some busy body... Wait, let's call him what he or she is, a patriot. This patriot sacrificed the time needed to create a petition that would ultimately waste the time of the Executive Branch to remove it. Which they did. Time which could be better spent devising a response to... Oh, I do not know, Syria or literally, anything else.

It makes one wonder what these people could accomplish if they pooled their collective mental capabilities. They could put a man on Mars, create an electronic vehicle that goes two hundred miles on a single charge or spend the four minutes necessary to vote for competent political leadership. Such a display highlight two things:

1) The American public really has its priorities skewed and should re-evaluate the things that they find to be important. (Ex. Ben Affleck as Batman = NOT Important... Important items should include things that you can change or control.)

2) The "We The People" website was a horrible idea. In fact, the staffer who suggested it should be relieved of his responsibilities immediately. Who thought this website would be used seriously? It really shows a disconnect in understanding the current state of the American public.

All digressions aside, the decision was made that Affleck would be Batman and that is not going to change. Not matter how much bitching, moaning or pants wetting occurs on the Internet. After all, given Zach Snyder's cinematic track record, the movie will probably stink regardless of who dons the cape and cowl. So, why not put your efforts elsewhere, go plant a tree, push a wheel down the road with a stick or effect positive change in your community. What do I know, I just wrote a post complaining about foolish people on the Internet. Sigh...

“Most people don't believe something can happen until it already has. That's not stupidity or weakness, that's just human nature:" World War Z

PORTEmaus Literature Society: World War Z

World War Z, Max Brooks, World War Z novel

World War Z

I will be honest, outside of The Walking Dead trades, there is not much in the realm of Zombie fiction that I would willing to read. Frankly, I think that zombies (like the popularity of vampires from yesteryear) are becoming slightly overused in books, television and film. Seriously, is there any reason why I was forced to sit through Warm Bodies? I digress. I first came across the book while shelving books at the local library and in pure Funkowitz fashion, I passed on reading it because I was too "good" for it. It was until I came across a copy that described Max Brooks as "the Studs Terkel of zombie journalism" that I decided to give it a shot. Around that time, the movie that bears its name but little of its plot was coming out and I had time to kill during a week in San Antonio.

The narrative structure of World War Z is that of an interview. The narrator seeks to present the experiences of the interviewee in an pure manner with subtle points or questions that he speculates the reader would naturally ask. The average account of a character in this book is roughly three to five pages. This plays to the benefit of the reader as it minimizes the mental exhaustion of spending time with characters that you might not want to read about. This is highlighted during the down pilot chapter, which was too long and frankly, not at all interesting or exciting. Conversely, this book contains numerous compelling chapters that are far to short and would have been interesting to flesh out. Yet, it is understandable why those stories were so short.

World War Z is an easy read as I read most of it during a short redeye flight and this should not be construed as a bad thing. It is a very accessible book, whose strengths do not lay with the zombie elements but more with its description of societal collapse in the face of global pandemic, the response and subsequent rebuilding period. Throughout the course of this book, the idea that stood out to me was that this book would make a solid episodic drama. After all the foundation was laid with the book and each episode could focus on new person's experience each week. Hey, Hollywood producers, make it happen... I did all the work for you and expect a producing credit.

Digression aside, World War Z was a satisfying read, most importantly, it provided a new take on the genre by placing the societal effects at the forefront as a historical document. This manner of presentation will not be found in the genre, as it emphasizes a global environment and makes a conscious effort to not isolate its characters as other zombie works tend to do. In all, you would be doing yourself a favor to check this out and then check out Studs Terkel's "The Good War": An Oral History of World War Two" and compare... Who knows, there might be some crossover there. I will be honest, there probably won't be any.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How I almost fell in love with Football...Well Sorta...See what had happened was...

I hated Football for a long time. Growing up, my dad wasn't a huge sports fan but when it came to sports it was all about the Yankees....and occasionally the Knicks..(whenever they were good). But football never really resonated in the Gonzi household.

Fast forward to High School where many Coaches thought it was an absolute tragedy that God would make a 6'3, 250 lbs specimen like myself much more interested in "Computers and Shit" then in any sort of sports or competition....especially Football. For me, it wasn't just the fact that 'Up Downs' looked like the kind of thing that Satan himself makes you do upon entry to Hell. It was the whole other world that came with being involved with sports. The Jock World. I would never fit into that. Sure I can be a selfish asshole from time to time. But I'm never blatantly brazen about it. I can't walk around 24/7 like i'm better than everyone else because I participate in a glorified cock fight every Friday night and thus command respect from the student body. The whole thing just didn't make sense to me.

Later in life, I would continue my hatred of what was clearly overtaking Baseball as 'America's Sport' for a variety of reasons. My first apartment was within walking distance of the ridiculous space ship looking stadium that is "University of Phoenix Stadium" where the Arizona Cardinals routinely go to lay an egg of a game. In any case, game days were absolutely horrific. If you've been to a large sporting event before, you know how bad it can be. NFL games are even worse where the crowds can surpass 100,000 people because of the tradition which is known as 'Tail Gating'. Another cock fight on a smaller scale. This is the activity whereby nutty fans barbecue in the parking lot of the stadium and get shit faced before game time, during game time, and right up until the point of being taking away in cuffs by the police. This is of course because these fans get there...get some liquid courage....and then PRAY TO GOD (or GAWD if you're a Patriots fan) that some fan of the visiting team shouts "GO COWBOYS!" just a little too close to their truck. That's all it takes. Anyhow...this is what I was subjected to for 3 years of my life while I lived in those apartments. Screaming fans...with their SUV's and Pickups...and stupid team flags attached to their windows....completely preventing me from leaving my house on Sundays when the home team was in town.

Then....something amazing happened. Twice. The Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. TWICE. Tom Brady...that UGG boot wearin' his hopes and dreams crushed....TWICE.....Boston fans got their hearts broken....TWICE. Oh my gawd! I took it as God's way of saying....'I love you Boston.....but I'll always love New York could I not?".....just...*MUAAAH*...a thing of beauty.

So I started getting into it more. Watching more Football games. Learning about the game...watching sports news on TV...if nothing else, I'd have stuff to talk about at the Water Cooler. But I'll say the one thing that really pulled me in was Fantasy Football.

I know. The way I see it there are two kinds of people in this world. People that play Fantasy Football. And people who have their heads up there ass. I know. That's kind of strong. But it's the truth people. See, what the people who don't play fail to grasp is that FF is not about's not about's about camaraderie. It's about being a part of something. For me, it gives me a reason to watch football. It gives me a reason to give a shit about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because they have a running back who's referred to as the "Muscle Hamster" (due to his short height and his abundance of muscles and WHO BETTER BE AS GOOD OR BETTER AS LAST YEAR!!) It gives me a reason to care and be involved....and be social...without having to be too social...which is right up my alley.

Run Muscle Hamster, RUN!!!!

All that said, reflecting on my experiences in dealing with and observing football and all of it's nuances....I would describe my current relationship status with football as "It's Complicated"

On the one hand, you have things like Fantasy Football.....and Football signalling the end of the worse season of them all...Summer....Which means Fall is on the way...which means....Thanksgiving...and Thanksgiving Football games....and Christmas. And God, do I love how much my wife hates football. Just as I'm sure she loves how much I hate her favorite past time.....watching shitty teen flicks.

And on the other hand, Football still annoys me. Let me rephrase that......people annoy me. Specifically Football People. More Specifically....Football Fans. Ugh...they are the worst. These are the same people who idolized and figuratively (and sometimes literally) blew the Jocks in high school for being part of something they never could be a part of. These are the teachers who were complicit in player's academic inadequacies for the good of the school.....thereby creating many of these self entitled, ego maniacs that had everything go their way once their athletic talent was put on display for the world to see. You people....are the reason so many players crash and burn because reality and failure eventually hit them with a blow they are ill equipped to deal with and it's time you all owned up to it.

That said, Football can be a great source of unity. Jocks. Nerds (Thank you Fantasy Football). Wives. Priests. Cops. Criminals. Democrats. Republicans. Hipsters. Beyonce Fans. You name it...and I can name a reason for you to get behind Football

Ah are a complicated, flawed prick of an entity....but I can never quit you.....

...I think.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"I will not suffer such abominations here:" A Dance of Dragons

PORTEmaus Literature Society: A Dance of Dragons

A Dance of Dragons

It took roughly three attempts to complete this book... Let it be said that there is nothing like reading the same two hundred pages over and over. Let me explain that this is not an indictment of the book and that the rest of this review will be positive. It is merely my acknowledgment that I do not have enough time to read recreationally. Curse you dreaded course reading that has nothing to do with the class I am taking! Not too subtle digression aside, George R.R. Martin creates a compelling tome once you get past the first two hundred pages.

Since the books in this series are too large with dense and complicated plot lines, this book will be discussed on the merit of quality. Contrary to most fan boys on the Interweb, Dance of Dragons is good book and an enjoyable way to spend a little spare time. Is it as good as book three, A Storm of Swords? No. It succeeds on the merit that you finally get some closer on the events that closed that book. For those curious, books four (Feast of Crows) and five were on colossal book that was split in half. Book four contained a lot of new characters and none of the more popular characters appear. Needless to say, it was not a popular decision.

The harshest criticism that I can give for this book is that it starts off rather slowly. This is minor in the grand scheme of things as the pace picks up drastically during the remainder of the novel that one forgets this criticism. Most of the reviews felt that Martin was relatively lax in the prose department regarding descriptions or pacing issues because of geographic limitations. While such criticisms are relatively warranted, I cannot support such nitpicking. At its core, Dance of Dragons is a really solid novel and given its mammoth page count, I can say that time was well spent reading. The only thing that I can say that I regret about the book is finally catching up with the legions of fans waiting for book six. It looks like I will have to invest my time in some other books. Drag.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Better Late than Never Said Only Losers Ever: Hawk's 2012 Retrospect Pt 2: Music

Well, I'm back again, friends, to finish up my extremely late look back at 2012, after churning out Part 1 a few days back. Better enjoy this now, because I'm bound to disappear like the guy from Fire in the Sky for months at a time again. Wait, that guy was only gone for like a week, more like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, then I'll call Bence and he'll fly in the Portemaus corporate Jetta (I meant fly as in drive fast) and pick me up. Onto this mess...

Albums that Barely Missed this List:
Old Ideas - Leonard Cohen
Diamond Rugs - Diamond Rugs
Slipstream - Bonnie Raitt
My Head is an Animal - Of Monsters and Men
Here - Edward Sharpe & the Jim Jones Meets Jim Morrison Musicfeliacs

10. The Lumineers - The Lumineers
What to say about this album? Certainly, what else to say besides I somehow chose this over a Leonard Cohen record? Well there's not much need to say anything other than it's a good, fun, easy listen. It's well composed, well written stuff, and certainly made for something different to listen to when I first heard it. Since then "Ho Hey" became an unexpected single that's been over-played, but honestly, it's not even the best track on the record. If Katy Perry can get 47 hits off of one record, you'd think a band like this could get a second single. The folk rock (emphasis more on the former than the latter) revival is in full swing, or at least it was in 2012, and there were some fine records to back it up. 
Key Tracks: "Flowers in the Your Hair," "Classy Girls," "Ho Hey," "Slow it Down," "Stubborn Love," "Flapper Girl""
Available on: CD, Vinyl, MP3

9. Roses - The Cranberries
New Cranberries, everybody! New Cranberries! Yes indeed, friends, over a decade since their last release the seminal 90's rocker chick led band from another country is back, teaming back up with their original hit making producer, Stephen Street, and for fans, it's exactly what you'd want. This album unfortunately slipped under the radar, and that's one main reason it made this list above choice cuts like Old Ideas and Diamond Rugs. Because, I'm gonna say it, they're a great band and this is a great release, one fans of this band have been waiting for, and they've been waiting a long time. In an era of loud grunge and alt rock (remember their song about Kurt Cobain? WIth the name check? Anyone, no?), the band made it's name on her distinct voice and their almost shy, wallflower approach to their music. Tracks like "Tomorrow" perfectly showcase those elements are all still here tenfold and, unfortunately, I haven't seen much new grunge around to play it between...
Key Tracks: "Conduct," "Tomorrow," "Schizophrenic Playboy," "Astral Projections," "Roses"
Available on: Vinyl, CD, MP3, Deluxe iTunes with Bonus Tracks

8. Babel - Mumford & Sons
I was big on Mumford & Sons, big on them when they were struggling to get enough people into a local venue like the 150 capacity Rhythm Room, big on them when I stood with 10,000 hipsters at the Railroad Revival Tour, which I documented here. I'm still big on them, but I'm an honest digger, you see? The Grammy's had to make up for how they mistreated Sigh No More (my #1 album of 2010, you see) and they first did so by giving "the Cave" an award a year late, and super made up for it (also as part of the Grammy's current "let's get hip with it" campaign of nominating anything semi popular) by giving Babel album of the year. Let's get honest folks, Babel is a good record, it's a good follow-up, if a little bit too much more of the same. Sigh No More was a great record top to bottom, with a number of tracks that could (and did) make radio play. So far only "I will Wait" has gotten any radio play, a bit too much some would say, and I doubt anything else on the record will do much as far as top 40 goes. Sort of like the Gin Blossoms follow-up to a mega hit record, Congratulations I'm Sorry, you find a record thats good with one great song and a number of good songs. But overall, it's just TOO close to the same sound, TOO much the same. I might sound negative, but I'm trying to point out why this record made my top 10, but didn't make #1, ala it's predecessor which blew me away. It's still haunting music, it's still great vocals, it's still a tight band, thus, is still worth repeated listens, just maybe not quite as many...
Key Tracks: "I Will Wait," "Holland Road," Ghosts That We Knew," "Lover of the Light," "Lover's Eyes," 
Available on: Vinyl (With CD of Vinyl Test Pressing); CD, MP3, Deluxe CD Set

7. Nothings Gonna Change the Way You Think About Me Now- Justin Townes Earle
I said it before, I said it again in my review, and I'll say it again here: When your father is Steve Earle and you're partially named after Townes Van Zandt, you're probably born for music. He's also a true artist, searching for new ways to grow. Expecting Harlem River Blues: Part II? Look elsewhere, Earle is about as content with repeating that fantastic album as he is being a country artist, he's interested in writing and making great songs, and taking them where they just seem to need and go. Girls - Good - good, bad ("Nothings Gonna Change the Way you Feel About Me Now") or just old girlfriends - i.e. really bad, as we find in "Unfortunately Anna", daddy issues ("Am I That Lonely Tonight?"), addiction and personal demons ("Lower East Side," "Won't be the Last Time,") and nostalgia are all over this record. As is the Memphis soul sound that protrudes through almost every track. A  record I do look forward to? One where, like his EP Yuma, Earle tackles the songs solo, cause man, anyone who's seen him live knows how fantastic he is...
Key Tracks: "Am I That Lonely Tonight," "Nothings Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now," "Lower East Side," "Won't Be the Last Time," "Unfortunately Anna"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3

Two of our top-10 recipients together in years past. Dylan looking appropriately vampire-ish
6. The Idler Wheel... - Fiona Apple
This album pretty much came out of nowhere, even to the record executives who ultimately released it. Apple is pretty much free of any commitment to having to make a "certain kind of" record, i.e. one that's built to play on radio, and so this thing is her free and open, weird as ever, and that's a good thing. As I said when I first reviewed the LP, Fiona will always be that girl who helped me alongside so many other teen and pre-teen boys in the 90's hit puberty in the matters of a few minutes with the music video where she declared she was a "bad, bad, girl..." She's come a long way since then, and in this case it's just her singing what she wants to sing, and it's good. None of this stuff was ever radio bound, but that doesn't mean it wasn't bound for repeated listens in my car. Whether it's the thumping jazz inspired percussion found in "Hot Knife," the callbacks to a slightly more signature sound for her in say "Periphery," trying to out-Regina'ing Regina Spektor in "Werewolf" or reminding us she was here first anyway in "Valentine," or just pure weirdness in "Daredevil," the album is artistic freedom at it's best. Just remember, a song ends in a minor key...
Key Tracks: "Every Single Night," "Valentine," "Werewolf," "Hot Knife"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Deluxe CD Set, MP3

5. Be The Void - Dr. Dog
There's a concert here this fall which features Dr. Dog...opening for the Lumineers. No offense to the Lumineers, I like their debut album, it might even be found on this list, but it's sad that a skyrocket jump on their career thanks to a single that found radio play overshadows a great band that's been putting out great records for sometime now. In my initial thoughts on the record, I not only listed it as "record of the week" but called it "a great frigging pop-rock album," and that about describes it best. It's archaic yet fresh, rocking but never losing sight of it's pops sensibilities. From it's opening answer to it's own question ("what does it take to be lonesome? Nothing at all..." ) to it's tangly twist through "Turning the Century," the album is a fun jaunt through jangly, loose and rambunctious tunes. This record is as perfect as indie pop can get. 
Key Tracks: "Lonesome," "That Old Black Hole," "These Days," "How Long Must I Wait," "Do the Trick," "Turning the Century"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3

4. What we Saw From the Cheap Seats - Regina Spektor
Regina Spektor hasn't made many mistakes in her career (unless you count marrying Only Son, that guy's kind of a douche) and this album, a winner of release of the week in 2012, is no exception. The closest thing music has to a female Warren Zevon, Regina, with her classically trained piano skills mixed with pops sensibilities and strange sometimes even macabre lyrics, continues to put out work that is both "her" as well showing growth. She's probably be more well known if she tried to replicate "Fidelity," but those of who were fans before that got a little fame know she's better than that. Sometimes being better than that means making your own "torpedo" sounds in "Oh Marcello," or "All the Rowboats," but dang, it is better! Regina's never been more pop perfection than sensually spitting out French lyrics in "Don't Leave Me," nor more anthemic for those misunderstood in trying to describe love than in "The Party," which she adds her own version of a trumpet to. I couldn't make this stuff up, she's a true original. She's the ultimate people watcher, or at least that's what the imagery and lyrics would make one assume. Ultimately, Spektor IS "Fidelity," staying true to herself, to her art, to her fans. This is another fine example, and probably her best major release yet, as unlike Far, we find her here with one producer and one vision, and it helps. 
Key Tracks: "Small Town Moon," "Oh Mercello," "Don't Leave Me," "All the Rowboats," "Ballad of a Politician," "The Part," "Jessica"
Available on: Vinyl, CD, Mp3

3. Tempest - Bob Dylan
I probably overpraised Tempest when I first wrote about it, but that's okay, I was over-flooded by what is, regardless of my over-praise, a really good album. A really good album by anyone trying to encompass all of Americana down a dark stretch of musical highway, let along a man in his 70's in age, in his 50's in recording years. The album opens up with jangly number that almost is Modern trucking through the waters of his 1969 album Nashville Skyline, but that's sort of where "good-time Dylan hour" ends, as from that point the album is full of blood and backstabbings, heartbreak and tragedy. There's a lot of death in it's 10 bodies, none more apparent than the triple murder/suicide found in "Tin Angel," and his re-telling of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the title track, "Tempest." My favorite songs are two shorter, perhaps even odder, number: "Soon After Midnight" and "Long and Wasted Years." I'm also partial to "Scarlet Town," which recalls the sound and imagery found in recent Modern Dylan tracks like "Ain't Talkin'" and "Forgetful Heart," and no wonder, it's a type of song he tackles well and no one else off the top of my head could. I'm not a big fan of the Lennon tribute, "Roll on John," but an album 68 minutes long is going to have some missteps. Luckily, Tempest doesn't have many, and marks his finest albums since 2001's "Love & Theft." Just don't piss him off, cause he'll either kill you in song or use an old song title of yours as the name for a dark new masterpiece, yes Joni Mitchell, I'm looking at you...

Key Tracks: "Soon After Midnight," "Pay in Blood," "Scarlet Town," "Tin Angel"

Available on: Deluxe 2Lp 180-Gram Vinyl (Includes Album on CD), CD, Deluxe CD Set, MP3

2. Handwritten - The Gaslight Anthem

I praised this album heavily on my initial review, and that still holds up as my opinion. It's not their best album, as they still haven't been able to top The '59 Sound, but it is a great album, and on that shows them growing and changing, or at least still trying new things. The almost mythic element of listening to music and the power of song and nostalgia of records are all over this record, either in the form of literal references or reminding us how music is a key tying element to our soul and our senses. Whether it's tackling the power in truth or lies in writing lyrics in "Too Much Blood" or the way memory and music tie in "45," with lyrics speaking of dropping down the needle and dancing with ghosts, or one of my favorite lyrics on the whole record, from the title track: "pul it out, turn it up, what's your favorite song? That's mine, I've been crying to it since I was young..." The album also takes time to delve into Daddy issues and abandonment ("Keepsake"), ease up on the electricity for the acoustic and engaging "National Anthem," all the while doing what Gaslight does best: reference old films on books ("Howl"; lyrics about girls with Bette Davis Eyes), nothing like a rock band with taste in literature and film. Want more proof how good these guys are? Two of the best tracks they cut, "Blue Dahlia" and "Teenage Rebellion," didn't make the official record. 

Key Tracks: ""45"," "Handwritten," "Here Comes My Man," "Mulholland Drive," "Howl," "Mae"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3, iTunes download with Bonus Track

1. Blunderbuss - Jack White
Even I have to eat some crow from time to time...I pretty much trashed the lead single when it was released, declaring "I miss Meg," and then in my initial review of Blunderbuss found myself giving a much better review and a  4/5 score, though in a week of New Tune Tuesday where I over shadowed it by giving Dr. Dogs Be the Void my release of the week status. Yes, I still love Be the Void and you'll find it on this list, but...Blunderbuss has continued to grow on me, and as I've also continued to get over the fact we'll not likely see Jack on-stage with the set of T&A known as Meg White on drums anytime in the near future, the album is great. I still don't' worship him as musical God, and yes, I'll trash him when he releases a 45 from ICP or does something like throw a divorce party, but this album is good. REALLY good. Like Paul Westerberg on Suicane Gratifaction, we have an artist mostly known for guitar delving into a more personal side (you DID read the part about a divorce party, right?) with mostly piano driven songs, and the occasionally rocker to remind you he can still throw down. The lyrics cut deep like the knife he wants his lover to stick into him, and it's certainly an album anyone going through heartbreak will find something in - hey, everyone has their Blood on the Tracks, right? However it's interesting to note my favorite track is a cover, an excellent cover, of Rudy Toombs "I'm Shakin'," which also produced a great music video. The album is extremely ell produced, offering a great drive through rock, rockabilly, soul, blues, pop, county-tinged elements and punk-pop. Fans of the Raconteurs and the White Stripes Get Behind Me Satan (another album after a White break-up) will LOVE this release. I was wrong, I said it, but put it in your books, I'm not wrong often. That's right, I'm that awesome, but so is this record...
Side-Bar: The Inner-sleeve is TWO different angles of the same picture, another shot in the sleeve is the giveaways: It's Jack doing 3D photography developing. 
Key Tracks: "Love Interruption," "Blunderbluss," "I'm Shakin'," "Missing Pieces," "Sixteen Saltines," "I Guess I Should Go to Sleep"
Available on: Deluxe 180-Gram Vinyl, Lighting Colored Vinyl (OOP); Reverse Lightning Bolt Vinyl (OOP); CD; MP3

For one last little thought on Hudson Hawk's thoughts on 2012 music...
Best Song Not Found on Any Record:
"My Road Now," - Paul Westerberg
Holy crap this guy is good. If I could just spit this out on piano like it's something I do when I'm bored eating take-out dinner, well...I wouldn't be spending time writing for you folks, I can tell you that...

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