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...

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Mid Year Recap and a Poor Apology

Well well it has been sometime hasn't it? No excuse really, Mr Funkowitz was kind enough to let me have a brief leave of absence to start my own business with the lovely Twincess.(in fact I urge all of you who are interested in fashion to check out my online boutique ) but alas my duties here have been on hold for far too long. I actually have a handful of reviews that are either started or even finished, but rather than barrage you with months old writing I thought I would do something of a mid year recap. I'll list my favorite five films so far as well as some thoughts on some other stuff I've seen.

This year has already been incredibly rewarding cinematically. From the beginning there has been some incredibly diverse and unique offerings whether some old genre faves like Cascarelli, or perhaps a swan song from Soderbergh, and the introduction to American audiences from TWO of South Korea's best. Not to mention not one but two Coppola films....lets get to it shall we.

5. This is the End - Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
I love this film. Maybe the most fun I've had in the theater all year. I struggled with putting it on here but damnit it's so original and so self deprecating and so hilariously funny that its an achievement that deserves some recognition. Rogen and Goldberg write brilliant caricatures of real life Hollywood comedians. From an overly sensitive Jonah Hill, to a slightly obsessive James Franco, to Michael Cera playing the most absurd coked out version of himself Rihanna has ever seen. Kudos to Emma Watson for not letting anyone give her the rapey vibe. This is a film based upon our vision of these people and they all just dive right in and make fun of the absurdity of their celebrity. Oh yeah and there's demons and cannibals and the rapture and drugs, lots of drugs. Rogen might not be for everyone but this is the kind of movie that should win at least a few people to his side.

4. John Dies at the End - Don Cascarelli
So there's this new drug called soy sauce, and it lets you see things that are beneath the veneer of reality. Like demons or monsters or scary ass bugs. And there's these two slacker kids, and they fight these fake invisible monsters in an effort to prevent the two universes from collapsing. Also they're on drugs and Paul Giammatti interviews them and one of them may or may not die at the end and some time travel....maybe. This is unbridled insanity brought to you by genre favorite Cascarelli. Again this is a fun exciting journey into a story I've absolutely never seen before. And it's directed with an unbelievable amount of exuberance you'd think this was Cascarelli in his prime, or maybe he is.

3. Spring Breakers - Harmony Korine
Never thought I'd see one of his film on a Top list from me, but this story of youths obsession with excess gone wrong is a stylistic wonder. Korine throws all the sex and drugs and sweat at the screen that you begin to feel just as dirty and grimy as those beaches. He does this masterfully with his normal manipulation of film stock flipping between what looks like home video(like VHS home video) to high res boobies. Then once James Franco arrive the story becomes a fucked up fairy tale as our young heroines fall further and further down the hole of evil culminating in the most surreal and disturbing climax this year. Korine handles the direction masterfully knowing when to show restraint and when to just go way over the top, with Gaspar Noe's dp in tow we get the same beautiful camera movements and bright fluorescents that just elevate this world to something slightly out of this world. sprrrrriiiiing brrrrrrrrreak

2. Upstream Color - Shane Carruth
This could very well end up at the number one spot, but damnit it's a Carruth film and I'm pretty sure I need to see this maybe 5 more times before I fully grasp the film. Carruth takes us on a journey of emotions as we see the fleeting nature of identity and what happens to us when a relationship is started. It's a beautiful film that is bounds ahead of Primer. It is much more accessible(not saying much) and the ideas presented are far more engaging. Carruth has made a film that is begging to be felt and experienced rather than understood. It is truly an experience every filmgoer should have, just let yourself go and stop trying to piece it together and you'll find a unique film from one of the most challenging directors today.

Stoker - Chan Wook Park
Park's first American film is a Hitchcock inspired gothic masterpiece. One of my favorite directors has successfully made the jump to American soil. With this story of a young girl who's father has died and her uncle has moved in with a few secrets of his own. Saying any more would betray the brilliance of the story(shockingly written by Wentworth Miller...yes...that guy) Park manages to keep each twist engaging even if some of the plot points are a bit obvious we are still mystified as the story unfolds. With his superb mastery of Mise en Scene Park takes us into this gothic story of familial bonds and betrayal and ratchet up the tension with each passing minute. Park relishes in creating the horrible beautiful and he doesn't skip a beat here as you can see some of the same horrific imagery from Thirst here again and it's still just as awe inspiring. Not Park's best, but probably the best I've seen all year, besides will he ever be able to top Oldboy?

A few more thoughts

- Loved Iron Man 3 and Star Trek both great examples of fun exciting blockbuster filmmaking

- Man of Steel was ok.....quite a few just horrible mistakes though and I'm not talking fanboy bs. But Pa Kent's death was so idiotic it made my head hurt, also Phantom Jor-El was the definition of "convenience" loved Adams....really enjoyed Cavill and I even liked Krypton at the beginning.

- Kim Jee Won did not make the jump to American Films with the same success as Park.

- The Bling Ring was another super cool film from Sofia's easy to look at it and think she's poking fun at this LA celebrity obsessed valid teenage group...but sadly if you've seen any "reality TV" this is how people talk. Really enjoyed it and her attention to detail is amazing.

- her brother however has a boring unlikable film with Charles Swan.

- loved Side Effects...hope it's not the last.

- Evil Dead....really fun....really fucking gory.

Look I can't promise anything but I'm going to to try to keep up my consistency. I love writing for this site and I want to be a strong contributor. Here's hoping.


One last thought - this is Franco's year...he owns it in all of his films this year.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Gonzi's Annual "Summer can eat a D*CK" column

We've only officially been in summer for about 2 weeks and I'm ready to call it a season. I was out running errands with Gonzi Jr. today and had to call it a day at noon; Once the sweat starts accumulating under the man tits, you know it's time to go inside.

Yet people LOVE the summer. They love it like their first born. They go about their day as if the sun isn't chillin' on your shoulder daring them to stay out another 15 minutes. I seen this guy walking around in a black hoodie....zipped up all the way up....with jeans and boots. And it made me realize that I could lose weight if only I could commit beyond jeans and timberland boots in the summer. 

I think I've always hated summer. Even as a kid, summer break was never fun. I was always forced to go to summer school (which was crafted by the antichrist himself I'm convinced) or the Boys and Girls Club. Summer school is pretty self explanatory as to why it sucks but the Boys and Girls Club was a special kind of suck. Sure you get to play pool and do arts and crafts...but the god the kids....they were tyrants! I couldn't wait to get back to regular school where the guys were only petty thugs and the girls were prettier. lol

My birthday falls in July and I would still happily skip every one for the rest of my life. Every single possible gift (which let's face it, I'm a grown man with kids...there's a good chance that's the case anyway) for the rest of my life. 

I invite you to provide me with upsides to summer. I guarantee that I'll have an equally if not a worse negative counterpoint. Go ahead.....I'll wait...

Barbecues? Seriously...who the fuck thought it would be a good idea to cook over a bonfire when it's the hottest time of the year? 

Summer Blockbusters?  A new shitty Will Smith Movie.

Vacation days? Teenagers loitering in public places. 

Swimming Pools? Pee and Chlorine in your mouth and eyes. 

MLB All Star Weekend? MLB All Star Weekend.

Girls in Bikinis? Herpes Simplex.

You guys have fun with alllll that....Here's my idea of a good summer. 

Oh yeah.....Summer can eat a big fat veiny D*CK!