Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Brew Britannia" by Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey

“Brew Britannia - The Strange Rebirth Of British Beer” by Jessica Boak & Ray Bailey (2014 Aurum Press UK, softcover, 5.3”x 8.5”, 304 pages)

England’s history with beer goes back hundreds of years. Britain is known the world over as a major player in the world’s craft beer scene, creating great brews for generations. But just as industrial beer corporations took over America for so many years, a similar consolidation happened to England. However, just within the last 50 years, England has “taken back the pint”, and this book details that struggle.

Authors and beer bloggers Boak and Bailey chronicle the beginnings of the notorious “CAMRA (Campaign For Real Ale)”, as well as the writers, beer critics, curmudgeons, and cranks that stubbornly refused to have corporate interests water down their ales (and lagers). We get names, places, and hometown breweries that put their own hearts and wallets into creating real beer for real people, and a pretty well comprehensive history of the wheres, hows, whos, and whys behind England’s re-emergence as a major brewing destination of the world. There’s not much as far as illustrations or photos to illustrate this journey, but the book reads well, and most certainly has a place among any legitimate beer book collection. All said, it’s a great piece of British brewing history, and a great document of a story that needed to be told.

"African Brew" by Lucy Corne and Ryno Reyneke

“African Brew: Exploring The Craft Of South African Beer” by Lucy Corne and Ryno Reyneke (2014 Random House Struik, South Africa, softcover, 7.5” x 9.75”, 256 pages)

Anyone who supposes that the craft beer world revolves around America, or even England or Belgium, think again. This fine book details, in depth, a wealth of African craft breweries that are bringing it, with inspiring brews outside of the corporate mainstream. Authors Corne and Reyneke go into great detail, speaking with brewmasters about their inspirations, ideas, and business. A ton of photos accompany each entry, illustrating the local flavors of South Africa’s rising beer scenes. Ever imagine an ancient ale from the Zulu nation? Hint: It's a sorghum brew that's been enjoyed for thousands of years. It's listed here, alongside tons of other brews both traditional (pilsners, stouts, india pale ales) and more unconventional (several brewmasters here state that they were inspired to make “weird” beer by watching Sam Calagione’s sadly-defunct “Brew Masters” show on cable TV!

As well, the authors provide tasting notes, food pairings, and even plenty of recipes utilizing the local beer, as provided by the pub and brewery chefs themselves. It's really a pretty comprehensive text, though I have to wonder if the rest of Africa may have other renegade brewers rallying against the multinational SABMiller corporation. Undoubtedly there are. But that's nitpicking. 

“African Brew” is a well-written and well-researched guide to the present day South African scene, and is a fascinating and fun read — damned essential for the worldly craft beer fan. This is a fine book with a shit-ton of info you won't find anywhere else (not even beeradvocate), and that's worth the price of admission alone, if you ask me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

“Morris County” DVD (director: Matthew Garrett)

Powerful and intelligent indie drama/horror

Man, this indie trilogy really hits hard. Director Garrett here weaves a series of three distantly-related tales that could almost function as “lost” “Tales From The Crypt” stories, but with more emotional resonance and less gratuitous gore and sex. “Morris County” could be broadly considered horror, but it’s not so in conventional sense. I give great credit to the smart storytelling or Garrett, who takes these “everyday” lives into unseen and often horrifying sides, without evoking any supernatural or serial killer stereotyping.

The first story, “Ellie”, presents a rather unfortunate day in the life of teenaged Ellie, who withstands a series of poor judgement calls. Without putting out any spoilers, let’s just say it’s a riveting and painful journey to experience. Ellie is played exceptionally by Darcy Miller, conveying an unspoken air of trauma and confusion. "The Family Rubin” is a story of an upstanding Jewish family with plenty of ghosts in their closet. Startlingly similar in spirit to “American Beauty”, this is the lower point of the film, if only due to its similarity to that better-known film. The final story, “Elmer and Iris”, is a sad story of a seemingly happy elderly woman who, upon being cut from her office job of many years, finds herself painfully alone when her husband dies. Suffice to say, it gets weird, but remains very human and absolutely memorable.

As mentioned earlier, “Morris County” isn’t horror, but a well-scripted and well-acted trilogy of dramas that reflect a breakdown in traditional life in the suburbs. All the tales here are harrowing and edgy, but realistic. The portrayals are believable, as are the stories themselves. This is the ultimate strength of the film. Kudos to everyone involved, as this is a powerful movie that lingers in the psyche long after the disc has stopped.

As well, it should be noted that there is a plethora of bonus materials, including a creepy short film by Garrett called “Beating Hearts”. And the subtle electronic score by David Kristian is masterful, too.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

“A Dark Place Inside” DVD (director: Mike O’Mahony)

(Serial) killer micro-indie

So, my expectations here were quite low, I don’t mind stating. The other films that arrived at Goatsden HQ from Sector 5 were pretty, shall I say, hideous, derivative, and unwatchable. Not the case here. “A Dark Place Inside” is a supremely sick and repugnant serial killer flick, with a believable villain (played well by newcomer Chris Dalbey), great camerawork, and a story that’s harrowing yet magnetic. 

So, the gist of “A Dark Place Inside” isn’t too complex. Loner Andy (played by Dalbey) works a menial job, has no social life, and spends his spare time stalking and brutally murdering women, some of which he dismembers and brings home to “admire”. Sure, some of the gore effects are a bit cheesy and visibly low budget, but the point is driven home well that Andy is one troubled individual. We’re shown interspersed clips of Andy’s childhood, and his brutal torture at the hands of his abusive father, so as to explain his predilection for cruel and inhuman acts.

Along the film’s trajectory, we meet some of Andy’s annoying coworkers, and even get a brief glimpse of something that could almost resemble a flirtation with romance, before our anti-hero lapses again into his murderous ways. Director (and writer and producer) O’Mahony does an admirable job with this one, and I actually enjoyed it. Well-done serial killer horror on a shoestring budget.? See, it can be done.

Sector 5 Entertainment

“Zombie Isle” DVD (director: Robert Elkins)

Living dead stinker

I hope George Romero is filthy rich. Or at least very comfortable these days. After all, he's been ripped off so many thousands of times, he deserves more. Or maybe he just has an awful lot to answer for? Regardless, this micro-budget indie further recycles the tired formula into a virtually unwatchable mess of scratchy digitally enhanced  "70s film" stylings, and a nonexistent storyline involving a group of students "researching" an abandoned and forgotten island, only to find military quarantine signs and, you guessed it, zombies!

To give some credit where it's due, some of the gory flesh eating is suitably foul and repellant. And the electronic soundtrack is actually well done. But that's where my accolades end.

Doesn't any good trash film require some sex, nudity, or at the least some breastage? Sure, this attitude will have me labeled a sexist. Oh well. Purists and serious horror fans will agree with me. So forget about cheap titillation during "Zombie Isle". You'll get no.such satisfaction here, despite the cast full of attractive ladies.

A shame that this has to fail on nearly every level. "Zombie Isle" does nothing but nail shut the coffin on a genre that, though trendy, hasn't seen any innovation or creativity in a very long time. Let the living dead rest and avoid this stinker!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

“From Inside” DVD (director: John Bergin)

Superb apocalyptic animation

Written, produced, animated, and directed by John Bergin (of the industrial band Trust Obey and creator of the soundtrack to “The Crow” graphic novel), “From Inside” is an imaginative and contemplative journey through a futuristic post-apocalyptic landscape from the point of view of a tragically alone pregnant woman whilst traveling via train. Her ruminations waver from sad and regretful to strong and driven. It’s a harrowing journey, to be sure

The animation is unique, stylish, and gritty, while the script is immersive and interesting. Bergin’s stark artwork is fittingly dark and uniquely drawn, rather than a full-on CGI style. I applaud this effort, as it makes the film that much more original and personal.

As well, there’s an appropriately dark electronic industrial soundtrack by Gary Numan and Ade Fenton that brings mood, atmosphere, and tension to the visuals. It’s never intrusive or even so noticeable, which only lends to the starkness of the film.

This is an excellent piece of dark animation for the apocalyptic-minded, and one I’d be keen to watch again. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Rye Coalition - “The Story Of The Hard Luck 5” DVD (director: Jenni Matz)

Comprehensive look at indie rock "could-have-beens"

This documentary details the rise (and fall, in some sense of the word) of the not-famous indie rock act Rye Coalition, who in the 90s were poised for greatness, or so it seemed. Having recorded with Steve Albini and toured with Foo Fighters should’ve been the start of something bigger. Having Dave Grohl himself produce their to-be-major label debut would’ve put them over that edge, surely. But just then, their label dissolved, and Rye Coalition found themselves with nowhere to go, their stride towards greatness broken, and their record in limbo for years.

The band, intent on playing out and recording for almost no financial rewards, finally folded due to pressures both internal and external. “The Story Of The Hard Luck 5” is a thoughtful and serious documentary of the band’s times from then until now, with full band participation, as well as interviews with cohorts and supporters like Albini, Grohl, fans of the band, and their families and associates. It’s a fascinating look at some nice New Jersey boys who never aspired to much, yet got so very close to indie rock “star” status. Albini’s comments that the band were considered the best of the “Jesus Lizard wannabes” is both apt and unfair. Rye Coalition shared much with Chicago’s finest post-jazz aggro-scuzz outfit, but the differences were plenty, as evidenced by the many live clips here.

Director Matz has done a masterful work encapsulating the band’s history, and this 78-minute film is fascinating even for Rye Coalition novices like myself. Thumbs up here.