Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Propaganda" DVD (director: Slavko Martinov)

Challenging and confrontational expose on Western culture

Now, this is a challenging film on several levels. Billing itself as a forbidden video, smuggled out of North Korea and disseminated on the internet, it's actually nothing of the sort. Clever marketing aside, it was revealed to be the work of New Zealander Slavko Martinov. "Propaganda" is a curious and highly critical look at the politics and propaganda of the West (particularly the United States and England), from an outsider's point of view.

Packed with literally thousands of slices of news footage and photos, this compelling documentary is about as scathing an attack on America's corrupt,  capitalist, sensationalist, corporate, and greed-driven ways as anything I've ever seen. And the bizarre aspect is, it's all fact. I don't disagree with this film, but it is tough to admit that we are all basically slaves to the rich corporate interests that fund and fuel our entire political system -- the same system that keeps us placated with awful television, toxic food, and a need to keep us from revolting and creating a new, more democratic society. Martinov doesn't dally around with subtlety, as this film is full of disturbing images that are certainly not for the timid or impressionable. "Propaganda" may be tough for most of us to stomach, but I don't doubt it should be mandatory viewing for most Americans who are content with thinking we are truly "free".

Conspiracy theorists will find much here to align themselves with, especially those who haven't chosen a particular "side" of politics. As far as Martinov is concerned, the Bush regime is the same as the Clinton or Obama regimes. Different faces for the same bloated and manipulative entities.

Saying I "enjoyed" "Propaganda" is only halfway true. Don't expect to be coddled here, it's a journey to be made only by those "ready" for such a confrontational look at ourselves in the so-called "democratic Western world".

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Strange Powers - Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields" DVD (director: Gail O'Hara)

Fascinating look at a fascinating personality

Having been recording for prominent indie labels for nearly 25 years now, Stephin Merritt has somehow fallen beneath my own radar. And that's a shame, as this documentary shows a conflicted by extremely talented artist who's capable of producing some world-class indie pop sounds without much regard for commercial potential. His primary project, The Magnetic Fields, has created an extensive back catalogue of post-punk, synth pop, and indie rock that has found favor with peers and a small but devoted fan base. That's not to mention his other projects like the 6ths, Future Bible Heroes, or the Gothic Archies.

In this feature-length documentary, director O'Hara was granted access to Merritt's personal life and includes many intimate moments, onstage and off. As well, his longtime musical partner Claudia Gonson is featured throughout, among other bandmates, outside musicians, and fans. It's more of a "behind the scenes" documentary, rather than a historical one, but that's just fine. Merritt may seem aloof and deadpan (even morose and disagreeable) at times, but it's his music that does the speaking, and Merritt's music is intelligent, emotive, and intensely personal, connecting with people around the world who may feel lost, heartbroken, or disaffected. 

For proven fans, "Strange Powers" will be a revelation. To the unfamiliar, it's a great lesson and entertaining film about an artist on the fringes who deserves more recognition.

Cinnamon Bun Popcorn (Capital Corn & Confections)


We received Capital Corn & Confections' delightful Cinnamon Bun popcorn as a nice promotional surprise this August. Housed in a 6.7 oz. clear plastic container, this gourmet popcorn was hastily opened to reveal a fluffy and sweet popcorn with a cinnamon-sugary glaze that did taste just as a good, warm cinnamon roll would.

I was particularly impressed with how the popcorn remained crispy and fresh-tasting, despite being coated with plenty of confectioners glaze, which would seemingly make the kernels go limp and soggy. Kudos to Capital Corn for making a sweet (and relatively healthy) treat that parents would feel more comfortable giving the kids. As one caveat, I'm not sure how natural or processed the sweet cinnamon glaze is, as there were no details on content or ingredients, unfortunately, so I have to hope that it's a wholesome and home-made mix.

Being as how it seems Capital Corn is a very small (and mostly local New Jersey, thus far) startup, it's refreshing to see them branching out, sending popcorn to faraway Indiana. With a little more word-of-mouth, I can easily see them making inroads with independent grocers, especially if they can verify or promote the natural ingredients contained within their delicious popcorn treats. From the website, I see they craft some other exotic (and undoubtably tasty) popcorn varieties. They do offer mail-order from their website, so give them a click and see for yourself!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Gilroy Was Good For Guinness" by David Hughes

"Gilroy Was Good For Guinness" by David Hughes (2013 Liberties Press Ireland, hardcover, 9"x 9", 256 pages)

More a biography and art portfolio than a beer book, per se, this fine text covers the 1930-60s output of commercial and fine artist John Gilroy, who worked extensively with building the international Guinness brand in the 20th century. Including hundreds of paintings, drawings, unused proofs, and mock-up illustrations (as well as plenty of finished works), Gilroy's iconic and idiosyncratic artworks certainly helped a great deal to build the Guinness brand that continues to define the classic Irish stout, even today.

Hughes examines the work, alongside Gilroy's own life both personally and professionally in these years. That said, this is first and foremost an art book, and offers the most extensive and exhaustive collection of Gilroy art to be assembled anywhere. There are his crazy collection of animal-centered art to promote Guinness, as well as the popular phrases "My Goodness My Guinness" and "Guinness For Strength", to promote the multitude of health benefits (!!?) of the roasty dark brew. As fascinating are the many Guinness ads Gilroy did for other countries, notably Germany (during the world wars, complete with Nazi iconography), as well as Russia, Greece, and the United States, where the familiar toucan flies high above the Golden Gate in San Francisco. 

"Gilroy Was Good For Guinness" is a wonderful and engrossing collection of John Gilroy's fantastic commercial works. Any serious and fan of historical beer memorabilia and Guinness's rich history would do well to seek this magnificent tome out.

Available thru Liberties Press at:

Or amazon at:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Beyond The Pale - The Story Of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co." by Ken Grossman

"Beyond The Pale - The Story Of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co." by Ken Grossman (2013 Wiley Publishing, hardcover, 6.25" x 9.25", 248 pages)

A true American success story, Sierra Nevada Brewing continues to set the pace among the exploding craft beer world. This is the "straight-from-the-horse's-mouth" story of founder Ken Grossman, who, in true American maverick style, began his business back in 1980 as little more than a hobby, literally out of garages and with makeshift supplies. 

Grossman, as it turns out, is nearly as good at writing as he is at brewing. Well, that one's debatable. Anyway, his humble beginnings are detailed here from his upbringing in California, as are the numerous business and personal hurdles he has faced to create his recognizable brand. Grossman's writing style is relaxed and focused, delivering a fairly straightforward presentation that is effective and to-the-point.

Keep in mind, in 1980 there WAS no such "craft beer" or any semblance of a scene or support for Grossman's intensely-hopped pale ales. Only industrial lagers and expensive imports littered the wastelands of America. Grossman's teenage home-brewing experiments and tinkering with production methods are amazingly inspiring, and this story is the definitive tale of Sierra Nevada's growing pains in the earlier, leaner years, as well as a twinkle in the eye towards the future.

Now, as unquestionably one of craft beer's most influential and respected brewing companies, Sierra Nevada continues to innovate and exemplify the brotherly (and sisterly) craft beer world, sourcing ingredients naturally and sustainably, and teaming up with like-minded breweries (like the recent Beer Camp Across America series of beers and festivals). "Beyond The Pale" is a book any serious craft beer fan should read. 

As a side-note that must be mentioned: It's also remarkable that even after 30+ years, Sierra Nevada's flagship Pale Ale is among the best out there. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Clockwork Orange County" DVD (director: Jonathan W.C. Wills)

Superb punk doc

This is a well-done documentary focused on the early rise of West Coast punk rock, dating back to the early 80s. Director Wills got in touch with the right people to interview, to be sure. Included here are conversations with members of T.S.O.L., the Adolescents, Social Distortion, Circle Jerks (Keith Morris), Dead Kennedys (Jello Biafra), Black Flag (Henry Rollins), and plenty of others. 

As it turns out, the SoCal punk scene was indebted to the small club owned by Jerry Roach called the Cuckoo's Nest, which supported most of these early punk bands in a time when punk was considered threatening and dangerous, and fights with "rednecks" and the police were commonplace. "Clockwork Orange County" features plenty of first-hand accounts of this era, when punk was new and idealistic. Wills even deemed it worthy to include some new bands to discuss this classic era with, all of whom admit a tremendous debt to these punk pioneers. It's a fascinating and well-presented documentary, and something any true fan of American punk should see.

Monday, July 7, 2014

"Peter Simon's Through The Lens - Celebrating 50 Years of Personalized Photojournalism" 2xDVD

Impressive set of photos from celebrated artist

This deluxe set of DVDs serves as both an intro to the extensive and impressive career of photojournalist Peter Simon, as well as a sort of travelogue of his 50 years covering America and the world. 

Hosted and narrated by Simon himself, this set details his childhood inspirations and follows his life through the tumultuous sixties (Simon was a part of the hippie community and even co-founded an impromptu commune back in the day). From there, his friendships with many artists, musicians, and other celebrities (Walter Cronkite and family were close friends, even) are highlighted, all with some amazing photography. Simon has had quite a colorful life, meeting people as gaining the trust of celebrities as diverse as Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, and Bob Marley, to name just a few. His coverage of Jamaican reggae culture is stunning and groundbreaking for it's era, and the photos featured here (there are hundreds presented in this set's 3+ hours) prove to be a lovely and inspirational journey from a man who's seen and done it all.

A perfect set for any aspiring photographer, "Peter Simon's Through The Lens" is a wonderful journey for anyone interested in the world around them. Peter Simon should be a household name, without question.