Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Haunted Changi" DVD (director: Andrew Lau)

This film blurs the lines between reality and fiction and does so fairly well. Like a Singaporean cross between "The Blair Witch Project" and "Ghost Adventures", "Haunted Changi" purports itself to be a documentary, as a small crew of young filmmakers set out in Singapore's infamous haunted Old Changi Hospital to capture apparitions and ghostly presences.

The amateur hand cam style is rough, gritty, and realistic, though there are some rather professional edits and effects in some spots that belittle the "indie" credibility somewhat. The young actors are fine, with "producer" Sheena Chung being a standout. And the numerous shots of the run-down, dilapidated hospital are eerie and well worth a look. This is, after all, a seriously well-documented hotspot for paranormal activity. Kudos to the crew for choosing the actual Old Changi Hospital as their setting. Tension is fairly high, though actual "jump" moments are few and far between. Overall, an enjoyable ghost-hunting experience, not without a few problems, but nonetheless, I liked this one. (MVD Visual)

Haunted Changi website

"For Christ's Sake" DVD (director: Jackson Douglas)

A farcical comedy featuring several MadTV alumni as well as a cameo from John Schneider (Dukes Of Hazzard), "For Christ's Sake" is a silly tale of a Catholic priest who inadvertently loans his brother a huge amount of cash from his church's emergency fund. The trouble begins when the brother reveals the money wasn't used for cancer treatments, but to fund a porno movie. Crises of faith abound, and this lightweight film is charming and entertaining, and quite fun. (MVD Visual)

"Thankskilling" DVD (director: Jordan Downey)

With tongues firmly set in cheek, director Downey and friends present this splatstick horror comedy that could become a cult favorite with some time. The campy, cheesy, almost Muppet-like cover art begins by promising "boobs in the first second", and it doesn't falter on this boast. Trash points already! Truth be told, this is a fun and gory parody that goes far and isn't afraid to look stupid for a laugh. And that it was filmed over only 11 days and on a paltry $3500 budget is amazing.

The "villain" here is a smack-talking, smarmy turkey, reincarnated after a Native American curse and aimed at wreaking havoc on the Pilgrims. The turkey, who's full of lame one-liners, gets himself into some precarious spots in his attempts to murder and maim hapless teens. One unforgettable scene involves "Turkey" "stuffing" a slutty coed -- shocking and hilarious. You've never seen a sex scene like this before, trust me.

Sure, the acting is stiff and the writing fairly flat, but the premise of a killer turkey in the spirit of Troma or early Peter Jackson is pure drive-in sleaze greatness. For fans of stuff like the "Evil Dead" series, "Reanimator", or any Troma flick, this is a must-see. (MVD Visual)

Thankskilling site

Sunday, November 13, 2011

More Beer, No Fear...

The craft beer revolution continues! Amidst failing global markets, failing stock markets, multi-national conglomerates, and the decimation of the "middle class", craft beer has not only sustained, but actually shown growth, while the corporate monoliths slip, slip, slip...Bravo! Scales are, as always, 1 is awful, 5 is awesome. And a one, and a two, and a here-we-go!

The dependable Widmer's entry into the Oktoberfest sweepstakes opens with a cloudy amber appearance and attractive spoke-wheel lacing on the glass. Superlative presentation! The aroma is caramel and wheat, and pretty well typical for the style. But the taste, you ask? It's sweet, with the caramel malts up front alongside hints of a nutty, even almost roasty character. Very well-done, and an enjoyable brew.

This is a perfectly-executed porter, with a deep black appearance and overwhelming carbonation that leaves some extraordinary retention on the glass. First sniff reveals a nutty, roasty character, with a chocolate or cocoa overtone. Nice! Tastes burnt, with more bittersweet cocoa at the finish that seems to sweeten up as it warms. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this one, and any fans of porters or stouts will be pleased.

I wanted to like this one, being from Maine and boasting of a spooky-cool Ichabod Crane character on the label. But alas, this clear and golden ale with limited head and no lace proved disappointing. The nose seemed lagery, grainy, and thin...not very pumpkin-like at all. The flavor was also mild and bland, even. Imagine a typical adjunct lager beer with some pumpkin flavoring dropped in, and you have this unimaginative brew. Thanks, but no thanks.

This seasonal macro-posing-as-craft-beer pours a cloudy copper, with an average head and very little lace. Smells of pumpkin, rather than spice. Not bad so far. But the worst is yet to come! The flavor is metallic, with a weird artificial-tasting pumpkin-spice mix. To boot, this one's watery and thin-bodied. There's something missing here. Avoid!

Harvest-time beer reviews, continued...

More beer reviews sadly neglected last month. Most of these can be likely found in most Midwestern United States-area stores, and these are all solid craft beers. Remember the system...1 is awful, 5 is awesome. in-between, well, let's just say that 2 would be bleah, 3 drinkable, and 4 worthy. Make sense? As always, judge on your own taste buds, and give these breweries your support.

This Fall seasonal from Chicago's fine Goose Island pours a fittingly rusty amber, and boasts of an ample head and stunningly gorgeous spiderweb lacing. The aroma is malty - like Fall leaves and grains...robust and sturdy. Tastes well-balanced, with a biscuity malt profile at first, followed by a hoppy, sharp bitter finish. Very good, and a welcome break from the usual Fall Marzen/Oktoberfest styles.

Nice clean pine-amber color, with a modest head. Slight but attractive lace.
Aroma is pleasantly pine, with some orange tones.
Easy-drinking hops presence, but very well-balanced with the malts. Flavor reveals more pine and orange/citrus character. Fine and likeable, this is a superb session-worthy pale ale.

This dark red/amber English-style old ale pours with a massive and lovely retention on the glass. A strong start, for sure. The aroma says roasty, peaty malts. Earthy, like wet leaves and yeast. Nice. Taste is huge - strong peat-roasted malts, followed by a dry hops sharpness. The strong 8.7% alcohol isn't too apparent, but it is there underneath all the powerful flavors. I get even more of a pungent licorice, raisin, and tobacco taste upon slight warming. A potent, heavy, and complex ale. High marks here.

GUINNESS BLACK LAGER (Dublin, Ireland) - 3.5
Deep and black (as Guinness well should be), this new brew leaves a large but erratic lace on my pint glass. Nose is grainy like most lagers, barely hinting at the flavors to follow. Tastes mildly burnt/roasty - but still light on the body, as opposed to the usual heavier stout. Very enjoyable, and though I'd rather sip on a warmed Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, this one hit the spot.

Holydaze craft beer roundup!

The time is finally here for more beer reviews. I hope to catch up and post several more months worth soon, but meantime, here are some craft brews worthy of your attention, taste buds, and hard-earned cash. My rating scale goes from 1-5, with 1 being awful and 5 being awesome. As you see, nothing here was outright crap. Support craft beer, and especially your local craft brewers. On we go...

GOOSE ISLAND - PERE JACQUES 2010 (Chicago, IL) - 3.5
This bottle-aged, living beer is a Belgian-style ale, and it pours a rusty amber (with visible sediment) and a minimal head. I get virtually no lace, either. Not really impressive. The aroma is boozy, with hints of dried fruit esters and yeast. The flavor is similar, with notes of candied fruits and crusty bread. It's pleasant but heavy on the palate, and with a strong alcohol kick (8%), this one's a sipper. I like Pere Jacques, but wonder what it would taste like with a few years of aging to smooth it all out.

This hazy amber ale pours with medium carbonation and only a half-finger of lace on the glass. Nothing spectacular in the presentation. The nose is spiced, malty, and rich. Not bad. Upon tasting, I get more spice, and some tones of fruit and nuts, with a slightly bitter finish. Boulevard has captured some appropriate flavors for the holidays, and this ale is solid, if unremarkable.

Ah, Widmer rarely disappoints my taste buds, and this clean red/amber ale pours with an impressive head and a luxuriously thick lace on the glass. The nose is caramel malty with some definitely hoppy flair tucked in there. Impressive. The flavor seems malty at first, but with a clean hops finish that places this more in line with a pale ale. Delicious and worthy!

BELL'S WINTER WHITE ALE (Comstock, MI) - 4.0
The respected Bell's presents their venerable Winter seasonal here, and it's a Belgian-style wit beer. This one pours a hazy yellow-orange with plenty of fine, white carbonation and a little retention. The aroma is definitely spices (I get a little clove) and citrus (namely orange). The taste is balanced and mild, with sharp wheat notes and orange zest playing leisurely with a little spice for warmth. Pleasant and enjoyable.

Bruce Springsteen- "DVD Collector's Box" 2xDVD

This set of unauthorized documentaries/critical analyses is basically a re-packaged set of 2 previous titles. The first I viewed, "Under Review 1978-1982: Tales Of A Working Man" is a look at Springsteen's albums, "Darkness At The Edge Of Town", "The River", and "Nebraska", and traces their inspirations and recording processes from the points of view of bandmates, music journalists and biographers. There are, as with most of Sexy Intellectual's productions, plenty of photos and some archival interviews with "the Boss" himself, and segments of songs to illustrate. This is a well-done piece for serious Springsteen-o-philes.

The second disc, "Under The Infuence", is a little thinner, and shares some of the same footage, but works well as a companion piece to "Under Review". This DVD traces Springsteen's initial inspirations as an artist, and provides a broad overview of the artists that Bruce himself took closest to his heart growing up. Here, we get profiles of Elvis, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Phil Spector, Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Gary (US) Bonds, Mitch Ryder, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger among others. Perhaps this isn't an essential viewing, but it does provide an interesting and honest assessment of Springsteen's musical lineage and his place in rock history. Solid set here. (Sexy Intellectual/MVD Visual)

Springsteen official site

Voyager - "The Meaning Of I" CD

From the unlikely climes of Perth, Australia comes this accomplished melodic/symphonic prog-metal act, and "The Meaning Of I" is their 4th album in 8 years.

Led by the clean, clear, and spot-on vocals of Daniel Estrin, the band's technical prowess is evident. "Seize The Day" is classic metal at it's heart, but the dense layering and mixing, as well as the complex structures and symphonic (even electronic) elements add textural depth. Voyager stretches themselves far beyond the usual metal limitations, embracing Tangerine Dream-like electronics and even near-synthpop (witness "The Pensive Disarray").

Heavier-than-thou metalheads may find this stuff a bit too well-studied and mature, but Voyager still sounds heavy, with a concise, riff-heavy attack that's firmly metallic from most every angle. Sure, it's not feral or "brutal", but Voyager's interpretation of metal involves complex arrangements, melodic song structure, and emotion, rather than noise. Solid, solid work here. I can't compare to any other artist in particular, as these guys are working their own path. A great change of pace from sludgy grindcore or black metal, as these guys are serious about their music, and their complexity is their strength. (Sensory/The Laser's Edge)

Voyager website