Category Archives: review

Johnny Worthen’s Beatrysel

This is the superb first novel from author Johnny Worthen, a man whose knowledge of the occult bleeds into his work, educating and illuminating.

It is also a tale of love and horror, refreshingly set against a modern day background of the American Northwest.

This is a horror romance that manages to inform as well as entertain, worth reading. You can buy the book here.

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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. at Biff Bam Pop!

If you’ve been watching “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” you know what a phenomenon it is. ABC and Disney, as well as Marvel Comics, are thrilled with the show – as are millions of viewers.

Also, you might not be aware, I have been reviewing “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” at Biff Bam Pop!. You can check out my thoughts on the first few episodes there for “Pilot,” “0-8-4,” “The Asset,” and “Eye Spy.”

And there’s a brand new episode tonight, so don’t forget to check out Biff Bam Pop! for my review later in the evening!

This. Song by Song

I love Robin Renee. I love her as a friend, a fellow creative, and especially as a musician. The girl can rock, and I love that, but some of her musical journeys go beyond my horizons. But then, I guess that’s all part of the mantra pop mystique.

Robin’s latest album is This., it features call-and-response chanting, soulful voices, and a rich soundscape of organic instrumentation blended seamlessly with light, heart-opening electronic ambience.

I must admit my ignorance. I am unfamiliar Eastern spiritual music, kirtan, yoga, meditation – it all remains a mystery as much as I have tried. It is impenetrable. Or perhaps it isn’t. This. is perhaps a gateway drug to understanding, as I like it. Maybe I just need to understand it.

What follows is my track by track impression of the album, followed by Robin’s thoughts on what the songs are really about. Enjoy.

Keshava

Glenn: The origins of this title come from, I believe, an aspect of Vishnu that is venerated to avoid bad luck or achieve good luck. It is a gentle start to the album, blending pop flavor and sensibility with the call and response method. Like many of the songs on the CD it has a subtle and wonderful build that I love. It is proof, as with much of This., that I can enjoy the music without knowing what it is about – but I am sure learning is the real joy of the journey.

Robin: My first order of business here is to try to dissuade you from taking This. as an intellectual exercise. From my perspective, kirtan is most essentially an experience meant to take us out of the chattering mind. Sanskrit has been called a language of energy or vibration, one that evokes peace, deepened consciousness, and infinite subtle expressions of love. What is most important is to allow yourself the experience of being still enough to just sing, or just listen and notice the experiences that come up for you in the process. By moving through whatever emotions and thoughts that come up in the practice of kirtan, you eventually get to a quieter place – the place that we all have somewhere inside where one encounters what some may call inner peace, awakening, God, Goddess, No-Self, or any other term (or no term at all) that most resonates with you.

Of course there are many stories that come out of the spiritual traditions that inform This. While it can be useful and interesting to study those, Sanskrit chants still aren’t really “about” anything. The words may have multi-layered translations, but the true “meaning” can’t really be stated. The intention of the music is to help bring about an experience beyond the mind rather than the experience of being caught in the mind. But since you asked:

Keshava is one of the names of Krishna, who is an avatar of Vishnu, who is called the Preserver of the Universe. The aspects of Krishna that show up for me while singing “Keshava” are the Universal Love that connects and runs through all, as well as the childlike playfulness and divine beauty that is associated with Krishna. The other names in the verses call out to some of those who appear in stories of Krishna’s life (mother, caretaker, lover, wife, Goddess of the Ganges River) as a way of conveying the many faces and many ways one can connect to the Sacred.

If any of that explanation feels directly important to listeners, that’s great. If not, that’s great as well. I don’t really know about the good luck/bad luck thing.

Funky Bhagavate

Glenn: I’m learning. I had to look it up, but it makes the music make more sense. ‘om namo bhagavate vasudevaya’ is a twelve syllable mantra used to attain freedom. The song is truth in advertising. It’s the chant, the mantra, set to a groove. I dig it.

Robin: Yes, all of these mantras, really, point toward moksha, or freedom from ego and the beliefs that keep us limited. Om is the primordial sound, the All-That-Is, and it is chanted by itself and as part of many mantras. Namo is usually translated as “I bow to.” One way to think of Om Namo Bhgavate Vasudevaya is “I bow to the God of the Heart” or “I bow to the indwelling Divine.” It is recognizing and connecting to the inner essence, allowing space for the untruths and limitations to fall away.

Kali Ma Potluck Singalong

Glenn: Much of Robin’s work renders itself to singalong, whether by intent as a call and response song, or as just a great tune that pulls you in and you find yourself humming and singing along in the car. This is how this one strikes me. It’s both, and I’ve found myself doing exactly that. And much like the above, there’s a subtle groove to this one. Another winner.

Robin: This song originated during one Friday evening when three women friends and I met at my place for dinner and chanting. We had our “Kirtan Intensives” fairly frequently then. They could be quite intense, indeed, and also a lot of fun. The melody and words to this one just sort of popped up during our singing and hangout time. Songs to the goddess Kali are often more minor-key and somber – Her energy is about the “tough love” of destroying what one no longer needs or what stands in the way of growth. I enjoy celebrating the energy that facilitates even that kind of often painful, jarring, but ultimately positive experience with an upbeat song.

Jaya Jaya Shiva Shambho

Glenn: As the song begins I am hypnotized by the drums and their depth, and then, at first slowly, then quickly, the song builds and speeds up. I really dig this song as well. What I did not know in my several dozen listenings of the tune, before I moved to research what it really meant, is that this is a cover. And ancient cover perhaps, but a cover of a chant used to praise the joyous aspects of Shiva. Beautiful song, and beautiful rendition, Robin.

Robin: I don’t remember where I first heard this melody – It may well have been when I first encountered the music of Krishna Das. Shiva is the Lord of the Dance, turning the wheel from death and dissolution to rebirth and renewal. I do like how the drums are prominent and so evoke movement and dancing in this one.

Blessed Be, Namaste

Glenn: This is perhaps my favorite song on the album, a multilayered lullaby. From what I understand, ‘namaste’ is a greeting or salutation in the East when meeting and parting. As I said, I like this one a lot, from its many layers to its slow subtle build, it is terrific.

Robin: Namaste is a greeting in everyday use, but it also has a deeper meaning. It really is saying “the divine in me honors the divine in you,” so it is a recognition of the still center where we are all One. “Blessed Be” is a common Wiccan/Pagan blessing from the Western mystic traditions, and “Namaste” is from the Eastern, so this song brings those together and recognizes the synergy among varied paths. It does feel like a lullaby, or Irish blessing song. It is my favorite, too.

Leaving Space

Glenn: This song makes me smile. “Leaving Space” is a song of bells, liberally spaced bells with silence that might make you think you have a problem with your iPod if you’re not paying attention. It reminds me crazily of a song on the most recent Eminem album where he lowers the volume and yells at you, the listener, for falling for his trick and turning up your device’s volume. Other than my crazed comparison, this is beautiful in its way, as well as thoughtful and relaxing.

Robin: That’s a funny comparison – I like that. “Blessed Be, Namaste” is kind of an ending song. I often will sing it at the end of a concert or kirtan. The next one, “Om Mani Padme Hum,” really is an ending song, too. When finishing up the recording of This., I realized I literally had to “leave space” somehow in order to have both of these songs appear. And “leaving space” in one’s life and mind for transformation, awakening, healing, love – that’s basically what kirtan and other spiritual music helps us do. Those were the concepts in mind as producer Jack Walker and I composed this ambient track.

Om Mani Padme Hum

Glenn: The slowly rushing water is both a relaxant, and an irritant if you need to go to the bathroom. I kid, but I am sure this would be excellent meditation music. There is a definite movement toward center here that I like. While the water reminds me of environmental vibes meant to put one to sleep in those sound machines, it’s accompanied by sounds to clear one’s mind and give focus. The combination works well.

Robin: The rainstick is convincing! The Buddhist mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, roughly, is “the jewel in the lotus” – our center or True Nature. If this track brings you closer to center, allows for more focus, relaxes you, or brings a peaceful sleep, I’d say it’s done something right.

Glenn: Thank you, Robin, for taking the time to give your thoughts on my impressions and your work. I have to confess that having This. on my iPod these last few months, and especially more recently delving deeper to write this, I have just liked it more and more.

This. is going to be followed up in 2014 by the singer-songwriter genre album …and Everything Else. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m sure we’ll be talking about that when it arrives. Thank you, Robin!

Robin can be found at website, on her blog, at CD Baby, and at iTunes. Follow her on Twitter here.

Don’t forget the Robin Renee Blog Tour continues at Patti O’Brien‘s blog, A Broad Abroad, tomorrow, check it out!

Black Sabbath’s 13

This is the first collaboration of original Black Sabbath members Ozzy Osbourne, Tommy Iommi, and Geezer Butler in years, and the first studio album from the band in almost two decades. To say there has been much anticipation would be redundant. The trio was joined by Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk when original Sabbath drummer Bill Ward declined to participate.

I got a chance to listen to the album recently in an iTunes sneak peek. “13” by Black Sabbath, produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, will be released on June 10th in Europe, and on June 11th in America. Here are my first thoughts on hearing the album.

“End of the Beginning” The album’s opening track is very heavy, but without being too retro, a sound new rather than old. The sinister quality is like a blast from the past, a reminder of what Black Sabbath once was. Ozzy is the star and yet also a cog in this product. When it kicks in, it does go down the retro road, but it also gets a bit more comfortable. However, when it does kick in, it becomes more Ozzy than Sabbath. Despite all that, I dig this.

“God Is Dead” – This is the single everyone has been talking about for weeks now. It’s amazing to me that music still travels by word of mouth in this internet age. Ozzy seems to take a backseat to the music, and let the guitars and bass, and especially here, the lyrics, lead the song. I love the conflicting and self-arguing words of the tune. Ozzy’s sing-song style here is like a trip through time back to the golden age of Sabbath.

This single and the above track were featured in the season finale of “C.S.I.” whetting the appetite of many a fan and non-fan. These two tunes prove relentlessly that not only was Black Sabbath back, but that they easily hold a place in today’s music world. There is evolution and relevance here that is not present in other comebacks of the era.

The quality continues as the tracks run down. “Loner” is better than average with thought provoking lyrics. “Zeitgeist” is uncharacteristically gentle and caressing in its softness. This is another new sound in a sea of noise from the past. I like it.

“Age of Reason” – Speaking of new. This reminds me of “End of the Beginning” in its dual past and present groove. Ozzy again takes backseat to the guitars of Iommi and Butler, and the lyrics take precedence over his voice. All that and the power of his voice never waivers.

Not all of the songs are hits out of the ballpark however. “Live Forever,” “Damaged Soul,” and even the vindictive rocker “Dear Father” are good, but pale with the rest of the album in my opinion. The deluxe version of “13” also includes the tracks “Methademic,” “Peace of Mind,” “Pariah,” and “Naivete in Black.” These were sadly not included in the special iTunes sneak peek.

This is superior music from superior musicians. Black Sabbath started heavy metal, and “13” proves without a doubt that they still rule it from high atop the mountain.

Lowcountry Bribe by C. Hope Clark

LOWCOUNTRY BRIBE by C. Hope Clark has the best opening line I have read in quite some time: “O-positive primer wasn’t quite the color I had in mind for the small office, but Lucas Sherwood hadn’t given the décor a second thought when he blew out the left side of his head with a .45.” I was hooked.

Hope’s descriptions don’t end with that beautiful Tarantino-esque opening. In what sounds at first like the last thing I would ever read – an agricultural mystery in the Deep South – Hope delivers fast paced, easy reading, absolutely compelling prose. Her sense of place and people put you there, and the tension and twists don’t let you put the book down. I read it in one sitting, and I don’t do that often. I loved the characters, and the edge. And this is coming from someone for whom mysteries are just not in the wheelhouse.

Carolina Slade Bridges is a strong female protagonist, a good woman drawn from equal parts Dashiell Hammett, Patricia Cornwell, and Elmore Leonard. She’s tough, she’s harsh, she’s by the book, and quite often, she’s Hope Clark herself – or at least the woman, mentor, and friend I have come to know after a decade of interviewing her at The Writer’s Chatroom. It’s no secret the book is loosely based on real events, but how close, no one’s talking. Any way you slice it, Slade (don’t call her Carolina) rocks, and I can’t wait for the next installment – TIDEWATER MURDER, due next month. Four stars out of four, highly recommended.

Buy the book here, and be sure to come by The Writer’s Chatroom this Sunday evening for a chat/interview with the author.

Daym Drops on Five Guys Burgers and Fries

The Amazing Spider-Man Pregame

Here are some treats from your friends at Biff Bam Pop! for those of you planning to see The Amazing Spider-Man over the holiday this week, and let’s face it, who isn’t going to see it? It’s going to rock!

My thoughts on the villain of the film, classic Spider-Man foe, the Lizard, can be found here in my article, “Beware The Lizard!”

I explore the question “Who Were Peter Parker’s Parents?” before the movie tells us their version in my article here.

BBP editor-in-chief Andy Burns tackles reviewing the film itself before it hits theaters here, and several of us take on the web-slinger’s movie, television and comics adventures in a roundtable discussion from last week’s episode of the Biff Bam Popcast, available here.

Fran Metzman and The Hungry Heart Stories

Okay, if you’ve been paying attention, you know I’ve been running a virtual book tour throughout eight different blogs for the last ten days. Yeah, I know, holy heavy rotation, Batman, especially if you also follow me on the various social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Tumblr, Gather, LiveJournal, and the rest. The name of the book is THE HUNGRY HEART STORIES and it’s by my friend, mentor and fellow writer Fran Metzman.

Now if you’ve been with us for the whole ride, you’ve learned a lot about Fran and the book from reviews, interviews, and press releases, and it’s all true. I’d like to say I have some deep dark secrets about her, but I don’t. It’s on the page. Her mind, her talent, even bits of her life, they are all on the page. So if you haven’t already, think about purchasing a copy of “The Hungry Heart Stories,” and get to know Fran a little better. You’ll be glad you did.

I think I might have an interesting perspective on this short story collection, as I am the only man on this blog tour, but I think agree wholeheartedly with everyone else. Now as a member of Fran’s Rainy Tuesdays writing group for over a decade, and the guy who organized this blog tour, you might guess that I’m a Fran fan. But just ask Ms. Metzman herself, and you’ll find I don’t mince when it comes to critiquing. I personally think some members of that group have actually planned my demise on occasion because of my razor sharp critiques. Let’s sum it up to say that if I didn’t like these stories, I wouldn’t be promoting them. Enough said.

These are stories of women in transition, women in crisis, and as you’ve been told along this blog tour, the thread of cooking and food runs through them all, some stronger than others. My favorite, “The Right Seasoning,” holds a particular memory for me. We workshopped it in our Tuesday night writers group some years ago. As we went around the room verbally giving our critiques, we all began to get hungrier and hungrier. Reading the story, with such wonderful olfactory imagery, hit our stomachs as well as our heads! I loved it.

All of the stories in this collection will hit the reader hard and make them feel. If you read them and walk away unaffected in some way, I don’t know what to say. I think this is what literary fiction should be about – soliciting a feeling, a reaction, making the reader think. And if you want to really understand what Fran is doing, I can’t recommend enough the last work in the collection, an essay called “Writing and Healing.” It says it all. All writers should read that piece.

Buy the book. Read the book. Can I be any more forward than that? I guess not. Now here’s where I bribe you. Next week, next Friday, I am going to go through every stop on this virtual book tour, and pick one lucky commenter and award them a free copy of the book. All those affiliated with the blog tour are ineligible (sorry, ladies). Now let’s see some comments!

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Metropolis at Biff Bam Pop!

My review of the silent scifi film classic Metropolis is now live at Biff Bam Pop!.

Metropolis is one of my all-time favorite movies, and revolutionary in inspiring an entire film genre. You can check my review out here.

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Green Lantern

Green Lantern ~ My earliest memory of the superhero Green Lantern is from the Justice League of America comics, and he was awesome. Hal Jordan was a space hero who had a Power Ring that could do just about anything – shoot an energy beam, make a force field, allowed him to fly, and he could make stuff with it, just about anything he could imagine. Like I said, awesome.

This will date me, but Green Lantern also seemed inextricably linked to Green Arrow and Black Canary and they were always doing something political or with social relevance (a big word back then) and other stuff I wasn’t old enough to understand. Also I knew he was buddies with the Flash, they were a team like Superman and Batman, maybe not as old as them, but they were friends and teammates. Such good friends, that when GL’s comic got canceled, Flash let him appear in the back of his comic – now that’s friendship!

Green Lantern has been through some changes since then. He’s been replaced, replaced again, turned evil, killed, brought back to life, and turned into a moneymaker by genius comic writer Geoff Johns. With that last turn of events, we all knew it wouldn’t be long before Green Lantern hit the big screen. The wait is over.

Being a comics geek, I usually look forward to most films based on comics, Green Lantern was no different. If you ask The Bride, she’ll tell you I’ve keeping a mental countdown clock. Advance reviews were not good however, and as I waited until Saturday to see the flick, I can tell you I was a little bit worried. Now, having seen it, I have to wonder what film the critics saw.

This isn’t Iron Man and nor is it the first two Superman films – it is so not the perfect superhero movie, but it is great. Personally I think Pat Travers of Rolling Stone must have lost a bet on this flick the way he ravaged it – it’s really not that bad. As a matter of fact, I thought it was pretty good.

The story is pretty simple, close to the comics with a few differences. Hal Jordan is a reckless test pilot who finds a dying alien whose Power Ring has chosen him as the new Green Lantern. He trains on Oa with other Lanterns and eventually faces off against the villain Hector Hammond and the evil alien entity Parallax. There are spoilers coming, so some folks might want to skip to the end.

Ryan Reynolds is good as the clunky Hal Jordan but even better as the hero Green Lantern. This is a facet of the reason I like origin stories in movies. I don’t want to see the young, reckless untrained hero – I want to see the complete good guy fight for right hero, and in this case, I am validated. Reynolds is so much better at the latter. Blake Lively is just pretty, and other than that, not believable. I wanted more of Taika Waititi as Tom Kalmaku. And Angela Bassett – wow, who would have ever thunk that Amanda Waller would have shown up in a Green Lantern movie?

Peter Sarsgaard is properly creepy as Hammond. But, while he is good, it’s the make-up and the CGI that goes too far with the character. Does Hector Hammond need to be a drooling monstrous maniac? He’s just got a big head in the comics. Really, for me, that would have been disturbing enough. Parallax, is all CGI, and basically a Galactus cloud with the Wizard of Oz’ face crossed with the Akira monster. This is not pretty. Again, a reference to the comics – Parallax’s real form, that of a giant insect is also pretty monstrous and scary, and of course accurate. The Guardians too could have been less scary. Details like this might put some folks off this flick, and sequels if it goes to franchise.

The voice acting of the CGI characters is dead on. Mark Strong is fantastic as Sinestro, playing him with just the right amount of contempt and menace. I loved Geoffrey Rush as Tomar-Re (one of my fave Green Lanterns) and Michael Clarke Duncan is a perfect Kilowog. I didn’t think I would say that after I loved Henry Rollins in the role in the animated Emerald Knights, but it’s true.

There are as many plot holes in this flick however, as there are Easter eggs for comics fans. Unfortunately the former seems to overshadow the latter. The plot jumps rather quickly from the main story with Hal to the subplots with Hammond and Parallax, which is fine, but too much time is spent on minor details that could have been deleted for meatier bits with other characters. Did we really need the flashbacks of Hal’s father in a bad homage to the opening of Speed Racer? Did we need to know all of Hal’s family? I would have rather had more interaction with Carol, Tom, Sinestro and the other Lanterns quite frankly.

I would have rather had more of a fight against both Hammond and Parallax, their defeats seemed too easy to me, and the fact that Hal doesn’t even really defeat Hammond is very bothersome. Come on, he’s supposed to be the hero here, ya know? But I suppose these are things that happen when a film has so many writers credited. The 3-D, while in the previews it made me want to see it in 3-D, was unnecessary. Save your money.

All in all, I had fun, and with a movie that cost upwards of thirty bucks all inclusive, that’s what counts. I came out of the film excited and hoping for a sequel. Not a great film, but a great superhero adventure, visually stunning. And for the folks who liked Thor and Wolverine for certain reasons – Ryan Reynolds is shirtless quite a bit. Recommended.

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