Saturday, December 19, 2009

2009: Andrew's Picks


Top 10
1. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
The incomparable Neko Case returned in 2009 with the strongest album of her solo career. Her haunting voice is on display here, and her unconventional songwriting shines.

2. Doves – Kingdom of Rust
3. The Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come
4. The King Khan & BBQ Show – Invisible Girl
5. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South
6. Manic Street Preachers – Journal for Plague Lovers
7. Black Moth Super Rainbow – Eating Us
8. Collective Soul – Rabbit
9. Muse – The Resistance
10. Bruce Springsteen – Working on a Dream

Honorable Mentions
Chris Isaak – Mr. Lucky
Elvis Costello – Secret, Profane and Sugar Cane
Booker T. Jones – Potato Hole
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009: Mark's Picks


CREAM O’ ‘09
01 A Serious Man
02 Up in the Air
03 Inglourious Basterds
04 Adventureland
05 The Hurt Locker
06 Sugar
07 500 Days of Summer
08 Funny People
09 Precious
10 District 9

In the Loop
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Men Who Stare at Goats
The Messenger
The Hangover

Miss March
The International
Serious Moonlight
Taking Woodstock
Public Enemies
Away We Go

The White Ribbon
An Education
The Road
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans



CREAM O' '09
Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs
Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk
Fever Ray – Fever Ray
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes – Up From Below
Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Eating Us
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

Sonic Youth – The Eternal
Passion Pit – Manners
The xx – XX
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Bruce Springsteen – Working on a Dream
U2 – No Line on the Horizon


CREAM O' '09
Mad Men
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Shark Tank
Modern Family
Bored to Death
Party Down

Parks and Recreation
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Battlestar Gallactica
Friday Night Lights

Friday, December 11, 2009

Film Review: Up in the Air

Up in the Air – a funny, sad, naturalistic and polished dramedy from co-writer/director Jason Reitman – is undeniably a contender for the 2010 Academy Awards. Yet it has no elaborate costume or set design, James Cameron-engineered digital effects, an epic narrative or even propulsive drama. This comparatively small film by Oscar’s standards will rack up nominations but should win only the smaller awards by no fault of its own. It just isn’t that breed. This is the kind of winter film that's comforting in its bleakness and uncertainty and doesn’t flaunt production value but instead sees it as economic cache.

Reitman's solid antecedent comedies, Thank You for Smoking and Juno, laid the bricks for his best feature yet. It doesn’t hurt that he's the son of the guy who made Ghostbusters.

An apotheosis of the George Clooney persona, Ryan Bingham flies 270 days a year as an expert layoff specialist, formally dismissing employees from companies around the country when the bosses lack the cojones to do so. It’s an unusual job that has manifested itself into a life mantra for never having to really know anyone.

“How much does your life weigh?” asks Ryan at the podium of motivational seminars. He coaches traveling professionals on the mentality of someone with a successful, baggage-less solitary existence. Home in Omaha for Ryan is torture. Not because of sour relationships with his sisters or painful memories but because he lives for traveling. “No man is an island” means zilch to him.

He meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), sleek, sultry and professional, whose occupation is never revealed, in a cocktail lounge. They hit it off right away. Alex is even shallower than Ryan and requests keeping their relationship strictly business-sexual. “Think of me as you with a vagina,” she says.

Then, enter Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a 23-year-old precocious Cornell grad has new plans for the company – upgrading from in-person layoffs to cost-saving video chat firings from the Omaha office. Ryan’s boss (Jason Bateman), absolutely smitten with the whiz kid, strongly considers it but first sends Natalie on the road with Ryan for a series of corporate send-offs.

The sight of two people nervously preparing to deliver bad news to an unsuspecting American taxpayer triggered déjà vu ala The Messenger. And Ryan’s seminars reminded me of the faux-profound nature (thanks to Carter Burwell) of Clooney’s speech about the Massey prenup in Intolerable Cruelty.

No doubt this new depiction of romance and seduction is as impersonal as the coupling of 21st-century technology and the application of sociology. Witty, sexual banter is exchanged via text messages, and post-coital activity includes Ryan and Alex logging onto their adjacent laptops to check flight times and layovers.

Critics swooned over Up in the Air in the past month for being delightfully modern, which certainly makes Ryan’s senseless detachment from family, dependence and commitment a relatable flaw. Although Reitman shows the hardship and adversity the recession has incited, he probably will ironically make a healthy sum from it.

Clooney has amassed plenty of mileage in a decade and a half, and he delivers one of his most complete performances in this role. Farmiga, who more or less faded into the back of The Departed’s decked-out ensemble, may finally have a chance for meaty roles in the future.

The screenplay, adapted from Walter Kirn’s 2001 novel, doesn’t shy from corporate lingo and appropriates fearlessly astute dialogue within romantic scenes, a rarity in post-George Cukor and post-Howard Hawks cinema.

There is a great scene in a hotel lounge in which Natalie, who was recently dumped by her boyfriend, and Alex take turns describing their ideal life mate while Ryan listens. Alex’s standards for a man are much lower than Natalie’s, though both desire a figure of status. The 15-year gap between them is vast, and Natalie can’t imagine a life without the potential for perfection.

Before the film digs itself into a hole of depression, it bursts out with a happy hour of sorts. The two large-group events in the film include the tech convention after-party and Ryan’s sister’s wedding. Natalie’s drunken exuberance in the former and Ryan and Alex’s closeness in both scenes are sportively amorous yet also sincere.

Actors known for their comedic relief - Zach Galifianakis, J.K. Simmons (Reitman regular) and Danny McBride – have small bit parts in essentially serious roles. McBride is given one of his first roles since All the Real Girls to prove he can actually act.

The soundtrack plays to the strengths of the wavering tone. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings’ sassy version of “This Land is Your Land” is the opening number, and somber, folky tracks from Crosby, Stills & Nash, Elliott Smith and Roy Buchanan fade in at the right moments.

The story gets blotchy in its final ten minutes. Some surprises and the jumpy cuts to suitcase handles and airport terminals dizzies up the mise-en-scene in an otherwise smooth conclusion for the characters.

While still an unlikely pick for Best Picture, Up in the Air scores a lot of points for pathos. Reitman's film offers a refreshing blend of classical star wattage and a potently contemporary perspective that forge a connection with the audience on many levels despite an overall elegiac tone.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Flobots gets behind local economies

This past week, Denver-based alternative rock/hip-hop band Flobots issued a statement supporting the local economy. They have designated this week "Buy Local Week," promoting the importance about supporting the local economy, especially in these times of need. The holidays have always attracted many shoppers to spend more money than usual on gifts and holiday cheer.

The Flobots are particularly known for supporting many activist groups pertaining to everything from war to music to food. They have issued these statements on their Web site, Fight with Tools. They are very much community members and share their views on their activists ways through their music and fan base.

Although, hailing from Denver, they are vehement advocates of the Colorado economy and asked us all to do the same thing around our local neighborhoods.

I have, many times, discussed the importance of buying local pertaining to our food supply. Keeping local farmers around is a prominent factor. Even though buying local, especially in the food sector, might be a little bit more money, it's money that is circulated back into the local economy and not sent to big business and government. Remember: we all pay taxes and therefore should help our neighbors pay their taxes too, rather than supporting corrupt multimillionaire CEOs who don't necessarily look at the environment - their employees, and our economy - but how they can squeeze every little cent into their own pockets by the year's end. Many local producers work very hard, trying to make a living and feeding their families this holiday season doing what they love. So go out and support your local economy by buying from local farms, shops, and craft fairs.

And remember there are major corporations out there, although few, that do support the local economy and environment. So do your research, and if you feel the need to stop into a major chain, make sure it is one that supports local!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No Room for Squares

John Mayer is a musician loaded with talent.

One must look only as far as his appearance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads guitar festival to see how monstrous his guitar technique really is.

So why does he choose to continue releasing albums of panderous crooning and safe, mellow grooves?

A guy who could have been the guitar hero of our time, the Eddie Van Halen of the Aughts, has chosen instead to condemn himself to the world’s soft rock radio stations for all of eternity.

There’s no doubt he’s a solid songwriter. I can call the melodies of “No Such Thing” and “Gravity” and “Daughters” and “Waiting on the World to Change” to mind instantly. But when I want to rock out, Mayer’s got nothin’. He goes with the Jack Johnson brand of hazy brain-fuzz strumming instead. There’s a time and place for that, of course, but Mayer’s capable of so much more.

Those music fans who have been waiting for Mayer to come out of his shell probably got excited when word got out that 2006’s Continuum contained a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love.” Finally, Mayer takes a shot at the role he should be playing, right? But they were likely disappointed when the album actually dropped.

Mayer’s covers of “Bold As Love” and Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” (on the recently released Battle Studies) pay homage to his influences, two gods of rock who he has the talent to copy. Unfortunately, neither song rises above that “copy” status. His Stratocaster cuts like a knife on “Bold As Love” but the song still manages to sound sanitized. The beaten-down-but-still-tryin’ vibe of “I’m On Fire” is replaced by a pale imitation.

John Mayer Trio’s live album Try! is the closest Mayer has ever come to baring his soul on a recording. “Who Did You Think I Was,” the disc’s opening track, is a rock song. Unfortunately, he settles back into his familiar groove later in the set.

Taking Mayer’s entire recorded body of work into account, maybe it’s time to admit it: Mayer is overrated as an underrated guitarist. He can replicate the burning blues licks of his heroes, but he can’t make them his own.

He won’t be recording Springsteen’s “I’m A Rocker” next because he’s not. He’s a singer-songwriter who crafts pleasing mid-tempo melodies. His influences may be some of the blues-rock greats, but he’s content to imitate them in his spare time and then go back to recording low-voiced snoozefests.

He’s probably happy with his legacy. How many children have been conceived to Mayer records? It has to be at least a few. But the chances of Mayer throwing us a bone and making a rock album are looking mighty bleak.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Album Review: The King Khan & BBQ Show - Invisible Girl

A review of the new King Khan & BBQ Show album, Invisible Girl, is available for your reading pleasure here.

A quick summary of the verdict on the record:

"There’s always the lingering feeling that this is all a joke, a fact not hindered by “Animal Party” and “Tastebuds,” and it takes away from the sincerity and emotional impact of songs like “I’ll Be Loving You.” However, a record that errs on the side of fun is far preferable to one that takes itself too seriously. ... All in all, The King Khan & BBQ Show’s eccentricities might not jibe with your average music fan, but forget ‘em. This soul revival is far more entertaining than most of the acts that decided to get in on the vintage music boom."

Quite honestly, King Khan & BBQ might be too far out for most listeners to handle. Anyone who hungers for more modern radio pseudo-soul won't find it on Invisible Girl. "Tastebuds" by itself would surely horrify any prudish housewife searching for the new Amy Winehouse or Duffy.

Though the group lacks mainstream appeal, Invisible Girl should be in consideration for the myriad "Top Albums of 2009" lists that will be popping up in a month or so.

[Apollo's] Hipness rating: 7 out of 10
[Apollo's] Actual rating: 8 out of 10

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Film Review: The Messenger

Films portraying U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq have a bit of a bad reputation save for The Hurt Locker and a few others. Most are loaded with ideology and preach no more coherently than a cable-news pundit. Those that examine the reintegration period when soldiers return home have not had as much of a chance to shine.

The Messenger, from first-time director Oren Moverman, is about post-Iraq as much as it is about any war. The film refrains from flashing to gritty warfare footage and from dwelling on soldier’s stories until it’s absolutely necessary. There is wrenching drama in observing the aftermath of war on all those directly or indirectly connected to the U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Despite weak pacing in the second hour, The Messenger articulately provides fascinating profiles of two men forever scarred from fighting on the front lines – with a more concentrated focus than other post-Deer Hunter coming-home fare.

Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is back home in New Jersey stationed at Fort Dix with no family aside from an ex-girlfriend who moved onto a new suitor in his absence. Combating loneliness, he finds employment notifying families of their spouses or kin’s recent death in the military overseas. Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) accompanies Will on each home visit, enforcing a strict list of orders that prohibit any subjective empathy with the bereaved. Will violates the job’s contract when he develops a relationship with a shy widow Olivia (Samantha Morton).

The first hour of the film serves as an insightful, joltingly emotional in-depth look, more moving than any newspaper feature, into the job of a casualty notifications officer. It is harrowing work that requires enormous discipline on the part of the officer. Identifying with Will and Tony as dutiful workers on the job, you can’t help but feel strangely dissonant when frustrated that a distraught father (Steve Buscemi) of a deceased soldier lunges out at them, threatening violence. The casualty’s parents aren’t the bad guys, but the officers’ mission as messengers of death isn’t as esoteric from an outsider’s perspective now.

The disparity between those who have been directly affected by the war and those haven’t is a widening crevasse. The same goes for the duality of the responsibilities of a messenger in delivering bad news and/or good news. To have shared in the experience either on the front lines or in losing a loved one abroad is to suffer a wound that can’t easily be healed.

Foster, appropriately unhinged, is a fine actor in his own right but too often falls one tier below method performer Ryan Gosling. Harrelson, on a roll in 2009, steals the show as he did in October’s buddy horror-comedy Zombieland.

The second hour hits a snag in which the plot tends to meander about. One such sluggish scene between Will and Olivia packed no nuance, no sense of pacing nor comprehension of fluidity. The couple’s relationship is never developed thoroughly and Olivia always appears like she could care less. The impact of the first hour slightly flattens in retrospect.

Unlike the majority of recent Iraq fare, Moverman’s downer, anchored by two powerful lead performances, doesn’t bite off more than it can chew in showcasing the inherently fractured nature of the outcast veteran.

[Apollo's] Hipness rating: 5 out of 10
[Apollo's] Actual rating: 7 out of 10

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Comedy and musicality aren’t mutually exclusive

There have been several bands in recent years that have managed to combine solid musicianship with some comedy. Though rock musicians have famously taken their art very seriously, fans of the music are often interested in simply being entertained. It’s a dichotomy that begs the question: why don’t more bands have more fun?

The “fun” bands exist on a sliding scale from actual musical entity to joke band. Spinal Tap is the most famous example of a fake band, though it has released several studio albums. Tenacious D and The Lonely Island are bands formed by comedians that play real music. Steel Panther and The Darkness pay homage to a musical style even while poking fun at it.

Just because these bands are sometimes making music with their tongues in their cheeks doesn’t mean they can’t write a solid hook. Tenacious D and The Darkness had songs played on modern rock stations. Steel Panther is the newest “joke” band to release an album of original music, and there’s an argument to be made for the band being better than the groups it’s aping.

The reason why a band like Steel Panther can actually be better than its hair metal predecessors: while bands like White Lion and Mötley Crüe were seriously intent on doing smack and banging groupies, it’s clear the Panther knows how much fun the whole thing is.

Chuck Klosterman wrote the book on hair metal, literally. His Fargo Rock City (Scribner, 2001) is the quintessential tome on hair metal fandom, written from the perspective of a music fan who grew up in the mid-‘80s. Klosterman went on to be a talented writer and pop culture guru, so his growth couldn’t have been stunted too badly by a diet steady diet of KISS albums and Shout at the Devil.

But Klosterman’s outlook on hair metal hasn’t changed from the one he had as a young boy in rural North Dakota. He loved Ratt and Poison because they seemed like badasses, hard-living rebels who may or may not have worshipped Satan. History, meanwhile, remembers the same bands for their buffoonery and questionable fashion choices.

Hilarity can be badass, and it’s certainly more entertaining than watching a band that clearly treats its music as work. Who wants to watch another day at the office? That’s what it is for career musicians, after all. But Steel Panther understands the inherent absurdity of the music it plays. There’s no pressure to create musical works of art or even appease music critics. They’re entertainers, and they’re funny.

Most of all, the band writes and plays original songs that are hummable, with good hooks and catchy choruses. Isn’t that the point of pop music?

Thanksgiving Week

What is the one common factor that every American family has during Thanksgiving? If you have guessed football, you're probably in the Pittsburgh following, but the answer I was looking for is Food. Thanksgiving has always been about the food since the native americans brought the Pilgrims their first major gathering meal and it will remain about food and gathering. The typical American family will gather together in one home to cook this magnificent feast. The oven and stove becomes the center of attention on the one day a year where people pick at turkey skin and talk about the holidays or catch up on life. Some might only cook the typical turkey, boxed stuffing, canned cranberry sauce and candied yams, or if your one like myself, you go all out and make everything from turkey, chestnut and pumpernickel stuffing, heirloom cranberry sauce to sweet potato marshmallows topped with brown sugar.

With this common theme bustling around the house this week - Black Friday shopping aside - let's take time to reflect on our roots and think about why we even sit together on this holiday. The food!!!

Every American is entitled to a decent Thanksgiving meal, so if you haven't already purchased all of your food from the grocery store, head over to the local farmer's market or farm stand and try to buy as much food from there as possible. Yesterday, the farmer's market in Union Square (NYC) was packed with holiday cheer but more importantly some very unique heirloom vegetables that might be an interesting addition to the table this year. These farmers have worked very hard to supply these delicious vegetables and meats, so please spend the few extra bucks, have a little culinary adventure and give the farmers a decent thanksgiving with their families. Explore food.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Radiohead is just OK (Computer)

SPIN this month published a list entitled “16 Rock Myths Debunked,” leading off with “Myth No. 1: Radiohead Can Do No Wrong.” It’s a myth that’s long deserved some discussion, despite most music fans’ unwillingness to question Thom Yorke and his mates. As writer Chris Norris notes, “sometimes the elephant isn't in the room, but onstage.”

Norris broaches the sensitive subject with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, saying, “In some ways, when you think about it…Radiohead kinda blow.”

“At last year's All Points West festival, as their thin, stubbly faces filled massive video screens, Radiohead began their set with In Rainbows' "15 Step": an open-ended groove with a quirky electro beat, two-chord motif, and airy, abstract singing. Then they did the 2001 song "Morning Bell/Amnesiac": an open-ended groove with a quirky electro beat, two-chord motif, and airy, abstract singing. Then they kept going, one groovy tone poem into another, masterfully weaving beats, sound-washes, and misty vocals into an immersive experience of sound, light, pattern, rhythm, and utter, paralyzing boredom. By the encore, it was obvious what Radiohead had become: an exceptionally well-dressed jam band. That you can't even dance to.”

However, he then goes on to waffle about, essentially backing off on his previous statement and explaining that Radiohead used to be the greatest band ever, but In Rainbows was disappointing and caused him to rethink his fandom.

The truth about Radiohead lies somewhere in between.

I appreciate the sentiment of “Radiohead kinda blow.” It’s the kind of thing one needs to say in order to combat the legions of people who think Radiohead have surpassed The Beatles in terms of musical ability and historical significance. Saying, “I don’t care for Radiohead” -- and optionally adding, “It insists upon itself” -- will only earn the holder of such opinions a Scarlet Letter of Musical Incompetence. To dislike Radiohead is to love Nickelback, Kid Rock and The Jonas Brothers, as far as those in the know are concerned, so questioning the group’s music outright might be the best path to take.

The problem is, Radiohead doesn’t blow.

The real heart of the matter: Radiohead inspires a kind of unwavering loyalty that no band should deserve. No band, save for perhaps The Beatles, has enjoyed such a perfect career that it deserves to be called “the only band doing anything new” or some similar hyperbole.

Plenty of bands show flashes of greatness, push the envelope, or just record a great album. Only a few have been blessed enough to gain so much notoriety for their efforts, and Radiohead counts itself among that select group. Worshipping Radiohead above all others for it is a disservice to the vast amount of amazing music that exists beyond the bubble of OK Computer.

“Blasphemy!” they say. “This one doesn’t understand that OK Computer is the best album in history! He must be burned!”

If I am to be a martyr for the cause of keeping Radiohead’s constantly inflating reputation as the greatest modern band in check, then so be it. No band is deserving of such singular adoration, not even a good one like Radiohead.

Radiohead is a band of millionaires, dudes so rich that they can afford to release albums for free. So go ahead and spread the love a little. Buy some albums by “lesser” bands. The guys in the band won’t miss you for those brief moments you choose to spend listening to someone else’s record. They probably won’t even hold it against you if you come to realize, somehow, that there is a world of sound beyond the dulcet tones of Thom Yorke’s incomparable voice.

Radiohead can do wrong, and knowing it is liberating. I have the freedom to take it in stride when Thom Yorke stumbles. When the band’s next record is disappointing, I won’t have to listen to it 37 times in a row, waiting for its genius to become apparent. I’ll be able to simply move on to something better.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Film Review: Pirate Radio (The Boat That Rocked)

British ensemble comedy The Boat That Rocked, retitled Pirate Radio for American audiences, has suffered at the hands of critics on both sides of the pond. The film, about a group of DJs running a pirate radio station from a boat off the shore of 1960s England, has earned a 54% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

I have no desire to argue with the detractors. Pirate Radio is clearly flawed, a jumble of incoherent plot fragments and poorly developed characters (what the hell was Ike Hamilton’s character’s job on the boat?). The ending is at odds with the tone of the rest of the film, and the film’s premise is not nearly as historically accurate as it would lead audiences to believe. Finally, it was still a little lengthy despite a recutting for the American version.

And yet, at the same time, it’s a joyous celebration of some great rock ‘n’ roll. Never mind that some of the song choices are a little hackneyed. The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” isn’t exactly a forgotten gem, but who wouldn’t want to hear it again? The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Otis Redding, Cream, The Beach Boys, and Martha & The Vandellas are just a few of the classic artists featured on the soundtrack.

Several songs make strong contributions to the film’s tone. Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” makes a logical and powerful appearance.

One minor complaint about the music selections: at least one song was not period appropriate. The movie, set in 1966-67, predates The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by a good four years. British soul revivalist Duffy also makes an appearance, but she’s covering an older song.

The amount of rock cred bursting from the movie doesn’t stop at its soundtrack. The cast of characters on the boat embody the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, from Midnight Mark’s legendary silence to Gavin’s distinctive on-air voice, from Dave’s rampant sexual appetite to Bob’s burned out demeanor.

It’s already clear how important rock is to the DJs, considering they’re willing to seclude themselves on a boat for its sake, but the numerous scenes of characters simply dancing to the music cements that fact.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays The Count, the American member of the crew of DJs. Hoffman, as an actor, has a generous helping of inherent cool that allows him to believably portray characters like this. I’ve seen Almost Famous so many times that, as far as I’m concerned, Hoffman actually is Lester Bangs. And The Count loves the music so much that he’d be willing to die for it.

Music fans will likely find little to complain about while leaving the theater. This is a movie about the joy of music. Plenty of films have examined the joy of making music, but this one delves deep into the amount of pleasure that can be derived simply from listening. That pleasure is catching.


Is 'Bad Lieutenant' Nicolas Cage’s best role in years?

Director Werner Herzog has remade a tale – the 1992 Abel Ferrara micro-cult indie cop drama Bad Lieutenant starring Harvey Keitel – that never warranted a revisit. The result is Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage as an imbalanced corrupt cop with more vices than a carpenter’s woodshop and a paranoid fear of iguanas. Apparently the only similarities between the two films are the title and the presentation of an immoral drug addict. In grand idiosyncratic fashion, Herzog reportedly commanded Cage on the set to “turn the pig loose!” Herzog told the Toronto Star: “He immediately knew what I meant. And man, does he turn the pig loose! As an actor, he always understood the fluidity of the situation. The kind of musicality, jazz in particular, which allows you to improvise and stay within a certain mood and go wild.”

In the past decade, Cage has been a victim of disparagement and derision from audiences for his schlocky acting roles. The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, Next, Bangkok Dangerous, Knowing. The worse the film, the wackier his stylized coif.

While reviews for Lieutenant are on-the-whole very positive, critics are either praising Cage’s Frank Booth-esque tour-of-force of mayhem or dismissing his ability to act at all. Regardless, his portrayal of Terence McDonagh qualifies as his most challenging role since his 1996 Oscar-winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas.

More after the jump.

Cole Smithey writes that Cage loses control of the character, slipping into an “off-putting vocal delivery late in the story,” which further distracts from the patchwork plot. “Cage even goes so far as to tear a page from Klaus Kinski's relationship with the camera,” he says, “but the tribute is as inappropriate as making a sequel to a film to which there could never be a follow-up. A disaster.”

Roger Ebert, who swam against the current in awarding Cage’s film Knowing four stars in March, comes to the actor’s defense. He argues that Cage and Herzog, “both made restless by caution,” were born to work together and gives this film four stars as well. “No one is better at this kind of performance than Nicolas Cage. He's a fearless actor. He doesn't care if you think he goes over the top. If a film calls for it, he will crawl to the top hand over hand with bleeding fingernails.”

Andy Klein of Brand X breaks the opposing camps down into how they’ll perceive this film. “Cage’s affectations are always daring, if not always successful. His contorted posture rightfully reminds us that he is always one inch away from excruciating back pain, but a shift in his manner of speaking for several scenes around the three-quarter mark is simply baffling. Your reaction to the whole thing probably depends on your general feelings about Cage: Fans will relish his unique brand of scenery-chewing; non-fans are likely to be irritated.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Apollo guest blogger reviews 'The Twilight Saga: New Moon'

[EDITOR’S NOTE: We have a guest blogger today – Victoria, a new London correspondent for Apollo’s Cred. Keep an eye out for her byline. Her first article is a review of the divisive new Twilight film…The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Seriously though, no one on staff had the courage to see this. As always, give us your feedback!]

New Moon is the second installment of the vampire romance Twilight series, based on the books by Stephanie Meyer. Director Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About a Boy) took the helm with this film, replacing Catherine Hardwicke. He stayed quite faithful to the plot of the text but managed to speed up the pace of the film, making it quite interesting and enjoyable to watch.

The story takes us from where it ended in Twilight: Bella, a very simple teenage girl, totally in love with Edward Cullen, not only the most handsome boy in the school, but also a vampire and the most ideal man in Bella’s universe. However, their relationship is darkened and complicated by some "ordinary" problems of vampire-world, and Bella is forced to suffer through the emotional troubles of the break-up. Apart from the fact that the boy is a vampire, this story is very ordinary and has happened to every girl. Weitz should get credit for understanding this.

He shifts the genre of the film saga more towards chick-flick or female Gothic rather than vampire horror, which seems quite appropriate as the main audience is comprised largely of teenage girls. He understands girls and gives them what they want: In contrast to Twilight, New Moon has more kisses, more romantic talks that are supposed to make you cry or say “awww” and (oh yes!) more naked torsos. Sorry boys, these are only men’s naked torsos. So, for the target audience, this film is a great treat.

New Moon brings more attention to the story of werewolves and the Bella-Jacob relationship. Jacob Black, of course, is the nice boy/werewolf who helps Bella through her breakup with Edward. The werewolves' action scenes are beautifully done and fascinating to watch even if you are not a fan of the Twilight mythos. The relationship between Bella and Jacob acts as the central one in the film, which is good, as it is not as straightforward as Bella and Edward’s love. It gives the audience a chance to see some acting from Kristen Stewart and novitiate Taylor Lautner. Over the course of the film, Robert Pattinson musters a range of two to three expressions, which is probably his -- or the director’s -- idea of how an ideal man (oops!) ideal vampire should look. It is a shame because he is a good actor and certainly can pull out a wider range of different expressions, as he proved in Little Ashes.

The film's other cast members are very interesting to watch: Michael Sheen simply shines as one of the Volturi vampires, and Billy Burke as Bella’s dad proves again that he is probably the only believable human on the screen.

The cinematography of New Moon (courtesy of director of photography Elliot Davis) is starkly different from Twilight – it’s more colorful, sharp and light. That again proves the director’s intentional shift from a spooky film towards chick-flick.

The films make the world look almost dull, unchallenging and simple when compared to the books. That is, however, the problem with all mass and pop-production, whether it’s fast food or films. While it is enjoyable to consume once in a while, I hope it doesn’t become our everyday diet.

- Victoria Russo

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 7 Rundown

Season-long arc: The Seinfeld Reunion. Larry attempts to win back his estranged spouse Cheryl by going to work on a Seinfeld reunion and casting her in the role of George’s ex-wife.

Best: “The Table Read,” “The Reunion,” “Funkhouser’s Crazy Sister”
Worst: “The Hot Towel,” “The Black Swan”

# of subplots related to tipping: 4. (If counting Rosie and LD's dispute over who's covering a check for lunch, then 5.)
Underused supporting regulars: Richard Lewis, Wanda Sykes and Shelley Berman (as Nat David).
Overused supporting regulars: Bob Einstein (as Marty Funkhouser) and Susie Essman.

LD at his most outrageous: Pulling down his pants at Jeff’s house in front of a police officer, Jeff and Susie, in order to reveal he is wearing skimpy women’s underwear and thus exonerating Jeff of blame. Susie had previously found women’s underwear in Jeff’s car glove compartment, which he unusually pinned on Larry.

Most overstuffed episode: “The Bare Midriff” A gory ‘60s flashback that was better suited to the cutting room floor for Mad Men. Director Larry Charles managed to squeeze his Atheist leanings into a bit about splashing urine.
Episode that most closely resembled a ‘Seinfeld’ narrative: “The Reunion”
Best episode ending: LD gripping onto his assistant’s protuberant belly as he hangs off the roof of a building in “The Bare Midriff.”

Best race-related gag: Michael Richards’ outburst on a studio back lot, shouting on Leon for impersonating a Jewish accountant offering advice on Groat’s Disease in “The Table Read.” A crowd gathers and they record it on their cameras and cell phones – the event parodying Richard’s real-life racist explosion in a comedy club three years ago. Runner-up: LD, Leon and Loretta argue about the house’s temperature. Leon likes it at 82; LD in the 60s. A hilarious observation.

Strangest celebrity cameo: Christian Slater
Member of the Seinfeld Four with the funniest improv-ing: Jerry Seinfeld. His eloquent delivery, zingy banter and overall affability made him the nice guy, white collar counterpart to LD, the dirty-work engineer of social unconvention.

Most active director: Larry Charles, former Seinfeld writer and director of Borat, Bruno and Religulous, with three episodes. The bearded gent took over for Robert B. Weide, a former regular Curb director who left the show at the end of last season.

The season’s most completely far-fetched scenario: The scene in which LD’s bare-midriffed assistant and her mother hear a noise around the back of an office building. They run to check it out, bumping into LD who is urinating on the wall (because the building is locked). The splashiness of his actions immediately alerts the assistant of a horrifying relevation: LD desecrates the Jesus painting in their bathroom; Jesus was not crying. The assistant’s mother runs to the roof to attempt suicide. (“The Bare Midriff”)

Master of the writer’s domain: Larry David

NOTE: How incredibly meta would it have been if the Seinfeld reunion revolved around Jerry and George’s twice-failed sitcom idea?

The season finale airs this Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Auto-Tune: Homogenizing popular music?

On Nov. 4, CBS Evening News ran a story about the rising trend of Auto-Tune in music. The report depicts the popular vocal effect as a creeping disease that all music fans should fear, which seems a little harsh.

Auto-Tune, of course, is the robotic-sounding vocal effect that Cher introduced to the mainstream, T-Pain used to build his career and Kanye West leaned on heavily for 808s & Heartbreak.

It's true that Auto-Tune has been masking vocal imperfections on studio albums for years. When it's at its most subtle, Auto-Tune allows producers to tweak slightly off-key notes, making the vocal performance sound closer to perfect. Some singers even use Auto-Tune during live performances. It may seem a little dishonest, but it shouldn't be any surprise that musicians use any means necessary to make their albums sound better.

The CBS report suggests that people are worried Auto-Tune is too pervasive, that it's homogenizing popular music. Unfortunately, it's far too late now to worry about mainstream pop losing its edge.

The homogenization of pop music has its roots in the early days of rock 'n' roll. In the '50s, it was common practice for white artists to record sanitized versions of black artists' songs. In several cases, the cover versions outperformed the originals on the charts (like Bill Haley's version of Ike Turner's "Rocket 88").

That same sanitization of music is rampant today. American Idol and the Jonas Brothers are squeaky clean and absolutely devoid of human quirks and imperfections. The popular television series Glee has taken several classic rock staples and drained them of their character, transforming them into easily digestible yawnfests. What's a little Auto-Tune when the Top 40 has already been successfully robotized?

Anyway, it still takes the same amount of craft to write a good song, Auto-Tune or not. An Auto-Tuned vocal is essentially the same as a synthesizer. It's still up to the songwriter to come up with a melody that people want to hear. Though Auto-Tuning may mask vocal imperfections, it's hardly magic.

See Ron Browz' "Jumpin' (Out the Window)" for proof of Auto-Tune's inability to make up for a lack of musical talent. Just because it lets a producer manipulate vocals to hit the notes he chooses doesn't mean the producer will pick the right notes.

Low-fi recordings will always have a place in popular music, even if they exist on the periphery. The CBS report shows a group that eschews Auto-Tune and paints it as an anomaly. However, The White Stripes' early albums were recorded in a studio that contained only vintage equipment.

Auto-Tune may not have had the most positive impact on the face of pop music, but it hardly signals the death of real flesh and blood in music.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The decade that Rivers failed

The shortcomings of Weezer amount to more than just a bassist switch-up. It’s become a grim, quixotic spectacle.

Frontman Rivers Cuomo’s shrugging off his Harvard degree and his musical talent, it seems, to be a lot like Phil (played by Ty Burrell) from the ABC sitcom "Modern Family," the middle-aged dad with his youth cryogenically preserved on the inside, trying to please everyone, and in turn, please himself. Phil’s sometimes as wide-eyed as a little kid or salivatory as the feral, airborne canine on the cover of Weezer’s Raditude (coined by actor Rainn Wilson), the seventh album out today.

Cuomo’s a little different from Phil in that he longs to be “the greatest man that ever lived” and live in Beverly Hills. In spite of his denial, he’s a melancholy, tortured genius who’s lost his spark and instead gained the will to pander. Contradictions in the catalogue are abundant: Weezer was “tired of sex” in 1996 but says quite the opposite in Weezer (The Red Album)’s “Cold Dark World" ("I'll be here to sex you.") “In the Garage” tells of how Rivers grew up listening to good music; “Heart Songs” tells of how Rivers grew up listening to not-so-good music.

After all these years, Rivers’ signature quavering voice remained (ironically) constant, a lasting selling point among the pitter-patter of questionable creative decisions. His voice scarily sounds pubescent on this record, unfortunately evoking a emo pitch on “Put Me Back Together.” Weezer has new friends these days: All-American Rejects, Butch Walker and Jermaine Dupri, who all co-wrote songs. A band that could’ve collaborated with Dr. Dog or The Hold Steady has instead teamed up with the radio.

Cuomo’s innocence and vulnerability were always a part of his charm – then he creeped us out when he cultivated a mustache and donned a cowboy hat for Red. Cuomo’s still channeling his imperfect formative years, which was oh so relatable, but with Raditude, he’s managed to reimagine his teen years as if he was still going to high school in 2009. Songs, “In the Mall,” “The Girl Got Hot,” and “Can’t Stop Partying,” take bland sub-urban slang to a new level. And, for what?

Early Weezer fans have become scathing watchdogs like crestfallen sports fans railing with drunken bitterness about the glory days of Blue and Pinkerton. Slant Magazine’s ½-star review of Raditude hit hard even if they all saw it coming. Huw Jones writes: “Even the most dogged members of the Weezer fanbase will struggle to mount a shred of defense for such an abhorrent cocktail of deluded lyricism and indolent musicianship.”

Fans have been shortchanged when picking up their albums in the past, but this time they may be at the end of the road. This was not made with them in mind at all.
At best, a few of the riffs stay in your head for a few days (the guilt lasts longer). The catchy deluxe edition bonus track “The Prettiest Girl in the Whole Wide World” is Blue lite. It could have easily come from one of Cuomo’s basement solo discs.

So maybe Rivers Cuomo isn’t the uncool middle-aged dad type. Maybe he’s Max Records from Where the Wild Things Are. If you block out all the noise and lose yourself in your dreams, you can still be king. Those may be words of inspiration for him, but it ain’t doin’ nothin’ for me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Coen brothers trade 'Old Men' for 'A Serious Man'

It’s difficult to categorize a new film made by the Coen brothers as one of their best. It’s powerful, hilarious and daring, but does it even matter? This calling of praise is a “been there, done that” scenario for Joel and Ethan Coen and the fact that they’ve surpassed their impressive peak kind of degrades the whole classification. Or does it? Perhaps their ‘just good’ films are now more inferior in comparison. A Serious Man, the latest Coen project and their most personal one yet, continues the journey of brave new non-genre-specific directions for the brother team. There was a time when Fargo was considered their best, or non-fans would say The Big Lebowski was their most entertaining, or critics would reflect on Blood Simple or Barton Fink as worthy of high recognition, and their big Oscar triumph for 2007’s No Country for Old Men got recognized as an opus. The Big Lebowski has enjoyed a healthy afterlife as a cult classic for wannabe lowlifes and remnants of an abandoned counter-culture, but it amounts to little more of mishmash of inspired ideas (with very good rewatch value!). If No Country was the career zenith after 25 years of a filmmaking zeitgeist, what does it say if A Serious Man is an even better, more profound and lingering work?

A Serious Man

A Serious Man, an offbeat, indirect spinoff of the story of Job, isn’t explicitly personal. The Coens’ father made his living as an economic professor, whereas Larry Gopnik (played by the outstanding unknown Michael Stuhlbarg) teaches college physics. Word is that Larry’s daughter mirrors the Coens’ sister, who later became a doctor and moved to Israel. But beyond that, Gopnik’s troubles as a married Jewish man in a 1967 Jew-centric Midwestern town are relatable and ordinary in all except their frequency. The trailer for A Serious Man is set to the sound of someone pounding Larry’s head against a blackboard as the obstacles of middle-class living are rhythmically thrust upon us. His wife wants a divorce, he gets into a car accident, his chances of acquiring tenure are diminishing and a series of anonymous letters sent to his university denigrate him.

Larry’s issues at home and at work are exacerbated by his inability to deal with them. The narrative is broken down into three subtitled acts corresponding to three rabbis Larry turns to for an enlightened perspective. The Coens, however, are more enlightened because they know that a serious man’s efforts to prevent what is happening to him are futile and irrevocable. Woody Allen comes to mind when examining how the film juggles comedy and tragedy. It ultimately leans toward the latter - with a softened landing. The ending is abrupt and curious even when compared to No Country for Old Men, but it certainly sticks with you once you figure out what little you were meant to understand. The Coens, like omniscient clouds, once again cast a shadow over viewers, intimidating, confusing and mocking them. And, being the remarkably skilled filmmakers that they are, they get away with it.

Blood Simple
Barton Fink
No Country for Old Men
The Hudsucker Proxy

Miller’s Crossing
The Big Lebowski
Raising Arizona
Burn After Reading
Intolerable Cruelty

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Man Who Wasn’t There
The Ladykillers

Monday, October 26, 2009

Morrissey hospitalized

British singer Morrissey, formerly of The Smiths, collapsed during a concert on Saturday and was hospitalized. He is now resting at home.

No further information regarding the reason for the collapse was released.

Morrissey collapsed during a show in England. Accounts from fans in attendance say it happened during the first song. Entertainment Weekly reported he had difficulty breathing while onstage.

The singer canceled several upcoming concerts as a result of the hospitalization.

- Via CNN and Entertainment Weekly

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

'Bored to Death' cultivates young writer fantasy

If "Entourage" is the ultimate young adult male fantasy, then HBO’s "Bored to Death" is, more specifically, a young writer’s fantasy. The writer Jonathan Ames (played by Jason Schwartzman), based on the real-life series creator-writer, decides to moonlight as a private detective after his girlfriend dumps him. (OK, that cause-and-effect motive from the pilot will never quite be convincing.)

His life: Frequenting New York Film Society social functions, getting handed scripts by Jim Jarmusch, being best friends with one’s editor, getting drunk off white wine and scenic inspiration a la Brooklyn, and having no shortage of things (good and bad) happen to him.

Despite all this, Jonathan is depressed, naïve and all too milquetoast. Thus is life as a young writer. "Bored to Death" is probably the first hipster noir, and also, obviously a comedy.

This is HBO’s second show set in Brooklyn recently – following "Flight of the Conchords." A hipster serial trend could emerge with this engaging series, which premiered Sept. 20. It disappointed in the first few weeks by taking the easy way out on more than one occasion. Five episodes in, it’s not a great mystery or a great comedy, just a good show that’s a little bit of both and sometimes neither. It works best when it isn’t trying to devise a genuine mystery – that it never quite pulls off.

George Christopher (played by Ted Danson), an avuncular magazine editor socialite (who is never seen actually working), fostered a compelling bond with Jonathan. Danson, who suddenly became TV’s foremost character actor in his golden years, steals the show here. As George, he has more luck getting his way than as himself, at 9 p.m., convincing Larry David to take a bite of cake.

The character was conceived as a cross between two journalists: the erudite, deceased George Plimpton and the hedonistic Christopher Hitchens. George eccentrically clings to the faded frisky naiveté of his 20s yet, at the same time, craves the earned status of an elder statesman.

Zach Galifinakis’ role as Ray, Jonathan’s other best friend, makes things confusing since both George and Ray are intended as comic reliefs. And yes, it is a comedy show, but George is the right kind of crazy. Ray is a confused, sensitive cartoonist with an injection of the comic’s own deranged, deadpan shtick. The character comparatively struggles to spring off the page because he’s underwritten. Galifinakis is a great comedian – just not for this show.

'The Case of the Lonely White Dove'

In the fifth episode, “The Case of the Lonely White Dove,” the series touches on all its narrative threads with fascinating maturity. The noir is in full swing as a Russian ex-con who wants to track down a lounge singer he slept with the night before he was sent to prison. Jonathan invites his ex-girlfriend to dinner at the Russian nightclub in Brighton Beach where the singer works. Jonathan is wistful, thinking he’s figured out where he went wrong with his relationship, but mixing business with pleasure never goes according to plan.

Also, George takes a cue from publisher Jann Wenner and plans to channel his bisexual side in a peculiar effort to beckon greater female readership of his mag.

One particular scene was an example of allusion overload. George’s hyper-literary male escort, played Romany Malco, broke the ice by referencing Klaus Kinski, Woody Allen’s The Whores of Mensa and Samuel Beckett while "Bored to Death"'s writers apparently got high off their own supply.

The real-life Ames' commitment to the show is admirable and unsurprising considering the affection and observation that's devoted to the depiction of the eponymous Brooklyn writer protagonist. Ames, a New York Press columnist-turned-novelist, writes or co-writes each of the series' episodes. You'd think this would lend itself to a greater homogeneity in quality among the scripts. Nevertheless, Ames' recognizable closeness behind the scenes strengthens the series' concoction of the writer fantasy.

In episode no. 5, the mystery, specifically the boardwalk scenes, was the most complex it’s been so far this season and could have stood alone. And yet, there was still ample time devoted to Jonathan’s relationship and Ray’s failed attempts at intimacy. And even George learned something. More impressive? Ames managed to conceptualize his vision of Brooklyn as an evocative fantasy world. "Bored to Death" suffered creatively at the worst possible time – at the beginning of the first season when it should be luring viewers not lulling them to sleep. But it has improved (and with the viewership flock came a second-season renewal), and just like the path of any young struggling writer, it needs to be given a chance.

"Bored to Death" airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. EST on HBO.

PFF Review: The Men Who Stare At Goats

(Grant Heslov, 2009) - Out in theaters November 6.

George Clooney, the perfect athlete in American cinema – a favorite and an underdog at the same time – stars in another very smart film about the government. The Men Who Stare at Goats – based on Jon Ronson’s nonfiction study of the U.S. Army’s experiment with trained psychic ‘Jedi warriors’ – generates most of its laughs from the fact that it's based on truth. Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) has a spiritual experience while fighting in Vietnam and soon founds the New Earth Army with Lyn Cassady (Clooney) as a prodigious psychic. Ewan McGregor plays the journalist who learns the history of this underground unit and spends most of the movie wandering the Kuwait border with Cassady. Plentiful flashbacks are often hilarious and informative. The film, a well-cast crowd pleaser, never assumes that it is a political piece above a comedy. Even if it isn’t grandiose with its satire like Dr. Strangelove or rapid-fire in its comic delivery like In the Loop, it doesn’t have to be. Festival runs should give Goats a word-of-mouth boost if it even needs it.

Apollo's Rating: 8 out of 10 (Reviewed at the Philadelphia Film Festival)

Running time: 93 mins.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The real Death Race

[Editor's note: Remember Death Race, that remake of Death Race 2000 with Jason Statham? Me neither. Here, Chris Fusco chronicles the adventures of a food industry professional who tries his hand at something a bit different: defying the Grim Reaper in a real death race.]

When asking any restaurant employee about what they do in their free time, the typical answers usually involve sports, going to the bar, and the occasional recreational drug habit. However, one of my co-workers has chosen a slightly different path: to push himself to insane extremes to test his physical limits. Apollo's Cred has been asked to follow Jonathan Latayan and his second attempt at the Toughguy race that takes place in Wolverhampton, England. So, for the next few months, I will follow Jon as he trains to prepare himself for this feat of lunacy.

More after the jump.

A few weeks ago, Jon started his official training for the race. After he showed me the "Death Waiver" he had to sign, I realized this event meant business. Jon kept a journal throughout his training for his first attempt at the Toughguy race, which tells the story of a rigorous marathon that few dare to attempt and even fewer complete. Jon was a lucky one: he only sustained a few pulled muscles, including a quad and both hamstrings, and finished in 228th place.

That was summertime, when the water isn't quite as bone numbingly cold and the race course is much more manageable.

This race is not only a test of physical endurance but mental endurance. Competitors slide down muddy hills into freezing cold water, make their way through through electrified wires, and climb up and down wooden obstacles, cargo nets, concrete walls, fire pits, and mud. The race also involves running through multiple smoke bombs, shot from 18th century cannons, running up and down nettle-infested fields, through pits full of animal dung and "puddles" eight feet deep.

After watching some videos of the race, I have come to the conclusion that this is not only race for the fittest but also to most lunatic. People are out in the freezing cold weather, getting torn apart physically by obstacles, some while wearing almost nothing at all. Jon, as I know, is very extreme when in comes to everything, and very physically fit, riding his bike from Queens to work almost every day. While most participants' goals are to just finish the race in one piece, Jon's goal is to finish the race in under two hours, which he thinks is attainable. We'll see.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jim Morrison's ghost haunts rock historian

A man who visited Jim Morrison's grave in France at the Père Lachaise cemetery is now haunted by his ghost, according to the U.K.'s Daily News.  The haunting apparently started when the man, rock historian Brett Meisner, had his picture taken at the grave.  Morrison's ghostly image showed up in the background and then all hell broke loose in his life, which Meisner believes is the result of the haunting.

Meisner had the photo analyzed, and the result was as he expected: the only explanation for the blurry smudge in the background is ghost haunting. Clearly.

- Via Rolling Stone Rock & Roll Daily

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shawn gets shot in 'Psych' fall finale

I wonder which TV exec invented the "fall finale."

I'd like to punch him out a second story window.

Several of the television shows I enjoy have had mid-season hiatuses in the past few years. Lost loves to do it. Burn Notice and Leverage both did it. Today was the fall finale of Psych, the oddball detective show that makes me wonder how anyone could suffer through another episode of Law and Order.

Why cut a good season in half?  To double the number of "finale" episodes?  To trick viewers into watching the show that fills in the resulting empty time slot (USA's new drama, White Collar, in this case)?  It's mostly just annoying.

The good news, I suppose, is Psych will be back with new episodes in January. The season's not over, so I don't have to wait eight months for a new episode.

Episode 4.09, "Shawn Takes a Shot in the Dark," tones down the humor in exchange for some tense moments. Shawn's been kidnapped and stuffed in a trunk, so there's less opportunity for his comedic riffing with Gus. A flashback does give Shawn a chance to refer to Gus as "Doughnut Holstein," at least.  Also, a nice 1970 Plymouth Road Runner has a starring role in the episode.

As for the music: the episode features the abbreviated version of the Psych theme.  The best musical moment occurs at the climax of the episode, in the last 10 minutes of the show.  It's "Welcome All Again" by Collective Soul, the opening track from the band's newly released self-titled record.  Remember "Shine" and "Heavy" and "December" from '90s alt-rock radio?  Yeah, those guys.  The new song's good and it's used well in the scene.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bloc Party calls it quits

Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong told the BBC today the band is going on hiatus for an indefinite period of time.

"We definitely need to have a break and gain a bit of perspective on life outside of the band," Tong said on the BBC's Subculture show. "Hopefully if we do reconvene at some point in the future we'll be refreshed and have so many ideas to bring to what it is we do."

Tong added that he "wouldn't mind trying something else for a while," a statement that hints at his desire to get out of the music business. He said the other members of Bloc Party would most likely continue to produce music.

The news comes in the middle of the band's tour of the UK. Bloc Party was scheduled to perform tonight, but guitarist Russell Lissack had to undergo a "medical procedure" and the show was canceled. No word on whether the band's breakup is related to the cancellation.

- Story via the BBC.

A Legend Is Born

Brütal Legend is finally out, and musically, it delivers on everything it promised. Heavy metal fans: rejoice.

The game makes you work for its 108 songs: the player has to unlock many of the tracks by completing in-game tasks.  Available songs range from world famous musicians to significantly more obscure groups.  One fictional cartoon death metal band (Dethklok) even makes an appearance.

The game's use of songs in certain situations is almost cinematic: the music builds on the overall effect to create something even more dramatic.  Def Leppard's "Rock of Ages" sounds positively epic as Jack Black's Eddie Riggs character frees enslaved headbangers from their hard lives working in the mines.  It's Riggs' shred-tastic guitar solo that wakes them from their brainwashed state, of course.  "Road Racin" by Riot accompanies a spin in Riggs' "Druid Plow" hot rod, its lyrics almost describing the events taking place on the screen.

The game's good guys and bad guys even have their own identifying musical themes. For example: early antagonists in the game are musclebound caricatures of hair metal dudes.

The music goes beyond the massive soundtrack of licensed heavy metal songs. Composer Peter McConnell's score ties the game's music together perfectly with classical acoustic guitar passages drifting through lulls in the action and screaming metal freakouts during boss battles. The official Brütal Legend blog has a nice interview with McConnell.

Since the game is set in the world of heavy metal, the references to metal bands and songs are unending. The main protagonists in Brütal Legend are called the Halford family (after Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford).  Rob Halford himself is the voice of the evil glam metal General Lionwhyte, whose name is almost certainly based on White Lion.  Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead voices a bass guitar-playing healer named the Kill Master.  Metal fans will have a blast trying to spot all of the references in the game.

Brütal Legend even takes time to pay tribute to vinyl albums.  The game's live-action intro, featuring Jack Black, takes place in a record store.  The title screen is actually the cover of an album named "Brütal Legend."

In short, no other video game has ever incorporated music so seemlessly and thoroughly.  Even when completely ignoring the actual gameplay elements, Brütal Legend is a must-have for fans of heavy metal or music in general.

Apollo's Cred rating: 9 out of 10

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Legend in the making

The Beatles: Rock Band marked an important step in musical history: the first time the legendary band’s songs were released digitally.

But forget Rock Band.  The rockingest video game ever is yet to come.

Electronic Arts’ Brütal Legend, starring Jack Black, is set to be released on “Rocktober” 13th.  The game also features the voices of Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy Kilmister, Rob Halford, Lita Ford and Tim Curry.

Beyond the fact that legendary game designer Tim Schafer created it, Brütal Legend is significant for its inclusion of over 100 real heavy metal songs in its soundtrack.  The list reads like a history of heavy metal, from Black Sabbath and Megadeth to Dragonforce and Iced Earth.  Of course, Jack Black’s Tenacious D makes several appearances, including “Master Exploder” and “The Metal.”

Music has had an important role in video games from the very start.  It seems odd, then, that more games haven’t included authentic pop music.  That is, real songs you might hear on the radio rather than musical scores composed specifically for the game. 

There have been a few recent examples of games with pop music soundtracks: the Madden series and other sports games have featured a hit-and-miss (more miss) collection of rock songs for a while.  Grand Theft Auto 3 and subsequent sequels featured robust soundtracks with multiple genres of music acting as in-game radio stations.  Guitar Hero and Rock Band, of course, changed the face of music in the video game industry. Brütal Legend’s heavy metal playlist may be the most ambitious use of licensed music yet.

Just getting the licenses to include these songs must have been hell for Brütal Legend’s developers.  Schafer alluded to this fact when asked about the possibility of a companion soundtrack album to the game.  That album probably won’t be released for the same reason.  All the more reason to play the game.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Zombieland: perfect length for delivering maximum entertainment

Zombieland. This post-apocalyptic horror comedy – a type of film that more often than not strikes coal than gold – did well by its chosen extent of exposure. The film employs no delay before assaulting the viewer with blood, guts and disarray that ravage everyday life. The unsightly sight of the slobbering, obese and ruthless zombies traipsing through groceries and gift shops, coupled with the equally ruthless and fun ways the remaining survivors enact decimate them encompass a good chunk of the film’s pleasure.

The secret is that it plays it short and wins. From the get-go, the comical parody of horrific zombies and the unusual methods used to murder them could seem to grow tiresome. The premise could very well have run out of steam, but it never does. Instead, you leave the film feeling shortchanged of the long-term futures of the characters’ lives.

A clean 80-minute running time doesn’t necessarily make best use of the impact of a complex domestic drama. But it does significantly tighten a thinly plotted adventure that doesn’t require expositional complexities to be effective.

Some films like The Deer Hunter thrive on a liberal running time punctuated by the feeling of time passing by. Zombieland thrives on comic energy and hyper-adrenalized tenacity, courtesy of Woody Harrelson’s hero-type Tallahassee.

The central quartet – Tallahassee, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) – rarely exhibits much of a reluctance to kill, and this paucity of fear cuts down on the scream or shock factor. In the mind of the survivors, the zombie killings – or at least in small, manageable doses – had come to represent the “daily grind.” Columbus was the wimpy one by default, but he still had the most systematic plan for survival, represented by his list of ultimate rules. These come in quite handy for the characters as well as for the film’s own creativity. In a recurring visual gag, the rules are emblazoned across the screen in clever and funny ways throughout.

By no means does a film this short have to qualify as “breezy.” To cite an earlier Eisenberg work The Squid and the Whale – you don’t need 100 minutes to hit home. There’s nothing like a concise and honest 81-minute representation of family, divorce and social trepidation. Though it’s definitely not a joyride and definitely a downer, Squid is also Eisenberg’s finest hour-and-a-half since his film career kicked off in 2002. He’s been terrific at portraying realistic, neurotic young adults. In Zombieland, he too often resorts to a perfunctory neurosis we’ve seen all too many times recently (albeit not in zombie-coms), but that’s mostly the script’s fault. Among other trends in the Eisenberg filmography, Lou Reed (see below) and amusement parks each play a role.

Zombieland manages to stay very alive, capitalizing on the thrill of the concept and the interactions among the characters. In this kind of economy, 80 minutes does the job more efficiently. Now if only the level of ticket prices would diminish accordingly.

Jesse Eisenberg’s Lou Reed Jukebox

The Squid and the Whale (10 out of 10)
Lou Reed – Street Hassle

Adventureland (8 out of 10)
The Velvet Underground – Pale Blue Eyes
Lou Reed – Satellite of Love
The Velvet Underground – Here She Comes Now

Zombieland (7 out of 10)
The Velvet Underground – Oh! Sweet Nuthin’


Friday, October 2, 2009

Philadelphia Film Festival does a double take in 2009

The 18 ½ Philadelphia Film Festival, which has Fellini nodding in his grave, exists as an offspring to The Philadelphia Film Society following the Philadelphia Film Festival organizers' marriage split.

After a series of threatened lawsuits and heated feuds this summer, The Philadelphia Film Society diverged from its former festival-planning partner TLA Entertainment. TLA renamed the event CineFest, which will resume in the spring. Meanwhile, the PFF still belongs to The Philadelphia Film Society.

The festival, typically an April event, is under singular management and therefore celebrating a half-birthday in the spite of the behind-the-scenes divorce.

The mini-festival is scheduled to showcase 37 films from 15 countries over the course of five days - Thursday, October 15 to Sunday, October 19. Films will be shown at two Center City locations - Ritz at the Bourse (400 Ranstead St.) and the Prince Music Theater (1412 Chestnut St.).The selections are predominantly reruns of flicks shown at Cannes, CineVegas, Chicago and Toronto that will now get to play here.

The Philadelphia Film Society's J. Andrew Greenblatt told Philadelphia City Paper that director F. Gary Gray and “special guests” will be in attendance for Gray’s film Law Abiding Citizen, and director Lee Daniels will bring Precious star Gabourey Sidibe.

The roster’s highlights:

Saturday appears to have the greatest number of high-profile selections: The Men Who Stare at Goats, the kooky George Clooney CIA farce; Bronson, the biopic of a crazed British criminal; and The Messenger, the Oren Moverman (co-scripter of I’m Not There) war drama about a soldier who falls for his deceased comrade’s wife.

The closing night feature, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, directed by Lee Daniels of West Philly has garnered some serious buzz. Precious, an overweight, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child, enrolls in an alternative school and learns a thing or two. Why and how a line from the credits made its way into the title is uncertain. It also de-emphasizes the reality of such a story with the reference to its “novel” roots. Nevertheless, based on the trailer, the flick looks to be one of the most emotionally taxing films of the festival. Precious screens Sunday at 7:30 p.m. since Monday is a best-of run of the films.

The lurid modern-biblical horror film Antichrist, made by Danish auteur Lars Von Trier, has everyone talking and reacting in various forms of disgust and awe. Charlotte Gainsbourg, one-half of the film’s cast, earned the Best Actress award at May’s 62nd Cannes Film Festival. It’ll be screened Friday night at 7:45 p.m. at the Ritz.

For more info: Go to or call 215-253-3599 for more details. Tickets are open to public beginning Monday, October 5. Films cost $10 excluding opening night and centerpiece screenings.

Other film festivals in Philadelphia this month include FirstGlance Film Festival (Oct. 22-25), Project Twenty1 Film & Animation Festival (Oct. 1-4) and the second annual Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival (Oct. 9-11).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fine Dining: A Dying Breed?

Could the restaurant be in for a major change as a result of economic depression? Recent reports and articles have been written all over the globe concerning restaurant closings, re-openings, and the changing face of the industry. Some have suggested that this era of popular fine dining industry is coming to a close. Many fine dining restaurants have closed their doors to open more casual concepts, still featuring great food but at more affordable prices.
People still want to eat, but have come to the realization that great food can come at more affordable prices. The biggest problem with fine dining today is the high menu cost, large staff, expensive products leading to high food and labor costs reducing profits enormously in the struggling economy. High-end restaurants are still seeing business, but not the regular customers that keep coming back, which in the long run keeps a restaurant in business a little bit longer. Restauranteurs are now looking for a profit-driven -- still focusing on food -- way to keep their restaurants alive and booming. People still want to go out and eat, they just don't want the elaborate three hour meals at extraordinary prices when they can get a meal for the same price as chain restaurants, but with better quality.

As the public has come to realize what really goes on in food production, with books like Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and recent movies such as Food, Inc, the general public is willing to pay more for food that is rightfully grown, but that doesn't mean you have to spend an arm and leg for it. With companies like Chipotle Mexican Grill, who's motto is "Food with Integrity," offering fast casual prices and speedy service, for the busy American workplace, people are starting to realize that good food doesn't have to be expensive.

I am not suggesting that fine dining will be completely dead. There will always be a time and a place for fine dining in America, but recently their have been an enormous amount of fine dining restaurants opening, and now closing. There have been estimations, that even though many restaurants are closing, just as many are opening in a more casual sector. Near future projections, have suggested that the restaurant hasn't taken the hardest hit yet but will in coming months, making restaurateurs even more concerned with making a profit and generating loyal customers. Cutting labor costs and addressing food costs along a lower and tighter line will also be a trend for those who work in the industry. Could the rebirth of the American economy also mean a rebirth of the restaurant industry?

What are your predictions for the future of the restaurant industry?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

INTERVIEW: The Temper Trap talks about blossoming fame across continents

Australian and British fans of The Temper Trap, a continent-traversing indie rock quartet from Melbourne, would argue the band is blowing up even if no one knows it. What felt like mounting buzz overseas was transmitted with mostly fuzzy reception over here thus far.

Aside from the prominent placement of “Sweet Disposition” in the the film (500) Days of Summer and word that the band cracked BBC’s Top 15 Sound of 2009, The Temper Trap is still very underground in the States despite possessing mainstream appeal.

The quartet has three different record labels - one in Australia, one in the U.K. and one in the U.S. - since their debut album Conditions was released, excluding the latter country, in May. Its U.S. release date is set for October 13 – around the time the Trap embarks on its first North American tour, which includes a stop at the CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival in New York City.

Radiohead, Prince, Massive and U2 influenced the band’s atmospheric feel and infectious, anthem-size guitar riffs, said frontman Dougy Mandagi.

For those curious about the band name origin, its formation equates to the unusual combination of the members’ favorite song, “The Lady is a Tramp” and their favorite film, The Parent Trap.

Mandagi took time to talk to APOLLO’s CRED in between its busy schedule playing predominantly sold out shows in England this month.

How are you feeling about your first North American tour? Do you see the United States soon being your third home?
We feel great about it. We're optimistic but we're not putting too many expectations on ourselves. America is a totally different beast. As far as basing ourselves there, we've always wanted to live in NYC. I’d move there tomorrow if I could.

How do you compare the crowds at your shows in Australia to those in England?
We don't, they're pretty much the same. Everybody looks the same, dresses the same, speaks English.

Dougy, you’ve said you’re more nervous when playing a small crowd in an intimate setting than when surrounded by millions of spectators. Why is that?
I don't know. Maybe I feel more exposed and vulnerable.

Are you fearful of how Internet buzz can rapidly make or break up-and-coming talent?
The Internet can be a double edged sword, and kids these days go on it for everything. It's scary sometimes. I do find myself checking what people are saying about us on the blogosphere from time to time. It can serve as a good indication where things are at.

Has it been easy to build up your fan base in the U.K.?
Compared to starting out in Australia, it has been an absolute breeze. We've played a lot of shows in the U.K. and I can honestly say there has only been probably three shows where we've played to a half empty room. That said, in no way are we taking all the credit for it. Without the help of some good press, BBC and a few key radio stations, we'd be struggling.

What prompted the decision to move from Australia at that particular time?
It would be an absolute logistical nightmare to try and crack the U.K./Europe market from Australia, not to mention a very expensive exercise. Australia is so isolated from the rest of the world and we just can't afford to fly back and forth, so we figured, let’s move. It made sense.

Where do you guys see yourselves in five years’ time?
Recording better records, hopefully in a studio on the Spanish coastline somewhere overlooking the vast merciless ocean.

U.S. Tour Dates For The Temper Trap:
10/14 - Los Angeles, CA - The Roxy 10/15 - San Francisco, CA - 330 Ritch 10/17 - Seattle, WA - The Crocodile 10/19 - Chicago, IL - The Empty Bottle 10/20 - Toronto, ON - The Horseshoe 10/22 - Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall Of Williamsburg (Official CMJ Showcase) 10/23 - New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom (Official CMJ Showcase) 10/28 - Philadelphia, PA - Kung Fu Necktie 10/29 - Boston, MA - Great Scott’s

Thursday, September 17, 2009

apollo's bog: Life Starts Now, Christmas in the Heart

This is the September music edition of Apollo’s Bog, a new monthly feature that takes a look at upcoming films and music for which we have genuinely low expectations. While we want to avoid jumping the gun and panning a film or album before experiencing it, each selection here is specifically chosen because we doubt it can gracefully flutter its wings upon release. Based on the sway of its marketing campaign, trailers and singles, we judge art sullenly and aptly.

Three Days Grace - Life Starts Now (Sept. 22)

This is only the band's third album?  I could swear I've heard at least 10.  Maybe those were Nickelback.  3 Doors Down?  Ain't no tellin', really.  They might as well be the same.

I don't even need to listen to the record to know that it's going to be full of unnecessarily muddy, bass-heavy rhythm guitar and strained grunting.  It's going to have completely forgettable song titles that, again, could have come from any number of post-grunge bands. "World So Cold," "Someone Who Cares," "Without You" and "Goin' Down" are seriously four songs from Life Starts Now.

The biggest problem here is that this kind of music still has an audience, years after Creed's breakup.  It's not the heaviest music, nor the catchiest.  What's the appeal?  The ubiquitous "softer" songs, which will most definitely appear on Life Starts Now, would make so much more sense if the musicians managed to convey any sort of emotion.  But no, there's neither humor nor sorrow here, just stone-cold seriousness.  No thanks.

Bob Dylan - Christmas in the Heart (Oct. 13)

It's hard to take aim at one of the greatest living songwriters, but there are a few things about Dylan's upcoming Christmas album that deserve some needling.

It's coming out in mid-October.  Perhaps Mr. Zimmerman is unfamiliar with Christmas's date, being a man whose current views on religion amount to this quote from a Newsweek interview: "I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don't find it anywhere else."  Though, considering his past musical flirtations with Christianity, a Christmas album could play perfectly into that mantra.

The other problem: Christmas albums are the classic cop out.  An artist at the top of his game does not record a Christmas album.  Dylan's been around long enough to have earned the right to release whatever he wants, but that doesn't mean the world needed Dylan-sung Christmas carols.

Of course, the proceeds from the album will benefit a number of charities, making this a noble effort.  But why couldn't Dylan record the newest in his recent string of stellar albums and donate the money from that, rather than taking this detour?  Sorry, Bob, but I'm just going to give 13 bucks straight to Salvation Army and skip this album.