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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Early Review: Monsters of Folk’s debut dabbles in eclectic sound

Monsters of Folk, a supergroup of indie folk luminaries, are a lot gentler than their paradox of a name implies. Its debut album, streaming on MySpace this past week, is due out September 22.

MoF comprises Jim James of My Morning Jacket, M. Ward of She & Him and Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, the least hairy of the clan.

Unlike a lot of other supergroups that sprung up in the past few years, Monsters of Folk is a natural gathering of similarly talented artists. Tinted Windows amalgamated members of Smashing Pumpkins, Hanson, Cheap Trick and Fountains of Wayne. Them Crooked Vultures fused Dave Grohl with John Paul Jones and the Queens of the Stone Age guitarist. These were unnecessary albeit ambitious attempts at creating an all-star music crew to rival those of the past. Monsters of Folk, on the other hand, actually makes sense.

Though in a few general ways the band members are homogenous, together they traipse into all kinds of sounds and styles. For an album compiled in the name of folk and Americana, the eclectic production quality is apparent throughout, via drum machines, synth and fuzz guitar.

The opener and single, “Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.)” welcomes you with trip-hop synths and drum breaks courtesy of Jim James and his soaring voice.

Without a doubt, there’s a Traveling Wilburys unity that precludes this chill session, which also indicates that this is neither of the participants’ finest work. “Say Please” is the most characteristic of this symptom. Repeated lyrics like “Hold out your hand” share the artistic simplicity of a post-Beatles pop tune. Yim Yames would approve of the comparison.

The individuality of each performer is respected and represented fairly yet their attempts to sing in unison don’t make a huge impression. If you’re a fan of only one of the singers, you won’t be disappointed. But, for the most part, each of the artists has overlapping fanbases due to the fact they’re in the same music scene and are all at the top of such a food chain.

At times on “Say Please” and “Baby Boomer,” singers Ward, Oberst and James switch off nearly every line as they ostensibly play Hot Tamales with the microphone. “Say Please” features strong solo work from Oberst with accompanying guitar.

“Whole Lotta Losin’,” a fast tempo alt-country rocker, and “Losing Yo Head,” a buoyant Southern jaunt, capture the band’s vitality and spirit. Meanwhile, folk tunes, “The Map of the World” and “Man Named Truth” harness the soul. The group harmonies in “The Map of the World” are so Fleet Foxes, haunting and woodsy.

“Slow Down Jo,” evoking imagery of cigarette smoke and coffee steam, takes it easy and slow. “His Master’s Voice,” the album closer, has passionate and moving piano and displays some of James’ best vocals on the record.

Based on this debut, Monsters of Folk are an altogether successful star-studded quartet. Through soulful harmonies, inventive instrumentation and sharp songwriting of which they’re known for, the collective of musicians demonstrate their versatility in choreographing a melodic, flavorful assortment of indie folk rock.

Download: "His Master's Voice," “Whole Lotta Losin’"

Hipness rating: 9 out of 10
Actual rating: 7 out of 10

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Movies with Exclamation Points!

A film’s title is essential in convincing a viewer about what it is their seeing and how they should react to it. Steven Soderbergh’s latest The Informant! out in theaters this Friday, bears an exclamation point, which changes the entire tone of an otherwise serious subject. Based on Kurt Eichenwald’s true-life book, The Informant, it tells the story of an Ivy League rising star at Archer Daniels Midland who teamed up with the FBI to blow the whistle on the company’s illegal price fixing tactics. The irony was that a man is such a high position would try so adamantly to overthrow his employer. Soderbergh thought this was hilarious, and so he adapted the story to fit the mold of a whimsical, offbeat comedy/thriller starring Matt Damon.

The promotional material for the film reminds me heavily of Schizopolis, a peculiar 1996 Soderbergh film in which Soderbergh himself plays two roles – that of an eccentric self-help guru and a perverted dentist. It was far too outside the realm of conventional thought for the everyday audience. The manic energy from Schizopolis seaped into The Informant! but to a containable extent.

That aside, the exclamation point certainly plays a role as an enthralling device in cinema and thankfully has been far from overused. Scrutiny of past movies with exclamation points classifies them into three dominant genres – comedies, westerns and musicals – and the occasional horror or war film. Let’s take a look at past efforts to employ the feisty grammar mark, sometimes to glorious success! And sometimes to dismal, uncompromising failure!

Them! (1954, Gordon Douglas)
A ‘50s B-movie! This film’s exclamation punctuated the scary-ass image of black-and-white radiation-giganticized ants. Oh, life before CGI…which looks equally fake. It’s more convincing than the modern-day B-movie, Eight Legged Freaks (2002, Ellory Elkayem), another David Arquette clunker.

Hatari! (1962, Howard Hawks)
Translated from Swahili to English, it means “Danger,” and therefore is appropriately exclaimed. John Wayne and wild animals = almost always exhilarating entertainment.

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970, Richard Fleischer/Kinji Fukasaku/Toshio Masuda)
The American-Japanese epic directed by three men (one American, two Japanese) refers to Japanese code words, translating to “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” indicating that success had been attained.

Airplane! (1980, David Zucker/Jim Abrahams/Jerry Zucker)
This comedy classic mostly closely exemplifies the desire to add a ! to boost the comedic energy of its source material. In this case, the film being parodied, Zero Hour! (1957, Hall Bartlett), was a melodramatic aviation thriller with no laughs, and Airplane!, borrowing the plot and punctuation, added about a hundred. This technique was used in similarly humored films Top Secret! (1984, David Zucker/Jim Abrahams/Jerry Zucker) and Hot Shots! (1991, Jim Abrahams).

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995, Beeban Kidron)
Snipes is the anti-Blade, Leguizamo’s more outlandish than his one-man show and Swayze’s the opposite of Dalton in Road House (Note: R.I.P.). The exclamation in the title, intended to be read like a postcard, is a bit confusing, especially if you think Julie Newmar is appearing or portrayed by someone in this dreck.

Moulin Rouge! (2001, Baz Luhrmann): surreal musical that challenges convention by infusing modern pop music like Nirvana and Madonna in a Paris-set period piece.
Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969, Burt Kennedy): a comic Western parodying the rogue ‘man with no name’ antihero type.
Avanti! (1972, Billy Wilder): Jack Lemmon comedy set in Italy. Avanti! means “Forward!”
Viva Zapata! (1952, Elia Kazan): fictionalized biography of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.
McLintock! (1963, Andrew V. McLaglen): a comical John Wayne Western loosely based on Shakespeare.
Oliver! (1968, Carol Reed)
Oklahoma! (1955, Fred Zinnemann)

Jeopardy! doesn’t count. Are we missing any?

The trailer for The Informant! is below. I haven't seen the film yet, but it appears to be not quite as funny as it wants to be. It's got droll down pat.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Album Review: The Beatles - Let It Be

In commemoration of the recent re-release of the entire Beatles catalog, here's a review of one of the band's most underrated works: Let It Be.

Let It Be is easily the most flawed Beatles album. It may also be the most underappreciated of the band’s late output, a collection of powerful tracks that summed up The Beatles’ illustrious career, though it almost wasn’t to be.

The studio sessions for the album were filmed for use in the Beatles’ Get Back movie, and the presence of cameras may have contributed to the fights that marred the Let It Be studio sessions. Though Abbey Road was actually recorded after these sessions, the band’s disagreements during the recording of Let It Be ultimately signaled the end of The Beatles.

Completion of the sessions didn’t end the contentions surrounding it. The record company chose Phil Spector to produce and overdub the record. Paul McCartney, long dissatisfied with the final release, oversaw a complete remix and remaster of the album that was released as Let It Be… Naked in 2003.

McCartney so thoroughly disliked Spector’s version of the album, especially the “Wall of Sound” treatment given to “The Long and Winding Road,” that his anger over its release largely spurred his decision to dissolve the group. Meanwhile, John Lennon preferred it. Lennon told Playboy in 1980, “[Spector] was given the shittiest load of badly-recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever, and he made something of it.”

Unsurprisingly, when Naked was released, it received polarized opinions. As a result, neither version of the record can be considered the definitive Let It Be.

Spector’s version is filled with hee-haws and doo-dads, vocal echo and sweeping strings. The stripped-down re-release sounds more barren but not immensely different, the most important difference being the use of alternate takes on several songs, including “The Long and Winding Road” and “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

Also, despite the less-processed sound of Naked, the original record actually feels more spontaneous. This can be attributed to McCartney’s removal of the between-song studio banter and background noise that had been intentionally included on Spector’s version.

Even with all the distractions, the quality of the songwriting on Let It Be did not flag, and the strength of the tunes shines through on every version of the album. Abbey Road may have been a more complete statement, but little – even in the Beatles’ unparalleled catalog – can compete with the sun-breaking-through-the-clouds splendor of “Let It Be” or the road-ready “Get Back.”

Much of Let It Be bore signs of the Beatles’ progression into the ‘70s, leaving Summer of Love psychedelia behind in favor of hard rock. “Get Back,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909” and the chorus of “I Me Mine” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, with their chugging blues rhythms and Billy Preston’s soulful Hammond organ.

“I’ve Got a Feeling,” a joyous showcase of McCartney’s delirious roar, hints at what the world might have heard from the band had it managed to survive into the next decade. The “Oh yeah!” shouts and major key rhythm guitar line belie the bad vibes flowing in the recording studio, sounding every bit like the start of something big rather than the end. Even Lennon’s slightly more pessimistic verse, taken from another unreleased song, is buoyed by McCartney’s irrepressible glee. It’s a perfect example of how the delicate balance between the band’s two main songwriters made everything work. Without Lennon, McCartney’s optimism entered the sickly-sweet; without McCartney, Lennon’s cynicism overtook his musical sensibilities.

“The Long and Winding Road,” then, is the spiritual opposite of “I’ve Got a Feeling.” A fitting final single for such a storied band, McCartney already had the band’s dissolution in mind when he wrote it. Lennon played bass on the song, making several well-documented mistakes that were as symbolic of the band’s breakup as McCartney’s sorrowful lyrics. Spector cited the need to cover up Lennon’s flubs when defending his decision to include massive orchestral overdubs. Uncharacteristic of the band’s normal recording style though it was, it became the The Beatles’ final farewell as a group.

Several of the other tracks are almost ramshackle in comparison to the sheen of Spector’s additions. “For You Blue” is mostly acoustic, an exercise in the 12 bar blues, while song snippets “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae” both clock in at under a minute. The record would probably have formed a more cohesive statement had either or both of those unfinished song ideas been deleted. Yet, they add to the charm, proving The Beatles’ humanity.

Which brings us to the high points of an already stellar set. “Get Back” closed the Beatles’ rooftop concert, and the studio version closes the record (with banter and applause from the live version edited in to the album by Spector). It’s the quintessential road song, its rhythms almost syncing with mileposts whizzing past the windows. It also sums up the record, in which the band was trying to “Get Back” to its roots in Chuck Berry rock ‘n’ roll.

And “Let It Be” may be the greatest musical pick-me-up of all time, a cathartic burst of piano, choir, organ and guitar. The raucous horns on the original album version seem a little out of place, but Preston’s organ line and Harrison’s heavenly solos elevate the song even above McCartney’s falsetto “be-eee”s in the chorus. Many have tried, but no one since has captured the sad-yet-happy feeling that “Let It Be” embodied.

While its prominent role in the demise of The Beatles tarnishes its image and its flaws ensure it will never be in contention for the title of the band’s best album, Let It Be stacks up with the rest of the catalog. If nothing else, it goes to show that even one of The Beatles’ lesser albums is still one of the best records ever.

Apollo's Cred rating: 9.5/10

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sweet Afton: New Eatery and Bar in Astoria NY

A new hotspot, Sweet Afton, recently opened in Astoria. It's not your typical bar -- it serves a great selection of locally sourced food and boasts a casual atmosphere and a decent beer and cocktail selection.

Upon entering, one feels welcomed by the exposed brick and wooden beams running along the ceiling. Candles light the room with a warm glow, and I knew right away I had chosen the right spot to take a friend from out of town.
I had been told Sweet Afton makes the best burger in town. We sat down at one of the tables surrounding the bar and were greeted by an inexperienced but friendly server. We received our menus and selected an assortment of cocktails, including a spicy habanero-infused cherry margarita. The margarita was spicy and delicious. The menu also featured many local brews; all were great selections. Just don't go to Sweet Afton expecting to find Heinekens and Jagerbombs. It's not the average sports bar.

 We were here for the burgers, but we sampled an assortment of other food: beer battered fried pickles, fries, mac and cheese, and an assortment of Irish bar food.

After ordering and receiving water, served in old wine bottles, we began to chat about the past and food. It was a great place to bring a friend and the atmosphere was just perfect for this occasion. Our silverware arrived in kitchen side towels, which I found clever.

The fried pickles and fries arrived with a huge canister of Baline sea salt, ketchup, and malt vinegar. The fries were delicious and the malt vinegar complemented them nicely. The real treat, though, came when the burgers arrived on pieces of parchment paper.

The burger was delicious, juicy and properly cooked. It was by far the best burger I have had in a long time, if ever. The ratio of fat-to-beef was perfect and the patty practically melted in my mouth. Everything was well balanced. The perfect amount of lettuce, tomato, and onion, and the beef-to-bread ratio was also amazing.  It was clearly a well designed and tested plate, yet simple and local.

As the evening went on, we overheard some talk of the dirty pickle martini, so we ordered one. Anyone who likes pickles will love this martini. It was well balanced with the perfect amount of spirit and pickle juice, garnished with a pickle slice.

In addition to great food, drinks, and atmosphere I was very pleased to know that everything on the menu was sourced locally. On the bottom of the menu, Sweet Afton mentions where they purchase all of their foods: all very local. Even if you're traveling from Manhattan, Sweet Afton is worth the trip.
Apollo's Cred Rating: 9/10
Price Range: $4 - $12
Beer: $5 - $10
Cocktails $7 - $9
Address: 30-09 34th Street, Astoria NY 11103
Phone: 718-777-2570
Take N/W train to 30th Ave stop and walk up to 34th street.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Endless Tyler Perry

I have never seen a Tyler Perry film in its entirety. I’ve viewed every theatrical trailer of his feature films. These endeavors are occasionally purposeful but mostly by force in a dark crowded theater when it would have been arduous to mosey out.

The dark horse box office candidate is no longer a dark horse, standing apart and often dominating ticket receipts during the year’s weakest months. Take this year – two Tyler Perry films were released – in February and this weekend in September. The two absolute worst box office months of the year (not including January because of the Oscar film carryover). And these films perform extremely well despite the fact that mainstream critics and audiences seem to be turning the other cheek.

His seventh feature film I Can Do Bad All By Myself, in theaters Friday, is based on one of Perry’s earliest plays. In the film, Madea (Perry) catches a 16-year-old girl and her younger brothers robbing her home and decides to send the children to their only relative, Aunt April, an alcoholic nightclub singer (Taraji B. Henson).

Aside from a cameo in Star Trek, Perry stays committed to his own insular projects, having produced two sitcoms, written 10 plays and established his own studio in Atlanta. Knocking out two movies a year, he and his assembly line of stock situations wrapped in moral rhetoric never cease to generate profit.

Like a wall of National Lampoon’s straight-to-DVD films on the N shelf of a video store, the T section now bears a potent stench. How did one man gain this much control?

Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail, which came out in February this year, grossed $90 million. On Rotten Tomatoes, it scored a 31 percent; and its user rating on IMDb is a dismal 3.3/10. The film’s biggest selling point for a gentleman like myself, who stands outside the exclusive TP circle, was that Madea would finally be handcuffed, restrained and locked away. This ain’t an Ernest comedy. It was time to say goodbye.

Though the box office numbers are growing, a steadily decreasing number of critics are even taking time to review the films for national publications. The total critic count, beginning with Madea’s breakout Diary of a Mad Black Woman, has gone from 106 to 43.

Granted, an audience exists for these films, one significantly larger than the unequivocal niches it appeals to.

Critics castigate Perry’s films for being melodramatic and monotonous populist propaganda. Only a small but significant constituency keeps coming back.

Every February and every September, I commend Perry for finding a way to disguise his Madea sequels as a set of episodic stories that consistently draws patrons willingly to the multiplex, generating over $400 million.

But I’ve yet to understand its appeal. At what point does a cult transmogrify into mainstream activism? And how could one overthrow its churning out of poorly made films in the name of democracy and decency?

Grading Tyler Perry ... based on the titles alone

I Can Do Bad All By Myself (September 2009) - With Taraji B. Henson. A-
Madea Goes to Jail (February 2009) – $90 million. With Derek Luke. B+
The Family That Preys (September 2008) – $37 million. With Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard. C
Meet the Browns (March 2008) – $41.9 million. With Angela Bassett. D
Why Did I Get Married? (October 2007) – $55 million. With Janet Jackson and Jill Scott. C-
Daddy’s Little Girls (February 2007) – $31.3 million. With Gabrielle Union and Idris Elba. D+
Madea’s Family Reunion (February 2006) – $63.3 million. With Blair Underwood. C+
Diary of a Mad Black Woman (February 2005) – $50.4 million. With Kimberly Elise. B-

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Release Tuesday: 9/8/09

The most significant release this week, of course, is the box set of Beatles album remasters that comes out tomorrow. Other big deals: the new Jay-Z on Friday, the new Muse on Monday, and Yo La Tengo's Popular Songs.

Amerie  -  In Love & War
Boys Like Girls  -  Love Drunk
Brooks & Dunn  -  #1's...And Then Some
Circulatory System  -  Signal Morning
The Clean  -  Mister Pop
Cotton Jones  -  The Rio Ranger [EP]
Danko Jones  -  Never Too Loud
Howie Day  -  Sound The Alarm
Marie Digby  -  Breathing Underwater
John Forte  -  StyleFREE [EP]
Ernie Halter  -  Ernie Halter: Live
My Milky Way Arms  -  Lightsaber Circuit Breaker
Old Wives' Tales  -  Younger Limbs
Os Mutantes  -  Haih Or Barauna
Phish  -  Joy
Polvo  -  Prism
Raekwon  -  Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
Rodrigo Y Gabriela  -  11:11
Frank Turner  -  Poetry Of The Deed
Vivian Girls  -  Everything Goes Wrong
Wild Beasts  -  Two Dancers
Yo La Tengo  -  Popular Songs
Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson  -  Break Up

Jay-Z   -  Blueprint 3
Rehasher  -  High Speed Access To My Brain
Muse  -  The Resistance

Entire Beatles catalog remastered (finally)

After years of waiting, Beatles fans are finally being rewarded with completely remastered reissues of every one of the Liverpool quartet's studio albums.

Though the hype around the new Rock Band game featuring the band is overshadowing this news, the remasters are a significantly bigger deal for anyone who's been waiting since the first CD Beatles releases for better quality versions.

Listeners with a good set of headphones are richly rewarded with recordings that are deep and colorful. Backing instruments emerge from the haze of previous editions of the albums. Whether it's Billy Preston's organ on Let It Be or band members shouting in the background, everything is crystal clear. Even the flaws are on display: Lennon's legendary bass mistakes on "The Long and Winding Road" are audible even among Phil Spector's heavy-handed production.

The Beatle who benefits the most from the remastering is Paul McCartney, whose nimble bass has been buried in the mix since the first vinyl pressings of these albums.

Though presale orders on Amazon have already sold out, rest assured that there will be plenty to go around.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Idea: Review Marathon

I'm considering undertaking a new project: a marathon of reviews, something along the lines of "50 Years, 50 Records." The focus would be popular music, the range would probably be 1955 to 2005. This would by no means be a "best of each year" list; that's already been done more successfully than anything I could compile. Instead, it would be more of an exercise in reviewing records, something interesting to read and a way to increase the number of records reviewed in our archives.

I can't think of a good way to choose what album from each year I'll review, so I'm asking for reader input. All suggestions are welcome, though I can't guarantee I'll be able to use all of them.  Just leave your suggestions in the comments here and I'll compile the list in this post as I make the decisions.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Early Review: Brand New’s Daisy feels stale

Editor's Note: Please feel free to comment and tell us what you think about this review. Also, take some time to check out the site and the About Apollo's Cred page.

Daisy, the fourth album from Long Island-based post-punk quintet Brand New, makes its way to stores on September 22.

This time around, the angst and the plaintiveness are not particularly engaging. At least when compared to the expanding scope of the band’s inventiveness, Brand New’s transition from the self-aware genre-flouting Deja Entendu to the remorseful, weightier The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me rewarded fans and left them unsure of what to expect next. It’s rare for a band to improve creatively after joining up with a major label, but Brand New held its own. Daisy, however, reverses the growth spurt, sporting a rawer, less polished sound and indistinguishable lyrics.

“Vice” begins with an old church hymn for a minute and a half, then brusquely segues to vocalist Jesse Lacey screaming. The opener escalates into post-hardcore noise rock that wraps up quick.

The album’s single, “At the Bottom,” has a very catchy chorus and as good a bridge as any song on The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. “I'd serve you drugs on a silver plate/ If I thought it would help you get away/ I hope that you would do this for me.” This is the case where the single is better than the album, so expectations for Daisy, which were already high, augmented even more.

“You Stole,” the slow burn exhibit, loiters about and drags in the middle to the point of inducing ennui.

“Sink”’s vocals alternate between screaming and restrained quiet singing and sounds a bit more like Dave Grohl than Lacey. “Be Gone” is unusual but too short to make an impact.

Lead guitarist Vincent Accard took the forefront in writing many of the album’s songs in place of frontman/songwriter Lacey. Unfortunately, the most passionately sung lyrics are essentially inaudible. Perhaps Lacey chose screeching to articulate lyrics that were not his own.

Lacey revealingly told the U.K. music mag Kerrang!: “I think a lot of the record is about us trying to make decisions about how long the band should go on. When I listened back to it, I realized how many songs are about something coming to a close, or knowing when it's time to put something away and move on.”

The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me communicated the band’s desire to be a great seminal act above the slew of its subgenre’s inhabitants. Therefore, to what do we attribute this album’s singularity and hollowness?

Brand New traversed into a more aggressive direction that doesn’t necessarily benefit its long-term growth. Lacey & co. must be holding back the best rabbit in the bag of tricks for the next outing. They have more to give us – their fans are sure of it.

Hipness Rating: 6 out of 10
Actual Rating: 4 out of 10

Director Todd Solondz makes unofficial sequel to Happiness

Life During Wartime – not to be confused with the Talking Heads song – is the latest project from writer-director Todd Solondz, who specializes in introspective tragicomedy. It premieres at the Venice Film Festival between now and Sept. 12, competing for the Golden Lion with more than 20 films.

Solondz’s finest film Happiness was a hilariously sad ensemble piece about three middle-class New Jersey sisters who have problems with their families and sex lives. It was originally rated NC-17 in 1998, then its rating was ‘surrendered,’ meaning the MPAA essentially gave up and it now has no rating. With Life During Wartime, He has chosen to revisit the miserable set of characters, one a pedophile (originally played by Dylan Baker) and one a pervert (originally played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman), with an entirely new cast.

Solondz told the Associated Press the film is more political than the first and he craved the freedom to play around with his characters. “If I wanted to make a white character black. Some characters age 20 years, some five,” he said.

"I guess it's something of a post traumatic stress disorder kind of movie genre," Solondz told reporters. "I didn't ever think I'd go back to them. They weren't haunting me. Once I started writing I think what I needed was to feel free to play with these characters in any way I wanted to."

The new cast features Allison Janney, Michael Lerner, Michael K. Williams (replacing Hoffman), Shirley Henderson and Charlotte Rampling.

Since Happiness was possibly the most overlooked and brilliant black comedy of the ‘90s, I think this comeback for Solondz, who hasn’t made a film since the hit-or-miss experiment Palindromes in 2004, will finally generate much deserved attention to his work. Welcome to the Dollhouse and the second half of Storytelling are also gems in his catalogue.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Supergroup alert! Them Crooked Vultures take flight

I have a fascination with supergroups.  At their very best, they can be one of the greatest bands in the history of rock (Cream).  At their worst, well, they can be awful.

Luckily, this new "supergroup" that just popped up has the makings of being one of the good ones.  Them Crooked Vultures features Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin).  Grohl and Homme have worked together before, and both are seasoned collaborators.  Jones was one of four towering pillars in the most monolithic rock band of all time, and he's a talented multi-instrumentalist to boot.

The group released an instrumental preview of one of the tracks from its new album, along with a promotional video.  Please enjoy "Scumbag Blues."

Cooking for 10 in under two hours

A few times a month I have this desire to cook for people I know. It might sound crazy, considering I work a hectic schedule cooking professionally, but it's something I really enjoy.

Tonight, it was my girlfriend's enormous family of 10. Cooking for 10 can be quite the task: in this family's case, there were different preferences, picky eaters and the one vegetarian. Luckily, on this particular night, it was only part of the family -- the vegetarian was absent -- and some friends. I had around 2 hours to shop and cook, so I was thinking something easy yet delicious.

The menu consisted of Herb Roasted Chicken, Spice Rubbed Roast Beef, Roasted Potatoes, Tomato Salad, and mixed vegetables (preferences taken into account). This meal would be a perfect meal for when you're in a hurry but still want to cook at home. For a smaller family, with the help of the kids, it could be prepared from scratch in under an hour.

Herb Roasted Chicken
1 whole chicken trussed
Herbs of choice (thyme and rosemary used tonight)
1 head garlic
1 onion
1 carrot

1. Preheat oven to 425
2. Truss the chicken to ensure even cooking.
3. Rub with oil, salt and pepper.
4. Place in roasting pan with wire rack.
5. Stuff chicken cavity with chopped onion, carrot, head of garlic split, thyme, and a few pats of butter
6. On top place more thyme and butter.
7. Place in oven for about 10 minutes at 425 and then lower to 350. Basting chicken periodically to ensure crispy skin, golden brown color, and moist meat.

Cooking times will depend on size of chicken. I prefer to use a thermometer to check. Take out at 155 and let rest. Carve.

Spice Rubbed Roast Beef
Meat cut of choice, good for roasting
Dried Herbs and Spices (Open for exploration)

1. Trim up roast if needed and tie to insure even cooking.
2. Make spice mixture mixed with salt. (I used dried herbs and chili powder)
3. Rub Meat with good amount of spice mixture.
4. Sear till deep golden brown in hot saute pan with oil.
5. Add butter, thyme, and garlic.
6. Baste for a few minutes
7. Place in oven until desired doneness
8. Let rest and carve

Herb Roasted Potatoes
Potatoes of Choice (Yukon Gold and Red work well)
Herbs of choice (Rosemary and thyme)
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 Head Garlic

1. Wash and cut potatoes into even bite sized portions.
2. Place in bowl with herbs, oil, salt, pepper, and garlic cut in half.
3. Place on baking sheet in oven at 425. Roast until golden brown and crispy

Tomato Salad
Cherry or Grape tomatoes cut in half
Sea Salt

1. Place tomatoes and chopped herbs in bowl. Season with Vinegar, Salt, and EVOO.

Vegetables of choice (corn, carrots, and string beans)
Corn (cut off cob)
Carrots (peeled and sliced)
String Beans (cleaned and cooked in salted boiling water)

1. In pot place carrots, water and butter. Cook down until carrots are tender and glazed with butter.
2. Add corn and beans. Heat up until hot and season with salt.

So there you go: a couple quick, simple recipes that can feed a large group in a short period of time. There's nothing fancy or complicated here, just well-seasoned, simple fare.

The one item I left at home was my camera, but I'll start adding photos of my food soon.  Keep in touch, comment, and tell us about your simple favorite meals to make with the family.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New Release Tuesday: 9/1/09

I realize this post is coming rather late in the day for "new releases." Better late than never, right?

David Bazan  -  Curse Your Branches
Black Crowes  -  Before The Frost.....Until The Freeze
Chevelle  -  Sci-Fi Crimes
The Color Morale  -  We All Have Demons
Cross Canadian Ragweed  -  Happiness And All The Other Things
Datarock  -  Red
The Entrance Band  -  The Entrance Band
Whitney Houston  -  I Look To You
Insane Clown Posse  -  Bang Pow Boom
Juliette Lewis  -  Terra Incognita
The Opposite Of Sex  -  Live + Burn [EP]
Pitbull  -  Rebelution
Beanie Sigel  -  Broad Street Bully
Simple Minds  -  Graffiti Soul
Trey Songz  -  Ready
These United States  -  Everything Touches Everything
The Used  -  Artwork
Andrew WK  -  55 Cadillac
Chris Young  -  The Man I Want To Be

The good: The Black Crowes' new album is actually a double LP: you get the first disc in the CD case and the second half can be downloaded.  Also, I only know one Simple Minds song -- "Don't You (Forget About Me)" -- but it's a good one.  And it's always a party with Andrew WK (quite literally).

The bad: How the hell is Insane Clown Posse still around?  There can't be more than four or five people who listen to their records.  What could possibly be their appeal?  Unless, of course, an absurd fascination with clowns, circus imagery and shoddy rhymes counts as appealing.