Sunday, December 31, 2006

Movie Review Year in Review

Updated 1/27

Although I still haven't seen a few films that are on my to-see list (namely, Notes on a Scandal, The Queen, The Good German, Night at the Museum, and Babel) I thought I'd do a special year-end post to give attention to the movies I enjoyed the most this year. I've gone through and reread my reviews, noting what letter grades I gave and why, and here are my rankings for the best movies of the year — or at least those I consider my favorites:

1. The Departed
2. Little Miss Sunshine
3. Friends with Money
4. Dreamgirls
5. Dave Chappelle's Block Party
6. Borat ...
7. United 93/World Trade Center
8. The History Boys
9. Notes on a Scandal
10. Half Nelson

With the exception of The History Boys, I gave all those movies either an A or an A- review. And I was tempted to include Snakes on a Plane on that list because it was one of the best moviegoing experiences of the year, but I'm assuming that when I watch the DVD, I'll think differently about the movie.

And then, of course, there were the movies on the flip-side, the ones I really did not enjoy. It's worth noting that although I chose to see movies like She's the Man, I largely stayed away from the crap. And sometimes the crappy-looking movies, like Employee of the Month or My Super Ex-Girlfriend, turned out to be better than expected. So of the movies I saw, which ones were not worth my (or your) time? Here's the list:

1. You, Me and Dupree
2. Poseidon
3. The Lake House
4. Bobby
5. Game 6
6. Imagine Me & You
7. School for Scoundrels
8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
9. The Night Listener
10. The Good Shepherd

If you'd like to read my original reviews for these movies, links to all of them are in the margin. And note, though the list says I've seen 51 movies this year (as of December 30), that is only counting 2006 releases. In January and February I saw six films that were considered 2005 releases, but I don't count them as movies I saw this year. Further, when I see the above-mentioned movies, should they be worthy of one of these lists, I'll amend as necessary.


Friday, December 29, 2006

Things I've Learned, vacation week edition

I could really get used to this "week off" stuff. It's nice for a few days to sleep in, roll out of bed sometime between 9:30 and 10, take my time getting ready, do what I want (or don't do anything at all), and just relax. Alright, sure I've spent plenty of time this week playing with my new computer, but I've also learned a couple things too:

* Prime is the most-played movie in HBO's catalog. It seems like it's on at least twice every day. And I love it, so I tend to sit and watch the movie most times it's on (I've even recorded it so I could watch at my own leisure). I might even download the soundtrack — plus the Citizen Cope song "Holdin' On," which is not on the soundtrack but is featured prominently in the film.

* This city is so much nicer when no one's here. To wit: Thursday night I drove up Commonwealth Ave. from Kenmore Square to Babcock Street without having to stop at a single red light or get caught in traffic. The only other time that's possible is in the last week or so before the students come back in August.

* Amy Winehouse is going to be huge — HUGE! — when her album is released in the States in a couple months. Winehouse is a brassy British pop/soul singer, with tons of attitude (her debut album was called "Frank"). Her current single "Rehab" (off the album "Back to Black") has become a big hit in the U.K. — proof is that recording a cover of it has become the cool thing to do (just like it was with Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" last summer. Paolo Nutini's version is a good example). You can watch the video for "Rehab" here or download the song (and a remix) here. And then when you start to hear all about her in a month or so, you can say I tipped you off first.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

From the Ashes They Rise

Like any sports movie worth its salt, We Are Marshall plays with your emotions using the typical methods: an underdog who everyone has counted out, swelling orchestra music to generate a bigger response, gruff non-believers, and more. So knowing you'll be getting stuff like that going in means you have to evaluate the movie on a different level. To that end, Marshall is a movie you can root for. It's not the best sports movie ever, and it doesn't really earn your tears like, say, Rudy does, but it's a rousing tribute to how a school and community got back on its feet after a terrible loss.

Based on the true story of the 1970 plane crash that killed most of the Marshall University football team, as well as its coaching staff, boosters, and other supporters, We Are Marshall begins with the team being told that forget how you play — winning is the only thing that matters. So when the plane crashes, and the entire community is devastated, the school takes an uncharacteristic approach and decides to absorb the loss and suspend the football program indefinitely. The surviving members of the team, including Nate Ruffin (the excellent Anthony Mackie), band together and enlist the school's student body to convince the school board they want football to continue. Along comes Coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey, with all his folksy charm) to give the program a reboot. And wouldn't you know it, he gets the job done.

The big lesson of the movie is, of course, that winning and losing aren't important; it's how much heart you put into the game. And to that end, there seem to be a lot of good intentions here. David Strathairn (as the school president) and Matthew Fox (as Red Dawson, the lone surviving coach) both give good performances, and while McConaughey basically spends half the movie being his charming, down-home self, when he finally digs in, he's impressive (particularly in his inspirational speech where he tells the team "Funerals end today!"). Sure, the football game scenes should have been shot and scored to something a little less modern, and maybe the film does play with your emotions too much when in some cases it really doesn't have to, but overall, We Are Marshall earns my respect. It'll likely play very well on cable; I can already see myself tuning in to watch time and again. I'm giving the movie a B.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Welcome to the Year 2002

Buying a computer isn't supposed to be a life-changing experience — unless you've never had one before, I suppose — but after this past weekend I can say with all certainty that I am a changed man. You see, until now I had been using an HP desktop computer at home (wait for it) that was running Windows Me and I was accessing the internets using a (gulp) dial-up connection (the phone cord was strung up along the ceiling from one end of the apartment to the other). But on Saturday, as a Hanukkah present, I bought myself an iMac and hooked up a cable internets connection with an AirPort Express so it would be wireless and much much faster. (And no, I didn't pay for it all myself; I used gift checks and other stuff, plus money I'd been saving.) It's hardly newsworthy that the cable internets connection is fast, and the wireless aspect is just really nice, but it's such a drastic change from what I had that I feel like a better person — at least technologically-speaking. It's stunning to me that I waited so long to do this, kind of like how I hesitated so long before getting a DVR and then it, too, changed my life.

Using this new computer is just so much fun that I have spent much of the past couple days just tooling around on it, exploring all the features, taking silly pictures of myself with the built-in camera and the Photo Booth software (yup, that's me right there), and leaving myself connected to iChat and downloading movies and MP3s just because I can and because I can do so without tying up my phone line. Also fun is the fact that I still have my PC hooked up — I need to transfer my files from one computer to the other — so it's almost like I have a Mission Control set-up going here with the two monitors when they're both on. And of course, the old one's screen isn't as bright as the Mac's, so it only emphasizes how much cooler the Mac is. I love my new computer. I love my new computer so much. Now the next project is to wipe the old one clean and donate it by year's end (any readers' tips on doing that would be much appreciated). Good riddance, I say.


Monday, December 25, 2006

Stuff in the Basement

It could have been God awful, but thankfully, Rocky Balboa redeems itself as a worthwhile movie and a nice send-off for the beloved character. Basically, that's because the movie has a lot of heart — actually, that's all it has. And to that end, there is a lot of sad-sack Rocky bemoaning the past — both his boxing heyday and his late wife, Adrian — and there are quick shots of the people who've crossed his path (old opponents like Clubber Lang and Drago, old trainers, etc.) and trips to places of significance. When the current heavyweight champ, Mason "The Line" Dixon, is told he's got no heart, his managers seek out a boxer who has heart — Rocky, duh — and arrange an exhibition match to better Dixon's image (though beating up on a 60-year-old Rocky wouldn't really endear a boxer to his fans, I'd imagine). That's the vehicle for Stallone to make speeches about having to do what he has to do, and wanting to go out with pride and exorcise his demons (i.e.: Rocky V). At times, the nostalgia trip and catharsis is a bit much — Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with a dog made me laugh — but at the end, it's hard not to choke up after the big match. Stallone is no great actor and some of the dialogue is clunky, but Stallone, like Rocky himself, has willed the movie together through sheer determination, and Rocky Balboa pays a fitting tribute to the character. It's worth seeing, though I'm only going to give it a B-.


Friday, December 22, 2006

I'll Be Home for Christmas

I can't remember the last time I was home for Christmas week. (Actually, that's not true. It was 1999. And I know that because I went to see The Talented Mr. Ripley in Framingham with Farrah on Christmas Day. So let me start over.)

It's been a long time since I was home for Christmas week. Most years since I was a wee tot I have spent it in Florida with my family. That one time, in 1999, I didn't have off from work, so I stayed in Boston. It was also the year I went to my last Matzo Ball. So lame. But this year, by choice, I'm staying in Boston. I'm going to have a vacation at home. And I'm really looking forward to it.

How will I spend the week? Well, for one thing, I'm not going to the Matzo Ball, even though Christmas Eve is now apparently "Jewish Valentine's Day." Whatever. Instead, I have plans to see a movie and go for Chinese food on Christmas day, the "traditional" Jewish way to spend the holiday. I may come into work one afternoon just to clean up and get organized (we're off all week). And I may go to lunch with some friends who are working. Oh, and I'll probably see a few movies. But other than that, I'm an open book. I may just buy my Hanukkah present — a new computer — and set it up. I will likely clean my apartment again, maybe do some more purging. Maybe I'll take a road trip all the way out to Framingham or Burlington to brave the "after Christmas sale" shoppers. Oh, the options. I sort of like knowing I have a week ahead of me with nothing to do, really, and all the time in the world to do it.

Maybe it'll actually snow next week. Finally. That would actually be nice. If it does, I promise I won't complain about being in Boston in the cold instead of in sunny Florida. I'll be sleeping in my own bed, hanging in my own apartment, sleeping late, coming and going as I please, running errands if I need to, and just doing my own thing, and that's more exciting to me this year than getting a tan — not that I ever do.

So, as I begin a well-deserved week off, I just wanted to tell y'all that I'll still be here and blogging all week — though likely not as frequently. If you're looking for something fun to read, you can count on me to deliver when I can. Have a good one!

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Christmas (Baby Please Watch This)

There are so many great holiday traditions on television, and for me, there is none more exciting than the night when Darlene Love visits David Letterman to sing my all-time favorite Christmas song, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." She's been doing this for years on the last show before the holiday, and I have to say, the season isn't complete until she's been on. Paul Shaffer always does big, Phil Spector-esque musical direction and Darlene just always sings the hell out of the song, with a thrilling finale that includes plenty of snow. It's the same thing every year, but it's simple, classic, and wicked exciting. I love that her performance last year is online (as is the one from 2004 and one from 1995). In fact, I could probably watch the clips and listen to the MP3 all day long. (No joke or exaggeration.) I can't wait to see her do it again tonight. If you want to see real holiday magic, be sure and tune in.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Very Internets Christmas

Will the wonders of the internets never cease? Today I came across a site that features (almost) nothing more than Christmas music videos, holiday specials, holiday episodes of various television shows, tv commercials, and more. There are 101 things to watch, including last year's holiday episode of The Office, the Festivus episode of Seinfeld, and the video for Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas." (And if you look elsewhere on the site, you can also find this year's holiday episode of The Office.) It's a gold mine for holiday fun, and as the weekend gets closer, this only makes me more excited.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bring Out the Goat ... Again

I was asked this morning why I've grown my goatee again. I didn't have a very good answer. Could it be that all this holiday merriment is slightly emasculating and I needed to maintain my edge? Possibly. Did I simply miss a large chunk of my face when I was shaving? Nope. The truth is I hadn't shaved all weekend, and when yesterday morning came around, my half-awake stupor convinced me it was time to play my favorite game, "Fun with Facial Hair," again. The rest is history. It's the second time in a year that I've brought the goat back.

It's always amusing to me when I do this. Not sure why. And further, I don't have the foggiest clue why I write about it on the blog. It's not exactly interesting — that I know. In fact, it's really lame. And yet, it's posts like this that have earned me the title of Person of the Year by Time magazine. Maybe they should do a recount. (And no, that picture is not me.)

And So This Is Xmas ...

I knew after last year's mix that A Very Marty Xmas 2006 had some pretty high expectations to live up to. Well, now that all the songs have been selected, the hard decisions have been made, the CDs have been burned, and the mix has been sent out and received, I thought I'd share for those of you lurkers out there what ended up on the mix. I think my seventh collection — that's right, my seventh — is another winner, filled with classics both old and new, some oddities, the requisite jolly-ness, and even a pro-Hanukkah song thrown in for good measure. And of course, there are some surprises between the songs that are not listed. So without further ado, here's the track listing:

The Killers — “A Great Big Sled”
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy — “Party for Santa”
Jimmy Buffett — “Christmas Island”
The Echelons — “Christmas Long Ago (Jingle, Jangle)”
The Ronettes — “Frosty the Snowman”
Darlene Love — “White Christmas”
Elliott Yamin — “This Christmas”
The Fray — “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”
Barenaked Ladies with Michael Bublé — “Elf’s Lament”
Sufjan Stevens — “Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!”
Cyndi Lauper and Frank Sinatra — “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
The Pussycat Dolls — “Santa Baby”
Diana Krall — “Let It Snow”
James Taylor — “The Christmas Song”
Kelly Clarkson — “My Grown Up Christmas List”
Harry Connick Jr. — “Blue Christmas”
Sarah McLachlan — “River”
Aimee Mann — “Calling on Mary”
The LeeVees — “Goyim Friends”
The Chipmunks (with David Seville) — “Hang Up Your Stockin’”
Papa Don Vappie’s New Orleans Jazz Band — “Please Come Home for Christmas”
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and the New Orleans All-Stars — “Oh Holy Night” (from Studio 60)

If you'd like to compile your own version of A Very Marty Xmas 2006, nearly all those songs can be found on iTunes, or various music blogs (like or PodBop). The Studio 60 track can be found here.

Considering at one point I had enough songs to compile a double CD, you can be sure there will be a A Very Marty Xmas 2007 one year from now. Stay tuned ... and of course, happy holidays!

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Monday, December 18, 2006

What Do You Want for Christmas?

If you didn't see Saturday Night Live this weekend, with Justin Timberlake as the host, then check out this video. Just make sure co-workers or prudish friends/spouses, etc. aren't around. You were warned.

Another classic short in the holiday episode (last year it was "Christmastime for the Jews" and "Lazy Sunday"). Maybe SNL should only do one episode each year ...



Folks, if you haven't yet seen the Studio 60 holiday show from a couple weeks ago, here is your chance: NBC is repeating it this evening. Do yourself a favor and tune in tonight at 10 p.m. to see one of the year's classiest, best-written episodes of television. Matthew Perry's character is a Jew with more Christmas spirit than anyone around him (sounds familiar), and his castmates try to discredit the entire holiday. That, and a demented Santa Claus, an inspired parody of Dateline's "To Catch a Predator" series, and a classic quasi-romantic/stalker-ish moment toward the end. And if you can't make it home in time by 10, and you haven't pre-set the VCR or TiVo, then just turn on the show whenever you can because you won't want to miss the last five minutes. They'll make you weep, cheer, and feel jolly all at the same time, thanks to an awesome, truly memorable New Orleans-flavored performance of "Oh Holy Night" that you'll be talking about all week long.

Watch this show tonight. You'll thank me tomorrow.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

It's Me!

Just wanted to take a moment to say thanks to Time magazine for naming me Person of the Year in its new issue. Alright, so technically the honor goes to "You," but since "You" in this case is "Me," I'll accept it on my own behalf. The magazine is recognizing all us bloggers and YouTubers and Myspacers and Mash-Upers and so on who collectively have put our lives out there, shared our hobbies, told our stories, made the world laugh and cry, got to know one another, and, put front-and-center for all to see "the stupidity of crowds as well as its wisdom."

To quote from the story:
<< Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I'm not going to watch Lost tonight. I'm going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I'm going to mash up 50 Cent's vocals with Queen's instrumentals? I'm going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?

The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game,
TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you. >>

Hey, all I wanted to do was have a little fun. And if that's all it takes to be Time's person of the year, well, then so be it. Congrats to me. And you.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

And You, You're Gonna Love This

Can Dreamgirls really live up to the hype? I mean, you can't shake a stick these days without seeing a story (like the one I wrote about Jennifer Hudson) or seeing a commercial or hearing a song or something related to the movie. But the good news is that the hype is justified: Dreamgirls is one of the best times you will have at the movies this year.

A big, slick, well-orchestrated Hollywood machine (and that's really the only word you can use for it), Dreamgirls tells the story of a 1960s Supremes-like girl group and how their rise to great fame takes its toll on the girls' friendship. Unless you've been under a rock, you know that the movie is based on a Broadway show, and that Beyonce plays the Diana Ross role (and though she tries to deny it, there's no escaping the comparison), Jamie Foxx is the villainous Berry Gordy-type, and Eddie Murphy is the James Brown-esque soul singer who the girls initially attach their fortunes to. The film is substantial and not lightweight, with a strong statement about what really makes a star.

Not surprisingly, while the acting across the board is good, the film belongs to the women. Hudson's performance of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" is already the stuff of legend, and for good reason. It's a fierce, powerful performance — both vocally and visually — and like the words Hudson's character is singing, Hudson is daring you not to love her. When she finished, a guy behind me said, "She turned it out!" and most folks burst into applause. The sound system where I saw the movie was less-than-optimal, but Hudson's performance here is so towering that it overcame the technical issues. She'll earn the Oscar for that scene alone. And Beyonce's "Listen" turned me into a serious fan. The song was written for the film, and she just blows the roof off with her passionate performance of it.

To be honest, though, the film and show do a real disservice to both women, especially Hudson. She has a few good songs (I also really like "Love You I Do," another song written just for the movie), but after her big number halfway through, Hudson basically disappears. Suddenly the movie is all about Beyonce and Hudson is stuck in the background, right when she's upstaged everyone else on screen. Beyonce, too, is basically nice to look at and she generally holds her own acting-wise, but her only really good moment comes near the end when she's belting that song. I wish the show/movie's creators had seized the momentum of Hudson's performance better and gave Beyonce more chances to blow us away. Instead, both get these huge showstopping moments that make the rest of their performance seem less impressive.

But no matter. As a whole, Dreamgirls is a great, wholly entertaining movie. I was tapping my feet, holding back applause, and smiling through most of the film. When the lights came up, I started to make plans to see it again as soon as I could, in a theater with better sound. Right now, I can't wait. Dreamgirls gets an A–.

Update, 12/31: I've now seen this movie twice and I don't know if it was the better presentation quality or that I knew what to expect, but I have to say, unsurprisingly, I enjoyed Dreamgirls much more the second time. Jennifer Hudson's performance came off much better to me — it didn't seem as lacking in the second half — and even Beyonce was impressive throughout. This second time I appreciated stuff I didn't appreciate as much the first time, like Eddie Murphy's performance; it's also really good. Yes, the movie is a bit lopsided, with all the good music in the first half and all the serious drama in the second, but it doesn't drag, and this time I felt more invested in the plot so it came off as a better movie. And let me just say this: if you're going to see Dreamgirls, see it the way it's meant to be seen, on a big screen with big, clear sound. It makes all the difference. I'd see it again. And again. I really like this movie.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

See Ya, Gabe

Gabe Kapler, my favorite Red Sox player, has announced that he is retiring and will be leaving the city to manage the Sox’ Single-A team in South Carolina. Ah well, another good one gone.

I've been a big Gabe fan for a while now not just because he gives Jewish athletes a good name (he even wore a "Challah Back" t-shirt in one of the 2004 season recaps), but because the guy seemed to have an endlessly positive attitude and played with a lot of heart, two things that endeared him to his teammates, who always spoke of Gabe in the highest regard. The guy gave his all on and off the field. I'll miss watching him at Fenway, but I know the traits I respect about Gabe will make him a great manager. I'm hoping that he will rise up the ranks and return to Yawkey Way one day soon as a Sox coach or as the manager.

Best of luck to you, Gabe!


Monday, December 11, 2006

Actually, Happyness Is Kind of a Drag

On the way home after seeing The Pursuit of Happyness, I was trying to come up with a better, more appropriate title for the movie. You see, not only does the title — with that too-obvious misspelling — not really fit, but it's also kind of a misnomer because the movie isn't really all that happy. In fact, it's kind of a drag.

Happyness tells the true-life story of Chris Gardner, who, determined to raise his five-year-old son on his own, struggles to make ends meet by selling an overpriced piece of medical equipment while taking part in an upaid internship at Dean Witter. At one point, Gardner has no money to his name and is forced to stay with his son overnight in the men's room of a subway station. But this is an inspirational story, so it's not giving anything away to say things work out in the end. It's just that that part of the story is at the very end, and it takes a long time to get there.

To Happyness' credit, it doesn't skirt any corners. There is no sad montage showing how bad things got, nor is there an upbeat montage showing Gardner working hard to beat the odds. This speaks to the film's desire to pay appropriate tribute to Gardner's story and to treat him with respect; it wasn't easy for Gardener to endure what he went through, and the film isn't going to take an easy way out to show you.

And if you're going to cast anyone in such a role, it had better be Will Smith, who even at Gardner's lowest points remains charming and likable and winning. Your affection for Will makes it easier to sympathize with Gardner's disappointments and root him on to succeed. It also helps that Gardner's son is played by Smith's own son, Jaden; their on-screen chemistry is palpable. Happyness is a long movie, longer than it really needs to be (just under two hours), but these two make it more enjoyable than it really should be. I'm giving it a B.

Oh, and about that title ... Gardner at a few points in the film refers to Thomas Jefferson and the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence, trying to explain Jefferson's motives for including "the pursuit of happiness" and also, saying that the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed, not the achievement of it. And outside Gardner's son's daycare, the word happiness is misspelled with a y. It's a passing thing early in the movie that serves no purpose as the film's title. (Then again, it's more original than the ones I was coming up with — which I won't even bother to share.)


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Diamond Dog

While I can't say Blood Diamond rocked my world, I was impressed once again by Leonardo DiCaprio. Man, between this film and The Departed, it's like the guy has grown up and found a really cool on-screen persona. It's mostly all in the facial hair, but his face now just shows more age and edge. (And I still think he looks like he could be Eric Dane's younger brother.) Here he plays a diamond smuggler, and while he's really not a very good guy, or even the film's hero, you have to root for him. Sure, that's because he's Leonardo DiCaprio, but still, you want him to succeed. I guess therein lies one of the film's problems, that you are rooting for the wrong guy, but it's more than that. Jennifer Connelly's character — the reporter with a heart of gold who gives DiCaprio's character a conscience — is a too-convenient love interest. And it's too long (nearly 2.5 hours). All told, the parts don't add up to a compelling whole. But Leo's pretty good. Not run-out-and-see-this-movie good, but good in that he makes the film worthwhile if you do see it. I give Blood Diamond a B-.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Passing It On

"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
— Albert Einstein

On the surface, The History Boys is about a group of British high school students trying to get into Cambridge and Oxford universities (aka: Oxbridge). But it's also about the value of book smarts vs creative/free thought, and about an inspiring teacher with unconventional methods (including a penchant for quoting random film/music/poetry), and a teacher with a habit of fondling his students while giving them rides home aboard his motorbike, the value of education in the real world, and much more. Think Dead Poets Society with British accents and a gay subtext. The theatrical version of The History Boys won a record six Tony Awards in May (including Best Play), and it's no wonder — this is a really interesting and enjoyable story, with great performances across the board, plenty of quotable lines, and a great message. (If you don't know, the film's cast and director are the exact same ones as the Broadway play.) No doubt you may overlook this movie when so many more-hyped films are at the multiplex these days, but if you're looking for something less-than-mainstream, give The History Boys a try. I give it a strong B+. (And yes, I realize this review doesn't even come close to justifying why I liked the movie so much, but I suppose I'm just at a loss for words — ironically enough.)


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Too Much Cheer?

Compilation of A Very Marty Xmas 2006 is now in full swing. I dipped into the “unusued holiday music” folder on my computer last night and found more than 200 tracks (!!!), so there is a lot to choose from — not to mention the new stuff I’m discovering this year. For example, this morning I found an MP3 of Elliot Yamin, my guy from American Idol, covering Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas, which is one my all-time favorite holiday songs. The Killers have a great new holiday song this year. And then there’s The Daily .Wav, which keeps putting up quick clips from the holiday episodes of old tv shows, and blogs like, which are counting down to the holiday with new tracks every day. Plus, I’ve already got Jamie Cullum singing “Let It Snow.” So I’ve got a conundrum this year in terms of narrowing down all my available options. Which of Harry Connick Jr.’s tracks will make the cut? (Right now I'm leaning toward "Blue Christmas.") And do I include Diana Krall’s “Christmas Time Is Here” or “The Christmas Song” ... or her version of “Let It Snow?” Do any of Jimmy Buffett’s songs go on the mix, and do I even bother opening Regis Philbin’s holiday CD, which I purchased in the bargain bin after last year’s Christmas, or uploading the others I’ve acquired this year (like Aimee Mann and Sufjan Stevens’ CDs)? I forgot how much work went into making this mix, and while I always like when a project like this keeps me busy, this year’s mix is proving to be a real challenge already.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ich Bin Ein Ballooner?

Is it just me, or does that balloon look like it's giving the Nazi salute? I mean, look at it. Take away the peppermint stick and it's basically saying, "Heil Christmas!" Yes, I know this sort of thing was a minor plot point on Monday night's Studio 60, so Aaron Sorkin sorta beat me to the punch, but every time I walk by the balloons in front of the Babcock Street fire station they make me wonder. And considering last year the balloons in front of the station bore a striking resemblance to George W. Bush, I'm starting to wonder if maybe firemen shouldn't be picking their own holiday decorations. (And yes, I'm saying this with tongue firmly in cheek.)


Insert Joke Here

By now, I'm sure you've all heard the story about the woman aboard an American Airlines flight who lit a match on her plane to conceal a really smelly fart, thus forcing the plane to make an emergency landing. The jokes write themselves, but one of my favorites was on Fox 25 this morning, and had to do with the price of gas going sky high. Hee hee.

Anyway, if you haven't yet heard the story, here's a link.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Not So Jolly Holiday

I've always thought that if we took a holiday ... just some time to celebrate ... just one day out of life, that it would be so nice. Apparently, that's what Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet thought, and so we have the movie The Holiday. Simply, this is a Chick Flick, with a capital C and F, and aside from the attractive leading ladies, there's really not much redeeming about it for those with a bit more testosterone. You get all the holiday movie/chick flick cliches, including the scene where Cameron Diaz slips on the ice while wearing high heels, and the scene where she sings along (badly) to rock music. Hell, even Jack Black seems to have been neutered. Sure, Jude Law is as charming as ever, and it's nice to see Kate Winslet lighten up for a change, and the movie isn't sooo bad per se, but I probably could have skipped it. (And for the record, the "chick" I saw this with wasn't exactly raving about it either.) The Holiday gets a B- from me.


Not So Good

First, the good news: This review will not be as long as the movie I'm reviewing.

Now, the bad news: I'm reviewing The Good Shepherd. And it's not the great Oscar-contender I was hoping for. Instead, it's a Very Serious Movie that is very long (i.e.: more than two-and-a-half hours long) and not really all that entertaining.

Matt Damon plays Edward Wilson, who is recruited to join the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) while still at Yale and a member of the secret society Skull and Bones. The film jumps back and forth in time to show how Edward's committment to but uneasy feelings about the organization affect him and his family. No one can be trusted, loyalties aren't what they seem, and paranoia is a must.

Sounds like a hell of a story. If only Damon's performance wasn't so wooden, and everything and everyone around him wasn't so stiff. At one point someone describes Edward as "a serious S.O.B. without a sense of humor," and that just about sums it up. Further, Damon doesn't ever look a day over 28, despite aging 22 years over the course of the movie. And Angelina Jolie is not just miscast, but she's underused. The whole thing is just a bit dry, and I actually thought about walking out a couple times because I just wasn't involved and I knew I could be enjoying myself doing something else. (Not that it's all bad; I quite enjoyed seeing Joe Pesci on screen again.) So in summary, The Good Shepherd gets a not-so-good C from me.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Thanks for the Memories

I got such a nice response to my posting about my grandmother's passing last week (and first of all, thanks for that) so I thought I'd write a quick update/addendum. And then I'll try to keep things on here a bit more upbeat. If there's one thing Bubby would have wanted, it's for me to be happy and not dwell on her passing for too long.

It has been an emotionally taxing few days. There was good (my family seems bonded now more than it's ever been); and there was sadness (can't remember when I cried as much). Sitting shiva was for me, overall, an enjoyable experience, but it was truly bi-polar: the highs were very high, and the lows were very low. At times it felt more like a party than a somber gathering, which many said was appropriate since we were supposed to be celebrating Bubby's life. It still felt odd and a bit absurd.

I was one of four grandchildren (of seven, total, not including spouses) to give a eulogy at the funeral on Thursday, and apparently, it was so good it might have scored me a date — with someone else who apparently gave a nice eulogy at a funeral recently. One of our family friends thinks that makes us a match. (I can only imagine what I'll say when I call her.) Oh, and she lives in New York (y'all know how I feel about dating people in Cambridge). Let's just say I'm not expecting too much there.

These past few days, we got out a lot of old photos of Bubby and letters and stuff, and enjoyed looking through them and putting them out for others to see. And my cousins (and their spouses), aunts, parents, sister (and brother-in-law), and I laughed, bonded, sat around, and just talked ... we ate, ate, and ate some more ... we reminisced ... and we really did have a very good time being together. My dad joked that if Bubby knew this would be the result of her passing, she would have died years ago. (Good that we could keep our sense of humor.)

Of course, the hardest part for me was when the house would get quiet again and the laughter stopped, and all of a sudden all there was to do was look at the pictures and realize why we were there. I'd look over and Bubby wouldn't be there. I'd want to call her, and she wouldn't be there. And most often, I'd just want to give her a hug, but there was no one to hug. It's the silences that are the most painful still. Walking into my apartment Sunday night, I had to put on the radio softly while I ate dinner. And not surprisingly, it was very hard to leave New York Sunday afternoon. I'm actually kind of happy to be back at work today, if only for the constant noise and distraction.

When she died, Bubby was 91 years old. (At least that's what we're going to put on the gravestone; there's some debate about her true age.) It was said multiple times this week that she had a good run: she traveled a lot, made it to my sister's wedding just like she wanted to (not to mention the weddings of two of my cousins), got to see her whole family in the days before she passed away (minus my cousin who is in Hong Kong), was constantly surrounded by love, and died knowing she was going to be a great-grandmother (sorry, Stacey). Personally, I can say I have absolutely no regrets about my relationship with her, and I'm sure she is somewhere right now thankful for a life well-lived.

The pain of Bubby's loss is still hard, but it's comforting to know how close my family is now and how good my friends have been during this difficult time. I know I'll continue to have my moments of sadness, but for Bubby I'll be strong and will go on with my life, continuing to make her proud.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Not So Bright

I appreciate that there is no good time for NStar to do its routine maintenance, but do they always have to do it in Brookline overnight on weekdays? I mean, how many people have alarm clocks that are plugged into the wall? Doesn't NStar realize that if they shut off the power overnight, however briefly, that all those alarm clocks are going to need to be reset, and hundreds of people may oversleep for work the next day?

Sure, NStar usually gives a couple days' notice, but that doesn't really help. And the most recent time they did this — overnight on Tuesday night last week — they only called at 5 p.m. that night to give a heads up. I needed to get up early to catch a flight at Logan the next morning and barely slept because I wanted to be awake so I could get up to fix my clock when the power went back on.

My personal reason last week aside, I've got a real problem with NStar. I wish they'd do this maintenance at a better hour — like, say, when we're all at work, or on a weekend when we're less dependent on our clocks. Again, I know there's likely no time to do this stuff that everyone will agree on, but considering so many people need to get up for work in the morning, you'd think NStar would be a little smarter about their scheduling.


If you're at all interested, just wanted to point out that my profile of Jennifer Hudson, which appears in the new issue of Continental, is now online. Jennifer, you may recall, was a finalist on American Idol a few years ago (the year Fantasia won), and she's likely to be an Oscar-winner for her role in the new movie, Dreamgirls. I got to chat with her on the way up, which I thought was pretty cool.

Also in this issue is a story about the new show High Fidelity, which opens on Broadway this week (it's based on the movie and book). You may recall I saw the show when it was in Boston a couple months back, and while I didn't love it, I did think the music was good. Anyway, I hope the show does well regardless.

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