Saturday, March 31, 2007

Game On!

Now that the last spring training game is over, I have just one thing to say: Batter up! It's been a long, cold winter (as always) and there's something about the start of another baseball season that gets me all excited. Sure, I was really pissed off last August when the team fell apart, but all is forgiven and this is going to be a great year, I can feel it. Sitting in the stands in Fort Myers I was reminded of just how much I love this game and how happy I am that it's back. So I say bring it on. Monday can't come soon enough. Let's go Red Sox!


Dressing the Part?

I suppose if you're going to apply to work for something called the "Geek Squad," then you're sort of asking for it. Still, while waiting for assistance at Best Buy today, I was struck by just how much the Geek Squad guys feed into the stereotype. All of them are forced to wear a dorky outfit of black pants, white shirt and black tie, and apparently it's also a requirement for them to slick back their hair like they're trying too hard (if possible). According to the photos, they also wear black shoes and white socks, but I had no actual confirmation of that.

As a customer looking for a repair job, I was trying to think if this look made me any more comfortable, or if I'd rather the guys wore more "normal" outfits that were less, well, geeky. When you need to have your computer or camera or whatever looked at, you want someone who knows what they're doing, who can actually help and won't give you a runaround. Maybe if the Geek Squad was wearing something slicker, I might feel like I wasn't getting the legit service I needed. Then again, it's hard to take these guys too seriously when they look like they're wearing a costume (as opposed to a uniform, like the other Best Buy employees). And maybe that's why, when I was told they wouldn't/couldn't fix my camera, I felt sort of empowered to argue back about how my service plan should cover the cost of a new camera. A losing battle, and I knew that going in, but it was partly that damned outfit that convinced me I was somehow superior and in the right, and could win. My mistake.

Point is, Best Buy does no service to its employees by making them dress up like geeks. It makes them look silly, and it only serves to frustrate customers.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Try the Veal

I’ve been asked by a couple folks why I still haven’t seen 300 yet, so I wanted to explain, because as your friendly neighborhood frequent moviegoer, I know you look to me for guidance on how to spend your hard-earned cash. The truth is, I just wasn’t all that impressed by the last two films in the series, 298 and 299, so I’ve decided to skip 300 entirely. I’m sort of hoping 301 is better, because at the peak of the series — 294 — it was really very good. Kind of like how Oceans 11 was a much, much better movie than Oceans 9 was. Same with Apollo 13; they almost stopped making those movies after Apollo 12, but somehow Ron Howard got back on his game for the 13th film in the series and then called it a day.

Similarly, I’m having a hard time getting excited about The Last Mimzy, seeing how I never did get around to seeing the first or second Mimzy movies. Does anyone know, were those two any good?

(Thank you, I’ll be here all week. Please tip your waitress.)
(And of course, this is posted with apologies to Todd, who thought of at least one or two of these jokes before I did. Though in my defense, they're not really the kinds of jokes anyone should want to take credit for. But it's alright, Todd can have all the credit he wants.)


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lock It Up

You may have noticed a week and a half ago that I mentioned something about my car having been broken into. At the time, the cops from Brookline who took the report and dusted for fingerprints told me mine wasn't the only one in the neighborhood that had been broken into, and in fact, mine was the rare one where the window wasn't broken. But now I've seen that there's been a rash of break-ins all over the city. So as a PSA, I'll just say that if you have a car, make sure it's locked and that any valuables are removed. Don't be like me and not remove the faceplate from your radio. You may just come to find that it and the rest of the radio are missing one day.

I suppose I got lucky because the only thing taken from my car was my $100 radio, not the CDs or other items, and as I mentioned, the windows were not broken. In fact, altogether, it was a pretty clean break-in — if you don't count the big handprint on my window. Even the radio itself was removed without breaking anything. These had to be some real pros. But even though the radio that was taken wasn't all that expensive, it still was no picnic to have it replaced, so I thought I'd pass along this note of warning.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Closing the Book

I have to say, it's a real bummer when a magazine changes its positioning and you realize it's no longer for you. It's sort of like when you leave school for the summer and you have your good friends, but then when you return, you are the same but your friends have other interests and they leave you behind. (Don't try to tell me you don't identify with that.) Such is the case with Giant magazine, which is no longer a general entertainment magazine, one that I enjoyed reading.

I noticed something was up when Giant was redesigned pretty horribly in the middle of last year and the cover photos featured people like Beyonce, and P.Diddy. But those two, for example, are pretty mainstream, and the inside coverage still had a mix of subjects. I could say I was interested in about half of it each month. Then last month's issue, with Jennifer Hudson on the cover, was lackluster and almost completely uninteresting. And when I got the new issue in the mail tonight, featuring Eve on the cover and the new tagline "Urban Entertainment," I knew it was time to cancel my subscription.

It's not that I had developed such an attachment to Giant over the years, but just 12 months ago, this was a magazine that had people like Katie Holmes, Owen Wilson, Denise Richards, Jon Heder and Mischa Barton on its cover. It was a fun, somewhat juvenile read about movies I watched, music I listened to, and TV shows I was interested in. Its target audience was clearly 18–30 year-old men. The "fanboy" demographic. I even knew a couple people who worked there. By contrast, the new Giant is geared toward young Black men, and the people I knew are no longer on the masthead. Not surprisingly, there's almost nothing I want to read in the latest issue.

It's just a magazine, I know. But in a weird way, this feels like a betrayal of sorts. Sure, you could say I should have seen it coming, and in hindsight, yes, it's pretty obvious what direction the magazine was headed. But this is one of the most radical shifts of a magazine I've seen. And it comes in the same month that Premiere magazine is ceasing publication, so that's two magazines I read regularly that will no longer occupy a space on my coffee table.

I work in the magazine publishing world, so I can appreciate why and how magazines change their focus or positioning. But when it's this drastic — when a magazine totally turns its back on its readers and goes in a completely different direction — well, that's just not cool. And though I got no satisfaction from asking for a refund of what was left of my subscription money tonight (an $8 check is on its way, I'm told), I knew that was the only way to save face in this situation. I'm not going to continue to support my "friend" if it's not going to be loyal to me.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I'm So Predictable ...

Something tells me I'm into something good: What a great performance by Haley Scarnato tonight! I think she might actually have a shot of lasting longer than a few weeks. And her singing was pretty good too! Actually, it was a much better show than I expected. By far. I even liked LaKisha's performance, and I generally think she's overrated (though I still prefer the song as a backing track for Kanye West). I thought Blake was bad, as were Stephanie, Gina and Phil. Chris Richardson did a pretty good job. Chris Sligh brought chubby back. Mindy Doo was very good, as usual. But best vocal of the night goes to Jordin Sparks. And Haley? Wow. I love that girl. If her fiancee doesn't stick around, I'll be ready and waiting. What an outfit.

Still, the best best best best best thing tonight was the girl that Sunjaya made cry. I mean, he was so awful and this girl was a complete waterworks. Too funny. You had to see it. Not hear it. See it. But the worst part about it? I think it guaranteed that Sunjaya will stick around another week. So, goodbye, Stephanie. It's been nice.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?

In the years since 9/11 there have been only a handful of movies dealing directly with the subject. Of those, most have dealt with the heroism and the survivors. And of course, this leaves out a large number of people who also experienced the day, namely the families of those who died. Well, with Mike Binder's Reign Over Me, that void is over, and remarkably so.

Reign tells the story of Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), a successful New York dentist, who by chance runs into his old college roommate, Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler). Fineman's wife and three daughters all died on 9/11 and he has chosen to deal with the loss by not dealing with it at all. Rather, in the five years since that fateful day, he has shut down both emotionally and physically; Charlie's quit his job as a dentist, he ignores that he ever had a family, spends his life alone playing video games and cruising around the city on his motor bike, collects vinyl records, and turns his music up real loud to avoid dealing with difficult situations. It's a lonely, solitary life filled with pain and sadness. But Johnson, who is married with two daughters of his own, admires one thing about Fineman: the fact that he lives a more carefree life now because he doesn't dwell on the negative aspects. So Johnson spends more time with Fineman, and begins to ignore the problems in his own marriage.

The movie brings these two old friends back together again without cliche, and examines the very real pain that Fineman chooses to ignore. And as Fineman, Sandler is actually really good. Sure, he's got a scene or two where his raised voice of anger makes you chuckle, but trust me on this one: in the past Sandler has made you laugh till you cried. Here he'll make you cry real tears of sadness with no laughs. What a surprisingly good performance. When Fineman finally breaks through the wall he's built around himself, it's stunning and not the least bit maudlin.

Still, the film belongs to Cheadle, who gives the less showy performance, but serves as the film's anchor. Cheadle's always good, but this is one of the best performances I've seen him give. I wish the film had come out closer to the end of the year because I'm afraid award voters will forget him nine months from now. It's a fate Joan Allen suffered because The Upside of Anger had a similar release date two years ago.

It's worth noting that the film has a great soundtrack, filled with classic songs by the Pretenders, Bruce Springsteen and, yes, the Who (whose song "Love Reign O'er Me" gives the film its title; it's covered by Pearl Jam over the closing credits). And it's also photographed at low, ground-level angles — no sweeping New York shots — all the better to show the life of this very real and all-too-common person as he struggles to survive in the Big City, where reminders of his family are all around. There's one really cool shot in particular of all the traffic lights on Park Ave. changing color at the same exact time.

If I had to complain about anything, it'd be two things: one, the length. Binder should have trimmed off about 15–20 minutes. It's enough to make me consider lowering my grade. And also, there's an out there, only-in-the-movies subplot about a whack job patient of Johnson's that is distracting and unbelievable. But the truth is, I'm choosing to ignore these things because on the whole, I like the movie that much.

Binder has written an actor's showcase here. In addition to Sandler and Cheadle, supporting actors like Liv Tyler and Jada Pinkett Smith also give very good performances. I can't really say enough how much I liked this film, so I hope y'all will go and see it and tell me you agree. I'm giving Reign Over Me an A–.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dangerous Game

Unlike David Fincher's other movies — say, Fight Club or Panic RoomZodiac is generally a straightforward, no-tricks, procedural drama. If anything, you can say it's quick moving, because the film covers about 20 years in about two-and-a-half hours. There'll be a one minute scene and then the action will jump forward two weeks, or a month, or a year. But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

Zodiac tells the true story of the Zodiac killer, who is alleged to have killed about a dozen people in San Francisco starting in 1969 and was never caught. Actually, the film tells the story of the efforts by cops, reporters, and a newspaper cartoonist to figure out the Zodiac's identity. And like I said, they never did solve the case conclusively, but thanks to cartoonist Robert Graysmith's (Jake Gyllenhaal) efforts, they got very close. Actually, the Zodiac killer has already inspired a handful of movies, including Clint Eastwood's original Dirty Harry, which featured a bad guy named "Scorpio" who also threatens to kill schoolchildren.

As you'd expect, this movie features a big cast of well-known actors (Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, Philip Baker Hall, Donal Logue, Chloe Sevigny, Adam Goldberg, etc.), but I thought only Mark Ruffalo was worth noting for his performance. In those rare moments when the film sort of drags, his energy keeps it going. And Sevigny actually has a pretty thankless role as Graysmith's wife. But no matter. Zodiac is generally a solid, entertaining film that doesn't really feel as long as it is. That's because it's well-paced and even has a few suspenseful scenes. So I'm going to give it a B+.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

I Say Yes, Yes, Yes

Sorry to be so single-mindedly focused on Amy Winehouse this week, but I just saw this and had to share. Apparently, Britney Spears has covered Amy's "Rehab." Check it out. Ha ha ha.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

'Scuse Me While I Scold This Guy

Last night at the bottom of the stairs of the Hynes Convention Center T stop, there was a homeless guy looking for change, and singing to entertain passersby. The song was pleasant and appropriate enough — “I’ll Be There” — but when he messed up the words, I had a brief desire to go all Simon Cowell and call him on it. After all, the line is “Just call my name, and I’ll be there,” not “Oh don’t you worry, I’ll be there.” Alas, I kept on walking and headed for home ... where I watched three, count ’em three, American Idol contestants flub the words, including my fair Haley Scarnato (poor girl). So maybe there was just something in the air last night.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

She's Back for the First Time

Way back around Christmas I told y'all about Amy Winehouse and her great song "Rehab." Well, as I mentioned on Sunday, her CD Back to Black hits stores today so I thought I'd put up a plug here so y'all would go out and buy it (or download it at iTunes). Amy's great; she's like a cross between old school Lauryn Hill and Ronnie Spector (and she looks like what would happen if Janice from Friends was actually devastated by Chandler dumping her). It's a new jack Motown soul sound, from a white, heavily-tattooed Londoner with a well-documented drinking problem (thus her song "Rehab"). If you want a taste, here's a remix of "Rehab" and here's a remix of the title track. Another great song is "You Know I'm No Good." Hopefully you'll like these and will try the whole album for yourself. Then go pass the word on to everyone you know.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Discover Him

Within the past couple days, my car was broken into and my radio was stolen (again — it was the second time in two years). This was annoying on its own, but for the purposes of this blog, I'll tell you one of the other reasons I was annoyed by it was that I was looking forward to spending the day listening to my new favorite CD, James Morrison's Undiscovered. Chances are good you've never heard of Morrison, but that's likely because his CD doesn't actually hit stores until Tuesday (I scored an advance copy). In brief, he's another one in the wave of Brits who are releasing albums stateside this year (i.e.: Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, Mika, etc.).

Morrison is a singer-songwriter with a bit of soul; he's kind of like a more upbeat Ray LaMontagne. I've also seen comparisons to David Gray, Jeff Buckley, and Damien Rice. The first single off Undiscovered is "You Give Me Something," and I'd love to link you to it, but instead, I'll link you to his MySpace page and his official site, both of which have streams of it. You can also download it at iTunes. I can, however, link you to other tracks from his CD, "Wonderful World" and "The Pieces Don't Fit Anymore." Also notable on the CD is "Under the Influence." The CD is out on Tuesday (as is Amy Winehouse's), and I know it'll only cost $7.99 at Best Buy (actually, Amy Winehouse's CD will be on sale for the same price there), so go pick it up.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sox Shots

If you're interested, I've posted photos from Monday, when I went to see the Red Sox in Fort Myers. To see them, just click on this link. Enjoy!

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Picture This ...

As promised, more pictures from my trip to the Bahamas have been posted here. I didn't post all of them because in typical fashion, I took many photos of the same things (beaches, beaches, and more beaches), but I did post a lot because I think many of them are really good. So, enjoy. Click here to see the pictures.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Lite Brite or Die Hard

While I was away this week, someone posted a pretty funny trailer for the movie adaptation of the Mooninite scare earlier this year (yeah, Hollywood works really quickly). Check it out here.

(No, this is not real.)

That's My Girl!

I've been saying for weeks now that Haley Scarnato will go far on this season of American Idol. Well, now she's made it to the finals, to the top 12, and I couldn't be happier for her. Sure, I don't think she's actually going to win it all (I'm predicting Jordin Sparks will do that), but since her first appearance on the show, people haven't been giving her much of a shot while I've been saying she's one of the more underrated contestants this year. Her performance Wednesday night (of Faith Hill's "If My Heart Had Wings") was one of her best, and I expect at least a couple more good ones from her. I mean, after all, at the very least, she's better than Sunjaya! So get used to her, America — Haley's here to stay.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

If Only It Was Stop & Shop ...

Not lost on me this week was the big news involving supermarket chain A&P. Now, anyone who knows me knows what one of my favorite jokes of all time is, and for a second there, I thought it had actually come true. Alas, A&P bought Pathmark — not Stop & Shop — meaning my dreams of a store called Stop & P will have to remain just that, dreams. It also means I can keep telling that joke over and over again until it becomes a reality, if it ever becomes a reality. So I'm not too disapointed.


Is This Heaven? No, It's Florida

So I have to say, the biggest disappointment about my trip to City of Palms Park on Monday wasn't the Sox losing 2-1 to the Dodgers, and it wasn't the fact that Jason Varitek didn't play, and it wasn't the fact that I never got to see Gabe Kapler when I went to the minor league facility. No, it wasn't any of those things. Instead, my biggest disappointment was the fact that City of Palms Park doesn't sell Fenway Franks. They sell the Globe and the Herald, and they sell old World Series champ merchandise, and they play "Sweet Caroline" midway through the eighth inning. But no, the one piece of Fenway I was most looking forward to on this trip to see the Sox in their springtime home, that I was denied.

Otherwise, it was a great time seeing the Olde Towne Team in Fort Myers. The whole thing had the feeling of a reunion: for the fans, it was the first time we were seeing the boys since October, and many seemed quite happy to have us cheering for them again. For the Sox, it was a chance to hang out with Nomar and Grady Little (Rudy Seanez and J.D. Drew made no visible attempts to hang out with their old teammates). Getting to the stadium at 10:30 for a 1:00 game meant we could hang out and see the guys bonding, laughing, reconnecting, enjoying themselves. It was really fun. Hell, people were even asking Grady Little for his autograph, and Nomar received some of the biggest cheers of the day. And it was also amusing that if you wanted to find Dice-K, all you had to do was look for the mob of Japanese reporters and fans. They travel with him around the stadium in a pack, just like his own personal entourage.

And as if that all wasn't enough, the weather was near-perfect, the PA system was playing "Ants Marching" and "Margaritaville" and other sumertime classics, there was a too-vocal yahoo fan yelling out stupid stuff throughout the game, my dad and I sat right behind the Dodgers' dugout, and best of all, hope seemed to be in full supply (despite the loss). For a few brief hours, it was finally spring. And it was awesome.

But no Fenway Franks. That would have made the trip perfect. Ah well. I'll just have to wait until I get tickets to see the team play at home.

ps: A really cool "star" sighting at the park was Keith Olbermann. I asked him if he'd be giving Ann Coulter hell for her comments Friday night and sure enough, he tipped me off that even though he was on vacation, he'd be phoning in a segment for that night's show. And he also gave me a good laugh when he said Coulter was "more mannish" than John Edwards. I love Keith Olbermann. He's the man. (And clearly Terry Francona thinks so too; Keith sat right by his side at the top of the dugout throughout the entire game.)

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Island Hopper

I'm back in the States, so I thought I'd check in with a quick report about what I've been up to since I last posted something here. Wednesday night I flew down to Florida, and Thursday morning I flew to the Bahamas for four days on a (free) press trip. Not too shabby. The trip was to a hotel in the Abacos, and while it wasn't the most luxurious hotel I've been to, I can say it was the nicest one I've ever stayed at in the Bahamas — since this was my first time to that part of the world. There were three other journalists on the trip, all around the same age as me and from varied other publications, so that made it fun.

Anyway, as opposed to, say, Nassau or Freeport, the Abacos are a quieter, more laid-back part of the Bahamas, and the trip's low-key itinerary reflected that. Thursday night we had a nice dinner at the hotel's restaurant. Friday we went to Hope Town and walked around there during the day; at night we went out to a couple bars near the hotel for drinks and dinner, and danced with the locals at one place where a great band was playing. Saturday the group of us went island hopping aboard a 20-foot motorboat (easily the best part of the trip), and then at night we had dinner al fresco by the pool. After breakfast on Sunday we headed back to the States, and that was that.

I took about 115 photos while I was there, some really great. I'd have taken more, but Saturday my camera got a bit too wet, and let's just say it is now on the permanent disabled list. I'll post a link to more of my pictures when I'm back in Boston, but you can get a sampling here. And yes, I came back with a little bit of a sunburn, like I usually do when I go somewhere warm, and actually, I also busted up one of my toes. But there were good things too, including the fact that I ate stuff like conch fritters, something I'd never had before (and probably never will again). And the times on the boats — Saturday, and the ride back from Hope Town to the hotel on Friday — really were a lot of fun.

I want to add that on Saturday I saw one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, on Guana Cay (pronounced key). Of course, I saw it after the camera broke, so I have no photographic proof of its existence, but you have to believe me when I say that I've never seen sand that pristine or water that clear. There were even dolphins swimming just off-shore. And I came back with a really unusual, really cool shell, which is a great memento. We had a star sighting in the Fort Lauderdale airport on Thursday; David Caruso, from CSI: Miami, was also going to the Bahamas (I think to Nassau). And I loved that the airport in Marsh Harbour was literally two rooms: one for arrivals and one for departures. There was not even an X-ray or metal detector before you boarded the plane, nor was there an actual baggage claim area. (An interesting piece of trivia is that this is the same airport that Aaliyah left from when she died in 2001.)

So, overall, it was a good time. And now I can say I've been to the Bahamas. Tomorrow I'll fill you in on what I've been up to since I got back to Florida.