Saturday, June 30, 2007

Wrong Man, Wrong Time, Wrong Movie

Not much really needs to be said about Live Free or Die Hard. It's the worst of the four Die Hard movies, and actually, it doesn't really feel like a Die Hard movie at all. Rather, it's like there was a buddy action script out there that Bruce Willis was attached to, and they made it into a Die Hard movie. Lotsa stuff gets blow'd up, Bruce saves the day, etc etc etc., but somehow it doesn't have the same kind of regular guy in the wrong place at the wrong time kind of wisecracking charm that the other films did. Even the "yippie-ki-ay" line seems tossed in as an afterthought. So I'm only going to give this Die Hard a C.


The Day After

Since I was in the vicinity of an Apple Store today, I decided to stop in at the Burlington Mall and see the iPhone for myself. Big mistake. Huge. Not because the lines were so long or because the crowds were so off-putting, or even because the store had run out of them. None of that was the case. No, it was a mistake because I've been hearing the buzz on the thing since CES and had read so many rapturous reviews and articles over the past week, and now that I actually had one in my hands and was having such a good time playing with it, all I could say was instead of simply wanting one, now I really wanted one.

It's a testament to the salesfolk — or at least the one I spoke with — that they're not jaded or tired of answering the same questions. In fact, it seemed like many were just as jazzed about the thing as I was. And they're all so well trained. Even my citing of the iPhone's one biggest flaw — the AT&T service — didn't trip my guy up. And though I'd read a bunch about the device and had come to my own conclusions about when I might buy one, he stayed on-message, which was that this is the single best gadget out there right now and look at all the cool things it can do. Not that I needed to be sold on it, but he certainly made it harder to walk away.

(What was nice to learn, I suppose, was that Apple Store employees get no discounts or special treatment in getting the phones, which sorta confirms this L.A. Times story. For example, the salesguy I chatted with hadn't yet secured his own iPhone and said if there were any left, he'd get one tonight. He also told me that his co-workers had to wait on line like the rest of the customers yesterday, or had to wait till those who had been on line got theirs. How democratic.)

I thought I could wait until v2.0 to buy an iPhone. Hell, I thought it was too expensive an investment. But now, after playing with one in the store, and seeing how cool it actually is, I'm finding the iPhone much harder to resist. Dammit!!!

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Friday, June 29, 2007


If I was a character on The Simpsons (and didn't wear glasses), this is what I'd look like. At least that's what the web site for the upcoming Simpsons movie thinks. Try it for yourself: go to and click on "Create Your Simpsons Avatar."

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(Barely) Working for the Weekend

Today is one of those days. It’s Friday, the end of the cycle for the monthly magazine I work on, the last day before a “holiday week,” and while there are a few pesky things on my to-do list, I’m not so busy that I’m feeling overwhelmed. Usually it’s busier weeks when I’m more productive; when there’s not as much to do, I tend to do it at a slower pace. Somewhere, there are folks already lined up to buy their iPhones. I sort of wish I was with them — I so want one — but I think I’m going to hold off on buying one for a bit, if I can. I’m feeling lazy today. I'm easily distracted. The office is quiet and it’s making me more antsy. I’ve got big weekend plans and I can’t wait. As the song goes, I don’t want to work, I just want to bang on the drum all day. Is it 5:00 yet?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Calling Dr. Ferber ...

Nothing says "Good morning" quite like riding to work on the T — and a warm T at that — with a crying baby. I got a nice Parenting 101 lesson from two mothers who shared the C line with me today. Both women had babies in strollers (and I'm assuming they were friends, because although they weren't really talking to each other all that much, they stood next to each other as if they were traveling together). But whereas one child was well behaved and quiet and happy, the other was clearly, um, not. At some point as we traveled down Beacon St., this child began to cry. (I didn't see why.) And not just a whimper, but a full-on wail. So what'd the mother of this child do? First she tried to hug the child while it was still strapped into the stroller. Then, when that didn't work, she took it out of the stroller and sat holding it in a seat, practically smothering it. Still, no change. And all through the underground stops — from Kenmore to Hynes to Copley to Arlington to Boylston — the kid just cried and cried and cried. And cried. Amazingly, the other kid remained silent the entire way, seemingly content in its stroller. Finally, when we pulled into Park Street, the mother put the child back into the stroller, whereupon it put its thumb into its mouth and stopped crying. Just like that. And just in time for me to get off the train.

So apparently, if you want a child to shut up and not disturb fellow passengers on the T, the trick is to leave it be. I'll remember that. And I hope other mothers do too.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Happy Summer, Y'all

Ninety-degree-plus days mean one thing to me: ice cream. And so because my walk home through Coolidge Corner means walking right by J.P. Licks, I decided to stop for dinner on the way home (at Quiznos) so I could get some ice cream as I walked down the street. One bad sandwich later, I got to J.P. Licks. Sort of. The line was so long that it stretched the full length of the store, out the door, and down Harvard Ave. past the entrance to the Coolidge Corner Clubhouse. That's a long line. But I was determined, so I got in line and worked my way to the front. Long story short, though it took me nearly a half hour to get my small cup of nonfat Chocolate Chip Cookie soft-serve — with rainbow sprinkles, of course — it was worth it. I was communing with my neighbors, sharing in the wonderful tastiness that is J.P. Licks, taking my time getting home, enjoying the scenery, and all this on the first beastly hot day of the year. Ahhhh ... I love summer.

It's nights like tonight that remind me why I love living in Coolidge Corner, and make me question yet again why I'd ever move from the area. Where else can I have this? I've looked at places in Watertown, Newton, Cleveland Circle, and Washington Square, and none of them offer this kind of neighborhood experience. I love where I live. I see no good reason not to stay here.

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Take This 'Job' and Read It

I'm always happy to support a new blog on the scene, especially when it's one written by someone as cool as Erin Pullen (who made the unfortunate mistake of marrying my former work bud, JPP — just kidding, John). Erin's blog, titled simply "The Day Job Blog," is all about those people out there who toil away at a day job (office admin, waitress, retail salesperson, or sign holder, like on Sunday night's Flight of the Conchords) so they can fund their real career, be it painter, writer, actor, or, in Erin's case, opera singer.

According to JPP's description of the site, we're all voyeuristic and obsessed with celebrities, so why not document how these people become famous by showing all the hard work that goes into it? "Yes, without these 9–5ers, young sparkling would-bes would become never-wases, because auditions charge fees, gym memberships cost money, and lessons and training don't grow on trees," John told me. "So Erin decided to explore this phenomenon of 'dumb job as means of getting dream job' for a book." Erin's hoping that if she attracts enough regular readers to her site, she'll attract the interest of a publisher, and the rest will fall into place (sort of like how Planet Gordon begat The Engaged Groom). Every day there'll be a new story about someone else's day job, so keep clicking on it; there's a link in the margin on the right side of this blog. Check it out.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Under Pressure

One thing I've come to really like about traveling is that it gives me a couple hours to get deep into whatever book I'm reading. (Yeah, look at me, turning into a regular bookworm.) This weekend I flew to New York for my second cousin's bris, and by the time I landed back in Boston Sunday night, I was more than halfway done with my new book, Cabin Pressure, by Josh Wolk. I've long enjoyed Wolk's writing — he's a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly, and among other things, he writes the Real World morning-after recaps — so when I heard he had written a book about his return to summer camp, I just had to pick it up. That's the plot: the summer before his wedding, when he was 34-years-old, Josh decided to return to his boyhood summer home as a counselor as a way to say a final farewell to his childhood memories, and to his childhood in general.

To say the book hits close to home with me is an understatement. For eight years (one of them as a junior counselor), I spent my summers at Camps Kenwood/Evergreen up in New Hampshire. Can't say I have the most idyllic memories of my time there, and in fact, the summer I was a junior counselor was one of the worst summers of my life. But despite that, camp still holds a fond place of honor in my heart. For a while now, I've wanted to take the two-hour drive up to Potter Place to see how the place has changed in the 16 years since I was last there. I'm unsure why I still have yet to do it.

Suffice it to say, Cabin Pressure only makes me long to see the ballfields and bunks that much more. For Josh, camp was magical, and he rhapsodizes about his experiences there with all the enthusiasm of a kid talking about his favorite pet. So much so that in his earlier chapters, he's lamenting how things have changed. But it's a testament to the place — and to Josh's writing — that it soon becomes clear the more things change, the more they stay the same. How fun it is to read about meals in the dining hall, staff talent shows, bug juice, rat tails, random trips to random natural "wonders" (his natural water slides place sounds vaguely like the Polar Caves), bunk camaraderie, swimming lessons in the cold lake, campfires, etc etc etc. Josh has changed the specific names (to protect the kids, and the camp), and it's obvious from the get-go that we didn't go to the same place (his camp was boys-only, mine had a sister camp on the same grounds), but so much of his experience mirrors my own. Better yet, he's written the book in a very loose, conversational style that makes me feel like I'm there with him. And true-to-form, there are parts of Cabin Pressure that are laugh-out-loud funny.

If you'd like to read an excerpt from the book, there's one at and of course, one at Josh's own site. There's even a guided tour of the dining hall at the publisher's Web site. If you've been to a summer camp, you'll totally relate to this book. (And I know one reader of mine who would really like it.) It makes Cabin Pressure the perfect summertime read. The bus will arrive this Saturday morning to take campers to Kenwood/Evergreen. Reading Cabin Pressure, I feel like I'm already there waiting for them to arrive.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Mighty Good

Like the woman at its center, A Mighty Heart has a real quiet dignity. Which is not to say it's a quiet movie, but it's not a big, showy one, and it's not exactly the kind of movie you enjoy — which makes it perfect counter-programming in a season of blockbusters — but the way it deals with its subject matter with grace and humanity only helps its cause.

Basically, A Mighty Heart tells the story of the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl from the perspective of his wife, Mariane. It's been filmed with handheld cameras in a documentary, you-are-there fashion, which gives it a real sense of immediacy and realism. There isn't a score playing underneath the action to tell you how to feel, and there aren't grand speeches about the horrible people who have done this to Pearl. There's not even a re-enactment of what happened to Pearl when or while he was kidnapped. There's just a group of Americans and Pakistanis working together and taking action to save him before it's too late.

Of course, we all know what happened to Daniel Pearl, which makes the film somewhat frustrating. I would have thought that maybe half or two-thirds of A Mighty Heart would have been spent on the kidnapping and the rest would have been spent on Mariane's struggle afterward, and how she handled it. Instead, we generally see her sitting around a table, trying to hold herself together and stay positive, trying to save face in what is certainly a devastating situation, gazing at pictures of Pearl that have been sent from the kidnappers as if they were wedding pictures, and basically waiting for her husband to come home. Which, sure, demonstrates her grace under fire. But it doesn't adequately convey how she dealt with her husband's brutal death in a heroic and positive way, thus giving relevance to the film's title, and I wish more time had been spent on that.

That all said, I think A Mighty Heart is certainly worth seeing. As a document of how these people tried to save Pearl, for all their varied reasons, it is very good. And Angelina Jolie definitely gives an effective performance; race issues aside, given Jolie's very public efforts to better the world, the role of Mariane Pearl seems to fit her like a glove. Thankfully, she doesn't make the movie about her (ie: Angelina) and lets Mariane's quiet actions speak for themselves.

Mariane might be pregnant in this movie, but A Mighty Heart is no Knocked Up. If you can deal with that, and you have a tissue handy, then you'll likely find A Mighty Heart worthwhile. I'm giving it a B+.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Not Two Good

It's the most expensive comedy ever made, but Evan Almighty is certainly not the most hilarious one. Steve Carrell stars as Evan Baxter, last seen as a befuddled news anchor in Buffalo, N.Y. In the time between Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty, Evan's gone and grown a spine, gotten married, and had two kids. And now he's won a seat in Congress, so he packs up the family and moves to the D.C. suburbs, where he's a pawn in a hungry Congressman's bad-for-the-environment plan and a delinquent dad. Enter God (Morgan Freeman, still the best possible casting for the role), who tells Evan to build an ark because there's going to be a flood. He even gives him tools and wood, courtesy of 1-800-GO-4-WOOD. Soon, pairs of animals appear and Evan finds shaving is futile. Yadda yadda yadda. Evan is a total high-concept comedy, and appropriately, there are plenty of sight gags about animals helping to build the ark, about Evan's basic Biblical wardrobe, and generally anything sight-gag-able. And some of it is goofy and silly, in a good way. It's pretty funny watching the ark sail down the Mall in Washington, D.C., for example. And some of the movie is expectedly cute. But to its credit, there's not a groan or a cringe to be had. Carrell and the cast try their hardest to wring some kind of quality from the material, and they don't embarrass themselves. And just in case, there's also Jonah Hill (from Knocked Up), who provides some laughs, and Wanda Sykes, who is always there with an easy one-liner. But if you want real Noah's Ark–related humor, you're better off listening to Bill Cosby's classic skit. Evan Almighty is no miracle, but it's hardly the disaster it could have been. It's going to play really well on cable. So I'm giving Evan Almighty a B–.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

They Should Try the Chocolate Pudding

Politics aside, I love the new video Hillary Clinton put up on her campaign Web site about choosing her official campaign song. Not because I like the song — actually, I pretty much hate it — and not because of the corny dialogue or the lame Sopranos parody, but because it was filmed at the Mount Kisco Coach Diner, where I spent many, many hours during the first, oh, 28 or 30 years of my life. I love that she and Bill walk in through the side door, which no one does, and that they're sitting in one of the same booths that I have sat in. I wonder what else they'll order. I always enjoyed an omelette on a Sunday morning, or a hamburger at night. The grilled cheese wasn't bad any time of the day. And of course, the chocolate pudding was yummy. It always had that fun layer of "skin" on top. Mmmmm... So yeah, check out the video. It's kinda cool.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

J'aime ce film

Bonjour! There's an old movie (and TV show) called The Naked City, and the famous line from it is, "There are eight million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them." I suppose you could paraphrase that for the film Paris Je T'aime: There are eight million stories in the City of Lights; these are a dozen and a half of them. That's basically the gist of the movie. Eighteen directors from around the world each contribute a 5–10-minute short film about love in Paris. Some are about young love, others about older couples, one is about a couple of mimes, another is about vampires, and one is about a woman who learns to love herself. None of them are related, except by theme. And it's a pretty nice mix of films. I didn't enjoy them all — the mime one is pretty lame — but I thought a few — including Gus Van Sant's one about a French guy hitting on an American who doesn't understand the language, the Coen brothers' one about Steve Buscemi's run-in with a couple in the Metro, and Alexander Payne's one about a Denver woman's vacation — were real good. Each short film takes place in a different neighborhood, and overall, Paris Je T'aime makes for an attractive promotional film about the city. The movie isn't mind-blowing or anything, but it's a pleasant escape. So, if you're looking for something a little offbeat and different, or if you have no travel plans and just want to get away, Paris Je T'aime is the movie for you. I'm giving it a B+.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Great Show? Affirmative

Did y'all watch the new HBO show Flight of the Conchords Sunday night? So funny. SO SO funny. And after a hilarious Entourage too. Below is just a taste of the episode, but at you can watch the whole thing. (You can also download the entire episode or some selected scenes for free at iTunes.) The Robot video is funny, but it's not as good as this song. This show is some of the funniest deadpan humor I've seen in a while, especially the songs. These guys are supposed to be New Zealand's fourth most popular digi-folk music group trying to make it big in the U.S. Oh man, I can't wait for episode two.

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I Saw That

To the guy in the grey shirt and khaki shorts in the "baking needs" aisle at the Allston Shaw's late this afternoon who thought no one was looking when he started to do the Macarena when the song came on the PA system ... I just wanted to say, nice job. It was pretty funny. Who knew people still knew how to do that one?

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A Tasty Treat

One of the major themes of Ratatouille is that anyone can cook. But watching the movie, it's almost as if Disney and Pixar are saying, "Yeah, but not just anyone can make a good animated film." And they're right. There's a reason those companies are the gold standard for animation. While films like Surf's Up may be fun, they're not as sophisticated as a Pixar movie. And Ratatouille ranks up there with their best.

The film tells the story of Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a rat with a taste for good food and an uncanny ability to cook. Remy teams up with a young kid in a fancy restaurant and together, the two cook up some great dishes — which, of course, frustrates the head chef. Told with visual flair and featuring some great action-packed scenes, just like Brad Bird's last Pixar film, The Incredibles, Ratatouille is not really a movie for kids. In fact, I'm sure they'll be totally bored by it. That's because the film really does focus on high-end food and doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator. It almost never takes the easy way to a laugh (although, a food critic with the last name Ego does seem a little obvious), and focuses as much on character and plot as it does on awesome animation. And yes, Paris does look great. But more impressive are the scene where Remy is sent down the sewers into Paris and the ones where he's running through the kitchen. Also worth noting are the voice talent, which includes Brad Garrett and Peter O'Toole, and the score by Michael Giacchino (Lost, The Incredibles). And please stay through the credits for the final, stylized animation sequence. That is, if you're not too hungry.

After last summer's Cars, which I didn't love, I thought maybe I had outgrown the Pixar films. Thankfully, that one was just a minor detour. In the right hands, they can still be magic. And that's surely what Ratatouille is. I'm giving it an A–.

(p.s. As a testament to just how much Pixar films are beloved, when the trailer for their next release, Wall-E, came on, the place went absolutely silent. For a trailer.)

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Moving Right Along. Or Maybe Not.

It's been a long time since I've moved apartments — five and a half years to be exact — and I can't say I missed the process. Sure, I still haven't decided if I'm going to move or not, and that changes almost daily, but after making a few inquiries Thursday with some agents, I'm definitely erring on the not moving side. Why is it that speaking with a real estate agent makes me feel like I'm 23, stuck in the herd, and just a quick buck? Probably because for at least two of those things, it's true.

What's the better tack, just walking into an agency or calling ahead? I thought it'd be the latter, so I could set up some appointments to see what's out there. Instead, I feel like the agents sized me up by the sound of my voice because I wasn't a sure thing, didn't really work with me, and generally told me not so much is available for what I'm looking for. I've got one appointment to see a place on Saturday, and that's a place located almost around the corner from where I already live. Seems not even worth it to move there, even if the place is a little cheaper than what I pay now.

Argh. I'm getting the feeling already that this is going to be a long summer. I so don't want to be dealing with real estate agents, and to be looking at apartments. So maybe I should stay where I am. But is avoiding the hassle of moving worth the rent increase? Especially if I'd be moving less than a mile away? And assuming my rent would go up where I am anyway (even if the place wasn't sold), aren't the movers, the realtor fee (even a partial one), and replacing stuff that doesn't survive the move (or just needs replacing) going to cost the same as what my rent will be? And the price of moving would be a one-time expense, versus one spread over the course of the year. And then there's the whole buying thing. If I'm hoping to do so in the next three years or so, is it even worth moving at all now? But then again, if I can find a place where I'd be paying less ... And also, maybe I should just look to buy now. What am I really waiting for? I guess I just don't know if I'm ready.

So yeah, I'm annoyed by this whole thing, and it's only June 15. When I was 23, this wasn't as big a deal. It was just a fact of life that come September 1 you moved. Nowadays, I like permanence, stability, having my life be in my own hands. Instead, I'm being totally indecisive, caught in a big decision I'm being forced to make, and it's just no fun. Argh is right.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hello Jeremy Fisher

How much do I love discovering great new artists? Only a smidge more than I love telling y'all about them. Most recently, I did it with Amy Winehouse, Jon McLaughlin, and James Morrison, but there have been others. And now I've got another one for you. On Monday I got an advance copy of Jeremy Fisher's debut CD, Goodbye Blue Monday, in the mail at work. Intrigued by the press materials, I loaded it up and was instantly captivated by the breezy hooks and Paul Simon–like sound. Jeremy's a singer-songwriter whose music is an appealing mix of folk, soul, blues and pop — kind of like a cross between Van Morrison, early Bob Dylan and, yes, Paul Simon — which makes him something of a throwback to the '60s folk revival sound. Whatever you call it, I really like the CD.

As it turns out, Goodbye Blue Monday is only Jeremy's U.S. debut — he released his first CD in his native Canada in 2004, and Blue Monday was released up there in March. The video for Jeremy's song "Cigarettes" has already been viewed on YouTube nearly two million times. Personally, I prefer the song "Scar That Never Heals," and the video for that is below for you to sample. The song is like a cross between "Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun." If you want to download those two tracks and three others, you can do so at this site. The full Blue Monday CD won't be out stateside until August 28, so those five tracks should tide you over until then. Actually, I'm kind of surprised the CD isn't being released sooner; "Scar That Never Heals" is a perfect summer song. It's one of the catchiest tunes I've heard in a long time, particularly that tongue-twister of a chorus with all those "doo doo doos." I expect to play it many times in the coming months. And maybe you'll be doing the same.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Here's the Beef

For months and months, I've been teased by the ad in the Improper Bostonian for Ruth's Chris Steak House that features a perfectly cooked filet. (It's the one to the left.) Just seeing the thing practically makes my mouth water (so does writing a blog post about it). I've been to Ruth's Chris a handful of times (last one was December 2005), and have always loved it. So this year there was only one place I wanted to go with my family to celebrate my birthday. And when my juicy filet mignon arrived in front of me Saturday night, I was practically in heaven. Holy crap, it was so good. If you're a carnivore and you like your steak (as I am and I do), you can do no better than a steak at Ruth's Chris. It was the best meal I've had in a long long time, from the iceberg salad to the steak, including the shoestring fries and broccoli, and all the way to the chocolate explosion cake. And of course, the steak was served on a sizzling hot plate, which always reminds me of that great Saturday Night Live skit (or maybe it's vice versa). Oh man, was this tasty. I cannot wait to go back again. Hopefully I won't have to wait another year and a half.

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Maybe She Needs to Be Schooled?

I was reading the letters to the editor in today's Boston Globe about BC's move into Brighton, and residents' resistance to it. And this line in the letter by Maria Guadalupe Rodrigues struck me as particularly telling:

<< Many residents of the neighborhood have links to the area that go back more then three generations. >>

Hmmmm ... it seems Maria made the common then/than switcheroo. Perhaps having some academia closer to home might do her some good?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Nose Plays. The Movie? Sorta

Let me get this out of the way right up top: Ocean's Thirteen is not the best movie in the series; that would be Ocean's Five, when Danny and Rusty broke out of prison together so they could steal a diamond from a billionaire real estate developer. But it's still better than Ocean's Nine, undoubtedly the worst movie in the series.

But seriously ... and that's not exactly a bad way to begin ... Ocean's Thirteen is not the movie I was hoping for. I happen to love the other two (Eleven more than Twelve), mostly because they're so cool and breezy, and the chemistry between the whole group is so strong that watching the movies is like being one of the boys for two hours. This latest film is a more serious affair. The gang is out for revenge against Willy Bank (Al Pacino, chewing scenery like a champ), who has cut Reuben (Elliott Gould) out of a deal to build a new casino on the Vegas strip, and caused Reuben to suffer a heart attack. Sure, the other two films were also about getting back at someone who has wronged them, but here, the premise is definitely more somber. And that affects the whole operation. We're dealing with some higher stakes — more than just money — and a more complicated scam, and as a result, things just aren't as fun and breezy as they've been in the previous films.

Which is not to say Ocean's Thirteen is no fun at all. In fact, nearly every cast member gets a chance to shine comedically at one point in the movie, and there are some good laughs — particularly a couple at the very end. There's a pretty funny subplot with Casey Affleck and Scott Caan at a Mexican dice factory (and, in fact, when these two are together it's always good). I liked the various nicknames for the various tricks and devices, like "the Brody," and enjoyed Danny and Rusty's discussions about how "relationships are hard" (thus explaining why Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta Jones aren't back). And when the heist does kick into high gear, that's definitely when the film peaks. But here, Stephen Soderbergh's stylistic touches feel like nothing more than experimentation, or style for style's sake. And David Holmes' score isn't as memorable as his others.

Ocean's Twelve was unjustly accused of being more of a lark than a movie, but on second and third (and fourth and fifth) viewing, it's hard to deny the cast is having a blast making the movie. They don't seem to be having the same good time here. Rather, it's like they knew they had something to prove after the critical drubbing they got last time, and they had to buckle down. I wish they hadn't done that. And sure, I'll probably never say I disliked an Ocean's movie, but I was a bit disappointed with this one. So I'm only going to give it a B–


Friday, June 08, 2007

I'm All Out of Love

Almost like a birthday present to myself, Thursday I finally finished reading Love Is a Mix Tape. I say finally, but it only took me a month to read (which, believe it or not, is really quick for me). As I've said before, I don't read books. It's not that I am against the medium, but I just don't seem to have the patience for anything longer than a typical magazine article. And maybe it's because Mix Tape is written by Rob Sheffield, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, but damn if I couldn't put this book down. When it ended — sort of abruptly, I thought — I was a little let down because I wanted to know more, I wanted a more tidy conclusion. But I wouldn't say that tarnished my opinion on the book itself.

Since I've already written about Mix Tape, I won't rehash what I've already said, other than to say that whereas the first half is a pretty happy book about Rob and his wife, and their mutual love for all things music, the second half is more somber, with Rob coping with life after his wife has passed (a fact you learn in chapter one). The mix tape metaphor remains throughout, and through his love of groups like Hanson and Pavement and Big Star, you really get to know who this couple was. The music serves not just as a way to date the story, but to bond the reader with the narrative, since many of the songs on the mixes were popular enough to be really well-known.

So yeah, maybe it's because I like music, or maybe it's because I can be a somber S.O.B., but I really did love this book and couldn't recommend it more. I've read reviews and commentaries about the book elsewhere — including this one at "I Am Fuel, You Are Friends" (my new favorite blog), which includes MP3s of songs mentioned in the book — and everyone basically has the same reaction: the book's great, its conversational/stream-of-consciousness tone makes it go down easy, and damn if it doesn't contain some great music. And that's why I'm saying, again, go pick this one up and read it for yourself. You won't be sorry.

Now I'm on to my next book, Cabin Pressure, by Entertainment Weekly senior writer Josh Wolk. I hope I finish this one too.

... But while I'm making recommendations, can I add a couple more to the list?

* Do you own Amy Winehouse's CD, Back to Black yet? Why not?? She's on the cover of the current issue of Rolling Stone and the story is pretty fun. But the CD itself kicks ass. I've been listening to Amy's music (a great cross between the sound of 1960s girl groups and hip hop) since December, and I still listen to the CD — and this incredible live show — at least a few times every week. And did you see Amy on the MTV Movie Awards last week? She was great. So yeah, go pick up Back to Black. You'll thank me later.

* This weekend, go see Once. I can safely say I haven't enjoyed a movie this much since The Departed. The passion that comes through in the performances — both the dramatic and the musical ones — comes right through the screen and grabs you, making you an instant fan and encouraging you to root on the two leads to succeed. The music's great, the movie's great, it's only an hour and a half long ... not sure how much more you need to know, other than where exactly it's playing. Watch the trailer and see for yourself how good this movie is.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Rhythm Came to Get Me

Thought I'd share what Andrew (he of the Miami bachelor party fame) and his fiancee did for me today. At around 10:30 this morning, I was told by our receptionist that I had a visitor, and when I went to the front desk there was a guy in a gorilla suit who proceeded to sing and dance his birthday wishes to me. Suffice it to say, it made an already happy birthday even happier — and it drew a lot of laughs from my coworkers. I said I wanted attention on my birthday, and Andrew sure made good on that. Nice work, my friend, but know that you've raised the stakes and one day I will reciprocate. The rhythm is gonna get you, too!


The Day of All Days

One day I’ll outgrow the idea of celebrating my birthday ... but not yet. Today, as I turn the big three-three, I still like making a big fuss about it. And more than that, I like having other people make a big fuss about it. It’s the one day of the year when I get to act like a 7 year old (at least officially) when it comes to looking for attention. I can eat cake and ice cream and all kinds of other stuff. I can wear a wrinkled shirt, or I can go to a restaurant and order steak tips or chicken fingers, and no one can make fun of me for it. I can sleep an extra 10 minutes if I want to. I can be totally insufferable about reminding people that it’s my birthday. After all, as my coworker Meghan said, "It's the day of all days." And perhaps I put too much of a value on my birthday, but it’s the one time when I take notes on who called, who e-mailed, who sent a card, who posted a comment on the blog, who wished me happy birthday in the office — and who didn’t do anything at all. It's almost as if my twisted mind thinks I'm entitled to such greetings — I am, aren't I? — because June 7 is my day and I deserve some attention for a change.

Of course, I do have to share the day. But at least I’m in decent company. Prince, Anna Kournikova, Dave Navarro, Liam Neeson, Paul Gaugin, Jessica Tandy, Tom Jones, and Michael Cera (from Arrested Development) — among others — were all born on June 7. So were my old college friend Doreen and my coworker Greg.

In addition, June 7 is the day that (in 1982) Graceland was opened to the public, and that (in 1942) the Battle of Midway ended. June 7 is also the day that (in 1893) Mahatma Gandhi practiced his first act of civil disobedience and that (in 1975) Sony introduced its ill-fated Betamax VCR.

Suffice it to say, a lot’s happened on June 7 over the years. But it doesn’t change the fact that today is my day, so I’ll be celebrating all day long. And really, why shouldn’t I?


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Get Ready for the Big Bang

According to Wednesday's New York Times, the meatball universe is expanding. It reminds me of that scene in Annie Hall, where Alvy Singer's mother says to young Alvy (and I'm paraphrasing here, of course), "What has the universe got to do with it? You're here in Brookline! Brookline is not expanding!" Still, I'm a bit worried about a meatball universe expanding. That just can't be good.

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Good Yuntiff to Me

Birthday dinner at Masa: Mmmmmmm
Steak frites: Mmmmmmmm
Dos Masaritas: Mmmmmm Mmmmmmm
Dessert at Picco: Mmmmmmm
Good friends to celebrate with: Perfect.
Happy birthday to me!

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If you, like me, thought a movie about singing, dancing penguins was a wacky idea, then you ain't seen nothing yet. Surf's Up is a movie about, yes, surfing penguins, and in concept alone it scores big points. I mean, have you seen the trailer? It rocks. So you pretty much know going in that Surf's Up is not your average animated flick. For one thing, it's "shot" like a documentary, and features interviews with the cast, grainy "archival" footage, and other hallmarks of the genre. And that all is done so well that you forget there was a team of animators who had to create it all from scratch. And then there are the colors and the surfing "photography," both of which are really fun and cool and make you want to walk out of the theater, put on a wet suit, hop on a board, and ride a wave. (I've done it. It's cool. Trust me.) So yeah, Surf's Up is a totally fun movie.

But let's not kid ourselves, and that is a pun, folks. Surf's Up is also a very, very kid-friendly movie. The crowd I saw it with was about 50% kids (or at least it felt and sounded that way), and they loved it. They were laughing at the cute baby penguins, and the physical humor, and the silly Chicken Joe character. Which is not a bad thing, of course. It's just that I wouldn't say the film was as sophisticated as, say, Ratatouille looks or even Happy Feet was. Sure, the surfing stuff is wicked cool, and the documentary look is really well done, but I wouldn't put Surf's Up in any upper pantheon of animated films. And that's why I'm only giving it a B — a solid B, but a B just the same.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Not Really a "Best" Buy

So here's what I don't understand. I went to the Fenway Best Buy Tuesday night to pick up Bruce Springsteen's latest release, Live in Dublin. It's out separately as a 2-CD set and a DVD, or you can buy the CDs and DVD together, with the same track listings. And I figured, since I had a $5 off coupon and new releases are usually on sale, that I'd spring for the combo pack. After all, the DVD looks great. Well, the 2-CD set was on sale for $11.99 and the DVD was on sale for $9.99, but the combo pack was still at regular price, $27.99. And when I asked a salesperson why buying the two items separately was cheaper than buying the combo, and why they weren't just charging the same price (i.e.: $21.99) for the combo, he told me, "You raise a good point." So I decided to only buy the CDs and save myself $10. I likely wouldn't have watched the DVD anyway, despite how good the clips on are. And what's more confusing is that on, the combo is on sale, for just $19.99. Maybe it's something about moving units and not making money, but whatever it is, I just don't get it.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Not Singing in the Rain Today

Forget that Garbage song "I'm Only Happy When It Rains." Today I identify more with the Carpenters, who sang, "Rainy days and Mondays always get me down." And when it's a rainy Monday, that's even worse — especially after a good weekend. So in that spirit, here's a list of some of the things on my hate list right now:

* Getting a car wash, and then finding my car covered in pollen just days later

* When my next door neighbor plays one song over and over and over and over (i.e.: Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry"), so much so that I start to think I like the song too

* When a guy who reeks of cigarette smoke stands right next to me on the T

* When my upstairs neighbor decides that 8:30 am on a Saturday is a great time to vacuum

* How the folks at Finagle-a-Bagel just assume you want the chips and soda combo when you're ordering a sandwich and add it to your check before you've even asked for it

* Wearing new shoes for the first time and having the back of your ankle bleed because the shoes aren't broken in yet

* My neighbors who like to smoke right outside the front door of the building, so not only do you have to walk right through it when leaving the building, but the smell wafts up and into my apartment and through my open windows

* When the Red Sox aren't playing (or are playing on the West coast, like they are tonight) and there's nothing else to watch on TV (Monday nights, for example)

* Nestea, for changing their Diet Lemon Iced Tea so it tastes more like actual tea and less like, say, Snapple. Don't they know how addicted I am to that stuff???

* The people who park their car next to mine and have no consideration when opening doors, and thus have nicked my car over and over, leaving an obvious red mark on my back door

* AOL's new webmail

* Needing to do three loads of laundry and having one of the three machines in my building's basement be broken

* Despite the above comments, knowing I might have to look for a new apartment and move this summer because my building's been sold and I don't know if I want to pay the increased rent

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Once Is for All

In a sea of big budget blockbusters, how great is it that there is a movie like Once? The story of a busker and an immigrant girl in Dublin who strike up a musical friendship, Once boasts as its only special effect some great music. And please, don't let that understate just how special it is. When these two characters (and they are identified in the credits only as "guy" and "girl") sing — particularly in the scene in a music shop when they first explore their musical chemistry — it is nothing short of magical.

During the day, the guy stands on Grafton Street and plays familiar songs by the likes of Van Morrison (it's better for raking in money, he says). At night, he breaks out his original tunes, written mostly about lost love. It's on one such night that the girl wanders by and the two get to talking. Turns out she's also got a broken heart — and a talent for the piano. The two seem like a perfect match, musically and otherwise. It's thrilling to watch the guy as he discovers just how much the girl completes him, and similarly, how his songs free her (particularly in the scene where she writes lyrics for his music). Will these two get together in the end, or will their friendship heal the wounds and allow them to get back what they've lost? I won't ruin it for you.

It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a movie as much as I enjoyed Once. Most everything about it, from the natural way it's shot to the spare but powerful performances to the just fantastic songs, hits the right note. I went home and downloaded the soundtrack off iTunes immediately, and from the film's opening scene, I couldn't wait to do so. Special mention, of course, goes to Glen Hansard (who you may recognize from that other Irish music classic, The Commitments, or from his band, The Frames). Hansard plays the guy, and he wrote most of the songs in the film — about half of them with costar Markéta Irglová. To pick a favorite tune is a fool's errand, but "Falling Slowly" is so good, and that scene in the music shop when they first perform it is so powerful and transcendant. The truth is, there's not a bad song in the bunch ("When Your Mind's Made Up" is another good one).

Once is the rare movie that, when its 1:25 running time is over, you still want more. It's the rare film that you can't see just — say it with me — once. I can't say enough about how much I like this movie, but I'm going to keep this brief and just direct you to the trailer below, so the film can speak for (and sell) itself. I'm giving Once a strong A.

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