Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In the Spirit

Perhaps the best thing about Thanksgiving coming so early this year is that it means the Christmas season is that much longer. And how much fun is it to walk into stores and see so much activity and color, and hear Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" (one of my all-time favorite holiday tunes) or other songs on the radio, and just generally see people in good moods? It happens every year at this time and it's so brief that I enjoy it that much more.

Of course, the other benefit to the longer season is that it gives me more time to work on A Very Marty Xmas 2007, which, believe it or not, is just about finished (yes, already). In hindsight, last year's mix wasn't the most festive-sounding one, so I'm going more old school this year with an emphasis on jolly-ness. I don't want to ruin any surprises about the CD's contents, but I thought I would post briefly about my brand new favorite tune, which ironically (given what I've just written) is the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York." Yes, I know this is not a new song (Todd actually tried to get me into it two years ago), but it's one I've really only discovered in the past couple weeks, thanks largely to KT Tunstall's great cover on her new holiday CD (available exclusively at Target). This is not the happiest of holiday tunes, and the lyrics most definitely aren't the most festive ("Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last"), but believe me when I say that this is one classic that deserves to be heard. Kirsty MacColl's voice and the Irish melody are just beautiful, and they disguise such a sad song with a whimsical sound. If you're having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit, click here and listen for yourself.

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Swing and a Miss

It's hard to believe it's been only one month since the Red Sox won the World Series. In some ways it feels like much longer, and in others it's like only yesterday. So of course, in an effort to hold on to those good ole days, I made sure to go right out and pick up my copy of the World Series Highlights DVD on Tuesday (on sale for just $11.88 at Newbury Comics), and I watched it soon after I got home.

The film starts out with a great montage of Sox clips, showing the boys having fun — all while the Dropkick Murphys' "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" plays, of course. It's an opening that makes you smile and sets the scene for what should be an equally great film. If only the rest was as good. While the 2004 Highlights DVD was a fantastic recap of the year — from Spring Training on — told entirely from the Sox perspective, this one is exactly as marketed: a recap of the World Series, and it's told from both sides. It takes just 10 minutes to get through the entire Red Sox season, from Opening Day to the end of the ALCS, and in moving so quickly, there's very little flavor and very little of what was so memorable about the season. There's no mention at all of Clay Buchholz or his no-hitter, nothing about Schilling's one-hitter, no recap of the hype that greeted Dice-K, very little about the back-to-back-to-back-to-back homer game against the Yankees, nothing about the Mother's Day Miracle, no Ellsbury, no Wakefield ... nothing. And then there's an equally quick summary of the Rockies' road to the Series. And then we're at Game One, after only 24 minutes. (In the 2004 film, it took a half hour just to recap the Sox season, with almost nothing on St. Louis.)

Major League Baseball would have you believe that this was a closer series than it was, because it's presented as such. Never mind that the Sox swept the Rockies and won comfortably in two of the four games. It's all very businesslike and by-the-book. While there are talking head interviews and soundbites from Pap and Mikey Lowell and Jacoby Ellsbury and Curt Schilling and Theo and others, they're all pretty staid and without character, simply recapping the games and not sharing much emotion or personality. Sure, this season didn't have the same drama that 2004 did, but it was definitely more exciting than this. Even Matt Damon, who narrates the film, seems bored by the whole thing. Clearly, MLB Productions, in an effort to make the film appealing to Rockies fans, neutered a lot of the pro-Sox slant and tried to make this as fair a film as possible. Rockies players and personnel are as plentiful as Sox folks. And in making it all so balanced, they've produced an ultimately disappointing one-hour-and-10-minute highlights reel that, for a Sox fan, doesn't really recapture the glory of being World Series Champions. What a bummer.

Perhaps the best parts of the DVD are the extra features, including my favorite one, a recap of the night the Sox won the AL East. You get the last two outs at Fenway courtesy of NESN, then the last out in Baltimore (plus Millar's strikeout) from the actual broadcast in Baltimore, and a bit of Papelbon et al dancing on the field. I wish there was more of that kind of stuff, the dancing and all, on the actual film. After all, this DVD should be a celebration of and a tribute to the World Series Champs, right? But it's good to have at least some of the coverage in the bonus section. And I'll always have my memories of the actual games, and the actual season. Those are things this DVD could never document as well anyway.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

One Year Later

Depending on whether you're a literal person or not, today is the one-year anniversary of my grandmother's death. Actually, the anniversary is November 28, but it happened on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, so I'm choosing to remember her on the blog today. To say that the week of her death was hard is an understatement, and here it is a year later, and while my emotions are certainly more in check than they were then, not a day goes by when I don't think of her. 'Bubby' is still one of the names in my cell phone, and I can't even count the number of times I've scrolled through looking for someone to call and have stopped on her name, considered hitting "call," and then realized no one would answer. Truth be told, from time to time I still reach for the phone to call her as I walk to the T in the morning and then stop myself. I just miss the conversations we had, the laughs we shared, the good things I could tell her, and the way she made me smile even on bad days. As nice as it was to spend Thanksgiving this year with most of my cousins and my aunts and uncle (the first time so many of us had been together since the week of the funeral), Bubby was missed. I miss her a lot and think of her often. Maybe that's because I have her picture right above my computer screen at work, and there are pictures of her in my bedroom and living room at home. But I don't need to see her picture in front of me or find her name on my cell phone to have her on my mind. I just need to remember the good times, and there were plenty of them. It's one year later, and it's still hard, but I'll try to smile today because Bubby wouldn't want me to be sad. I just miss her so much.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Like a Complete Unknown

"I'm just a songwriter," one of the six — count 'em, six — Bob Dylan stand-ins says during I'm Not There. Well, forgive me for calling this character a liar, but as the film makes clear, Bob Dylan isn't just anything. Todd Haynes' portrait of the man born Robert Zimmerman paints him as a poet, an actor, a troubador, a misunderstood genius, an ahead-of-his-time songwriter, a lost man, etc. Bob Dylan is many things to many people, and to say that I'm Not There doesn't give a definitive answer about the man isn't to say it misses the boat. Rather, in celebrating many aspects of Dylan, it reaches near-great status.

Eschewing the conventional bio-pic format of, say, Walk the Line — or really, any musician movie with a plot — I'm Not There casts six different types of actors as characters who each symbolize one aspect of the Bob Dylan legend. To wit: one is played by a young black child (Marcus Carl Franklin) and another by a woman (Cate Blanchett). Others are played by Richard Gere and Heath Ledger, Christian Bale and newcomer Ben Whishaw. Writer/Director Haynes uses different film stocks and directing styles for each segment, and jumps between them, creating a collage rather than a narrative explanation of how Dylan got to where he is. Dates are mentioned, but really, with the exception of the Jude Quinn section, they could be happening anytime. And it's worth noting that while Cate Blanchett is as good as you've heard, all the acting in this movie is good. Blanchett just has the nice luxury of having the most showy of all the performances.

I wish I knew more about Bob Dylan, so I could catch on to more of the references than I did. I suspect that while I think I'm Not There is a good movie, I don't even realize how good it is. But on the surface level that I can appreciate it, I'm Not There is a fascinating film, unlike anything I've seen in a long, long time. It's definitely enjoyable and worth seeing, whether you're a Dylan fan or not. I'm giving I'm Not There an A–.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Welcome Home

Nothing kills a nice, long, enjoyable holiday weekend like getting stuck in traffic on the way home. So I'm happy to report that I made it back from White Plains, NY, to Boston in — get this — less than three hours. I left the diner at exactly 10:30 a.m., and when I looked at my cell phone when I reached the top of the escalator at Shaw's, it was only 1:29. Amazing stuff. And coupled with the fact that I made it from Boston to White Plains on Thursday morning in just about the same amount of time — leaving here at 9:06 and arriving at my parents' place at about 12:08 — it's a veritable holiday miracle. So, I guess I have beaten the Thanksgiving Traffic gods again. Talk about a reason to be thankful.


Thursday, November 22, 2007


Every year on Thanksgiving, I like to take a few minutes and post a list of some of the things I'm thankful for. This year, that list includes, in no particular order, the Red Sox winning the World Series and re-signing Mike Lowell (and not signing A-Rod), Sam Lagrassa's roast beef sandwiches, my future niece/nephew, a few days off from work, Boston Beanstock Coffee Company's French vanilla muffin tops (same as Red Barn in Faneuil Hall!!), great movies like Once, good friends, Amy Winehouse's album Back to Black, Trani, the TV show Brothers & Sisters, "you and yours," Hype Machine, the entire Twin Peaks series on DVD, the Bean, and, of course, you. This blog would be nothing without my loyal readers — or, I mean, it'd still be here, but it wouldn't be as much fun to write. So thanks for reading, happy Thanksgiving, and all the best as we officially begin the holiday season. Less than five weeks left till Christmas!


A Swell Evening

Longtime readers of this blog know how much I loved the movie Once when I saw it this past summer. So when my friend Nina tipped me off that the film's stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, were coming to Boston to do a concert to promote their album, The Swell Season, I didn't hesitate to get tickets. And I'm happy to report that while the concert on Wednesday night didn't recreate the same sense of euphoria that the movie did, it was still a damn good night of music that only makes me love the movie more.

Admittedly, I don't own the actual Swell Season CD or any of the CDs by Hansard's other band, The Frames, so I couldn't easily ID every song played during the one-hour-and-45-minute-long show. But the two big songs from Once — "Falling Slowly" and "When Your Mind's Made Up," both of which were played early on in the set — sounded great. And as a frontman, Hansard was totally engaging. He plays his music with passion, and more than that, he's awfully chatty; he told some long, rambling, funny stories, some with little relevance to the music itself. He also did some good Van Morrison covers; during one ("Astral Weeks," I think), he was strumming so hard he broke his guitar pick. Irglová stuck to the background, mostly, except for when she turned in a great, great performance of "If You Want Me." Still, her piano playing should not be overlooked and deserves equal mention.

I'm sorry that Hansard and Irglová generally kept their distance for most of the show, never once sharing the microphone, and thus denying the audience the pleasure of revisiting the sweet chemistry they demonstrated in Once. But there's no denying that together, their voices still produce a beautiful harmony that turns songs like "Falling Slowly" into heartbreaking hymns. (Oh jeez, did I really just write something that pretentious?) The concert made me more eager for Once's release on DVD December 18. I can't recommend the movie or the soundtrack highly enough, and I'm so glad the concert didn't disappoint.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Flame On!

One thing people may not realize is that I know, at least generally, who is reading my blog. So to the two 14-year-old girls in Shrewsbury, PA, who this morning read through my movie reviews and felt the need to, ahem, “burn me bad” by posting anonymous comments after five of the reviews, I say right back at you: Oh, you think you’re so tough, do you? Next time you want to start a flame war with me, try to do it without such bad grammar and so many spelling mistakes. Yeah, that’s right. I’m busting your chops now. (And yes, it’s all in good fun, if I really need to say that.) But if you girls want to comment on anything you read here — and I do encourage you to comment — try being man (or woman) enough to sign your actual name next time instead of doing it anonymously. Then I’ll be impressed.

For everyone else, want to see their comments? They’re hysterical. Here are links to the reviews:
Across the Universe

Because I Said So

Snakes on a Plane

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Brokeback Mountain (my second review)

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

She Ain't Heavy, She's My Sister

At last it can be revealed ... I'm going to be an uncle! That's right, my sister is pregnant and expecting her first (of what I hope will be many) child(ren) sometime in late May. As you might imagine, I'm real excited about this news. Sure, it's great for Mitzi and Jason, and my parents and his parents, blah blah blah, but don't forget, this is my blog, where everything is all about me, so I'm going to tell you that no one's as excited as I am. Holy crap, I can't wait to be an uncle. An actual, born-in-the-family uncle — as opposed to the "uncle" of my friends' kids. This baby's gonna be spoiled like nobody's business. I can't wait to head over to Pottery Barn Kids, just like I've done so many times before when my friends have had babies, and buy out the store. Can't wait to run around in the yard with him/her. Can't wait to play airplane, make him/her laugh, teach him/her jokes, share my favorite Disney movies, read stories, introduce him/her to the greatness of being a Red Sox fan (as opposed to the heartache of being a Mets fan), and do all that fun "uncle stuff." Stuff his/her parents won't let him/her do. Stuff that will probably get me in trouble. Stuff I'm gonna love doing. Yeah, this is going to be one awesomely cool kid who is going to love his/her Fun Uncle Martin. Hey, I like the ring of that: Fun Uncle Martin. I can't wait. So congrats to Mitzi and Jason (and the rest of our families). And to my future niece/nephew, I say this: hurry up, kid, and get born.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Candy Corn

You've been warned: Disney's new movie Enchanted is just about the sugariest, sweetest movie I've ever seen. It's strictly for those with a high tolerance for corn. The film begins in the most cliched Disney animated film ever, where Giselle (Amy Adams), friend to nearly every animal in the forest, is waiting for her true love's kiss. Along rides Prince Edward (James Marsden), whose stepmother is the evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), and the two instantly fall in love. Narissa hates Giselle, of course, and before Giselle and Edward can be married, Narissa throws Giselle down a well, where she lands in ... Times Square, in non-animated reality. There she meets Rob (Patrick Dempsey), a divorce lawyer, and wouldn't you know it, Giselle melts his cold, cynical heart. It's all just so romantic and bright and cheery and colorful and happy. And New York (especially Central Park) has never looked better.

Not that this is actually a great movie (I figured now was a good time to say that). Dempsey gives a rather wooden performance, and even though this is a fairy tale, the story is a little too contrived and the scene at the King and Queen Ball (yes, really) is a little too hokey. But it's just damned near impossible not to smile whenever Adams is on the screen. She and Marsden both give such enthusiastic performances that you can't help but have fun watching the film. Also cool is seeing Idina Menzel in something other than Rent or Wicked (even though hers is a pretty thankless role). But yeah, don't go see this movie unless you're a sucker for Disney — or you're a seven-year-old girl with a princess fetish. I'm giving Enchanted a B–.


He Worked for Our Love

A Bruce Springsteen concert isn't just any concert. It's practically a religious experience. And Sunday night's show at the TD BankNorth Fleet Boston Garden Center was no exception. This was, I believe, my fourth time seeing Bruce live (including the 1999 reunion tour when I had seats third row center, thisclose to the stage), and again, he didn't disappoint. Somehow I was able to get real good seats for Sunday's show — Loge level, center, facing the stage, right in between Bruce and Steve Van Zandt — and it was an awesome evening. (No surprise.)

Starting off with the 1-2-3 punch of "Radio Nowhere," "No Surrender" and "Lonesome Day," Bruce got the crowd pumped up, on their feet, and rocking. Another great 1-2 punch came midway with "Tunnel of Love" and "Working on the Highway." Other Magic songs like "Livin' in the Future" and (my favorite track) "Long Walk Home" worked real well live, and it was great to hear old favorites like "She's the One" and "Badlands" again. Also memorable was the rousing closer, "American Land" (and I loved how the lyrics were superimposed on the TV screens above the stage so we could all sing along). The band was really tight, and despite a wall of sound that was at times overwhelming (I can still hear the ringing in my ears), they sounded great. That said, songs like "Magic," that were quieter and slower, were definite highlights, if only because I could actually hear them. (Then again, what song wasn't a highlight?)

There were two truly transcendant moments, tho. One was Clarence Clemons' sax solo on "Jungleland" (which the band hadn't played in a month). Wow. It just blew me away. (Sorry. Bad pun.) But seriously, the power and the passion with which Clarence played was truly stunning. And the second thing was, of course, "Born to Run." Say what you will about how cliche the song may or may not be at this point, but the second you hear the first chord and see the lights come on, there's just nothing like it, no matter how many times you witness it. Yelling out the lyrics and fist pumping in unison with thousands of other fans is just one of those rare live experiences that few artists can duplicate. It's mind-blowing how much of a frenzy that song whips up, especially as the momentum builds and builds to that great line: "The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive. Everybody's out on the run tonight, but there's no place left to hide." I'll be hoarse in the morning from yelling/singing along so loudly. Good stuff. That one song makes the $100 ticket price worth it for me. And while I wish the order was reversed, for Bruce to go right from "Born to Run" into "Dancing in the Dark?" How much excitement can one person take??

I felt a little letdown that Bruce didn't do "Dirty Water," like he often does when he's in Boston, but maybe Monday night's audience will get to hear it. Still, the man works hard to put on a good show. There's no set, no fancy lighting, no choreography, no schtick, no lip-synching. There's not even a whole lot of stage banter (though Bruce did get a huge cheer when he said Boston was "Home of the World Champion ... ah, you know the rest"). Just good old fashioned classic live rock and roll, and there's no one better. As Bono said in 1999 when he inducted Bruce into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, "They call him the Boss. Well that's a bunch of crap. He's not the boss. He works for us." And how. Bruce worked hard Sunday night and ensured that everyone in the arena went home satisfied.

(By the way, most of the photos came from

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

What's in a Name?

According to The New York Times and the 2000 census, Smith is still the most popular last name in America, followed by Johnson, Williams, Brown, and Jones. Lieberman? It ranks waaaaay way down at number 3,906. Apparently, only three out of every 100,000 people share my last name. The good news, though, is that in 1990, Lieberman was ranked 4,571st, so we climbed 666 places in 10 years. That's an impressive jump. Just five more and we overtake the Corraleses, 20 more until we overtake the Wentzes, and 150 more until we overtake the Munns. And if we grow another 666 places by the time of the next census, we'll overtake the Parrys. Davis, for those who may be interested, came in 7th. Martin, as a last name, came in 17th. And if I ever become famous and decide to take my middle name as my last name, I'd have the 89th most popular one. Find your own last name here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Take the Money and Run

In the Coen brothers' new film, No Country for Old Men, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) comes across a drug deal gone bad and takes a bag with $2 million from the scene. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), one of the baddest bad guys I've ever seen, is hired by some businessmen to track down the money. And no matter where Moss goes, Chigurh finds him. That bad guy, he's good. And so is the film itself. Also featuring a top-notch performance by Tommy Lee Jones — as Ed Tom Bell, the sheriff on Chigurh's trail — No Country is one of the best movies of the year.

Most notable about No Country is the acting. Bardem especially is awesome. It's not just his haircut; rather, his whole persona is total badass, without a hint of sympathy. This is a man on a mission, and his single-minded pursuit allows no time for a conscience. Bardem isn't given much dialogue, so he says everything with his face and his body movement, as when he strangles a policeman with his handcuffs in one of the film's early scenes. And I love when he says "friendo."

The Coens have directed the film in an assured, confident style that takes its Texas-style time, without a noticeable score (though Carter Burwell is credited with the music), and yet the 2 hour and 20 minute running time flies by. This is no Fargo, meaning the quirks are kept pretty much to a minimum (Bardem's hair excepted), but No Country is still very much of its place, just like Fargo was. I sort of wish the movie had ended five minutes before it actually did, which means it would have been more about the chase than the larger thematic elements that Bell (and the title) introduces. After all, Bell is more of a supporting character, and the Chigurh-Moss chase is the main focus. But it's all good. I'm giving No Country an A-.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I'm Too Sexy for People

DAMMIT! I was overlooked again for the title of People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive. I figured when the Boston Phoenix left me off their 'Unsexiest' list that it was a good sign and I actually had a chance. But now People has gone and given the honor to Matt Damon of all people. Jeez Louise. What's a guy gotta do to get a little lovin' from those folks? At least I can still say I was Time's Person of the Year. That's probably a better honor anyway. And I suppose it could be worse. At least I wasn't named one of the Frigid 50.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Ring Is Cooler, Anyway

I can't get too upset about C.C. Sabathia winning the Cy Young Award today instead of Josh Beckett. Don't get me wrong: I think Beckett's the better pitcher and deserved the honor. But hey, Sabathia needed to win something after those two big, embarrassing losses in the ALCS. And besides, I'm sure Beckett's much happier with his World Series ring. I know I would be.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Will Music Soothe the Savage Beast?

One personality trait I’ve always been proud of is my ability to stay even-keeled and not let anything get me too bent out of shape. But every now and then, I do get really pissed off. If I’m at work when this happens, I just vent through some music. Green Day tends to come out at these times. If I want to internalize it and calm myself down, I listen to their “Give Me Novacaine.” But if I’m beyond internalizing, I put on something like “Basket Case.” Or maybe I'll play something by the Killers. Perhaps "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine." A few years back, I’d play something like Counting Crows’ “Have You Seen Me Lately?” So I put this question out to you, my dear readers: I’m really pissed off right now. What’s a good song to play? Put your answer below in the comments field. Thanks.


Turn On, Tune In, Turn Off

I said it a few weeks ago before the TV season began, but after Sunday night's episode, it's definite: Brothers & Sisters is my favorite show on TV. Dave Annable was so good — he'll be nominated for awards for this episode — and the whole thing was great. It was definitely one of the top-3 best episodes ever for that show. If you're not already watching Brothers & Sisters, I can't recommend it highly enough. Sunday's installment was overly dramatic and heavier than usual, but most episodes are a perfect blend of drama and comedy, and the cast's chemistry is so good that it's like they're actually a family. In short, watching this show is a really enjoyable way to end the weekend (it's on at 10pm). Unfortunately, due to the American Music Awards next week, Brothers & Sisters is not on again until November 25. Set your DVR now.

On the other hand, despite what I said only a month ago, I think I'm really starting to tire of Kid Nation. The show has just become way too formulaic, and the way it's edited, it's clear the producers are guiding the action (I mean, really. What's the deal with that pioneer journal??). I'm still amused by Jared, but quite frankly, I can't stand a whole handful of the kids and how self-righteous and spoiled and annoying they are (I'm talking about you, Divad and Taylor, and especially you, Mike). I know these kids are only, like, 11 (or younger), but they're driving me nuts. And given how excited I was about this show, it's a real bummer to say. So I'm hoping Kid Nation gets better because I'm not giving up on it just yet.

And back to the good: Amazing Race is back! This is far and away the best reality show on TV, thanks to its great casting and unpredictability, and the fact that every season is totally different in where the teams go and what they do there. And this season is already off to a good start. The goths have got to go, and the father/daughter team will likely be gone next week. Otherwise, I'm rooting for Lorena and Jason; I think they have the best chance of winning. There are nine teams left, and I can't wait to see what's going to happen next.

If, by the way, you're wondering how many of the shows I said I'd watch that I'm actually watching, you may be happy to know it's a fraction of the list I predicted. Nothing on Monday or Tuesday; Wednesday is only Kid Nation; Thursday is 30 Rock, The Office, and Grey's Anatomy; nothing on Friday or Saturday; and Sunday is Amazing Race and Brothers & Sisters. What can I say? I like what I like, and I had a hard time settling into the newbies.

Now, hopefully the WGA strike won't foul up the current TV season too much ...


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Family Jewel

Plain and simple, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is one of the best movies of the year. Or maybe it would be were it not 5 or 10 minutes too long, and didn't have as much time-shifting. But that's minor quibbling when you have such a fantastic acting ensemble and a crackling plot. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play down-on-their-luck brothers who decide to rob a jewelry store to get themselves out of dire straits. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and complications arise involving their parents (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) and Hoffman's character's wife (Marisa Tomei), and soon the boys are in more trouble than before the heist. Director Sidney Lumet keeps the action moving, employing the aforementioned time-shifting device to further shade the characters and reveal their varied motivations, and that works quite well for the first half. But after the first few flashbacks, the device gets tired and it made me roll my eyes. Hoffman and, most surprisingly, Hawke are both excellent, giving performances of intensity and turmoil. Things don't all go as you expect them to, and when the film reaches its eventual conclusion, not everything is resolved and you're left wondering what will happen to the characters next. Sometimes that's frustrating. Here, with all kinds of questionable moral activity going on, it feels appropriate. I'm going to give BtDKYD a strong B+.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Panera Era Begins

Panera Bread has finally opened up in the space formerly occupied by Zathmary's. Now, I know you're not supposed to embrace national chain stores opening up in Coolidge Corner, but as these types of places go, I have to say I think Panera makes a great addition to the area. After all, it's hard to get too upset about a new chain opening when it's one like Panera and not a new McDonald's or another coffee place. Between this and the Citibank and Qdoba next door, they've given new life to that chunk of the sidewalk with their clean, modern looks, and I welcome a new food option that actually offers good food, as opposed to the unhealthy Quizno's or the cramped unworthiness of Finagle-a-Bagel.

I stopped into Panera for lunch today and it was a total madhouse (not surprisingly). Finding a table to sit at was about as hard as finding a parking spot at the mall at Christmastime. And sure, it wasn't just the newness of the place, but because it all was so clean and bright and (I guess) generic, I forgot for a while that I was still in Coolidge Corner. But on the good side, despite the crowds, I have to say the service was awesome. Not only did the line to order move quickly, but managers were nice and overly accommodating, and they made sure tables were cleaned off the second they were free, or that dirty plates were picked up when customers were finished with them. If you ate in, as I did, your food was brought to your table with a smile. And my sandwich itself — smoked turkey on toasted French bread — was tasty, as was the chocolate chip cookie I had for dessert. Not that my experience was perfect, mind you, and I know full well that this level of service won't last, but I wasn't disappointed (as I had been with other new stores recently).

I haven't always been the biggest fan of Panera — although the French Toast bagel with a hint of cream cheese that I had last year in Chicago was one of the best bagels of all time — but I'm happy to have another option for lunch on Saturdays or a quick bite on the way home from work at night. It might not entirely feel like a Coolidge Corner store, and I wish there was more seating available, but I say welcome to Brookline, Panera. It's good to have you here.

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Wake Up

Of course, one of the worst things about Daylight Savings Time is the fact that it gets brighter earlier now than before. And the worst consequence of that is when, on weekends, I am woken up earlier than I'd like to be. Like today. It was so bright out when I woke up that I figured I had slept late and had caught up on some much needed rest. Nope. It was only 8 a.m. I like to sleep until at least 9 a.m. on Saturdays. And I tried to fall back asleep, but no dice. I was up. Arrgh! Damn you, DST! How long till we spring ahead?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Escape Claus

Ho ho holy crap, is this a bad movie. Fred Claus makes me feel like the Grinch and it's only November 9. I'm not even sure what to mention here to illustrate why this movie isn't enjoyable — Vince Vaughn's tired schtick? bad writing? awful special effects? — so I'll stick with my initial thought, which is that the biggest waste of all is a jolly soundtrack that includes such gems as the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" and the Jackson 5's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." You know a holiday movie is bad when even tunes like that can't lift your spirits. I'm giving Fred a D, for don't bother.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

All Talk, No Action

If you're going to go see Lions for Lambs, you'd better bring a shovel, or a first aid kit, because when it's over you're either going to need to do a lot of digging to get out of the heavy handed speechifying and verbosity, or you'll be on the mend from being hit over the head with so much righteousness. No, Lions isn't a subtle film, and I guess when you've got Robert Redford, Tom Cruise, and Meryl Streep headlining, how can it be?

Lions is trying to make a statement about the current state of the Iraq War, but it does so by employing a cast of archetypes: the smarmy Republican Senator (Cruise), the liberal college professor (Redford), the noble journalist (Streep), the inner-city kids who enlist in the Army and whose lives hang in the balance (Derek Luke and Michael Pena), and the spoiled college student who's too cynical to care about any of it (newcomer Andrew Garfield). Blah, blah, blah ... much talking ensues, everyone gets their jabs in at the Bush administration or makes points in support of the war, and it all adds up to, well, not very much because the movie (directed by Redford) is so uptight and full of itself. And worse, the screenplay doesn't even sound like dialogue. It's more like a collection of talking points strung together.

If anything's worth mentioning positively, it's that Lions is very well cast. After all, Cruise has lost all credibility these days, so who better to play a slick pro-war Republican Senator who is hard to take seriously? But that's the shame of it because you have to spend a third of the movie listening to him spout off about how his new plan can help us win the war, while we simultaneously watch it fall apart in action. I wish I could say there was at least one good, heated confrontation or debate, but really, so much of Lions is just people sitting around talking that it's a good thing it's only 90 minutes long. I'm giving the film a C.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

For a Few Extra Schillings ...

If you ask me, it’s good news that Curt Schilling will be back on the Sox next year, finishing out his career right here in Boston. But the details of his new contract are a little suspect:

<< According to Schilling, who first posted the confirmation on his web site, the deal includes a possible $6 million in incentives in addition to his $8 million base salary: $2 million in weight incentives (based on six weigh-ins), $3 million based on innings pitched, and $1 million if he receives even a single Cy Young vote. >>

He gets $2 million in “weight incentives?” Are you kidding me?? Well, allow me to make this announcement: if the Sox (or, for that matter, any other company out there) wants to pay me $2 million to lose weight and keep it off, I’d gladly switch jobs. That's crazy. But it's certainly worth $2 million to me.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Monster Man

The new Continental magazine is now on planes, and in it is my profile of Roger Bart, who you may recognize from his roles as Carmen Ghia in The Producers, George the psychotic pharmacist on Desperate Housewives, or the federal prosecutor who gets into it with Russell Crowe in American Gangster. Bart was a really fun interview, and I’d like to think the story at least partly captures that.

Because of a limited word count, there was much I couldn’t fit into the story. One thing Bart and I talked about at length was the idea that as a character actor, people really have no idea what he’s like off-stage and off-camera. The main reason for that is Bart’s decision to keep taking on roles that are way out there. “One of the reasons I’m most comfortable with those roles — and most character actors are — is because I find myself very liberated when I’m behind a character,” he told me. “The cool thing about not having the world know me is that I can continue to leak aspects of my personality out, and whatever I want to expose, I have more control over that. People who know me very well say, ‘Well, that’s where he begins and ends, and everything else is just a funny hat.’ The more mysterious you are to the public, the more you can get away with.” And we laughed at the fact that a guy so well known for playing such effeminate roles (see also Stepford Wives) also starred in Hostel: Part II, where he was castrated and got to say such lines as “I am fucking Hercules!”

As I noted above, Bart also has a brief role in American Gangster, where he gets to bark his dialogue at Russell Crowe, who he also shared the screen with in The Insider. Here's a quick anecdote Bart told me about reteaming with Crowe: “This is the second movie I am in with Russell Crowe. In the first one, he was a little rude to me, and this time I get a chance to say ‘fuck you’ to him. So when we were reading it, he turned to me and said, ‘You’ve been dying to say this to me ever since The Insider, haven’t you?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I have.’”

Anyway, the reason for the article is that Bart has stepped into the Gene Wilder role in Mel Brooks' new Broadway adaptation of Young Frankenstein. “This whole show is, for me, a statement about stem cell research. [Director] Eli Roth told me Hostel 2 was about Hurricane Katrina. So that’s where I’m coming from,” Bart joked with me. Seriously, though, I hear Frankenstein is really good; I'll be seeing it in early December and will let you know what I think then. For now, if you'd like to read it, you can find my article here.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Real Nice Movie

On the movie spectrum, there are the awesome, award-caliber films on one end, the truly awful ones on the other end, and then, somewhere in the middle, there are the merely pleasant ones — movies with no great agenda other than to provide a diversion for a couple hours. Dan in Real Life is one of those middle-of-the-road pictures, and it's meant as no slight to call it pleasant. Actually, the movie could have been much worse with less talented creative folks involved.

Steve Carell stars as the titular Dan, a newspaper columnist who writes about the relationship between parents and children. A widower, Dan remains down about the loss of his wife and his worsening relationship with his three daughters. Things brighten up when, during a weekend away at his family's summer home, he meets a woman, Marie (Juliette Binoche), and the two hit it off. Could this be his second chance at love? It could ... but as it turns out, Marie already has a boyfriend, and it's Dan's brother, Mitch (Dane Cook). Much agonizing ensues. Will Dan's love open the door to Marie's heart?

In another director's hands, Dan could have been a cheesy, lame duck of a movie. But director/co-writer Peter Hedges keeps all the emotion pretty real, and with a couple exceptions toward the end, not much of the movie is contrived. The Sondre Lerche soundtrack provides a mellow tone, and both the writing and acting convey an actual family dynamic (not unlike, say, the TV show Brothers & Sisters). And at the center of it all, Carell gives a performance of genuine emotion, and doesn't resort to overacting to convey Dan's frustrations. Hedges thankfully doesn't make Dan flip out in a typically wild way, and Carell shows actual heart here, a nice change from his roles on The Office and in Evan Almighty.

Dan has its moments of humor, but most of it comes from character and not from plot, or silly situations. That's a welcome change of pace. If all you're looking for is an easy, warm hour-and-a-half at the movies, then this is the film for you. I'm giving Dan a B.