Monday, December 31, 2007

Last Day, First Night

Spent the last afternoon of 2007 wandering around downtown, checking out the pre-First Night activity. It was too warm and sunny out, so the ice sculptures weren't all fully ready by 3pm. But I managed to get some photos of the ones that were on display. And with that, I close out this blog for 2007. To you and yours, I wish the happiest of Happy New Years. I'll see you in '08!


The Good, the Bad, and Superbad

You know it’s been a good year for the movies when you go through the list of films you’ve seen (in my case, 56) and when separating out those you remember fondly, the list is close to 20. So narrowing those down to only 10 is quite a challenge. And yet, I’ve done that — but with one caveat: I still have not seen There Will Be Blood (it's a 2007 release but it doesn't open in Boston until Friday), and I’m almost positive that it, too, would have earned a spot on this list. So, this may be a top 11 list come next weekend. [Update 1/5: I've now seen There Will Be Blood. The list has been amended accordingly.]

But anyway, so without further ado, here are the 10 [now 11] films I saw in 2007 that brought me the most pleasure:

I laughed harder and more frequently at this film than I did at anything else all year.

Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones give memorable, iconic performances, but the Coen brothers deserve plenty of credit too.

Ben Affleck’s directorial debut gets Boston right, and tells a compelling tale whose conclusion stays with you.

A thunderous, exciting performance by Denzel Washington takes this one over the top.

7. 3:10 TO YUMA
A real man’s man's movie, this one boasts some great action and acting (by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale).

One of the year’s most overlooked gems. It’s not perfect, but what’s good about this film (e.g. Don Cheadle’s performance) is so good. And Adam Sandler breaks your heart.

Snark perfectly mixed with sweetness in a fantastic screenplay, plus a wonderful lead performance by Ellen Page.

Sure, it’s a preposterous premise, but Ryan Gosling’s heartwarming performance helps turn this film into a really sweet tale of loneliness and love.

Maybe this isn’t the actual third-best movie of the year, but it's certainly one of the most enjoyable times I've had at the movies all year. And it’s one of only two movies on this list that I saw in the theater twice.

An epic movie featuring one of Daniel Day-Lewis' best performances ever, this film is just brilliant. It must be seen, and on a big screen.

Can’t say enough about how much I love this movie. The music, the acting, the story, the writing ... nearly everything about it is perfect. At just under 90 minutes, this is the rare movie you want to be longer. Once is an instant classic, a film of such magic that its effect stays with you for days, months, and (time will tell) years after you see it.

And what about the worst movies? Well, that list was a lot easier to compile. I’d like to think I stay away from the obvious stinkers, but every now and then I do get suckered or disappointed. So here are those films I wish I could say I didn’t see:



Friday, December 28, 2007

This Isn't Therapy. It's Real Life.

In The Savages, John and Wendy Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney) have the unenviable task of putting their estranged father (Philip Bosco) in a nursing home. You might think that would make for a depressing movie, and make no mistake, The Savages is no Superbad or anything (despite what the trailer might imply), but writer/director Tamara Jenkins has found a way to turn this ordinary situation that so many must go through into one we can all sympathize with, wringing some genuine laughs from a painful situation. John and Wendy are themselves distant — one lives in New York City and the other up in Buffalo — but when they come together in Arizona to learn what's become of their father (who was abusive earlier, thus one reason why they're estranged from him), it's clear they have a tight bond. These are not terribly happy characters, but they have each other and you get the sense that they are better people when they're together.

In the lead roles, both Hoffman and Linney make very strong impressions. For Hoffman in particular, it's his third great performance in one year (the others being Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and Charlie Wilson's War). The Savages doesn't really have a plot other than the basic premise of John and Wendy dealing with their dad's dementia, and after a while I got a little antsy waiting for the film to reach its natural conclusion, but it's Hoffman and Linney who makes The Savages worth seeing. I'm giving this one a strong B.


Who Am I?

Maybe you heard about it: there was a recent study about people Googling themselves. I'm one of the 47% who has done just that, and it's usually pretty amusing what turns up. But it's the 53% who have looked up info about me (or rather, who say they have looked up info about someone else) that concerns me. A search Thursday night found that a guy in Tampa named Martin Lieberman has been accused of trying to abduct children. Uh oh. Less worrisome is the Martin Lieberman who has created a high-performance dog food and the Martin Lieberman who lost his son. Apparently there's also a dentist in Seattle who shares my name, a gastroenterologist in San Francisco, and a Martin Lieberman defense attorney in Arizona. I suppose it'd be nice if someone thought one of those was me. (My mother probably wishes one of them was.) But I'd rather they know I'm the Martin Lieberman who wrote articles like this. And to find the real me (or at least the one who is writing this blog post), you have to click through a bit. Like, to at least the third page of search results. Then, you might find my LinkedIn profile or a random article I have written in the last 10 years for one of my employers. But you don't even get a link to this blog or anything that might indicate I'm not a sexual predator or a dentist or lawyer. If you're out there and looking for me ... well, that can't be a good thing.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Another Great Clean-Up

One of the nice things about not going away during the week between Christmas and New Year's is that it gives me a chance to tackle some projects I've been wanting to work on for a while. Monday I went into the office to clean up my desk and get organized. And now I've begun tackling my closets here on the homefront. You may recall that two years ago on New Year's Day I began the Great Clean-Up of 2006. Things have not gotten to be as bad as they were then, but parts of my apartment surely needed a spruce-up and that included my bedroom closet. So, after taking everything out — all my pants, shirts, sweaters, shoes, etc. — and going through it to see what was old (i.e.: anything with a Structure label) or dirty or what I had too much of (hello, blue shirts), I have plenty of "new" clothes I had forgotten about and a much cleaner, more organized closet. Sure, I could have gotten rid of more clothes than I did, but I'm just too much of a packrat; that said, I expect I'll continue to get rid of some shirts as I try them on and realize they don't fit all that well anymore. Next I'll tackle the linen closet and my overflowing CD collection (I went to Target today and bought a container for under-the-bed storage).

And this is good news for other people, not just me. For example, the Big Brother Big Sister Foundation is going to get a large donation — five garbage bags full of shoes, sweaters, shirts and pants. And the cleaners is going to get my business. And if I ever do move (and hopefully I will sometime in 2008), the movers will have less to take over to the new place for me.

But of course, I'm the real winner here because I'm enjoying my week off from work and taking care of some good stuff that's making me feel really productive. I'm going to say it again: It's so nice to spend a vacation at home, where I can do my own thing and relax and just catch up with life, and work on things like this that I never seem to get to during the rest of the year.

(That's all. No great drama or discoveries to report on.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Time for This Jew

Tonight's Christmas Eve. Maybe you've heard me mention it once or twice. People always seem to wonder what I'll be up to the next day and a half since, at least officially, I don't celebrate the holiday. Well, there's the traditional movie and Chinese food, of course. But for a more thorough answer, here's the great song Darlene Love sang on Saturday Night Live two years ago. If you're not Jewish and do celebrate Christmas, allow me to wish you and yours all the best. But for all my fellow members of the tribe, if you've never seen this video before, it's really great. Enjoy!

And by the way, if you're one of those who like "the classics," here's another ...


Sunday, December 23, 2007

What Fun It Is to Buy and Buy

Who says it's hard to be a Jew on Christmas? The truth is, what fun it is. There's no pressure to buy last minute gifts, no wrapping, no tree to trim, no big meals to prep ... just a lot of festivity to take part in. To wit: I spent part of yesterday and some of today at the malls (Cambridgeside and Arsenal), braving the crowds and taking advantage of some great discounts at Old Navy and other stores. Parking was difficult, but for some reason I have a great deal of patience and skill when it comes to finding a spot, so it wasn't impossible. I kept my bags close by so as to avoid any trouble. And when all was said and done, I spent about $100 on a ton of clothes and almost felt guilty for not buying more. Here's one example of the folly of holiday shopping: Old Navy is selling boxer shorts 3 for $12. But if you buy them in a pre-selected gift box, three boxers are only $10.80. And it's fun, when the salesperson asks if you want gift boxes, to tell her "No thanks. It's all for me." I even tried a gingerbread donut at Dunkin' Donuts. Even more fun than all that is walking from store to store, listening to the holiday tunes. U2's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" in one place. Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" in another. It's a good time. How sad it is that just like that, on Wednesday it'll all be over. So I'm of the school of thought that says you should enjoy the season and make the most of it while you can. Especially since Hanukkah, with its nine days and all, is long over. And my wardrobe is better off for it.

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A Tale of Two Photos

It struck me the other day how similar these two photos are, and yet how utterly different the films they're from — Dreamgirls and Sweeney Todd — are. Perhaps the only thing these two photos have in common is that they both capture killer performances of very different kinds. What a difference a year makes.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

But It Is a Classic

Jeeeez. A whole article about Christmas CDs and not one mention of A Very Marty Xmas 2007 being an instant classic. That doesn't seem right.

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Attend This Tale of Sweeney Todd

How excited was I to see Sweeney Todd? Well, as I've previously stated, it's one of my favorite musicals of all time, and I had high hopes based on the trailer. And now, having seen the film, I'm happy to say I was not disappointed.

Sweeney Todd tells the story of Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), a wrongly imprisoned barber who returns to London having rechristened himself Sweeney Todd. He's hellbent on having his revenge against the judge who took his wife and child away from him. But when Sweeney decides not to stop at just the judge, and that "they all deserve to die," he hatches a plan with Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), his downstairs neighbor, to grind up the bodies and turn them into meat pies. Soon the city population is a fraction of what it once was, and Mrs. Lovett is making the most popular pies in London. The film is directed by Mr. Macabre himself, Tim Burton, so needless to say, it's a very dark film and there's a lot of blood. And yes, if you missed it above, this is a musical. But it's safe to say you've never seen a musical quite like this.

As Todd, Depp doesn't have the strongest voice, but his forceful performance almost covers that over. I also sort of wish Burton had gone with someone whose voice was lower and not the baritone that Depp has. (Someone like, oh, Michael Cerveris perhaps.) But Depp is very, very good in the role, and he's certainly a better singer than Bonham Carter, who really can't sing all that well. She gives a fine performance, but she's not nearly as good as, say, Patti LuPone or Angela Lansbury (so I've heard; I've never seen Lansbury's performance). Across the board, it's clear that the cast was chosen not for their vocal chops but for their acting abilities, and from Sasha Baron Cohen's comical Pirelli to Timothy Spall's skeevy Beadle Bamford, they all inhabit their roles quite well.

And Burton has streamlined the story, doing away, unfortunately, with "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" (which now serves as a lyric-free overture) and either shortening or eliminating other songs, but keeping the focus more on Todd's pursuit of revenge. The result is a film that's less than two hours long, not necessarily a bad thing. Burton's also done away with much of the theatricality, thankfully, turning Sweeney into an actual movie, not an adaptation. There's no factory whistle when someone's throat is slit, like there often is on stage. And when the characters sing (and if you don't know, they sing about 85% of the time), it's not so much a break for a song; instead, Stephen Sondheim's songs really do serve the plot. They're like sung dialogue, in a good way. If you generally don't like musicals, this is the one to see. And yes, the blood does flow, from the first frame to the last. It's a thick, tomato soup–like blood, and man, is it gory.

As with the show, my favorite song is "A Little Priest," where Lovett and Todd delight in the different types of pies created by different types of victims ("The trouble with poet is how do you know it's deceased?") On the other hand, I still get bored by the Anthony-Johanna subplot. But no matter. Sweeney Todd the movie is very entertaining, well-made, and cool. Not sure it's the kind of movie musical I'm going to run to see multiple times (unlike, say, Hairspray), but it stands alone as a singular vision and not a retread of what many have already seen on stage. And for that, I'm giving Sweeney a strong B+.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Winter Wonderland?

Thought I'd post a couple photos I took this morning in the 'hood. They're not quite wonder-ful, but they are snowy. What a fun weekend this is going to be, digging out my car tomorrow (finally) and seeing a lot of this snow get washed away on Sunday when it rains.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not Doubly Great

All those self-important musical bio-pics — like Walk the Line and Ray — were due for some mockery, but they don't quite get the ribbing they deserve in Walk Hard. While the film does make fun of many of the conventions of the genre, it's more of an affectionate tribute than a satire, and that, ultimately, makes the film less impressive.

Walk Hard opens backstage at some really big show, where Dewey (a game John C. Reilly) is striking a classic ponderous pose in spotlight against a wall. A wise old black man tells the stage manager that Dewey won't go on until he remembers his entire life. And what a life it's been: as a child, Dewey accidentally sliced his brother in half with a machete, thus angering his father, who keeps saying "The wrong kid died," and filling Dewey's head with guilt. There's the early gig in a black club. The first wife who doesn't support Dewey's dreams. The drug use. The insecurity. The affair with the love of his life. The success. The downfall. Rehab. Rehab again. The comeback. You know the drill.

Along the way, Dewey encounters other musical artists and personnel, and these cameos provide some of the film's biggest laughs. There's Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock as a radio DJ. Freddie Muniz as Buddy Holly. Harold Ramis as a record company executive. And the best of all, Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman and Justin Long as the Beatles. Some of the film's other gags are funny, but few really reach the high of the Beatles scene.

Mostly, you're watching Walk Hard with a smile of knowing recognition. You're rooting for Dewey because while he may be buffoonish at times, he's so sincere, and as portrayed by Reilly, so likable that he's not a cartoon. The music's often funny (especially the song "Let's Duet"), but these are actually some pretty good songs. If Walk Hard really wanted to skewer the musical bio-pic genre, it needed to be more ridiculous and over the top instead of playing it straight. Dewey needed to be more of an unlikely success, a talentless loser, and he probably needed to be played by someone like (gulp) Will Ferrell.

Walk Hard isn't going to put an end to the genre or even change it like, say, the Bourne movies changed the James Bond films. But like its star, it's likable and good fun, even if it's not the brilliant satire I'd hoped for. I'm giving it a B.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On the Ninth Day of Hanukkah ...

Not sure how many of you folks missed the memo or something, but apparently, Hanukkah is now nine days long. Thanks, Bill-o.


The Cards Are in the Mail

They say that yesterday, Monday, was the Post Office's busiest day of the year. So I figured it was a good time to share some Christmas card fun facts, courtesy of the kind folks at American Greetings, who sent me a press kit of facts, tips and other stuff (way back in August) related to card-sending and other holiday trends. Here are some of the more interesting factoids:

* More than twice as many cards and letters are processed on December 17 than on any other day of the year. USPS employees predicted they would process 900 million pieces of mail on that one day alone. Also, apparently, 900 million pieces of mail is enough to circle the globe six times.

* According to the Greeting Card Association, Americans will send nearly two billion Christmas cards this year. No surprise, Christmas is the top card-sending occasion in the U.S.

* Also according to the GCA, more than half of all people who buy cards will send up to 25 of them, but nearly 15 percent will send more than 50.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Down Goes Santa Claus!

It's that kind of lazy Sunday here in Brookline. I slept in, I've made some French Toast, I'm watching the Patriots beat up on the Jets (again), I've done some apartment cleaning, I'm avoiding cleaning off my car because there's no real need for me to drive anywhere for at least five days, I've got a couple new DVDs to watch after the football game, I called some friends to catch up, I'm debating baking a cake, the bed's not made, I haven't showered ... and it's good that I did my laundry yesterday so I don't have to fight for the machines today, which means I don't have to leave my apartment at all, and life is pretty good. This was a well-timed snow — or rain or sleet or whatever it's doing outside — day.

(And btw, that photo came from, though I sort of wish I had taken it.)

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's All Emma Thompson's Fault

When I Am Legend begins, we're listening to a sports reporter say that the American League team in New York, of course, is the best and that they will play the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. So you know right off the bat that this film is a fantasy and you shouldn't take any of it seriously. Then Emma Thompson appears on screen playing a doctor who has found a cure for cancer simply by reorganizing the structure of the measles virus. Cut to three years later and the entire city of New York (and, apparently, the entire planet) has been totally wiped out by this "cure," except for virologist (and of course he's a virologist) Robert Neville (Will Smith) and plenty of animals. Oh, and the zombies. Lots of rabid zombies — the folks who had been affected by the cure and now only come out at night and are out for blood. We don't quite know how Neville managed to be the only one to survive, but somehow over the years he has figured out the zombies' behavior and has made a life — albeit a lonely, solitary one — for himself.

For the first half of the movie, I Am Legend is actually pretty cool. You try not to be impressed when Neville is driving all over the city, deer are running alongside him, not a single person is in sight, and grass is growing through the pavement. These are awesome sights, even more so than the opening scene of Vanilla Sky. And just like in Cast Away, there's not a whole lot of dialogue or music. But about halfway through, when "the plot" starts to kick in and Neville learns he's not the only survivor (oops, spoiler alert), and he actually has someone else to talk to, that's where the movie really starts to come off the rails. Suddenly the plot holes become more glaring, the dialogue more ridiculous, and the sense of doom is not just limited to Neville but to all moviegoers. We walked out of the theater with all kinds of laughable questions that I won't bore you with here. Not that I could really ruin the movie any more than you'd expect it does on its own.

There's a minor subplot about Neville working his way through all the movies in a video store (he's midway through the Gs, having just watched Goodfellas). You get the sense that he wouldn't really enjoy this movie, even with all the escapism that the special effects provide. I'm giving I Am Legend a C+.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What Are They, Lit?

As Hanukkah comes to a close, I thought I'd mention this crazy story in the Jerusalem Post about a group calling itself Green Hanukkia that tried (I hope unsuccessfully) to get Jews around the world to light at least one less candle this year in support of the environment. According to the group, every candle that burns completely produces 15 grams of carbon dioxide. They estimate that if an estimated one million Israeli households light for eight days, it would do significant damage to the atmosphere. Given that the holiday ends tonight at sundown and there are no more candles left to light, I suppose this is a moot issue. But considering that the point of the holiday — one of them, anyway — is to celebrate eight days and nights of light, how do you really justify not lighting candles one night? Doesn't that contradict the idea of the holiday? It's not the same thing as using fewer lights on a Christmas tree. If he was Jewish, Bill O'Reilly would never stand for this 'Attack on Hanukkah' — especially in light of "the ham incident." So, I found this idea kinda silly and I wanted to share the story with anyone who would be interested in reading about it. (Oh, and if you don't know, Hanukkia is another word for menorah.)


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's Just Not Write

If you ask me, the really sad thing about the fact that the writers' strike is likely to last "well into next year" is that we're being denied some great Christmas episodes of TV. This is the time of year when the writers seem to pull out all the stops and do their best work. Case in point: The Office, which would likely not be as popular as it is were it not for that utterly classic Christmas episode in 2005 (you know, the one with the secret Santa game). Last year's holiday episode, with the dueling parties, was one of the better ones of the year as well. And of course, last year's Christmas episode of Studio 60 was, I think, one of the finest episodes of any show all season. Most criminal of all is the fact that if the strike doesn't end soon, then it's unlikely Darlene Love will be making her annual appearance on Late Show with David Letterman to sing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Oh, I'm sure Dave will show a rerun of an earlier appearance, but there's something nice about holiday traditions and things you can look forward to. At least 30 Rock has what looks like a good holiday episode scheduled for Thursday. Still, I'm resigned to the fact that there'll be a void in my holiday season this year, and I just wanted to say I think it sucks.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

It's Xmas All Over Again

Every year without fail, someone who receives my Xmas mix says to me, "Hey, where's [fill in the blank]?" And that blank can be filled by your choice of Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" or Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" or the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" or any other favorite tune. And the simple answer is always that all those classics had already appeared on my mix, back in 2000 or 2001. In 2005, I toyed with the idea of creating a "best of the box" mix of my favorite tunes, ones that had previously appeared on my mixes, but this year I actually compiled one.

The Best of A Very Marty Xmas was perhaps the most challenging holiday mix I've ever made. I mean, how do you really choose between James Taylor's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and Elton John's "Step Into Christmas?" I'm always tempted every year to include a novelty track or two, but if you're going for the best of the best, does "I Farted on Santa's Lap" by the Little Stinkers make the cut? And what to do about the various Hanukkah songs, like those by Adam Sandler and the LeeVees? So alas, volume one of The Best of leaves off some choice tunes. On the good side, this has to be a must-have mix for when you're trimming the tree. And it's almost guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit. So here's the track list of my bonus CD this year, The Best of A Very Marty Xmas, which includes tracks from the 2000 to 2006 mixes:

Darlene Love — Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
Donny Hathaway — This Christmas
Mariah Carey — All I Want for Christmas Is You
Stevie Wonder — What Christmas Means to Me
John Lennon — Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
Band Aid — Do They Know It’s Christmas
Andy Williams — The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Harry Connick Jr. — Sleigh Ride
Jose Feliciano — Feliz Navidad
*NSync — Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays
Ray Charles — Winter Wonderland
Bruce Springsteen — Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
The Eagles — Please Come Home for Christmas
Tom Petty — It’s Christmas All Over Again
Britney Spears — My Only Wish (This Year)
John Williams — Carol of the Bells
Ron Sexsmith — Maybe This Christmas
Elton John — Step into Christmas
Slade — Merry Christmas, Everybody
Billy Squier — Christmas Is the Time to Say “I Love You”
The Waitresses — Christmas Wrapping
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and the New Orleans All-Stars — Oh Holy Night (from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip)

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Sure Does Feel Like Xmas Time

As the great John Lennon once sang, "And so this is Christmas." At long last — and ahead of schedule — here is the track listing for A Very Marty Xmas 2007. I spent a bit of time revisiting my older mixes this year, and after re-listening to last year's mix, I decided to err on the side of festivity and jolly-tude when deciding what to include on the '07 edition. As a result, some folks (like Harry Connick Jr.) had to take a year off. But I think this is a mix that will definitely stand the test of time, just like 2004 and 2005's have. And I love some of the new stuff I discovered, like Mindy Smith's "Santa Will Find You," a hopeful tune that'll appeal to kids of all ages. And of course, how great is this live version of Darlene Love doing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on The Late Show with David Letterman? So anyway, without further ado, here we go:

KT Tunstall — Sleigh Ride
Kay Starr — (Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man with the Bag
Johnny Mercer with the Pied Pipers — Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (Q-Burns Abstract Message Remix)
The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl — Fairytale of New York
Hello Saferide — iPod Xmas
Pearl Jam — Someday at Christmas
Peggy Lee — Happy Holiday
Darlene Love — Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (live on The Late Show with David Letterman)
Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters — White Christmas
Colbie Caillat — Mistletoe
Carnie and Wendy Wilson — Hey Santa
Mindy Smith — Santa Will Find You
Guster — Donde Esta Santa Claus?
Eels — Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas
Bon Jovi — I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas
Heritage Hall Jazz Band with Gregg Stafford — Silver Bells
The Chipmunks (with David Seville) — We Wish You a Merry Christmas
The LeeVees — How Do You Spell Chunnukkahh?
James Taylor — Jingle Bells
Brian Wilson — Deck the Halls
Mighty Mighty Bosstones — Xmas Time (It Sure Doesn’t Feel Like It)
Teddy Geiger — All I Want for Christmas Is You
Fiona Apple — Frosty the Snowman
Rufus Wainwright — What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

Good stuff. Copies are still on their way to some of my readers, but if you'd like to compile your own copy of this mix, most of these tracks can be found by going to the Hype Machine. And don't you fret: I still have hundreds more tracks in my collection that have yet to appear on a mix, so yes, Virginia, there will be a Very Marty Xmas 2008. Stay tuned. Until then, happy holidays everybody!

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Back on the Market

It's almost January 1, which means not just the beginning of the year, but also the month that I plan to resume my condo hunt. When I started the search over the summer, I was real excited about it, in the same way I get excited about most every other new thing in my life. But damn, this article in Sunday's Boston Globe sure does make the process seem a lot less fun than it was over the summer.


Putting the 'Dys' in Dysfunctional

When I see a movie like Margot at the Wedding, I can't help but be thankful that my own sister isn't a blunt, insensitive, unsupportive, bitchy, insulting, manipulative woman like the title character here is. As played by Nicole Kidman, she may be more of a villain than, say, Darth Vader or The Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestley. Her weapons are words, and when she arrives for her estranged sister's (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wedding, she gets under everyone's skin. Margot isn't in town for the wedding; she's there for a bookstore appearance with a man she's cheating on her husband with. She hates the groom (Jack Black). She doesn't keep secrets. She says all the wrong things and leaves emotional distruction in her wake. Noah Baumbach (who also wrote and directed the excellent The Squid and the Whale) has made a film that will ring true with anyone who has family (i.e.: everyone). It makes you laugh and cringe, sometimes simultaneously, and at 92 minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome — though it does end sort of abruptly. This character piece is light on plot (not a bad thing in this case) and features some great performances. I'm giving it a B+.


Bright Guy, Big City

So yeah, I took a couple days off from work last week and spent them down in New York. And for the first time in a long while, most of the time was spent in the city, playing tourist. Here are some snapshots from the weekend.

O Christmas Tree: Bean, meet the Christmas tree at 30 Rock. Decided to get my Christmas on, so I spent a bit of time at Rockefeller Center trying to take the perfect picture of the big tree (after all, it's never too early to start working on next year's A Very Marty Xmas CD). But as I kept learning, it's hard to take a picture of a lit-up tree at night. My damned camera didn't seem to want to focus. This one here is probably the best one I took.

Number one or number two, it's completely up to you: Best thing ever was Charmin's second annual, temporary, free public restroom next door to the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. That's all it is. You go up a tall escalator, wait on line, and you get to use one of the 20 or so toilets. They were spotless (cleaned after each use), colorful, and the attendants were having such a good time helping out that it was hard not to smile. As marketing gimmicks go, this one was pretty fun. And it was really convenient, because at the time, I really had to go.

People watching: Mitzi, Fetus, and I had a very very very minor celeb sighting Thursday night when we spotted Danny, from the New Orleans cast of The Real World, in the Times Square Toys 'R' Us just wandering around. And it occured to me how none of the current viewers of that show must know who he is. I think I also saw Andre 3000 from OutKast there. Oh, and Sean Dugan, an old college roommate, was on the same train into the city on Friday, but we didn't get a chance to talk. And though she's also on Broadway these days, in Cyrano de Bergerac, you'll be happy to know I did not stalk wait for Jennifer Garner outside the stage door.

Flame on: Turned a corner at 9th and 44th on Friday and saw this taxi on fire. No one seemed to know how or why it happened. And while I knew the thing could have exploded at any second, for a change I did the stupid thing and got out my camera to take a picture, instead of running for cover. (What?! It's not like the other people doing the same thing were any smarter than me.) Thankfully, the NYFD showed up just in time and put the fire out.

Show time: As I've previously mentioned, seeing Spring Awakening was unexpected. Here's why. After lunch with Anna on Friday, I decided to hang out in Times Square and go to a couple places, then head back to meet up with Mitzi, Jason, and Fetus for dinner. Long story short, a couple guys on the corner of Broadway and 44th were selling discounted tix to a few shows, including Spring Awakening. Of course I was skeptical, and I did some background checks, even asking a cop a few feet away if he knew if the guys on the corner were scalpers. As it turned out, they were totally legit. So I took the chance, changed my plans, and saved $40 on top seats (12th row center) for what ended up being an awesome show. Money well-spent, even if at the time I felt like I was a total sucker buying Broadway show tickets from a random guy on the street.

Hmmmmm...: Believe it or not, I so enjoyed the day and a half that I spent in New York City that for maybe 15–30 minutes I actually thought about moving there. The cold winds snapped that thought out of me quickly enough, but I suppose that only goes to show you how good a time I had in the Big Apple. I need to do stuff like this more often.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

I've Got Spring Fever

Unexpectedly, I also got the chance to see Spring Awakening this weekend. And what a great, great show it was. Is. No wonder this won the Tony Award back in June for Best Musical — and Best Direction, Score, and five others. Spring Awakening is so full of energy, so full of passion, so full of life that it's hard not to be moved or shaken to the core while watching it. I haven't liked a new show this much in, oh, I don't know how long.

Based on Frank Wedekind's controversial 1891 play, Spring Awakening tells a story of sexual discovery among a group of German teenagers. Most have been sheltered from learning anything about sex, puberty, or any such topic — one, Wendla (the very pretty Lea Michele), is an aunt twice over and still doesn't know where the children came from — by their parents and teachers, who stifle independent thought and ignore teenage curiosities. When Moritz (Tony winner John Gallagher Jr.) is fraught with guilt and confusion about the effects of puberty that are resulting in strange dreams and other feelings, he consults the more knowing Melchior (Jonathan Groff), whose parents have educated him about such things. But while Melchior is clearly the more grounded of the two for knowing so much about the world, Moritz is more unsettled by the information and he descends into a downward spiral.

Though the setting is Germany in the 1890s, the sound and choreography are of the modern era. Songs have been written by Duncan Sheik (best known for the mid-1990s hit "Barely Breathing") and Steven Sater, and with titles like "The Bitch of Living" and "Totally Fucked," they are very much not your typical Broadway showtunes. Instead, they are rock/pop songs, and as sung by the unbelievably talented cast — especially, but not limited to, those already mentioned — they are like anthems of identity, independence, and strength. The dancing style (if you can call it dance) mixes the repression of the show's setting with contemporary freedom — there's a lot of foot stomping — and the combination of song and movement is thrilling. It didn't take long for the music of Spring Awakening to burrow a hole into my brain and make a comfortable home there. As opposed to how it was with the other show this weekend, I was singing these songs all the way home.

And further, not since Rent has a show dealt with such heavy topics (not just sex but also suicide and abortion, among others) in such a compelling way that appeals to young audiences. (And wow, what a graphic sex scene at the show's center.)

Spring Awakening was one of the most exciting nights of theater I've had in some time; I can't wait to see it again. And again. And again. Until then, I have the soundtrack and the script, and videos like the one below of the cast performing "The Bitch of Living," my favorite song from the show, to recapture the experience. If you're in New York and you haven't yet seen this show, please, don't hesitate to get tickets.

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Bart and Martin

Mitzi, Fetus, and I went to see Young Frankenstein on Broadway Thursday night. The show's been so heavily hyped and it has such a great pedigree and it's based on such a classic movie ... so how could it not be a disappointment? I don't want to go into too much detail, but I'll say the conventional line that while YF is entertaining, it's no The Producers: it's not as funny and none of the songs are as memorable. That said, the sets are huge and impressive, as are the special effects, and Andrea Martin, who plays Frau Blücher, and Christopher Fitzgerald, who plays Igor (pronounced "eye-gor," of course), are both really good. And Roger Bart ...

Well, you may recall that I interviewed Roger Bart for Continental's November issue. When we spoke, he suggested I come and say hello when I see the show. So after the curtain fell, and he changed into his street clothes, we got to spend a few minutes with Roger in his undecorated but spacious dressing room. He was really nice, very welcoming, and totally laid back, especially considering that just 15 minutes earlier he was giving a pretty manic performance on stage in front of 1,800 people. Roger told me he thought my article was "very sweet," and he was surprisingly candid about what it's like to perform in such a large theater (the Hilton Theatre is bigger than the St. James, where The Producers was, and yet it's smaller than the theater in Seattle where YF played a tryout run over the summer). Of course, it was totally awkward given that Roger and I really don't know each other, so we didn't overstay our welcome. But it was very cool of Roger to invite me back in the first place.

All the other major cast members — including Megan Mullally and the adorable Sutton Foster — were hanging out in the hallway outside the dressing rooms after the show, so I took the opportunity (with Roger's dresser's permission) to quickly introduce myself to Sutton, who I had interviewed in 2005 for another Continental story. And when she stopped right in front of me, I told Megan she did a nice job, though I don't think she heard me because she and Andrea Martin were a bit preoccupied with something. (Megan had been on Live with Regis and Kelly that morning, and she was giving Reege a hard time because he hadn't come backstage when he saw the show. I just wanted her to know that I didn't make the same mistake.) And it was all pretty cool. Mitzi and I hung out with Idina Menzel in 2004 when we saw Wicked (I also interviewed her for Continental), but that theater wasn't half as nice as the Hilton is. So, all told, a pretty exciting night for us.

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Xmas Is Coming

On Monday you'll find out what's on this year's A Very Marty Xmas CD. Ooooh, I can't wait to share it with y'all. But until then, I'm still trying to figure out if it's possible to copy a CD on a Mac without using iTunes. But that's my problem, not yours (unless, of course, you have a solution for me and then I'd be more than happy to hear it). Thanks!

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Raise a Glass for Amy!

I've been away from the computer for a couple days, but I wanted to acknowledge that Amy Winehouse earned six Grammy Award nominations on Thursday, and I say yes! yes! yes! I've been listening to "Rehab" and the rest of Back to Black for just about a solid year now and the CD hasn't gotten old or tiresome yet. It's far and away my favorite album to be released in 2007. I wish Amy was competing in the Album of the Year category against Bruce Springsteen for Magic, though that would make it a hard choice for me, but I think it's cool that she is represented in all four of the major categories: Best Album, Record, Song, and New Artist. No one else, not even Kanye West (who has the most nominations of any artist, with eight) can say that. So, while usually I sort of tune out the Grammy Awards and think they're either out of touch or too wide-ranging to have much significance, this year I'm cheering on Amy Winehouse to sweep — and to sober up so she can attend the show and perform as well.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

I'd Rather Be Called Unsassy

So it seems my alma mater was named the fourth ugliest college campus in America by a Web site called Campus Squeeze. (Drexel University is number one.) Jeez ... when I was there we were named one of the unsassiest colleges by that leading authority on such things, Sassy magazine. This one hurts even less.


A Losing Battle

I didn't really think I was going to like Charlie Wilson's War. After all, I'm sort of over the whole "Tom Hanks Is Holier than Thou" thing, and I can't get too excited about Julia Roberts anymore either. Plus, I'm skeptical of a major studio movie that's billed as Oscar bait based on pedigree alone. But I'll admit, Hanks is real good here in the true story of a Texas Congressman with questionable ethics, and he won me over. And generally, I was entertained by the movie, which documents how Charlie Wilson raised money — $1 billion annually — in Congressional funds to support Afghanistan in its war with Russia in the 1980s. (Those are your tax dollars at work, folks!) Afghanistan was underarmed and the Soviets were overpowering, and without the type of guns and missles that could take down helicopters, the Afghans basically had no chance. Of course, this was during the Cold War, and at the time, Russia was our enemy, so of course, we sided with the Afghans. And because he was such a big factor in the Afghan freedom fighters eventually defeating the Soviets, Charlie was branded a hero.

How times change. And therein lies the movie's greatest problem, and why I ultimately don't like it. How are we supposed to root for this guy Wilson when he's the one who basically armed Al Qaeda? This mission of his seems awfully selfish and misguided, and that makes it really hard to take the guy's side. And if you can't root for Tom Hanks in a movie where he's supposed to be the hero ... well, that's a problem. Wilson may be charming, but he's not even likable.

Further, Aaron Sorkin's screenplay really doesn't explain what motivates the guy. When we first meet Wilson, he's in a hot tub in Las Vegas next to three naked strippers. And yet, his attention is on the TV, where Dan Rather is reporting from Afghanistan. (Hmmmm ... naked strippers in a hot tub or Dan Rather. Which one would you choose?) Wilson's a real bastard, a guy who exerts his power by showing off his Texas-sized boots and who calls his buxom team of aides "Jailbait," and yet audiences are supposed to believe he's concerned about the plight of the Afghan people halfway around the world? Especially when his major supporters are Jews, he says, who think he supports Israel. Even played by Tom Hanks, this guy has character flaws.

And also, I feel like the film is so slick that it makes the events, true though they might be, seem too easy. There are some good jokes about the futility and stupidity of our government, and yet Wilson, a nobody Congressman, was able to transform $5 million in support for Afghanistan into $1 billion and unite Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan to work together and supply the actual weaponry for Aghanistan? The guy's a frickin' miracle worker. Why isn't he involved with the peace talks?

So what's good about the movie? Well, in spite of the above, Hanks is good and quite watchable. So is Philip Seymour Hoffman, as a CIA case worker who teams with Wilson to aid the Afghans. Emily Blunt's half naked and looks great. And the film doesn't exactly ignore Wilson's part in at least sowing the seeds of U.S. resentment in Afghanistan ... but that part of the story is given a real brush-off at the end, even if the last frame is of a quote from Wilson (the real guy) saying "Those things happened and they were glorious, and then we fucked up the end game." (On his site, Jeff Wells says this was played up more in earlier drafts of the screenplay. There was even an epilogue that takes place on 9/11 that I think would have made the film better.) I think more should have been made of Wilson's role in our current situation, rather than celebrating his "accomplishment." So, I can't exactly support this War, and I'm going to give it a C+.