Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Start All Over Again

When it comes to New Year's songs, many people are fond of "Auld Lang Syne" or "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" But I prefer some of the new stuff, like Dan Wilson's "What a Year for a New Year" and Jamie Cullum's "Next Year, Baby." The latter tune in particular is a favorite (I love how he makes all sorts of resolutions that he knows he'll never keep), so on this eve of a new year, I thought I'd share it with y'all right here. Enjoy.


The Year of Martin

I can't believe 2008 is already over, mostly because when I look back on the year, I remember it as being as a great one in the life of Martin Lieberman. Three big things happened: I bought a condo, my niece was born, and I got a new job. All three were huge, life-changing events. I mean, my niece being born ... yeah. But the condo purchase came after more than six years of living in the same place, and the new job came after more than seven years with the same company. So I guess there's very good reason for some of my friends to be calling 2008 "The Year of Martin."

But there was more. My memories of 2008 also include fun times at Mardi Gras in Galveston, Texas, at the star-studded grand opening of the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, and at spring training down in Florida. In addition, I continued my streak of picking Tony winners to interview for Continental magazine and my blog received a ton of traffic thanks to links on (and, of course). Oh, and how could I forget the election, which thoroughly engaged me, and made me very excited and hopeful. And sure, I ended the year by not being in a very festive mood and thus, decided to skip a year of "A Very Marty Christmas," but now it's New Years and I have plenty to celebrate.

Before the calendar changes completely, let's review some other year-end stuff.

Of the 53 movies I've seen this year, here are my top five favorites, in order:
1. The Dark Knight
2. Man on Wire
3. Slumdog Millionaire
4. Milk
5. The Wrestler

And here are my favorite CDs of 2008, in no particular order:
* Viva la Vida – Coldplay
* We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things – Jason Mraz
* Gossip in the Grain – Ray LaMontagne

And finally, my top-10 favorite TV shows of 2008, in order:
1. Brothers & Sisters
2. Lost
3. 30 Rock
4. Gossip Girl
5. How I Met Your Mother
6. The Office
7. Countdown with Keith Olbermann
8. The Amazing Race
9. Flight of the Conchords
10. Saturday Night Live

I hope that wherever and however you're celebrating the new year tonight that you can also look back and be happy. Personally, I can't wait to see how 2009 will top the past 12 months.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The IKEA Fallacy

We all love IKEA ... right? The bright colors, the cheap products, the innovative Swedish design. People make a big deal when a new store opens (myself included), and go nuts waiting for days to be the first one in the door. But I find that the more I go to IKEA, the less exciting it is. Time and time again, I've gone to the store, excited to buy things, and I've walked out empty handed because when it came down to it, the stuff wasn't nice enough or worth buying. It's functional, but it's not the kind of stuff I need. So it was on Monday, when I made the ill-fated decision again to journey on down to Stoughton and look for (among other things) a TV stand for my new TV. An hour and a half later, I left empty handed. Again. When will I learn that it's not even worth the trip? Alright, fine. That's not entirely true. It was worth it if only for the Swedish meatballs. Yum. And I have to say, IKEA makes some very good garlic toast (two pieces for only 50 cents!) and cinnamon buns too. But even though I had nothing better to do, did I really need to drive a half hour out of the city to have (a not-so-healthy) lunch? Probably not. Why am I still powerless after all this time to the charms and tastes of the IKEA experience?

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Sorry, Wrong Number

Yesterday, as I was leaving my apartment, I noticed that Yellowbook had dropped off the 2009 phone books. Do you know how many they left us? Sixteen. Do you know how many people live in my building? Exactly six. Any moron with a pair of eyes could see that there are only six mailboxes here, and the phone books are all stacked up right underneath them. And now it's a day and a half later, and all 16 are still there, untouched. So on behalf of my neighbors and the entire earth, I have this to say to the folks at Yellowbook: "Thanks, but no thanks. Next time, save the trees and don't bother giving us any."

Mr. Kowalski's Neighborhood

In Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood plays a grizzled old man named Walt Kowalski. A Korean War veteran, Walt is one of those Midwestern guys so set in his ways and his beliefs that the slightest deviation sets him off. He's intolerant of others who aren't like him, insulting to every race, and he doesn't have much incentive to change his ways. He's Archie Bunker without the laugh track. To paraphrase someone else's metaphor, he's John McCain in a Barack Obama world. So as you might assume, Walt's not taking too kindly to the Hmong people who have moved next door (and throughout his neighborhood) and who are disrupting his status quo.

You'd think from this description (and the fact that Eastwood also directed) that Gran Torino would be an interesting character study of how Walt gets to know his neighbors and forges a new late-in-life identity that's a bit more accepting. Unfortunately, it's not that good. As Walt, Eastwood gives a mostly one-note performance that turns lines like "Get off my lawn!" into the kind of snicker-inducing dialogue that also (unfortunately) fated lines like "I drink your milkshake" and "I wish I knew how to quit you." After a half hour of Walt's closed-mindedness, you can't help but laugh whenever he opens up his mouth and spouts his matter-of-fact racial insults. As you might expect, this undercuts the dramatic tension and stifles your emotional investment in Walt's growth. And therein lies the problem with Gran Torino. It's hard to root for Walt when he's such a laughable caricature.

As a bonus for sitting through the entire two hours of the movie, you're rewarded with Jamie Cullum's beautiful performance of the title song (which he co-wrote with Eastwood). Can't wait to see Jamie performing it on the Oscars, since it's sure to be nominated for Best Original Song. For me, this was the best part of the movie. And that's why I'm only giving Gran Torino a B–.

(yes, that's the inevitable John McCain parody right there)

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Doggone It

Masculinity be damned, I went to see Marley & Me by myself, without any coaxing. And take my word for it when I tell you the movie is more entertaining and engaging than I ever expected it being. Yes, it has some cheeseball elements — like a soundtrack that includes R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People" — and it's a little too long, but while Marley does tug on the heartstrings quite a bit and it does go for a couple of easy laughs, it certainly earns all the emotions. In short, I feel no embarrassment in telling y'all how much I enjoyed it.

Where does the credit for this lie? I give some to screenwriters Scott Frank and Don Roos, whose credits include Out of Sight and The Opposite of Sex. They've taken John Grogan's book, which I haven't read, and fashioned an earnest screenplay from what I can only assume is a highly sentimental book. Of course, additional credit has to go to director David Frankel, who also helmed the surprisingly enjoyable The Devil Wears Prada. But I think you have to give most of the kudos to Owen Wilson, who gives a charming and very likable performance. Heck, maybe the guy's growing up. Whatever it is, he's really great. Jennifer Aniston is also good, but it's Wilson whose role is the stand-in for the audience and who has to do more heavy lifting, emotionally.

Let's just get one thing clear, though, and this is where your SPOILER WARNING will come in. The trailer and the ads for Marley are selling it as a laugh-a-minute cutesy movie about a family and their dog. Don't be fooled. You should know full well that the ending of this movie is very very sad. I don't mind telling you I was crying a bit, and might have shed more tears if I didn't work so hard to hold them in. I'm sure you can guess why it's sad, and I can say I've had first-hand experience with a dog of my own (that's Doc down below) meeting the same kind of fate, so that had something to do with my reaction. Thankfully, Frankel and co. do not overdo these parts. It's all very real and honest, not cloying. You'll be hard-pressed not to get caught up in the moment too, no matter how tough your exterior. Just be ready.

Yeah, call Marley & Me a real holiday surprise. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll run the gamut of emotions. And you'll be recommending this one to your friends, like I am doing right now. I'm giving Marley a strong B.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Be Quiet ... Or Else

According to, a guy in Philadelphia shot another man yesterday when he wouldn't stop talking during a screening of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The movie's not so good, so I'll bet this made it a lot more exciting.

But seriously, folks, I think this kind of thing is pretty sad. Yes, talking during a movie — or sending text messages, or failing to turn off your cell phone, etc. — is a pretty big offense, but if it was me (and I don't have any tolerance for this kind of thing), and it was that unbearable, I'd probably have walked out or something to get an usher, so the talker would be removed. (Actually, probably not. I would have stayed in my seat, not enjoyed the movie, and then gone home to passive-aggressively blog about it.)

I mean, I went to see Marley & Me this afternoon in Chestnut Hill and the audience there was pretty annoying, with folks getting up to go to the bathroom seemingly every five minutes. But it's not like I stood up in the middle of the theater and yelled out, "HOLD IT IN, PEOPLE!! I'M TRYING TO WATCH A MOVIE HERE!!" (I was tempted — ha ha ha — but I didn't do it.) Sometimes I guess you just have to know how much you can stand. You don't get out a gun and shoot someone, though. Sigh.

(Thanks to Jeffrey Wells for the tip on this story.)


Wasted Time

I thought about beginning this review at the end, with my grade, and working backwards from there ... but that would imply that I liked The Curious Case of Benjamin Button more than I actually did and that it deserved such effort on my part. Instead, this film, based on a quirky and very short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald (one that I have actually read), is definitely one of the bigger disappointments of the year for me. And I really wanted to like it. Oh well.

It's worth noting right at the start that the story and the movie have only one commonality: They both tell the tale of a man who is born old and grows younger. Other than that, they're very different. The original story is funny and odd and, well, it's short. The movie is very long (2:45), it takes itself way too seriously, and it's almost too straight-forward. The movie is so conventional that it even employs one of the worst movie clichés out there: it's told looking back as one of the characters lies on her death bed (during Hurricane Katrina). The whole thing is nearly devoid of humor — save for a random gag about a guy who was hit by lightning seven times — and feels like an "Oscar movie." While I don't fault the film's creators (including writer Eric Roth and director David Fincher) for embellishing the source material and making Benjamin Button a grander and more romantic story (Cate Blanchett's character is a totally new addition, for example, as is the fact that Benjamin is raised in a retirement home and not by his own father), they've overdone it, making the film feel totally bloated.

The effect of having Brad Pitt's head on other people's bodies in the early scenes works well, but when it's all Pitt, he's less exciting. It feels as if the role is entirely physical (as opposed to emotional) and that we're supposed to take his handsomeness as "acting." In addition, much of the dialogue is spoken in that slowed-down style that makes it overly dramatic, and, well, I could probably go on as long as the movie did with things that frustrated me. If I could live my life in reverse, I'd probably choose to see a different movie before I went to see this one. I'm giving Benjamin Button a very unfortunate C–.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

It's Like Santa's Been Here

There's nothing quite like waking up early on Christmas morning and finding Santa's been there to drop off all kinds of presents under the tree. At least, that's what my non-Jewish friends tell me. Santa — that bastard — has never once shimmied down my chimney and brought me any presents. But that doesn't mean I can't spread some holiday — well, maybe not cheer exactly, but it's new and it's Christmas morning, so why not? This is U2's brand-spanking-new cover of Greg Lake's "Father Christmas." To download the track, you'll have to go to (RED)WIRE, but for now, enjoy the video. Merry Christmas!

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"The Best Thing About the Holidays"

I couldn't agree more with David Letterman. As my non-Jewish friends get ready to celebrate Christmas, I present for your viewing and listening enjoyment Darlene Love singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on last night's Late Show. This is my all-time favorite Christmas song, and once again (and after a one-year absence) Darlene just blows it out of the water.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Old, Broken-Down Piece of Meat

In the simply-named The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a washed-up loser who longs for his 1980s wrestling heyday and is having a tough time dealing with the silence that now surrounds him. Darren Aronofsky's beautiful, haunting film is a devastating portrait of this man, left alone to suffer, who claims he only hurts when he's in the ring, but who can't help but hurt otherwise. He longs for connection — with fans, with a stripper friend (Marisa Tomei), and with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) — but none comes easily to him, and he refuses to be counted out, even when all the odds are against him.

Shot mostly with hand-held cameras, The Wrestler asks viewers to get closer to Randy than anyone in the film gets to him, to watch as the euphoria of his sport quickly turns to blood and injury, and when that's gone, to watch as Randy sinks to the humiliation of working at a supermarket deli counter. It's not easy stuff to watch, but Rourke makes you really care for the guy and root for him. Is it because of the actor's own backstory? Sure. That has to play into it. And when Randy gives his climactic speech thanking the fans for their support, you try not to shed a small tear. It's a perfect match of actor and role, and you'll be mesmerized by Rourke's performance. He's that good. Oh, and as if that's not enough, when the screen goes to black, Bruce Springsteen's title song begins. What a great way to end a great movie. The Wrestler is one of the year's best. I'm giving it an A–.

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End of an Era

Tomorrow is my last day at my current company. I've been there for seven years, three months, and two weeks. No wonder people keep telling me it's "the end of an era." Despite any unhappiness I've felt — particularly in recent months — it's hard to deny that I'm really going to miss it. Well, maybe not the work itself, but the intangible things for sure. After all, when you spend that long at one place, you get really used to it. All of it. The routines, the people, the ups and downs, and the constants. And I've surely got no shortage of those:

* I'll miss taking the T to and from work every day. It wasn't always fun, but it afforded me a lot of reading time, particularly when I started taking the B line back in April. But I'll also miss the folks I commuted with, like the guy with all the figurines and the guy I call "Albino Guy," who kept the same schedule I did. I will not, however, miss the girl with the annoying laugh that could pierce the silence and ruin a peaceful morning commute.

* I'll miss the regular after-work walks from the office, through the Common and the Gardens, down Newbury or Boylston St., and to the Hynes Convention Center T stop.

*I'll miss seeing the old guy in front of Macy's handing out the Metro, and the guy in the mobile post office.

* Of course, I'll miss the lunch places I frequented, like Sam LaGrassa's, the Kingston Deli (reborn as Deli One), and Susan's Deli, Of Course (yes, "Of Course" is part of the name). I'll particularly miss the chocolate chip cookies at Susan's, which were always this side of being raw and were the best cookies in the area. And I'll definitely miss eating at 1 p.m. every day with my BFAW, Cat.

* I'll miss saying "good night" to the guard in the lobby every night, and chatting with Benny, the guy who cleans up at night, who often remarked about how I was always there so late.

* Speaking of which, I'll miss working late. No, not because I'll miss working late — more because I really enjoyed the camaraderie I had with those who also worked those hours with me.

* I'll miss my "secret bathrooms." In our old building, it was on the third floor and in our current building it's on the bottom floor. You know what I mean: the lightly-trafficked bathroom where you can do your thing in peace. I always felt like George on Seinfeld when he had his own private handicapped bathroom. No, I didn't really need the privacy. But I was amused, because I could have it, and because I called them my secret bathrooms.

* Finally, I'll miss some of the fun things I introduced (not always successfully) to the culture here at work. Stuff like Argyle Wednesday and Tie Thursday. And of course, the "Martin Moment."

It's going to be a real transition when I start the new gig after New Year's, and I'm ready and excited for the change. But these things and others I will really miss.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What's Your Favorite Part?

"I appreciate Hanukkah because it's the only Jewish holiday that doesn't encourage the ruthless consumption of gefilte fishes."


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tell Your Friend Veronica

Hanukkah starts tonight at sundown, so to get you in the spirit, here's Adam Sandler's song. Oh boy! I hope I get a harmonica on this lovely, lovely Hanukkah.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snowy Day

This was the view out my window onto Commonwealth Ave. around 10 p.m. last night ...

... and this is what it looks like around 8:30 this morning.

It's certainly nicer than the view out my old window was. There's lots of snow, lots of digging and plowing to do. Thankfully, my car's now parked indoors in a garage so I can relax and make some waffles and wait till it's all clear and I can go out again. From the looks of it, I could be waiting a while.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Not So Frightful

We're expecting a big snow storm here in Boston today, so in that spirit, I thought I'd repost (nearly two years later) Jamie Cullum's great performance of "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!"

Mother Nature, I say bring it on.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Mano a Mano

Much like, say, Gladiator or Rocky, at the core of Frost/Nixon there is a battle. Two men enter a ring, both seeking the respect and admiration of the audience, both trying to make up for past wrongs. On one hand, there is David Frost (Michael Sheen), a celebrity talk show host. On the other hand there is Richard Nixon (Frank Langella), the disgraced former president. The film, an adaptation of the award-winning stage play by its writer, Peter Morgan, documents the legendary TV interview that Frost conducted with Nixon in 1977, and how Frost essentially gave Nixon the "trial" he would never have for Watergate. As directed by Ron Howard, the film is completely engaging. The two leads both give fantastic performances (Langella, in the showier role, especially), but they are only two members of an impressive ensemble that also includes Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon.

Howard expands on the play (which I never saw) by adding documentary-style "interviews" with the supporting players. This helps to give the film some context, though it's not really necessary. The whole thing doesn't feel stagey, which is great, though I wondered how much more exciting it would have been to see just Sheen and Langella duking it out on stage without the help of a score or any other enhancements. Then again, the big screen helps to showcase what brilliant and subtle performances these are by putting the camera right in the two lead actors' faces.

I really enjoyed this movie, and thought the early interviews, with Nixon coming off quite humorously as a charmer and totally in control, and Frost totally ill-prepared for how to deal with it, were pretty funny. But I have to say that when we get to the final interview, after Frost has found his cojones, the tone of the verbal sparring shifts so dramatically and almost unbelievably, that it's a bit off-putting. These interviews are a matter of public record, so it's hardly a spoiler to reveal that Frost does finally put the screws on Nixon. And yes, it's thrilling in the film when he does. But till then, Frost has been so out of his element and so unevenly matched that you wish the film had built a little more to that final confrontation so it feels just a little more rewarding. Had that been so, I'd be giving Frost/Nixon a higher grade. Instead, it gets a B+ from me.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Watch Out for that Shoe!

President Bush made a trip to Iraq this weekend, and at a press conference, an Iraqi journalist shoe'd, er, I mean showed him how happy he was to see Bush there.

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A Stand Up Idea

Just a quick shout-out and thanks to whoever first thought to hang newspapers above the urinals in men's bathrooms. What a brilliant idea this was. I was reminded of this Saturday night when I went to Border Cafe and had to go. Men never know where to look when they're in the restroom, and on this particular occasion, I had the front page of the Boston Globe Sports section to stare at and read. Newspapers hanging at urinals is nothing new, but they're always — always — appreciated. So yeah, thanks.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Don't Walk ... So Slowly

Alright, so I get it: Pedestrians in a crosswalk always have the right of way. But here's my question ... If the light for cars is green, and you're crossing the street when, technically, I (or any other driver) have permission to drive without stopping, and it's not like you started to cross when the light was still red, why can't you walk just a little bit faster to get to the other side of the road? I'm not going to hit you (really), but come on. The light at this time is not in your favor. You're just being a pain in the arse. Especially if you're on your cell phone. Hurry it up.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

She's Our Only Hope

In the unnecessary remake The Day the Earth Stood Still, a large green orb drops down out of the sky and lands in — where else? — New York City's Central Park. (Why New York? Well, aside from being a total cliche, why wouldn't aliens want to visit New York?) Out pops Klaatu, a strange creature who turns out to be an alien messenger in the form of Keanu Reeves. He tells astrobiologist (and of course she's an astrobiologist) Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) that because the humans have treated the earth so poorly, he is going to destroy them all. How trendy. (In the original 1951 film, Klaatu was there to address nuclear warfare and other Cold War–era concerns.) But this is the Age of Barack Obama, so the good scientist (and really — why are they always scientists?) believes that she can convince Klaatu that the humans can change, and thus, she can prevent Klaatu from accomplishing his mission. Thankfully, you only have to wait an hour and 45 minutes to find out if she succeeds. DTESS feels like it wants to be part horror film, thriller, and action flick, but it never really succeeds as either of those. It's science fiction, but as mentioned, it's pointless, ineffective science fiction. Characters — including Kathy Bates' Secretary of Defense — speak with all the expected gravitas, but none of it seems particularly worth watching. On the plus side, DTESS looks great. But I'm still giving it a C+.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

She Ain't Heavy, She's Just Oprah

Not that anyone asked her, but Oprah Winfrey has admitted that she now tips the scales at 200 pounds (the story is in the latest issue of O magazine). So as if my week wasn't already going well, now I can also take pride in the fact that as heavy as I am, I don't weigh as much as Oprah Winfrey does. Phew!


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Time for a Cool Change

It's been a long time coming, but change has finally come for me. Yesterday I accepted a new job, and today I gave my two-weeks' notice that I'd be leaving my current company. When I walk out the door on December 24, I will have been at the same place for seven years, three months, and 14 days (but who's counting?). Suffice it to say, it's a time that's had highs and lows. My job has afforded me some very cool opportunities, including the chance to write articles about celebrities and to travel to fun places, and for that I'm really grateful. I've also made some great friends that I know will last even though we won't see each other every day.

Since I've always tried to keep this blog a work-free zone, I'm not going to be specific about where I'm going. But I can say there will be a real change to my lifestyle — for one thing, I'll be driving to work now instead of taking the T — and that will be an adjustment. But it's mostly (overwhelmingly) for the better. I won't miss the nightly browsing of Craigslist and Media Bistro or the sending out of resumes into a seemingly endless black hole. Instead, now I can devote my time to other, more productive hobbies. Hobbies I'll actually have time for since I'll be working more regular hours than I have been. I really couldn't be more excited about the whole thing.

Alright, I'll stop this post there. But if you know me and you want to know more, feel free to send me an email. Otherwise, it's time to celebrate. I feel like I've certainly earned it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sister, Sister

Of this I am certain: Doubt is one tough, challenging, and not all that festive movie. The story of a young Jewish boy and his rabbi, Doubt explores what it means to be Bar Mitzvahed when you're ... alright, of course it's not a Jewish movie. That much is clear from the movie's poster. Doubt is actually the story of a priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is suspected by a nun, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), of having abused a young boy. Does Sister Beauvier have any proof? No. But she has her certainty, and that is all she needs to lead a full-on crusade to remove him from the parish. Caught in the middle is Sister James (Amy Adams), who initially brings the charge to Sister Beauvier's attention, but has doubts that Father Flynn is actually guilty.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize–winning play, Doubt is one of those awards-bait movies that deal with heavy themes and feature top-notch casts. Sure enough, while it may not be career-best-level, the acting across the board — by those mentioned and by Viola Davis, who plays the young boy's mother — is good. Streep in particular plays one of the most intimidating figures I've ever seen. She's terrifying just looking at her. Set in 1964, a year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Doubt explores not just themes of truth and religion, but also ones of change, and how the forces of tradition try to strike down any attempts to move society forward. Despite this seemingly fascinating subject matter, Doubt often fails to be fully engaging. It can also be slow at times. That said, it can also be intimate and not stuck in its theatricality, always welcome with an adaptation of a stage play.

Overall, I can't say I loved this movie. Perhaps a more intellectual viewer will rate it higher. I'm giving Doubt a B.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

He Never Plays the Fool

From last night's Saturday Night Live, a great jazzy short about Barack Obama.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, the City of New Orleans

God bless the Interweb. I discovered this week that on you can watch the Studio 60 "Christmas Show" episode from 2006. For my money, this was one of the best holiday-themed episodes of any show of all time — and definitely one of the finest hours of this short-lived TV series. The best part of the episode was the closing four minutes when Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and the New Orleans All-Stars performed a New Orleans–style jazz rendition of "Oh Holy Night." The track made it on to that year's edition of A Very Marty Christmas, of course, and my best-of compilation last year. Now you can relive that scene and the entire episode, here on my blog and over at Enjoy, and happy holidays.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

"We're Going on Vacation, Baby"

Lost comes back in a month and a half (on January 21). To tide my fellow fans over, here's a two-minute clip from the season premiere. Uh oh. Looks like Kate's in trouble.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Gay Marriage Will Save the Economy!

Neil Patrick Harris, Jack Black, John C. Reilly, and others sing about Prop 8. Good stuff. Enjoy!


They've Got the Blues

Cadillac Records tells the story of the influential Chess Records label, founded by Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) in Chicago in the 1950s, and home to such legendary artists as Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Little Walter (Columbus Short), and Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles). The film includes all the essentials of the musical biopic, including sex, drugs, and a sketchy manager-type — the title comes from Chess' habit of paying off his successful artists with Cadillacs, instead of giving them the money they're rightfully earned. But it also includes one other very important element: great music. From Waters' "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man" to James' "At Last," the soundtrack is fantastic, even though these are not the original recordings. Thankfully, the acting's good too. Beyoncé is impressive, and Wright is cool as always. I mean, Beyoncé was good in Dreamgirls, but she's better here. Whenever she sings, director Darnell Martin just stays with her and lets the song (and her singing) speak for itself. The actors don't always disappear into their roles (Mos Def as Chuck Berry is one example), and I could have done without the narration, but just when you start to think the movie's too conventional, another great song will pipe into the speakers and it'll get right back on track. Cadillac Records won't win any awards, but if you're a fan of the Chicago blues scene, as I am, then you may just enjoy this one. It's a pleasant surprise that I liked more than I expected to. I'm giving Cadillac Records a B.

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Seriously Dark

I love this video and this site, and totally agree: The Dark Knight has been the best movie to be released so far this year. This well-made clip certainly backs up that claim. And on a related note, this is bull crap. And on another related note, the movie comes out on DVD this coming Tuesday. I can't wait to watch it again.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Kids These Days ...

Alright, I get it. It's called public transportation for a reason. I have to share the subway with other people, I have to be tolerant of their annoying behavior, and I have to be considerate and flexible even when other people aren't. But it's now a day and a half after my morning commute yesterday and I'm still annoyed.

It was Monday morning, the day after Thanksgiving weekend. No one wanted to go back to work. I sat on the T, in my regular seat, peacefully reading my magazine, minding my own business. The rest of the train, though it was crowded, was pretty quiet (all things considered). Then, at Warren St., some kids (two guys and three girls) got on and began to talk like the train was half-full. In obnoxious, profanity-laced dialogue spoken in a heavy accent that screamed "townie," they discussed drug use and all the things they'd tried and wouldn't ever try, how a "chick" can have sex with an older "dude" but a dude can't have sex with an older chick because that'd be illegal, and other similar topics. Again, none of this in anything close to a "soft" or moderate volume. Plus, they were standing near the door, and not even moving when people would need to get off. Somewhere around Kenmore, someone broke wind and they spent five minutes talking — out loud, and in pretty gross fashion — about how bad it smelled and who among them was the one who did it. One kid even started to make farting noises and motions (i.e.: lifting up his leg). This was all going on right in front of me. And I was still sitting there, trying unsuccessfully to read my magazine. Counting the stops until I got to Park Street. Of course, they were on the train with me the entire way there.

I'm tempted to say these kids were lower-class, but that would mean they'd have to have some class, and clearly, they kids had none. And I know their ages because they each went around saying how old they were, and the oldest was 17. So I mentally threw up my hands, and in my best "Damn, do I feel old" inner voice asked, What's wrong with these kids today? Don't any of them have any respect or consideration for others around them? (And I know I'm not the only one who has had that reaction; Alicia wrote something simiar on Friday.) So yeah. Most days I like my commute on the T. But yesterday ... I couldn't get to work fast enough.


Monday, December 01, 2008

It's Pretty Ugly

There are a lot of children who will go to see Shrek the Musical and will love it. And then there are a lot of adults who will go — with or, in my case, without children — and will wonder why this is a Broadway show at all and not an attraction at Universal Studios. Because while Shrek the Musical is a colorful, cute, and mostly enjoyable show, it doesn't belong on Broadway. With top tickets costing more than $100, you half expect to get some rides with your admission.

This theatrical adaptation of the Oscar-winning animated film (which officially opens on December 14) tells the same basic story as the film: Shrek the ogre just wants to be loved. But it tries to deepen that plot by adding a heavy-handed message about tolerance and acceptance. Now, for example, not only are all the varied fairy tale characters like the Three Little Pigs and Pinocchio outcasts and comic relief, but they also have identity issues — here celebrated in a song called "Freak Flag," which calls for tolerance. This can be funny, until you start to hurt from being hit over the head so many times with the same themes. I mean, Milk has a similar message, but it's communicated in that film in a much more subtle and graceful style.

On the good side, the songs here are more tuneful and memorable than those in, say, Young Frankenstein, and the sets and costumes are colorful, fun, and totally appropriate given the source material. Daniel Breaker, who plays Donkey, has a great singing voice and I enjoyed his songs — even if he makes the character more effeminate than Eddie Murphy's version was (are you picking up a trend yet?). Christopher Siebert plays the diminutive Lord Farquaad mostly by standing on his knees, a gag that generally works pretty effectively. As a result, Farquaad's scenes are some of the funniest ones in the show. I also enjoyed some of the in-jokes about shows like The Lion King and Wicked.

But yeah, despite the attempts to broaden the story, Shrek the Musical is nothing more than an adaptation of an animated film. And unlike The Lion King, it doesn't try to be more that that. As a result, the show too often strands some very good actors — like Brian d'Arcy James, who plays Shrek, and Sutton Foster, who plays Princess Fiona — with nothing more to do than make some pandering farting and burping jokes, or mimic the well-known film actors' performances. James even maintains Mike Myers' Scottish brogue, though not always successfully. After this and Young Frankenstein, I really hope Foster will choose a next role that's less cartoony and that will be more worthy of her talents, like Thoroughly Modern Millie was. She deserves better, as do most of the other actors here.

Admittedly, when I decided to see Shrek, I wasn't really anticipating an instant classic show. (Why did I see it, then? Curiosity, I guess, and because I'd included it in a recent article.) On some level, when you see a show on Broadway you hope for something with a little artistic ambition. This one just doesn't have enough. Which is not to say I didn't enjoy Shrek the Musical. It's just that I wouldn't really call it worth seeing unless you're a child.