Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wow. What an Improvement

Holy crap. The new Star Market in Chestnut Hill (which opened yesterday) is awesome. Finally, we have a supermarket worthy of the zip code — one that's a huge improvement over the old one. I went to check out this glorious place after work last night, after weeks of waiting for it to open (months, actually, considering how long the place was under construction). Suffice it to say, the wait was worth it. I mean, I know I get a little excited sometimes about silly stuff. But man, this was an impressive place. I walked up and down the aisles a couple times, and just kept saying "Wow."

Any brand-new store is going to be spick-and-span clean when it first opens, but this Star Market glows. It's a beautiful and bright store inside and out, with fun design touches and a vastly improved and increased inventory. For example, the rows aren't numbered. Instead, they're named after local streets (Pond St., Walnut St., Boylston St., and so on). There are so many yogurts in the yogurt section (see above), that I could probably try a different one every day for three months. Prepared food options include fresh pizza, sushi, sandwiches, and a noodle bar. Buy too much? Don't worry: A conveyor will bring your entire shopping cart down while you take an escalator. And, no surprise given that it was opening day, customer service people are everywhere waiting to guide you to where the food item you need is or to make the checkout lines go quicker. And speaking of which ...

If I had anything to complain about, it's that there weren't enough self-service checkout stations (only four). Standing there in line holding my wicked-hot custom-made stir-fry, I had to wait till some super-slow folks finished acclimating themselves to the technology. But no matter; my food was still steaming hot (and tasty) when I got it home, and my hands cooled off quickly enough. And I know the conventional wisdom is that there will always be stupid people in front of me who hold up the works at the self-service checkout stations. That's never going to change.

In short, the new Star Market is wicked cool, and I just hope that it stays that way. Soon, I'm sure, the place will be overrun by the same folks who don't know how to park in one spot, and who mess everything up, and it'll be just like any other supermarket. But for now ... holy crap, is it great. Can't wait to go back on Sunday to do my actual weekly shopping run.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Follow Me

It's no secret that I love Facebook. I enjoy reconnecting with old friends, getting to know new ones even better, keeping up-to-date-with people I know (even if we're not actually "in touch"), sharing interesting items and news stories, and most fun of all, coming up with amusing status updates — even if many of them are just song lyrics. Facebook has become nothing short of an addiction for me; it's a routine, a site I check often throughout the day, and one I genuinely love visiting and spending time on. Facebook's a community site, and while it's not perfect, I tend to find value in being a part of it every day. And, it's a site I feel I've become "good" at using.

On the other hand, I've never quite understood Twitter. How can you really say anything of value in 140 characters? Do I really need to see the random Tweets of random celeb folks and other people? Why would I want to "follow" someone if all they did was link to other sites? What is with the people who seem to Tweet all the time? And isn't Twitter really just a marketing site now — a place for companies and celebs to promote themselves? Sounds like a waste of time to me. You can have your Twitter, thanks. I'll stick with Facebook.

But last week, when I was at the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer, everyone, it seemed, was on Twitter. It was topic number one in a few of the sessions. One of my coworkers was meeting all kinds of people he had Tweeted with in the weeks leading up to the event, and adding new Tweeters to his Follow list. And I was actually enjoying following the Twitter stream of the folks in attendance, and Tweeting on my company's corporate handle.

Not surprisingly, then, over the weekend, I finally decided to sign up for my own Twitter account in an attempt to understand just what all the hoo-hah was about — and, you know, because of my need to be in "the cool crowd" and all. My first Tweet? "As VP candidate James Stockdale once said, 'Who am I? Why am I here?' Thus begins the search for intelligent life on Twitter." Cute, perhaps. Maybe even a little cliched. But you'll surely agree that it's nothing terribly exciting. In truth, it's about as deep as my first blog post was four years ago. Then again, I think it's appropriate for the medium.

So I've been Tweeting, and a few days into my Twitter Adventure, I'm still of mixed opinion on the site. On the one hand, I enjoy the challenge of condensing my thoughts to 140 characters or less each time I post something, and I like Tweeting random non sequiter statements. I like that I don't have to write every "status" as a third-party statement about myself, like I do on Facebook. I like some of the back-and-forth "dialogue." John Mayer lives up to his billing as an engaging Twitterer, as does Jimmy Fallon. (Mindy Kaling, from The Office, is good too.) I think it's cool that the official handle for the TV show Modern Family is following me. And I like being part of an international conversation.

But I still think much that passes as "content" on the site is just text messaging on a public scale. Not having too many followers yet, it's hard to really feel "engaged" on the site. I prefer how you can comment right below people's posts on Facebook, and not how replies get lost in the endless stream of Tweets. And the celebs I'm following? Do I really need to know that a certain young starlet (who shall remain nameless) just got a new cell phone? No, and that was one of the more interesting things she's Tweeted recently. (They can't all be John Mayer, I guess.) This particular Tweeter is, like, all about the site and she post all the time. Seriously, girlfriend needs to step away from the computer a bit more often. (Though full disclosure: I am going to keep following her.) I think my lowest point so far was when I actually considered Tweeting a message to another beloved of mine on Monday night to tell her I didn't enjoy the latest episode of her TV show. (Thankfully, I didn't do it.) Oh, and I still refuse to follow Ashton Kutcher, so I guess that's a good thing.

I guess the question is, do I really need to be a king of all media? No. So for now, I'll reserve judgement on Twitter and I'll keep devoting more of my attention to my Facebook account — and this blog, of course.

That said, I'm not giving up on Twitter just yet. I'd like to try and make my Twitter feed something as fun as my Facebook page is, and not become a statistic. So, if you'd like to help me grow into my Twitter handle (and I hope you will, despite the absolutely glowing endorsement here), go ahead and follow me: I'm @martinlieberman. I'll try and make it worth your while.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

It Was a Beautiful Day

People often ask me, "Martin, if you don't like cold weather, why have you stayed in the Northeast your entire life?" And invariably, my answer is, "Because of days like today." There was a perfect blue cloudless sky, color-changed leaves everywhere, temperatures in the no-jacket-required range, and people out and about. All of it added up to a glorious day here in the Boston area. And it was especially great because yesterday was such a wet, gloomy day, so it made me appreciate today even more.

Specifically, I took a drive up Comm Ave., from the Star Market in Auburndale home to the Boston College area, and I passed so many picturesque sights that at many points, I thought about turning on the video camera feature of my iPhone and documenting the drive for posterity. If I wasn't behind the wheel, I surely would have done that. I almost wished every traffic light was red so I could stop more often to take in all there was to see along the way — sights like a giant yard sale going on in someone's driveway.

Instead of a video, you'll have to settle for these two pics I took near the intersection of Route 9 and Hammond St., in front of the new Star Market, and this appropriate quote from U2: "All the colors came out ... It was a beautiful day!" Glad I got out to enjoy it.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

The American Way?

I was in Chicago (or, more accurately, at a hotel near O'Hare) this week for the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer. Great time, a very worthwhile couple days. But don't you hate it when a nice trip is ruined by the ride home?

Here's what happened: My two coworkers and I were scheduled to be on the 7:40 American Airlines flight out of O'Hare Thursday night, but we got to the airport a little early so that we could try and go standby on the 5:55. No surprise, we were not the only ones with that idea, and we weren't so lucky. So, we decided to grab some dinner and wait. The weather outside was bad; it was raining pretty hard. But planes were still taking off, although some were starting to be delayed — including ours, which we learned was pushed back from 7:40 to 10:30. (Holy delay, Batman!) Um, that sucks, we thought, and we ordered another round of drinks.

A couple hours later, though, some odd stuff started happening: We saw that the flight to Boston scheduled for 9:35 had also been delayed, but only until 9:55. Why was a flight scheduled to take off after ours, that's going to the same destination, leaving before ours? How does that happen? Why was our flight delayed nearly three and a half hours (at this point, the departure time had changed to 11:00), and this one only 20 minutes? That's very wrong, we thought. Of course, by the time we noticed this, it was too late to try and get on the flight.

And then, around 10:40, we made our way to our gate, where we found just about nobody waiting for the flight. That's because the time had been moved up to 10:45. We just barely made it! Given how rare it is for a flight to take off early, and given how long this one had been delayed for, why wasn't there an announcement made over the public address system? How much would that have sucked if we had been at the airport for six hours and then ultimately missed our flight?

I can think of worse things for American Airlines to have done than to delay us for 3.5 hours, and to tell us early enough so we didn't have to stress. It's not like they kept pushing back the flight by 30 minutes or an hour at a time, and we had to sit there not knowing what was going on. And it's not like we were stuck on the plane waiting for it to take off, or anything like that, either. And it's not like the pilot overshot the runway on his way into Logan Airport. And, truth be told, it wasn't so bad hanging out waiting for our flight; we ate, we drank, we watched the ballgame, and we had a good time.

But seriously, American. What was up with that scheduling? We should have left before the 9:35 flight did. Isn't that what being in line is all about? And given the late hour and the few people still left in the terminal, couldn't you have made a loud-enough announcement about pushing up the departure time?

And, because our flight was delayed for such a long time, aren't you supposed to offer us a voucher or something? Isn't that what most airlines do in that situation?

I know the weather and the delays weren't your fault, but I still think you could have handled things a little bit better.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

A Star Is Born

It's a pretty exciting thing watching a fresh face in a film, and in An Education, Carey Mulligan gives the kind of performance that announces herself as this year's "it" girl. Starring as Jenny in a coming-of-age romantic drama written by the British novelist Nick Hornby, Mulligan is the kind of actress who commands your attention first because she's adorable and then because her acting appears so effortless and natural. She's this year's Ellen Page or Marion Cotillard, or to borrow an oft-heard comparison, she's the new Audrey Hepburn. Expect Mulligan to get a lot of love this awards season and be a frequent presence on red carpets.

An Education tells the story of Jenny, a smart 16-year-old British schoolgirl in 1961, who has plans to go to Oxford. One day, Jenny meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), a sophisticated older man who shows her a much more exciting life than the one she knows. David is like the answer to Jenny's prayers, and he's everything she thought she'd never find. But is he too good to be true? The title of the film pretty much tells you that Jenny will learn a pretty big lesson by the time everything's over, but it's the journey here that's most important, not the resolution.

I could wax rhapsodic about Mulligan for days — she starts out adorable and then changes her hair and adds some makeup and becomes even more beautiful, while never losing that girlish charm. At one point she tells a teacher, "I feel old, but not very wise," for despite acting like a grownup among David and his friends, she's still very young and has a lot more to learn. Mulligan is so charming, so lovely, that she helps to cover over those predictable elements of the plot. You know where everything's going, but you've so invested yourself in Jenny that when she learns the truth about David, you're just as heartbroken as she is.

Mulligan's performance is matched by nearly everyone else in the cast — Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson, et al. — and Hornby's screenplay is simple (though not simplistic) and elegantly written. An Education is worth seeing for the acting and the engaging story, but mostly for Mulligan's wonderful performance. I look forward to seeing her in more roles very soon. An Education gets a B+ from me.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

You Call This Love?

The first Massachusetts location of the chicken fingers–only fast-food chain Raising Cane's opened in Boston this weekend on Comm Ave in the B.U. area, and because I was in the neighborhood — and I like a good chicken finger — I decided to stop in and check it out. The place was not what I expected. Instead of a menu that offers various flavors of fingers (you know, like BBQ, honey mustard, terriyaki, sweet-and-sour, buffalo, etc.), the place only sells basic fried chicken fingers in four combo combinations that include crinkle-cut fries, Texas Toast, and a beverage (some also add cole slaw). Oh, and of course, they all come with the special "Cane's Sauce" — a condiment that no one behind the counter would identify or describe for me when I asked about it.

With such a laser-like focus on one food item, you'd think these chicken fingers would be good, right? Well, maybe it's unfair to judge a place when it's only been open for two days, but ... well ... my fingers were fresh — I liked that — but they were also greasy and slightly undercooked. The fries were nothing special. The Texas Toast, that was good. And the dipping sauce? Well, it tasted like a cross between Russian dressing and BBQ, and while I would have preferred a straight-up BBQ, it wasn't bad. (A Google search when I got home told me it was a mix of mayo, ketchup, worcestershire sauce, garlic, and pepper.)

But here was the kicker about the experience: There are flyers on the counter with the "menu" on one side and the history of the place on the other. And there's a pretty significant — and ironic — typo right at the top. Click on the image over there. Do you see it? Yes, that's right: The word 'quality' is misspelled 'qaulity.' Ummm ... oops. So because I'm an editor and I thought I could save the place some further embarrassment, I brought this to the manager's attention. He responded by telling me about another typo on some wall decor that explains the chain's history. Great. What does that say about the place?

Suffice it to say, I was not that impressed with Raising Cane's. Food quality was average, and presentation was below that. The place makes a big deal about how it only has "one love," but if this is what they call love, then I'd hate to see what happens when they're not so devoted.

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A Real Wild One

It's hard to believe, but I don't think I ever read the book Where the Wild Things Are when I was a kid. (Yes, I know. I had a deprived childhood. And I have since corrected this.) I can safely say that will not be the case when I have a son. Nor will he be denied the pleasure of seeing the movie Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers' big-screen adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic. The film is an often-beautiful one that is a real departure from most other children's movies, and it's well worth seeing. In fact, the older you are, the more you may appreciate it.

In Wild Things, Max is a lonely boy with few (if any) friends. What he does have is an active imagination, a sense of adventure, and a hot temper. When he acts out one night and disrupts his mother's date, she sends Max to his room, but he instead runs away and sails off in a boat, ending up on an island that's home to a bunch of strange-looking "animals." Max is appointed king and declares, "Let the wild rumpus start!" The island is a place where whatever you want to happen can happen, and Max finds himself at home among the creatures — especially Carol (voiced by Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini). But of course, these Wild Things teach Max some valuable lessons and eventually he wants to go home.

Yes, the movie expands on the book a lot, but Jonze and Eggers' screenplay does so in a way that doesn't feel padded, and it treats both its source material and the audience (those of all ages) with respect. There's a wonderful scene where Max and Carol are walking in a desert landscape talking about how one day the sun will die. That's not the kind of thing you see in typical children's movies, and it'll probably lead to a lot of difficult conversations when parents are taking their kids home. It helps that Gandolfini's voice is modulated just right here; his performance overall is one of the movie's best surprises.

Max Records, who plays Max, is a great find. He captures the loneliness and adventure and imagination of the role, and isn't cute or cloying. And even though he's surrounded by creatures that look like overgrown Muppets, you believe it all, never once thinking they're all puppets with people inside. The cinematography is good, the music (by Karen O) is alternately haunting and playful, and the other performances are just right too.

Most refreshing, however, is how well Wild Things taps into the real emotions that so many children have, and by that, I mean it doesn't treat them in a simple way. Who among us has not felt lonely or angry, or wanted to escape? Yes, those are themes common to many Disney films, but here, it's heartbreaking watching Max at the beginning when his snow igloo is destroyed, and seeing how he deals with his anger — and how his mother deals with it too. No wonder Max wants to throw on a wolf costume and be something (or somewhere) else.

Where the Wild Things is an impressive film, a classic that deserves to be seen by children of all ages. I can't wait to show it to my own. I'm giving Wild Things an A–.


Friday, October 16, 2009

There's No Shame in Losing

Well, so much for my clothes fitting better, and any thoughts I had about losing weight. Yesterday at work I participated in a munchkin-eating contest, and to cut to the chase, I ate 77 of those glazed bites of, um, air-puffed sugary cake. Why? I don't know exactly. I mean, one line of thinking was that if I could handle Old Country Buffet, how hard could it be to eat a few munchkins? But it was fun. (And then it sort of wasn't.) And what may stun you is that 77 only earned me fifth place. Yes, that's right. The winner ate a whopping 105 munchkins — and he probably could have eaten more.

So what was the deal with the MEC? Why did we do it? There was no reason. It was proposed by one of the departments, and as soon as folks heard about it, they signed up to participate. A total of 18 people took part, including two women. We all paid $11 each, and rumor has it the coordinators purchased 1,400 munchkins from Dunkin' Donuts for us to eat. 1,400!!! (That's about 77 per person.)

The way it worked was this: We started with a box of 25. When we finished that, we got a plate of 10, and we'd be given 10 more for as long as we could keep up. And then, at the end of 30 minutes, whoever had eaten the most munchkins would win. Actually, it was whoever had put the most munchkins in their mouth would be the winner. Which is why at the buzzer, two guys stuffed a handful in and then had a hard time swallowing them. We only ate glazed munchkins — which had its pros and cons — and could not dunk them while we ate. Water and other beverages were allowed, however.

If you're curious, there was no secret to how I was able to eat 77 munchkins (and do so rather easily), although I think the combination of eating a little lettuce and taking some Tums beforehand helped. It certainly vaulted me above the people next to me, who only ate 60 (yes, I said only). Actually, I had every intention of quitting after 75, but another plate showed up so I kept on keeping on and managed to eat two more.

Amazingly, I wasn't even sick after those 30 minutes. Full, yes. But not sick. Instead, I was on a sugar high for the rest of the day, bouncing off the walls and unable to focus on anything. And no, I didn't eat anything else. Not even dinner. In fact, now that all the dust has cleared and I have figured out that I basically ingested about 3,850 calories in only 30 minutes (nearly double the suggested daily allowance), it would probably be good if I didn't eat another thing for a little while.

Kobayashi I am not. And that's more than okay with me.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tupelo Honey

I'm a fan of any place that demonstrates good customer service, so I thought I'd post something here about my meal last night at Tupelo, a southern food joint in Inman Square. My friend Nina and I ate there for dinner, and to make a long story short, her food was not to her liking (it was too salty and a little overcooked). So even though she had eaten about half of it, she said something to the waiter, and he offered to get her something else. Not only did he bring that something else, but he also brought her a side dish that she had asked about earlier but hadn't ordered. In addition to being very friendly, the waiter checked on us multiple times to make sure we were alright, and always had a smile on his face.

The kicker to the experience is that when the check came, neither Nina's original dish, the replacement, or the extra side dish was on it. That showed a commitment to customer satisfaction that's pretty rare these days, especially at a time when many small businesses are feeling the pinch of a tough economy, and we were really impressed. And for the record, I very much enjoyed my meal. I had the barbecued half chicken; it was prepared well and was delicious.

Tupelo was chosen as the Best Restaurant in Inman Square by Boston magazine earlier this year, and it's not hard to see why. I'd recommend this place and look forward to going back.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Singing Its Praises

It's a couple weeks into the TV season, and I'm happy to report that I don't watch as much TV as I thought I would. For example, I fell two weeks behind on The Good Wife and Cougar Town, and decided not to catch up. Eastwick I never gave a chance. And Community I gave three episodes, and then decided to switch to Flash Forward. Oh, and I never did work House into my viewing schedule. It's all good. I knew I'd never watch that much, and I never wanted to either.

That said, if there's one new show I've fallen for and never miss, it's Glee. I haven't gotten to the point where I'm scheduling my week around it, or refusing to go out because it's on, but I don't go to sleep on Wednesdays without watching that night's episode. And my iPhone is filled with the songs from the show. And it's topic number one at the office when I get to work on Thursday mornings. And I share clips and articles on Facebook all the time. And I've convinced other folks that they need to watch.

To be fair, Glee is not the best show I watch. But it's one of the most enjoyable, week-after-week, even when the episode is lackluster. Maybe I give the show a long leash, but a bad episode of Glee is still better than a typical episode of Community was.

So why do I like Glee so much? Here are some of the reasons:

1. The music. With one exception, every episode of Glee has featured the cast's performances of songs from the last three decades. Multiple genres have been covered, from rap ("Gold Digger") to rock ("Don't Stop Believin'") to country ("Last Name") to pop ("Halo"). Sure, some of the covers have been sung more theatrically than songs on American Idol, and the lip-synching hasn't always seemed "real," but when the cast nails it, they really nail it. Case in point: the cast's version of Queen's "Somebody to Love," which I am not embarrassed to tell you has been the most-played track on my iPhone in the last month. It's so good and definitely does the song justice. You can download it (and other songs from the first few episodes) and decide for yourself right here.

2. Lea Michele. Much of the credit for how good the songs sound goes to Lea Michele, who plays Rachel Berry on the show. Lea, a Broadway veteran who starred in the original cast of Spring Awakening, just outshines everyone else in the show's glee club. To put it simply, she's got an amazing voice. Lea is a small woman, but her voice is large and powerful and impressive. Any song she sings lead on is great. I'd be surprised if she doesn't put out a solo record before long. (Oh, and of course, she's damned cute too.)

3. The writing. Glee was created by Ryan Murphy, creator of Nip/Tuck, among other shows, and it reflects that kind of off-kilter sensibility. This show is not a squeeky-clean portrait of high school. The premise may sound like High School Musical, but Glee is not a show that Disney would ever air. The writing is sharp, sarcastic, good, and often, laugh-out-loud funny. Especially when it's spoken by ...

4. Jane Lynch. The undisputed VIP of Glee is comedian Lynch, who always gets the best lines and delivers them with such acidity and deadpan humor that you'll do a double-take to make sure you heard them correctly (and can remember them later). "I always thought the desire to procreate showed deep personal weakness." "I've got a satellite interview. That's lingo for an interview, via satellite." "That was the most offensive thing I've seen in 20 years of teaching — and that includes an elementary school production of Hair." Lines like these and Lynch's delivery of them are why DVRs were invented, and they are the stuff that great Facebook status updates are made of.

Glee is not a show for everyone, but it's a show for me, and maybe those reasons will give you an incentive to tune in tonight, Wednesday, at 9 p.m. on Fox. I hope you'll give it a chance to win you over too.

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A Concert Like This

The tour is in support of an album called All I Ever Wanted, and while I've been a fan of Kelly Clarkson since her days on American Idol, I can't say seeing her live has always been a top priority of mine. Nevertheless, there was I at the Agannis Arena Tuesday night with hundreds of teen and pre-teen girls (and their parents), singing along with hits like "Since U Been Gone" and "My Life Would Suck Without You." I may not have been the most enthusiastic one in the audience, but I still knew most every word.

Truth be told, I didn't go to the Kelly Clarkson show to see Kelly Clarkson. Rather, I'm an even bigger fan of her opening act, Eric Hutchinson, who I've written about previously on this blog. If you don't own Hutch's CD, Sounds Like This, then you really need to pick it up. He's got a Jason Mraz/Ben Folds/Jack Johnson/John Mayer kind of vibe, and songs like "Oh!" and the single "Rock & Roll" are jangly, upbeat, and infectious. Hutch only performed for about a half hour, but I enjoyed his set — especially the aforementioned songs and "You Don't Have to Believe Me." If only he had more time. (The other opening act, Parachute, has one song that I know and like very much, "Under Control," but I have to admit, I was a little disappointed by the band's performance of it.)

But back to the main attraction. Despite being blinded by the spotlights and feeling overheated — "If I had a better body, I'd do the show naked!" she announced early on — Kelly gave an enthusiastic performance. Backed by an 11-piece band, she sang most of her biggest hits (no "A Moment Like This," thankfully) and threw in a few well-chosen covers too — including Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight," the Black Keys' "Lies," the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," and a mash-up of Alanis Morissette's "That I Would Be Good" and Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody." She changed the tempo and arrangement of some of her songs (most notably, on "Miss Independent") and she tried real hard to add a bit of rock edge on multiple occasions.

Alright, so maybe Kelly was a little too chatty between songs, and didn't always come off as the sharpest tool in the shed. Seven years after winning Idol, it's clear she's still pretty excited to be able to do what she's doing, and even better, she's not just some stupid teen pop act who's no more than what you see in her music videos (Britney Spears, I'm talking about you). The girl's got talent and taste to spare, and she can back up her visual appeal with strong pipes, so if she wants to make some silly comments before she sings another number one song — sing, not lip-synch — I say good for her.

And speaking of which, she sounded really great. I think. I mean, the Agannis is a hockey arena and not a great concert venue, so the sound quality isn't all that good. Quieter songs like "Already Gone" and "Behind These Hazel Eyes" came off better because Kelly's voice was not overpowered by the instruments and you could actually hear her.

All told, it was a pretty good show. And the fact that we got our tickets just the day before on Craigslist and paid less than face value made it even more worth it. (Further proof that Craigslist is a great place for ticket buying/selling.) I was a bit surprised that the Agannis was only about 3/4 full — especially given that the Flight of the Conchords, of all acts, had sold out the place back in April — but oh well. I've always enjoyed Kelly Clarkson and her music, and while I can't say this was my favorite concert, I don't see any reason to stop liking her.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like ...

There was a chill in the air yesterday, brought on partly by the combination of a Pats loss and the end of the Red Sox season, and, of course, the colder temperatures. Add to that the fact that I spent a chunk of the weekend changing over my closet from short-sleeved clothes to long-sleeved ones, and it was hard to believe it was only October 12, because it felt like early November, at least.

But then, while wandering the aisles of Target in Watertown, my eyes saw a sight that warmed my heart: A full display of Christmas music on sale! And, as if right on cue, my iPhone told me I had a new email, and it was the weekly new-releases message from Newbury Comics. What's going on sale this week? Well, it's funny you should ask. Today marks the release of new holiday music collections from (deep breath) David Archuleta, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Irish Tenors, the Jackson 5, Barry Manilow, and Manheim Steamroller, among others. And yes, there was a whole display wall at Target just waiting to be filled by those new releases.

You know, most people hate it when stores jump the gun and start putting out their Christmas stuff before Halloween's even over. Not me. I say, "Oh happy day! Christmas is coming!" Or, to quote one of my holiday favorites, "I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now. For I need a little Christmas, right this very minute."

So yes, you know where this blog post is going. If new holiday music and decorations are out, then it can only mean one thing: It's time to start the annual compilation process for A Very Marty Xmas. Last year I decided not to make a mix, but maybe this year it'll return. Only time will tell if these new releases will be of high enough quality to make a mix equal in quality to A Very Marty Xmas 2007. Stay tuned.

For now, if this is what the change of seasons means — that Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat — then I say it didn't get cold early enough. Woo hoo!

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Monday, October 12, 2009

The Rabbi Is Busy

To say that Larry Gopnik, the lead character in the new film A Serious Man, is "put upon" is putting it mildly. The guy, a college professor, has so much weighing on his shoulders that Hercules himself probably couldn't handle it. His wife suddenly announces she wants a divorce. His son, days away from his bar mitzvah, continually complains about the poor TV reception. One of his neighbors is scary. Another torments him by sunbathing in the nude. A student is bribing him for a better grade and threatening to sue him for defamation. The tenure committee will soon decide on Larry's professional life. No rabbi ever seems to have time for him. His brother ... well, you get the idea. Larry's got tsuris. Why is all of this happening to him, and why now?

Suffice it to say, the answers aren't easy. And actually, they're not plentiful either. Instead, this comedy keeps adding more and more to Larry's agita, without offering him much relief. For us, the audience, the film is a giant case of schadenfreude, and man oh man, is it ever funny. Do you need to be Jewish to get much of the humor? No — but it'll help. As with many of the Coen brothers' films, the quirks are plentiful. Also typical is the excellent acting across the board; Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Larry, is particularly good. And kudos as well to the casting directors. The Coens have written a gem of a film, one I really really enjoyed. Do I wish it didn't end rather abruptly? Yes. But then again, solving all of Larry's problems would probably take more time than we all could imagine.

A Serious Man is, ahem, seriously good. I'm giving it an A–.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Greed Is Bad

God bless Michael Moore. When he gets going making an argument, there's just no stopping him. He's got such a knack for making persuasive — and entertaining — movies that clearly push an agenda but aren't like sitting through a thesis presentation. Films like Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine presented Moore's worldview regarding the Iraq War and gun control, and regardless of what you thought of Moore's arguments, he made them convincingly and with passion.

Now Moore is back with Capitalism: A Love Story, a treatise about how our economic system is flawed and only benefits a small fraction of our country. Moore benefitted from having the economic collapse happen while he was making the film last fall, and he takes full advantage of the situation.

Capitalism is a great movie. It uses real people to put a human face on the economic mess we're in, and predictably makes fun of politicians and other authority figures. What's refreshing, I suppose, is that nobody is safe; Democrats and Republicans both earn Moore's wrath — as do the big banks and Wall Streeters, health care insurance companies, mortgage brokers, and real estate predators. Yes, Barack Obama is made to look good, but it's not him that Moore celebrates, it's the spirit that was awakened as a result of his election. Capitalism will make you laugh and cry. It'll infuriate you and spur you to take action (for example, check out What you won't be able to do is look at your employer or your paycheck the same way.

I do have one bone to pick, though. The film's target is capitalism, but it's really not. Moore is, as usual, taking issue with greed. Now, I'm not the world's most knowledgeable economist, but when you think about it, isn't at least some bit of capitalism good? Don't we all celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit, and isn't capitalism a big part of that? Given the choice, wouldn't most people choose to make more money? What Moore is really saying, I think, is that on the surface, capitalism isn't bad. It just needs to be checked, limited, and shared. And Moore includes a couple examples here of how businesses have been able to make money without being unfair or cruel to employees or the community. I walked away from Capitalism more fond of the smaller businesses that treat others with respect, and I doubt I'm the only one.

Anyway, Capitalism is another strong film from Michael Moore. It's a quick-moving two hours and 20 minutes, and I'm giving it a B+.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

I Wonder What's in Store

People who know me know I get excited about the silliest or simplest of things. Like the fact that when I went to get gas last night, the price was just $2.39 a gallon — six cents cheaper than the place I drive by on the way to work every day. What can I say? I think it's a good thing that it doesn't take much to make me happy.

So you can only imagine my reaction when I noticed that the Star Market at the corner of Hammond St. and Route 9 would be re-opening on October 30. This supermarket, the closest one to where I live, has been closed for more than a year, and in that time, I've had to "slum it" by going to the stores on Beacon St., Western Ave., or out in Auburndale (yes, that was sarcasm). How nice it will be to have a supermarket so close again. And not just any supermarket, but one that's been torn down and rebuilt from the ground up. This new one is shiny, nicer and, well, new. It's much bigger, and I'm thinking it'll have much more in it than the old one did.

I remember back when I was at Brandeis and the new Star Market (or was it Shaw's back then?) opened on Main St. A friend of mine and I went for some groceries one day, and I don't feel embarrassed to tell you it felt like we were at Disney World, the way the place was so bright and clean, and how it had so much more in it than we expected. And yes, it even felt like the folks were cleaning up after us — wiping the floor, adjusting the food on the shelves — as we walked down each aisle. This was a supermarket I could enjoy going to.

My simple-minded self is already starting to get worked up over the prospect of such a place opening in just three weeks and about how much more fun — and more convenient — it will be to do my food shopping there. I may even have to cook a meal to celebrate.

- - - - -

Update 10/31: There's a lot in store

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Not Quite Asstastic

The new film Couples Retreat is the kind of middle-of-the-road comedy that'll play real well when it hits cable a year from now. Starring Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, and Kristin Davis (among others), the film is about four couples who go to an exotic couples therapy resort. Wouldn't you know it, each pair learns to love each other again. Insert Vaughn spazzing out, plenty of eye candy (for the men and the ladies), some laughs, some pretty scenery, and you've got this film. While neither bad nor classic, Couples Therapy aims for the mainstream and lands there pretty smoothly. I'm giving it a not-asstastic B–.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Sign of Aging #17

Sunday, when I was out and about, I bumped into a coworker of mine. Actually, I also bumped into a former coworker, one I hadn't seen in about six years. He was with his kids, and he said to them, "Come meet my friend, Martin." Not 30 minutes later, I saw this current coworker, who was also with her kids. She introduced me too, except she told the kids that my name was "Mr. Lieberman." Forget my bad back or my noisy-neighbor complaints. When people start calling you Mr. whatever, you know you've gone past the getting old phase. Now you're actually old.

When did this happen? I don't mean to imply that it did in that half hour between introductions. Have I really grown up so much? Was my former coworker still seeing me through the prism of my younger days when he last saw me, and my current coworker seeing a different person? Does she really see me as a mature, wholly professional, grown up, ahem, adult? Maybe it was my unshaven face that made me at least look aged. Maybe even rugged, dignified, and tough. Maybe it was because I was outside an L.L. Bean store, and not the Gap, where I had seen my other friend. It certainly wasn't the fact that I had just gone to see a kid's movie — alone, no less. But yeah, in that moment, when she told her kids to say hello to "Mr. Lieberman," I felt old.

Sigh. There's no turning back now.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Pie in the Sky, and Other Foods Too

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. It's a weather forecast that makes my stomach do a dance of joy. And watching the movie of the same name does something similar to my psyche. I'm happy to say that Cloudy is just as goofy and just as fun as I hoped it would be. It features a great voice cast (led by Anna Faris, Mr. T, and SNL's Bill Hader), colorful animation, impressive 3D effects that aren't cheesy (no pun intended), and a wish fulfillment plotline that children of all ages can enjoy: nutty inventor creates a machine that converts water to food, and soon cheeseburgers, ice cream, hot dogs, steaks, sandwiches, eggs, pancakes, and yes, meatballs, are raining down on the town. Cloudy is the kind of movie you can go to sans children and not feel embarrassed about. It's not quite Pixar-quality, but it's close. So I'm giving this one a B+.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

To Tell the Truth

Mark Whitacre is a character I can totally root for. A complete B.S. artist, the guy tells so many tall tales, and in the new movie The Informant!, it's nearly impossible to know if you can believe anything he says. Steven Soderbergh's latest stars Matt Damon as Whitacre, an employee of Archer Daniels Midland, an Illinois corporation that specializes in providing corn-based products and other additives for foods around the world. Whitacre's a noble suit, or so he thinks, and at least according to his narration, something's not right. So he volunteers information to the FBI and becomes an informant for them. But over time, the facts don't add up and Whitacre becomes as suspect as the stories he tells.

Soderbergh's film parallel's Whitacre's stories in that the more outrageous and unbelievable they become, the more fun the film is. At first, The Informant! feels like a farce where the humor is slightly forced — and aided by Marvin Hamlisch's whimsical score. But it gets better with time, and eventually the film becomes quite comical as we watch Whitacre squirming out of one situation or another by twisting his story and introducing a whole new lie. He really does believe he's doing good by ratting out the corporate malfeasance, and thinks he'll be regarded as a hero by his coworkers when it's all done. Suffice it to say, The Insider this is not. But The Informant! is a decent film that'll make for a good rental a few months from now. I'm giving it a B. So there.


Saturday, October 03, 2009

High Five for Me

I saw on an old high-school classmate's Facebook page recently that he had gone skydiving. Initially, I was psyched for him, but then I actually watched the video he had posted. I have to admit, it kind of freaked me out. Even virtually, the sight of someone falling through the sky at a speed of nearly 120 miles per hour was scary.

Which makes today all the more special for me. Five years ago this morning, I went and jumped out of a plane with nothing on my back but a parachute (alright fine, there was a professional on my back and he was wearing the parachute). Why did I do it? Because I had recently turned 30 and I wanted to do something crazy. At the time, my life was pretty static, and I needed a bit of a jump-start. So, I made the decision and just committed to doing it. In the weeks leading up to October 3, I never allowed myself to be scared. In fact, as the day drew closer, I only grew more excited and yet more calm. And then I did it, and it was one of the best things I've ever done.

When I landed, all I wanted to do was get back in the plane and do it again. And I think the fact that now, five years later, I'm perfectly happy staying on the ground doesn't really change the sense of accomplishment I still feel. I mean, really. Who'da thunk it that a wimpy guy like me would have taken himself up 10,000 feet in the air and basically bellyflopped out of a plane — with another person strapped to his back. And I even lived to tell the tale. Imagine that.

So today, I wish myself a very happy five-year anniversary. Go me.

Friday, October 02, 2009

It Makes Me Happy

When it comes to golf, my style of play is more Happy Gilmore than Tiger Woods. There's no grace to admire, no skill to strive for. It's just me, a ball, and a club that makes it go very, very far the harder I hit it. My sport has always been softball, and if I had to pick an ideal position to play, it'd be designated hitter (which, of course, doesn't exist in softball). So maybe that explains why my return to the course this summer has been, shall we say, less than successful.

For the past five months, three coworkers and I have ventured each week to Stone Meadow, a local executive golf course — which means that in addition to a driving range, there's a short, 9-hole course where everything's a par-3. The simple point is this: it's not a course for distance hitters. In fact, other than at the driving range, there's no need for a driver. The pitching wedge and putter get more use than any other clubs, and I'm not a very good putterer.

Anyway, even though I'd taken some lessons a few years back, my coworkers and I are all at the beginner level. (Two other guys joined us from time to time, and they knew what they were doing, but mostly it's been us four amateurs.) Perhaps it shows how good we are if I tell you that I don't believe any of the four of us ever got anything better than a 36 (do the math — "par" would be 27). One week we had to institute a seven-stroke limit on each hole. And my last time out, I shot a 47.5. Yes, a forty-seven and a half. That's because on one hole, I couldn't remember if I had shot a 5 or a 6, so I called it a 5.5. Suffice it to say, we weren't taking the game that seriously.

And that's the whole point. Repeated play definitely made us all better — collectively, at least — but mostly, it was a lot of fun getting out every week and playing. Some good laughs were had, and even if we didn't do that well, we enjoyed ourselves. So today, when the six of us close out the season by hitting a real course after work to play nine real holes of golf (or as much as we can fit in before it gets too dark or cold out there), it should be much more rewarding. Especially for a player like me, who can't wait to grab his driver and just swing away as hard as he can.