Generally, I'm not a fan of New Year's Eve, but this year especially, I'm not looking forward to it at all. You see, unlike many people I know, and contrary to general trends in the economy, 2009 was a great year for me. Really and truly it was. So perhaps I jumped the gun when I called 2008 "The Year of Martin" because I enjoyed 2009 so much more.
Here are some of the reasons why.
2009 was the year I started a new job. And yes, I know you're not supposed to make your job the source of so much happiness, but I can't help it. I feel truly lucky to have a) found a new job, b) found this job, c) found a job at this company, and d) found a job with these people — ones who love argyle, golf, and cupcakes as much as I do. Every day I go to work happy, and every day I leave happy. I couldn't say that a year ago.
2009 was the year I traveled a lot (at least for me). I went to Miami, Washington D.C., New York, and Chicago for work, but I also spent my own personal time in Florida and Chicago (plus two days in Michigan City, Indiana, for Fourth of July).
2009 was the year I got to sit on a jury and deliberate a case — and I actually enjoyed it.
And that's why, when the clock strikes midnight tonight, I'll be the one raising a glass not to the future but to the past. I think it's safe to say that by comparison, 2010 is going to suck. (Though I hope not.)
Just wanted to post a quick little thing about my experience last night at Post 390. I'd wanted to go to this Back Bay hot spot for a while now, and had been there for drinks a month ago, but it wasn't until last night that I actually sat down to eat. Sara K and I both tried the Beer and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese (yes, I said Beer and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese), and it was fine, but the place truly won me over with its dessert. I had the Chocolate Layer Cake, with "Mom's fudge frosting" and vanilla creme, and all I can say is wow. Just wow. The cake was moist, very sweet, and nearly perfect in every way. The frosting was an ideal compliment, and just incredible. It was worth trudging out on a very cold evening and waiting more than a half hour for a table just to eat this very tasty treat.
I eat a lot of cake — indeed, too much cake — so it takes a lot for me to really rave about one piece in particular, but I have to say, this Chocolate Layer Cake (not to be confused with the Sliver of Dark Chocolate Cake) was worth a quick public shout-out. So there you go.
In the film A Single Man, Colin Firth plays George, a gay college professor still mourning the loss of his partner, Jim (Matthew Goode), who was killed in a car accident eight months earlier. The film follows George over the course of one day in 1962, as he prepares to end his life by committing suicide. As George remembers the life he shared with Jim, he is also consoled by his closest friend, Charley (Julianne Moore), who is also still getting over a lost love. Then hope and a chance at a future comes in the form of an attractive student (Nicholas Hoult, all grown up since most folks saw him in About a Boy), who shows interest in George and thinks he can help his professor break out of his depression.
Directed and co-written by the designer Tom Ford, A Single Man is one of the most stylish movies I've seen recently. Every frame, every detail, is impeccably arranged and composed — almost to the point of overdoing it — with colors becoming muted and brighter throughout. No surprise, Firth is also very well dressed; all of his clothes were designed by Ford himself. Thankfully, there's also plenty to feel. Firth gives a heartbreaking performance that's surely one of the year's best. Much of the film finds George in quiet contemplation, and the look of sadness on Firth's face is just devastating.
Thankfully, the film does not stay downbeat throughout. That said, this is clearly not a happy, festive movie. (And, by the way, it is not to be confused with A Serious Man, even though both are set in the 1960s and focus on a college professor.) Rather, this is a showcase for Firth, and a chance for Ford to indulge his cinematic interests. And indulge may be the operative word here. Ford does overdo it a bit, and that becomes a distraction, but so be it. Colin Firth makes the movie worth seeing, in spite of his director's meddling. But that's why I'm only going to give this movie a B.
He's an Italian treasure. The "essence of Italian style ... the king of Cinema Italiano." But in the movie Nine (an adaptation of the Broadway musical, which was adapted from Federico Fellini's film 8½), writer/director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is grappling with a midlife crisis that has given him an epic case of writer's block. Add to this the pressure he is receiving from all sides: his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penélope Cruz), his muse (Nicole Kidman), journalists (including one played by Kate Hudson), his confidant and costume designer (Judi Dench), producers, and more. Suffice it to say, it'll take a miracle for Guido to make another film, and until then, he'll keep dangling along the various women, investors, and members of his creative team until he finally gets another idea.
Nine is, like the man at the center, not perfect. But man, did I ever enjoy it. The film is big, splashy, elegant, sexy, bold, tuneful, and really fun, and it's an incredible advertisement for visiting Italy. Nearly every performer gets his or her own chance to shine, even if one or two of the songs do let them down (Dench's "Folies Bergère, for example). Day-Lewis is great, though his singing and speaking voice sometimes made me think of the Count, from Sesame Street. And I was really impressed by Cotillard's singing voice, particularly in the song "My Husband Makes Movies." Heck, even Kate Hudson is good, and that's saying something.
Like in his big-screen version of Chicago, director Rob Marshall stages the musical numbers as if they're the thoughts in one of his character's head (in this case, Guido). While I liked that device more here than I did in Chicago, I think that in his next movie, Marshall is going to have to find a new gimmick. At one point, Guido sings, "I am lusting for more. Should I settle for less? I ask you, what's a good thing for if not for taking it to excess?" That applies to Marshall's filmmaking, specifically his less than subtle staging of some of the numbers, a few of which are so overtly sexual that he almost robs them of their sexuality (no pun intended). Which is, partly, why Cotillard's performance stands out. She's so graceful, so underplaying her role, that she's really able to shine.
I have some issues with Nine, but I still found myself smiling throughout, and I was happy to be singing the music in my head when it was over (maybe because "Be Italian" is a total earworm song). I'm not giving the movie a 9 rating, but I figure a B+ is close enough.
I wish I had more to tell you about Sherlock Holmes, but to be honest, it's not really worth a very long blog post. Soon after it was over, I had pretty much already forgotten about it. Now granted, I saw it after a bit of an exhausting weekend, so I was dozing off during the movie, but doesn't that just tell you enough right there? Despite a crackling performance by Robert Downey Jr. and an impressive production design, this Sherlock plays more like a typical bromance/buddy-cop comedy transposed to the 1890s. It's big and macho, not exactly loyal to the original Arthur Conan Doyle vision, and while it's not bad, it's not great either. It's just above average, so I'm giving Sherlock a C+.
When I say that visits to Boston by my niece, Abby, are getting to be routine, that's not meant to say that they're getting boring. Far from it. What I mean is that Abby comes to Boston twice a year and I can look forward to them now because I know that come December, she'll be here (same with Labor Day weekend). It's predictable and routine, in the best possible way. And this past weekend's visit didn't disappoint. We had a fun brunch at my place on Friday (with Barrah, Farry, and Scott), a visit to the Children's Museum on Saturday, lots of Wii, lots of "Old MacDonald" (aka "EIEIO"), and lots of fun. If anything, it was too quick. Thankfully, I took lots of pictures, and that will help preserve the memories. Want a look? Just click here.
Every year, I'm asked what I do on Christmas. After all, despite my love for the season, I don't officially celebrate the holiday. Invariably, my answer involves a movie and Chinese food, because that's what most Jews do on Christmas (there aren't that many other options available to us). So instead of giving the same answer again this year, and at the risk of repeating myself, let me share this classic Saturday Night Live clip with you to better explain what I and my fellow members of the Tribe will be doing after sunset this evening.
For all of you who do actually celebrate, I wish you a very Merry Christmas!
Anyone who knows me would probably tell you that while I'm adaptable and flexible with changing situations, I don't exactly seek out change. To wit: I stayed at my last job for nearly seven and a half years, lived in my last apartment for more than six, and I drove the same car for nearly 11. It's that last example that's most significant now, because finally, just two months shy of that 11-year anniversary, I have bought a new car. (Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to me!) I made the deal over the weekend (before the snow) and picked it up last night. And it's a beaut: A shiny black 2010 Honda CR-V LX. After so long behind the wheel of a Civic, it's going to be a bit of an adjustment, but man, am I excited about my purchase.
My friend Kelly went with me to Honda Village in Newton Corner Saturday afternoon ('cause she's awesome), and, well, I'll cut to the chase and say that about four hours later (!!), after a bit of back and forth negotiation, I walked out with a deal done. (Another reason we enjoyed the meal Saturday night.) Folks like Zach and James were real patient, and while I didn't pay exactly what I wanted, I wasn't unhappy with the experience or the price, or what I got for my trade-in. I'd definitely go back to Honda Village to buy another car (whenever that time is), and I'd tell anyone else who wanted to buy a Honda to go there too — especially, of course, during the last couple weeks of the calendar year. (Oh, and do tell them I sent you. There's a referral bonus in it for me.)
How cool was it to get in my new car and see that it had only three miles on it? And how nice was it to sit in a more spacious vehicle? And of course, how beautiful was that new-car smell? It was all great. Now comes the fun part: I get to drive around in a brand-new car, with new features, and none of the age that my old car was showing (screechy brakes, for example). Oh boy. In this case, change is great.
James Cameron's Avatar sure is a feast for the eyes. The film takes place on the faraway planet of Pandora, where paralyzed Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has come to infiltrate the tall, blue, powerful, and prideful residents using a genetically engineered Avatar. The tribe, called the Na'vi, are standing in the way of American industrialism, and a full-scale military operation — led by Stephen Lang's gruff, buff, and tough general and Giovanni Ribisi's slick, determined businessman — has been set up to get at the precious mineral that's sitting just below where the Na'vi live. Cameron has created the world of Pandora completely from scratch, and, with the help of some high-tech 3D tools, it's photorealistic, lush, and truly breathtaking. What a technical achievement.
If only the film was more than just a visual treat. Granted, I'm not much of a science fiction fan, but I sat through much of Avatar wondering, who cares? I just wasn't all that invested in the plot or the characters. And it didn't help that Cameron is not the world's most subtle filmmaker. He employs James Horner's score throughout to orchestrate your emotions, the plot follows a rather predictable arc, the real-world metaphors are awfully heavy-handed, and some of the acting is kind of wooden (I'm talking about you, Sigourney Weaver). Oh, and peek-a-boo: "I see you" is not the classic line Cameron thinks it is.
Despite all that, it can't be emphasized enough what a great looking movie Avatar is. This one was made for a big screen, and it needs to be seen with 3D glasses on (it's just the latest film this year to use the technology effectively to enhance the picture, not as a stunt). It took Cameron a dozen years to make another feature film after Titanic. If only he spent time on other things besides its aesthetic qualities. I'm giving Avatar a B–.
I think that if I could, I would like to eat at least one meal every week at Ruth's Chris Steak House. Sure, I'd probably wind up (at least) 100 pounds heavier, but what the heck? The food is so good there, and I can't recall a time when I haven't walked out extremely full and extremely happy.
Case in point: I went to Ruth's Chris Saturday night with my friend Kelly — it was her first time — and instantly we were smacked in the face with the aroma of steak, well seasoned, on a sizzling-hot plate. Yum. Since neither of us had really eaten all day, we couldn't wait to order and get our food. For me, it was the usual: Lettuce Wedge salad (with the lemon basil dressing), Filet (medium rare), shoestring potatoes, and the Chocolate Explosion cake for dessert. Heck, I was enjoying myself so much that I even tried some of Kelly's creamed spinach — and liked it! Wow wow wow. This meal was so yummy. So good. So damned filling — though I swear, I probably could have eaten more of that steak. It goes down so easily, and for some reason, it never seems to fill me up entirely.
Seriously, I so so so so so so so love this restaurant. Maybe you've heard me say that once or twice (or three times). But every time I go, I feel like I have to post a rave on here. No other restaurant regularly provokes such a response in me. For steaks, there is no better place.
We had a great time Saturday night. Now I can not wait to go back. Again.
It got very cold here in Boston this week, and for me, among other things, that meant it was time to stop pussyfooting around and break out the winter coat. Normally, that would bring me little joy. After all, putting on a heavy coat (and scarf) for the first time in the season means an acceptance that winter is actually here, and will be for the next three-to-four months (at least). But Thursday I felt an odd sense of comfort when I put on my winter coat. As I unzipped the pockets, there, right where I had left them, were my gloves and my 180s ear warmers. And in another pocket was a packet of tissues. It's kind of nice to know that nearly nine months after I hung up my coat for the year, these things were still in the same place and ready for one more season of use.
It's a minor thing, I know, but when you hate winter as much as I do, anything that makes these frigid days more bearable is appreciated.
It isn't complicated to see why It's Complicated is going to be a big, fat hit this holiday season. For one thing, you have an audience-pleasing plotline: 10 years after their divorce, Jane and Jake (Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin) rekindle their flame, even though he has remarried. At the same time, Jane is pursued by Adam (Steve Martin), the architect she has hired to do work on her house. Can Jane and Jake keep their passion alive — and a secret from their kids? Suffice it to say, the film's title isn't a random choice.
More important than the plot, though, is the fact that the three actors are clearly having a blast on screen, and that makes for a very enjoyable movie. Streep hasn't been this natural and loose in quite some time (not even in Mamma Mia!), and Baldwin, well, he couldn't look happier. The two have a really great chemistry together. Martin makes a fine romantic adversary, but he mostly plays straight man to Baldwin and really only gets a chance to cut loose late in the film after his character has smoked some weed. In a supporting role, The Office's John Krasinski earns some laughs playing Jane's future son-in-law, and the only one to know her secret.
It's Complicated was written and directed by Nancy Meyers, who also wrote and directed Something's Gotta Give. She specializes in these sorts of slick, mainstream-oriented, women's wish-fulfillment movies. Jane, for example, isn't just played by Meryl Streep, she's a successful chef and restaurateur who lives in a picturesque house in Santa Barbara and has three seemingly perfect children. Oh, and even though she's in her late 50s, she's being pursued by a guy who looks like Alec Baldwin. Also worth noting: Jane may have her own issues, but it's the man in this story who's got the real problems.
Anyway, the film itself has its own problems as well. For example, the cast's easygoing vibe clearly translated into a too-leisurely paced film. Despite how much fun it can be, the film probably would have been better if it was tightened up a bit. Are there some predictable scenes and some pandering laughs? Yes. Has Streep been better elsewhere? Yes. But it's still a joy to watch her play someone "real" for a change — no accent, no gimmick, etc. — and to see her paired with someone as charming as Baldwin. It's Complicated may not be perfect, but it sure does go down easy. I'm giving it a B+.
In the new film Brothers, Natalie Portman stars as Grace, a woman who learns her Marine soldier husband, Sam (Tobey Maguire), has been killed in battle in Afghanistan. Distraught, she finds comfort in her till-then irresponsible brother-in-law, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), who also becomes a father figure for Grace's two daughters ... until Grace learns Sam was not killed after all, but had been captured and held prisoner in a mountain village. Suffice it to say, when he returns home, Sam is not the man he once was and things between the brothers and with Grace are a bit tense. If you're thinking this is not the stuff of cheerful holiday merriment at the movies, then you're right.
Directed by Jim Sheridan (In America) and based on a Danish film of the same name, Brothers tells a very current and very unfortunate story in a very spare and intimate style. Acting by the three leads is effective (though I never did buy that Sam was Tommy's older brother), and Portman is especially impressive in a much more grown-up role than she's used to playing. However, the film is a bit slow-moving, and when it ended, I felt a bit relieved. Brothers is the kind of mezza mezza movie that'll eventually make a fine rental. For now, I'm giving it a B.
A friend of mine once told me that if he was ever stuck on a deserted island, he'd want Morgan Freeman with him. His reasoning was that if Morgan Freeman was there, that's the only way he'd know they'd be rescued and that everything would be alright. I thought about that because Freeman's at it again. After years and years of starring in uplifting roles (e.g., The Shawshank Redemption, Bruce Almighty), now he ups the ante in Clint Eastwood's latest, Invictus. Here, Freeman stars as no less an inspiring figure than Nelson Mandela, who brought together the people of South Africa with the help of the country's rugby team nearly 15 years ago. Wouldn't you know it, the role's a natural fit.
To say that Freeman gives a good performance here is stating the obvious; it seems almost too easy. But he's great. So is Matt Damon, who stars as Francois Pienaar, the rugby team's captain. (Damon clearly got back into fighting shape for this role after expanding his size for his role in this fall's The Informant.) Damon doesn't have a ton of dialogue, but he seems to have the accent down and he has the presence of a leader.
Eastwood keeps the action moving, and in his spare but effective style, doesn't hit you over the head with cues to tell you how to feel. Invictus is a much better movie than his Changeling and Gran Torino were a year ago. It's about a rugby team, but it's not about rugby. It's about quiet dignity and leadership, and with his graceful and powerful performance, Freeman demonstrates both. I'm giving Invictus an A–.
Here's something you may not know about me: I absolutely love Christmas music. Seriously. There's just something about it that I can't get enough of. The jingle-jangley tuneage permeates the malls and dominates the radio waves from Thanksgiving to December 25, and it just makes me feel so festive — and yes, I'm Jewish! To spread that joy, I've been making a mix of holiday music every year since 2000, and those who've been listening have told me that A Very Marty Xmas just makes the holiday for them. They say it's as much a tradition to listen to my mixes as it is to trim the tree or party down or bake cookies (no kidding) — which, of course, is partly why I've kept this fun annual project going for almost a decade, and why I've amassed a collection of Christmas music that's larger than any Jew should have.
I'd like to think the 2009 edition has a little something for everyone: There's a Simpsons song and one by Stephen Colbert, a cover of a Who classic (that's for you, AmyMac), some a cappella, two classics by Andy Williams and Tony Bennett, a randy ballad by American Idol finalist Elliott Yamin, a different live version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band than the one you know, the cast of Glee, the return of Mindy Smith, a brand-new holiday song by Bob Dylan (my favorite of the new releases), and much, much more. Even I'm surprised by how much fun this mix is. Hopefully you'll agree.
So without further ado, I present the full track listing for A Very Marty Xmas 2009:
"Sleigh Ride" — The Ventures "Another Christmas Song" — Stephen Colbert "Mele Kalikimaka (Christmas In Hawaii)" — KT Tunstall "Must Be Santa" — Bob Dylan "Christmas" — Rogue Wave "The Christmas Can-Can" — Straight No Chaser "'Cause Christmas Eve Is Here" — The Simpsons "Christmas to Remember" — Gareth Gates "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" — Colbie Caillat "Cool Yule" — Bette Midler "Kay Thompson's Jingle Bells" — Andy Williams "Winter Wonderland" — Tony Bennett "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" — The Chipmunks (with David Seville) "Let's Be Naughty (And Save Santa the Trip)" — Elliott Yamin "Home for Christmas" — Daryl Hall & John Oates "I'll Be Home for Christmas" — Mindy Smith "Up on the House Top" — Jackson 5 "I'm All Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree" — Janey Clewer "Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year" — Rosie Thomas "No Christmas for Me" — Zee Avi "Last Christmas" — Cast of Glee "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" (live 9/19/78) — Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band "River" — Travis "White Christmas" — Raul Malo "Auld Lang Syne" — Brian Wilson
(And yes, in keeping with tradition, this track listing does not include the little sound clips I got off of DailyWav.com.)
I'm so excited to get this year's mix into people's CD players and onto their iPods, and I have been feverishly burning copies every night this past week to meet the expected demand (a new job at a much larger company means a lot more listeners). And as a bonus, anyone who's new to the Very Marty Xmas tradition is also getting a copy of my "Best of" mix from two years ago. It's a Chrismahanukwanzakah miracle!
Just a couple weeks ago, the prospect of a new Very Marty Xmas mix seemed bleak. But I'm glad I changed my mind and got back on the sleigh. Merry Xmas, everybody! Enjoy!
(sing it with me: Reindeer sleigh! Come our way! Ho, ho, ho! Cherry nose! Cap on head! Suit that's red! Special night! Beard that's white! Must be Santa, must be Santa, must be Santa ... Santa Claus!)
In the film Love Actually, Hugh Grant says that if you want to see true love, all you have to do is go to the airport. Well, chances are good Grant's never met Ryan Bingham, the main character in Up in the Air. Love doesn't even begin to describe how Bingham (played by George Clooney) feels about airports and traveling. He's got the whole thing down to a science: what and how to pack, which line to choose at the security checkpoint, how much time he saves by not checking baggage, how to make the most of his per diem so he earns more frequent flyer miles faster, etc. etc. If business travelers are considered "road warriors," then Bingham, who spends around 300 days of his year on the road, is their leader.
In Jason Reitman's excellent film, Bingham is a corporate hatchet man; he travels around the country laying people off — a role conceived because managers are ill-prepared and too scared to do it themselves. As mentioned, Bingham spends the overwhelming majority of the year traveling, by himself, and he detests being at his "home" in Omaha. (In fact, he calls the airports his home.) It doesn't take a genius to pick up on the obvious parallel here: Bingham has designed for himself a life that allows him to avoid making any actual human connections, and his job involves him severing others' connections to people they consider a second family.
And then, Bingham hits some turbulence that shakes up his solitary lifestyle. First, he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), another frequent flyer, and the two develop a relationship based on their mutual love of travel. Then, a new coworker named Natalie (Anna Kendrick) introduces a termination system that would keep Bingham grounded. When Bingham protests, his boss (Jason Bateman) insists Bingham take Natalie on the road with him to show her the ropes.
Alright, enough plot detail. Up in the Air is such a great, American, of-the-moment movie. The subject of layoffs couldn't be more timely, technology as a substitute for actual human contact is a hot topic, and the generational shift in the workplace is on many folks' minds as well. Mix all that together into a smart, sophisticated, funny, insightful, beautifully-written screenplay (by Reitman and Sheldon Turner, based on the Walter Kirn novel), then film it in such a way to make travel both fun and lonely, and you get my favorite movie of 2009, by far.
It helps that George Clooney gives one of his best performances to date, one that looks so effortless that you may not think he's acting at all. He's surrounded by excellent costars: Farmiga (The Departed) makes a great romantic partner, and Kendrick (so far best known for her performances in the Twilight films and Camp) impresses as well. Expect Clooney and Kendrick to be Oscar nominated for sure, and I'm hoping Farmiga gets a nod too.
Up in the Air is one of those very special movies that speaks right to me, taps into some of my own emotions, and gives me hope and inspiration. You'll hear one of the film's lines of dialogue, "Life is better with company," a lot in the coming weeks and months, and Up in the Air makes a strong case for why being alone is really not much fun at all. Go see this one, and see it with someone you can talk with after it's over. I'm giving Up in the Air a solid A.