Sunday, November 28, 2010

Four Years

It takes a special kind of grandmother to make each of her grandchildren feel like they were her favorite. And that's exactly the kind of person my Bubby was. She made each one of her seven grandchildren feel like they were the center of her world. Today, on the fourth anniversary of the day she left us, I miss Bubby more than usual. No one loved my grandmother as much as I did, but the thing is, I know I'm not alone in that sentiment; my sister and my five cousins would probably tell you the same thing about themselves. And isn't that the ultimate tribute to what a great woman she was? Each one of us wants to be the person who loved her the most. All these years later, we're still competing to show who had the closest relationship with her, and who loved her more.

I will tell you I still think of Bubby every day. I still find myself wanting to call her and tell her something exciting. To make her laugh. To make her happy. Today especially, I just want to hug her one more time and have her tell me how much she loves me. What I wouldn't give to hear her voice again.

Four years later, and I still love and miss my Bubby very much.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Show Girls

The good news is that Burlesque is not the big, hot mess it might appear to be from its trailer and poster. And sure, that's damning with faint praise, but c'mon ... this film just looks like it's going to be awful — or at the very least, tailor-made for a certain demographic that's not the one I'm a part of. It's got Cher as the owner of a burlesque lounge in Los Angeles, and Christina Aguilera as an impressionable-but-smarter-than-she-looks, small-town girl, diamond-in-the-rough performer, whose undeniable talent saves the club when it's in financial dire straits. And as if that's not enough, Stanley Tucci plays a gay sidekick (again). But I kinda liked the film anyway.

In her film debut, Aguilera does a decent job. She's not great, and not awful. She has her moments, but really, it's all about her singing. Those pipes are hard to deny. The best parts of the movie are, no surprise, whenever she's on stage performing — probably because they're like good music videos. The soundtrack features a few songs that burrowed themselves into my brain and are still swimming around (damned ear worms). And there's eye candy for both genders — the cast also includes Julianne Hough, Kristen Bell, Eric Dane, and Cam Gigandet. Some credit does go to the film's writer/director, Steve Antin for not asking anyone to do much heavy lifting (other than the singing and dancing, of course), and generally taking his film seriously enough to deliver something that's sometimes very enjoyable to watch.

That said, part of me kind of wishes Burlesque actually was the hot mess it promised to be. That might have made it a more fun way to spend my time. Sometimes it comes close — some of the dialogue is groan-worthy, Aguilera's character inhabits so many screen cliches in the first 15 minutes, and Cher's big number late in the film is a great time to take a bathroom break. The plot itself strains credibility more often than it doesn't. And I wish there was less handheld cinematography; at times, the film was harder to watch than Cloverfield was.

But in taking itself seriously and not going over the top, Burlesque ends up being a mixed bag: It's not the kind of film that's going to win Oscars, but it's not a prime target for Razzies, either. It's odd wanting a movie to be worse than it is, but that's because Burlesque caught me a bit off-guard. I liked it enough to rate it a B–.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm Thankful for ...

It's the day before Thanksgiving, so I'm going to continue my annual tradition of giving thanks for some of my favorite things. Here's a partial list, in no particular order:

* Dinnertime conversations with my niece, Abby
* Chocolate chip cookie dough pankcakes at In a Pickle
* Counter seating at Johnny's Luncheonette for those Sunday mornings when I go solo and those weeknights when I decide I just don't want to cook dinner
* "Secret" bathrooms
* Content
* My friends — the real ones and the ones on Facebook
* The "players to be named later," aka Thing 1 and Thing 2, aka Mutt and Jeff, aka Abbott and Costello, aka my soon-to-be-born identical-twin nephews
* Twitter, for introducing me to people, places, and things I'd never know otherwise — and for bringing me and my coworkers free ice cream over the summer
* Argyle, especially on Wednesdays
* My bed
* My iPhone, for preventing boredom anytime and anywhere
* Corduroy pants
* The Matty in the Morning show, for getting me to work every day with a smile on my face
* Ruth's Chris Steak House, and the fact that I have friends who also like to go
* Businesses that take advantage of Foursquare and make checking in everywhere I go worthwhile
* Cupcake Monday — or any day, really
* The fact that Modern Family and Glee are as good or better in their second seasons
* And of course, all of you readers, whether you check the site on your own, whether you were brought here by a link on Twitter, or you read my posts on Facebook. This blog is five years old and I'm very appreciative that after all this time, there are still people who care about the silly stuff I post here. Thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's a Russian Novel

When Love and Other Drugs first begins, you may think you're in for a very long next two hours. After all, there's Jake Gyllenhaal dancing around an electronics store to the sounds of Spin Doctors' "Two Princes." Ugh. But damn if the film doesn't eventually win you over. In the movie, Jake plays Jamie, a charming, slutty sales rep for Pfizer, who meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway) during one of his sales calls. We learn during that first meeting that Maggie has Parkinson's Disease, and despite that, even though it's completely out of character, somehow Jamie falls for Maggie. Of course, that's after the two have sex. Lots and lots of sex. Let's just say if you need a reason to see this movie, that's it, and because you see plenty of the two actors. (Not that I'm complaining; they both look great.)

But anyway ... with Maggie's illness looming, you know Love is going to take a more serious turn eventually. And thankfully, the movie doesn't become a total weepie. That's partly because Anne and Jake make such a winning couple, and the script by director Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, and Charles Randolph isn't a total downer. Zwick has made a film with plenty of intimate, sexy moments, and he's drawn some good performances from his two leads. Yes, there are some missing details, and some plot points that strain credibility, but Jake and Anne's great chemistry (yes, better than they had in Brokeback Mountain) makes it easy to overlook them. Thankfully, Love is much better than its opening few minutes would lead you to believe. I'm giving it a B.


Monday, November 22, 2010

What's the Story?

Morning TV news programs get a gentle tweak in Morning Glory. In the film, Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller, an ambitious television producer, who's hired to breathe life into Daybreak, the fourth-place network morning show. Her solution is to hire gruff veteran newsman Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), who begrudgingly takes the job of sitting alongside the show's longtime host, Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), even though he wants nothing to do with the silly antics and lightweight stories. But when the show is threatened with cancellation, all must do whatever it takes to keep Daybreak on the air.

Morning Glory was written by Aline Brosh McKenna, who also penned the screenplay for The Devil Wears Prada, and there are plenty of similarities between the two films. For example, both feature a perky, go-getter heroine who puts work ahead of her personal life, and both feature winning performances by their lead actresses. In this case, McAdams deserves all the credit for why Morning Glory is enjoyable to watch, even when the rest of it isn't. McAdams helps the screenplay seem better than it is. She's playing such a peppy, high-spirited person — and she does it so well — that I half-expected Ford to bark at her the famous Lou Grant line, "You've got spunk!" (Instead, he tells her she's got moxie.) But it's true. After starring in Wedding Crashers, McAdams stayed away from the breezy, lightweight romantic comedies she was offered, and she held out for a decent one. I couldn't help but think that if Katherine Heigl, who starred in another McKenna film, 27 Dresses, had played Becky, this would have been a much worse film.

Which is not to say that Morning Glory is a masterpiece, or even on the same level as Prada. The first half of the film is better than the second, and other than McAdams, none of the other leads have much to work with; they can't save the one-note characters they're playing (Ford especially). And, it should be noted, it's hard to take a film too seriously when it's centered around a television network with the unfortunate name of IBS. Yes, Becky saves the show and manages not to lose her boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) in the process. But the fact that she makes Morning Glory watchable is her real triumph. I'm giving the film a B.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Step Back Into Christmas with Me

This really is the most wonderful time of the year. In fact, every year I can't wait to get past Halloween because that means one thing: It's time to start work on the year's edition of A Very Marty Xmas. 2010 will actually be the 10th anniversary edition of my annual mix. That's right, I've been making holiday mixes for 10 years (that is, if you don't count 2008, which I skipped), and many folks have told me my mixes have become an essential part of their holiday. That's pretty amusing — and impressive — considering I'm Jewish and all.

Anyway ... I'm now waist-deep in the compilation of this year's mix. I've been scouring the Interwebs and iTunes, and it's amazing to me that even after all this time, there's still plenty of good stuff to be found. I think this year's mix is going to be another winner — it had better be, given how good last year's mix was.

You're probably gonna hear Train's new song, something off Mariah Carey's new Christmas album, another cut from Straight No Chaser, and others. I spent a good chunk of the past weekend listening through a few new albums to see what I could pick out. The Puppini Sisters earned a spot, as did Pink Martini, and so did the cast of Glee, albeit it just barely. Yes, the Glee Christmas album isn't all I'd hoped it'd be. It's an overly serious and not very fun collection. The best track, "Last Christmas," was already on last year's mix.

But I've found some other good stuff, like a track by a singer named Lenka and a cover of "Fairytale of New York" by a guy named Bob Schneider. I may throw in Neil Diamond's version of Adam Sandler's "Chanukkah Song," and pair it with a Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert duet called "Can I Interest You In Hannukah?" Right now, Gretchen Wilson's "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" is on the list, but it's early in the process. Who knows if she's got staying power. Maybe I'll bring back a song by Harry Connick Jr. after a few years' absence. Maybe this will be the year that Dido's "Christmas Day" makes it onto the mix after many years of near misses. And maybe I still haven't even found that instant classic I've never heard before. Even after 10 years, I'm blown away by the amount of music I have to choose from.

Point is, it's the most wonderful time of the year right now because I'm immersing myself in these awesome, fun tunes and I'm enjoying the process of narrowing down the list to only the best songs I can find. The goal is to have the mix locked down or near-final by the time Thanksgiving rolls around so I can crank out the mixes and get 'em into people's hands by mid December. Tough decisions will be made between now and then, but in the end, it'll all be worth it.

Got any recommendations or songs you hope will make the cut this year? Let me know.

A Very Marty Xmas 2009
The Best of A Very Marty Xmas
A Very Marty Xmas 2007
A Very Marty Xmas 2006
A Very Marty Xmas 2005

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rock Solid

What would you do to save your own life? In 2003, Aron Ralston was out climbing in Robbers Roost, Utah, when he got stuck in a canyon — his hand trapped under a boulder. Six days later, dehydrated, hungry, and nearly out of options, he somehow found the strength to free himself by first breaking his arm and then amputating it from the elbow down. Ralston told his story in the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, and now it's come to the big screen in the thrilling film 127 Hours.

Co-written and directed by Danny Boyle (who won an Oscar for directing Slumdog Millionaire), 127 Hours is just about the most exciting movie it could possibly be. Like Boyle's other films, and despite its seemingly quiet story, it's infused with life, and it comes alive through vibrant photography, a generally upbeat soundtrack, and a fantastic performance by James Franco, who plays Ralston. The first 10 minutes effectively capture Ralston's adventurous spirit, and the film somehow stays at that height, even when Ralston isn't doing much. 127 Hours is like Cast Away, if Wilson was a boulder and Robert Zemeckis had a fire lit under him. It's like Into the Wild might have been if Christopher McCandless had tried a little harder to live. 127 Hours is better than both of those films — gorier and more stomach-turning too — and when it's over, you'll feel inspired, elated, and overcome by the strength of the human spirit. It's a must-see. I'm giving 127 Hours an A–.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Two for the Road

I wanted to like Due Date, but I'm calling it a disappointment. Not much to say about it, other than I saw it and didn't love it. My rating's a B–. How's that for a short review?


Monday, November 01, 2010

Saved by Bella Swan

In Welcome to the Rileys, James Gandolfini trades in his Jersey brogue for a midwestern twang and stars as Doug Riley, one half of a still-grieving Indiana couple that lost its 15-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident eight years prior. Doug has dealt with the loss by being emotionally distant, and his wife, Lois (Melissa Leo), has dealt with it by not even leaving the house. Then, while on a business trip to New Orleans, Doug meets Mallory (Twilight's Kristen Stewart), a stripper with a strong resemblance to Doug's daughter. Feeling like he has a second chance at the life he was denied, Doug decides to stay in NOLA and take care of the young lady — a move that prompts Lois to finally leave the house and join him.

Directed by Jake Scott, Ridley's son, Welcome to the Rileys is fine — nothing more, nothing less. The screenplay (by Ken Hixon) has its holes, and at some points, Gandolfini's accent doesn't help matters. But he's alright, and so is Stewart (who shows barely any skin, despite playing a stripper). The best of the three is Leo, whose performance is understated and seemingly heartfelt. I'm not expecting Welcome to the Rileys to stick around in theaters long, and I can't really say I would have missed it had I not seen it. So I'm giving it a C.