Archive | December, 2009

An Entertaining Year

31 Dec

There was a lot to like this year, entertainment-wise. For example, it was inconsistent and frustrating at times, but when it was great, there were few shows I enjoyed as much as Glee. I didn’t read as many books as I have in years past, but I thought Steve Knopper’s Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age was very good. I picked the winner of American Idol as far back as February. Lily Allen, U2, Jamie Cullum, and John Mayer all released great albums. And of course, there were a bunch of impressive movies too.

As of this writing, I’ve seen 48 of the year’s releases (down from 53 a year ago), and if pressed to rank my favorites (not necessarily the best ones), here are the top 10:
1. Up in the Air
2. In the Loop
3. A Serious Man
4. Up
5. Star Trek
6. Precious
7. The Girlfriend Experience
8. Two Lovers
9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
10. Where the Wild Things Are

What were your favorite movies, albums, TV shows, books, etc.? I’d love to know.

Life Was Good

31 Dec

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. Continue reading

This Place Takes the Cake

30 Dec

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.

Man on the Verge

30 Dec

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.

One Hot Number

29 Dec

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 ), 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.

No Clue

28 Dec

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+.

A Christmas Gift

27 Dec

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.

The Night the Jews Control the Town

24 Dec

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!

Love That New-Car Smell

23 Dec

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. Continue reading

Kind of Blue

22 Dec

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. Continue reading

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