Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Here We Are, As In Olden Days (Music Review: Michael Feinstein, A Michael Feinstein Christmas)

It's that time of the year again.  Each year, I always make my first Christmas disc review a special. And this year, it doesn't get more special than "A Michael Feinstein Christmas." Feinstein is one of my favorite singers of all-time, and even though I sometimes think his past couple of releases have been uninspired, I still listen, and listen intently. This disc is one half of a two-disc release that was sold through QVC a couple of years ago, and it is worthy because this is its first commercial release. It's a doozy, one of the best Christmas music releases in recent years. Feinstein was the artist who got me seriously interested in exploring The Great American Songbook, and he will always remind me of a more innocent me. From the first here, he captures how, for me, Holiday music should be sung: with sensitivity, emotional intelligence, a whole lotta dose of melancholy. I cannot think of any other singer who can inject pathos into something like "Sleigh Ride," or "Winter Wonderland." And his lyrical interpretation is second to none: listen to the lesser known verse in "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,? and relish in its joy.  When he tears into the Christmas ballad, he is tops. Even well-worn chestnuts like "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," and "I'll Be Home For Christmas" sound brand spanking new sung by him. I love how "Home For The Holidays," a normally somewhat cheerful song sounds wistful here, and his piano intro sets the mood spectacularly. I don't mean to make this disc sound like a slit-your-wrist affair. On the contrary, I think it's hopeful yet contemplative, joyous but inciting reminiscence. Just like the Holidays.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In America (Book Review: Millie & The American University, Annabel Scott)

There are some books that start out with a premise that is so interesting just takes turns to places that you just where you don't want to go. Annabel Scott's "Millie & The American University" starts innocent enough: a British girl goes on a student exchange program to an American University and then it becomes one of those raucous campus comedies that at times I wondered if I were reading a serialization of a Judd Apatow movie. While a lot of people enjoy that kind of thing, it just isn't my cup of tea. There were so many scenes where I just cringed, and some of the situations were tasteless. And I don't even think that Millie, the main character, ;earned her lesson in the end.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Internet Is For Scorn (Movie Review: Men, Women, And Childen)

About a couple of minutes into "Men, Women, And Children," I see in the opening credits that this movie was based on a book by Chad Kultgen, whose books always interest me, even though sometimes those books disgust me (I actually thought I had read this book but realized I have not) Jason Reitman directed this movie, and I think he is one of this generation's most interesting directors, as his movies always say something. In this movie, he captures how we, as a generation, have becoem zombies attached to our smartphones, and how that translates into how we behave, misbehave, and connect with other human beings. Several stories of teenagers and their parents are interwoven - Don (Adam Sandler) and his son (Travis Trope) are both obsessed with internet porn, to the point that for they have distorted views of reality. Rosemarie Dewitt plays his bored wife who goes on a cheating website to connect with another man. It is nice to see Sandler toned down, and he displays enough pathos to be sympathetic. Jennifer Garner is brilliant as a mom who monitors her daughter's every single step online, and Judy Greer is fantastic as well as a mom who caters to her daughter's narcissistic whims. When these all backfire on them, your heart is broken. Ansel Elgort plays a depressive son who gets his kicks from online role playing games. There isn't a bad performance in this ensemble that even when the screenplay gets preachy, you go with the flow. About halfway through the movie, the stories become tiresome and exhausting, but you trust the actors enough that ultimately they win me over. I admit the characters stayed with me after, and made me think.. They may not be the most likeable bunch, but they certainly feel real, and in the end you will not be able to help empathizing.

It Was Not Exactly Paris (Book Review, Bonjour 40, Karen A Chase)

"Bounjor 40," by Karen A Chase, is subtitled "A Paris Travel Log, 40 years, 40 days, 40 seconds," and for a wanderlust like me, seemed to be the perfect book to read. Chase, upon turning forty, planned on living in Paris for forty days, and she updated her friends via her travel blog, with each entry to be read in forty seconds. This book collates all her entries plus a couple of refection essays.  Her premise is brave and innovative, and is something a lot of us would probably love to do (I myself would choose London) However, I found that there wasn't a lot of meat here. Chase writes well, and with a spirit of wistfulness. I just wish there was something else - a love affair, a revelation, a transformation - that gave this book a little bit of depth. Even the touristic locations she chose seem run-of-the-mill, and not distinctive from any other travel book out there. For example, she speaks frequently of Dorothee, a lady who owns a crab restaurant near the corner of her apartment, but we really do not get to know her. We don't even know how they met. Writing the book version gave the chance for Chase to expand on a lot of her entries, but she didn't. A missed opportunity, I would say.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

It Happened In Manhattan (Television Review: Manhattan Love Story)

There is a small trend of rom-com sitcoms this Fall season, and that's a good thing, right? The genre is right up my alley, so I will be watching. First up is "Manhattan Love Story," on ABC. The good thing about DVRing shows is that I no loner need to know when these shows are on. Also, I can watch these episodes right after the other, instead of making appointments to watch them. I have just seen the first three episodes of "Manhattan Love Story," and to be honest, I don't know if I would have kept watching after the first episode if these weren't recorded automatically for me. The pilot is cute enough, but too cute, even for me. Dana (Analeigh Tipton) has just moved to her dream job in New York (working for a publishing company) and she is set up on a blind date with Peter (Jake McDorman) and well, we are supposed to believe that they are meant for reach other. I guess every week we will be encountered with obstacles, and they will persevere. (On the second episode, she catches him on another date, on the third she retaliates by dating another guy, only to realize that guy is gay)  It really is not a bad premise, but my main problem with this is that the chemistry between the two main characters isn't sizzling. It's not a dead end, for sure, and I do see it simmer a little bit better with each episode. Its main gimmick: the Mars vs. Venus thing, seems a bit dated and that concept has been served better earlier this summer in "You're The Worst." on F/X. But the show definitely picked up steam in the next two episodes, and I am glad I gave it a chance, for it has the potential to get really good. So I will keep on watching.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Satisying Quickie (Book Review: Money's On The Dresser, Christopher Daniels)

Christopher Daniels used to be a Las Vegas based male porn star and gay escort and in this book, "Money's On the Dresser," he writes about his experience as those hyphenates.  It's a thin book (176 pages) because, presumably, it only covers a couple of years. And really, it even needs to be edited - some ideas and thoughts are repeated more than once and can really be trimmed. But, this is an honest book: it's insightful, and is told from a very specific point of view that makes it very readable. You may or may not agree with some of his choices. For example, he seems to have a self-destructive streak that can be dangerous, and we really do not see a lot of emotional growth from the first page to the last. But he is young enough to learn from his mistakes, and I do believe he needs to experience some of these trials for his emotional I.Q.  As a read, it's a great and satisfying quickie, which is probably akin to one of his hourly sessions.

It's Barbra's World And We All Just Live In It (Music Review: Barbra Streisand, Partners)

They say an artist's biggest fans could also be their harshest critics.  When I first heard the album in its entirety, I honestly couldn't help but feel disappointed by it. It seemed so...derivative, and lazy. Another duets album? Everyone else have done, and she herself has perfected that formula, so why go back to it again?  The choice of partners is mildly interesting, though ultimately predictable. I was most disappointed by the song selections. What is the point of redoing her biggest hits, and with her now-diminishing voice, the new interpretations would only lend to unfavorable comparison to the originals. And wouldn't it have been nice if Barbra had taken risks and ventured into her partners' musical genres? As much of a cliche as it sounds, I am salivating on the idea of her duetting John Legend's "All Of Me," or John Mayer's "Gravity," for example. Instead, we get them doing songs we've heard her do a million times already.  But as I listen to the album again now, I can't help but like it more. I mean, here she is at &2 years old, still giving her fans music, and I can't help but just feel grateful.  And sure, it's a lazy effort in a lot of ways, but it's still more than anyone else gives us. And yes, there are standout tracks. I am still enamored by the duet with Billy Joel, though they both oversing. Plus, you can sense a real connection with Michael Buble in "It Had To Be You," probably because it was one of the few (only?) tracks that were done face to face. And sure, there was a slight country twang in her Blake Shelton duet, though why she sould want to sing him knowing he is a homophobe baffles me. Still, there are a lot of tracks that did not satisfy me: there were nos parks with Andrea Boccelli, and Josh Groban seemed to be lost in his track with her. And the duet with Elvis Presley makes me cringe, though it really isn't as bad as I thought it would be.  I thought I would never see the day when she would sing "How Deep Is The Ocean," and I am just thankful she sings it with her son here, though I would have preferred a solo version, to be honest. All in all, I am still entertained by it. It may not be the best Barbra album, but for me, it is still infinitely more enjoyable than, say, the new Ariana Grande album, which just sounds so bland to me. So in the end, it's all good.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Untasty (Book Review: I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, Giulia Melucci)

I didn't know anything about Giulia Melucci before reading her book "I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti," and it seems like, after finishing this book, I still don't know her. File this book under "Self-Important Memoirs." I am sure Melucci is a much more interesting person than than how this book presents her. The idea seems fool-proof: her story peppered with recipes pertaining to what was happening in her life. But, there's just no there there. Melucci just goes from one dead end relationship to another, and there doesn't seem to be no emotional growth between her relationships, which really makes this book an untasty experience. Which makes me wonder how stories like these get published, until I realize she worked in the publishing industry and probably used her connections to get a book deal.

That Tricky Tuberose (Perfume Review: Jo Malone Tuberose Angelica)

Tuberose scents are always tricky.  As a note,  either you love it or hate it. And, most people agree that the best tuberose perfumes have already been created (A toss up between Piguet's Fracas or Malle's Carnal Flower) Still, I am always interested with every new tuberose release. I remember a time when I didn't get tuberose at all (too heavy, too antique smelling) but I guess with age and experience, I have grown to love it. It could be hard to wear, and during hot weather days, it is almost unwearable. When I was at the Heathrow Duty Free store recently, I sampled Jo Malone's Tuberose Angelica on my wrist. I was on my way to Istanbul and when we got off in muggy weather, I remember sniffing my wirst and jokingly said, "this smells like cough syrup."  Well, what a difference a couple of temperatures make. Here I am in the desert, on a crisp fall day,with weather in the high 70s, and as I wear this again, I can safely say that this ain't no cough syrup.  Created by Christien Nagel for Jo Malone (one of her last ones before moving to Chanel) Tuberose Angelica is at once delicate and penetrating. It's more a a skin scent, it is more a whisper than a powerhouse, and that's just fine. It starts as a coconut-y tuberose, and is framed by jasmine, sandalwood, and amber. The over all effect is subtle before the herbaceous angelica kicks in, and the tuberose is very much tempered, though it never disappears. It's a very sensual scent, one that penetrates more than shocks, and I think it's very different from a lot of Jo Malone's safe but solid offerings. This lends to a more mysterious wearing, and the "cologne intense" aspect of it hugs you. If this scent were a personality, it would be more an introvert, but once you draw it out, you get to know its complex personality.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Love That Is More Than Love (Book Review: The Greatest Love Story Of All Time)

I always bring a fully-stocked Kindle during my vacations, but more often than not, I get so wrapped up in my destinations that I never get to really read.  I started reading Lucy Robinson's "the Greatest Love Story Of All Time" and I just couldn't stop reading. Perhaps it's because I visited London and a lot of the scenes and locales used in the book sounded familiar that i got really engrossed. or maybe because the book hooks you instantly. The main character Fran just turns thirty and is dumped by her boyfriend, and is told to wait as to why her boyfriend, Michael, broke up with her. Even though you scratch your head with some of the developments,  Robinson makes Fran likeable even if a lot of times you disagree with a lot of her decisions. The last quarter of the book is frustrating - you know that her decisions will come back to bite her in the ass. The final ending is unexpected, as far as these books go, and I don't know if I fully agree with it or not to be honest. But that's life. The book is engrossing enough to make me want to keep on reading.

What If We Fall In Love? (Movie Review, What If)

On paper, "What If" seems perfect for me.  Rom-Com? Check? Cute guy? Daniel Radclife, hello! Meet Cute? Corny, but I eat it up all the time. Yet all in all, What If didn't really satisfy as much as I thought it would. Or maybe I had too much high hopes for it? Or maybe, I am just much too old for these freaking things. Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan play would-be lovers. Do millennials fall in love differently than older generations? Of course not. Love is love, no matter what age or generations. But Wallace and Chantry (their character's names) from the beginning till the end suppress their feelings because of entanglements. I wanted to shout out to the  characters to follow your hearts, you are still young, you can make mistakes. But as such, love is always heavy when you feel it, and when you think it is not working out for you. Radcliffe plays "puppy dog eyes" pretty well and yes he is charming and adorable here. It is nice to see him in a contemporary role, and even better that he speaks in his natural British accent. Here he is swoon-worthy, complete with an attractive vulnerability that will make you just want to take him under your wings. Kazan is initially an odd choice, and her character isn't the most sympathetic. But Kazan has great instincts and she wins you over ultimately. You want to root for these two but hey this is a rom-com, you know what to expect. I wish the movie touched me more, but I felt a detachment from it. Maybe I am too old and know that love is ultimately fleeting. but I do think "What If" is good for at least a lonely Saturday night. Your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Feeling Cruised (Book Review: The Truth About Cruise Ships, Jay Herring)

I am going to be on a cruise in a week so when I saw this book in my TBR pile, I just started reading it.  I wish I could say that I learned a lot from it, factually, but I didn't. This book is more a memoir, but something in it felt not too personal, and on the "fact" side, I felt that a lot of the information were cut and paste from a Wikipedia page. I felt not an ounce of passion from his writing.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Not So Great Gatsby (Movie Review: Affluenza)

When "Affluenza" was likened to "The Great Gatsby" I was instantly intrigued.  Gatsby is one of my favorite novel of all time, and even though I was very satisfied with Baz Luhrman's recent version, I thought i twas ripe for a modern retelling. Sadly, "Affluenza" isn't worth being compared to it. Kevin Asch, who directed this film, doesn't seem to know what to say with this movie. Set in richie rich Long Island, the kids her meander and connect, bu we never connect with them. Setting the movie against the 2008 economic meltdown was an interesting idea, but it did so with such a bland flavor. The acting is good enough: I thought Ben Rosenfeld was a charming narator, and Gregg Sulkin in the Gatsby role pouted handsomely, but they can't save something that is essentially dead on arrival.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Driving Hard (Book Review: Beth Harbison, Driving With The Top Down)

I finished this book last night, and this morning, don't remember a lot about it. Is that a good or bad sign? I looked forward to reading Beth Harbison's "Driving With The Top Down" because I have enjoyed every Beth Harbison novel I have read. I wish I could say that same for this book, but I just couldn't connect and identify with Coleen, the main character. There were interesting plot points from both Tamara and Bitt's stories, but I never felt they were as fully realized as I wanted them to be. I'll chuck this to a late summer spell.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Joan Now, And Forever (Perfume Review: Joan Rivers Private Reserve, Now And Forever)

I've been affected by the death of Joan Rivers at age 81. I remember as a young kid, I used to wait for those times when she hosted The Tonight Show. She had that outrageous sense of humor, and I identified with it so much. I can't say that I understood all her jokes at that time, but I always tried to remember them, and at times even looked up what they meant - and this was before they had Google accessibility. And through the years, I have sort of followed her around, and saw her stand-up act numerous times, even going to her Broadway forays. She still had a lot of performances in her, I felt. It's not like she has retired, and has been out of the public eye. Today I give tribute to her in my own little way by wearing her scent, Now And Forever, from her Private Reserve collection. Now And Forever doesn't really break new ground, as far as perfumes go. But it is a very well done floral with hints of fruit. It's a lively scent, and it wears well. The heart is a floral melange of water lilly, tuberose and honeysuckle. It's a well-balanced concoction, transparent but not too much - there's a definite punch to the flowers. There are hints of peach and pineapple just to balance it, and the fruit never takes center stage. I liken this to a classic Estee Lauder perfume, which is just the kind of style I associate with her. (I read that she wears Patou Joy)  It's wearable, it's elegant, and it doesn't pretend to be anything else but that. I think that's Joan to me, and today i wear this perfume proudly.