Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Music Thoughts: Mel Searle, Serenade In Blue)

Mel Searle is a relatively new jazzette from the Melbourne area and I searched the internet for information about her, and can't find much. I chanced upon her album, "Serenade In Blue," and thought it was pretty good.  Sure, it's not the most original thing in the world (her scat intro on "Blue Skies" is a note for note recreation of Ella's) but there is great energy here, and she has a great sense of rhythm. She skews more jazz singer than lyric interpreter, and there's nothing wrong with that if that is more your speed. The repertoire could use a little more imagination, though she does two songs from "The Sound Of Music" and that is not as common. (The jazzy version of "the Sound Of Music" borders on camp, though) Still, there's a somewhat green talent here and if she gets more mindful of her excesses, she could turn out to be a much more sensitive singer. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Angled Straight (Movie Thoughts: The Last Straight Man)

"The Last Straight Man"  isn't supposed to be a gay love story, but it turns out it is one. Two close friends on the eve of a wedding - one is bisexual and one is straight, and before the night is over they each other. What happens next is one part "One Day," (they meet at the same time yearly) and part "Before Sunrise" (something always happens when they almost get together) What really seems like a bad idea even as I am typing the plot, turns out to be quite good. First off, I don't subscribe to that ultimate "gay fantasy" of bagging a straight guy.  I am in the school that believes a straight guy will never fall in love with another man, and at times this movie preys on that weakness. But we find out that these characters are quite complex, and as we get to know them more and more we get to see the complexities of these people. I was instantly engrossed by the sharp dialogue, and even if you can see the small budget of the film, there are a lot of riches to be mined from it. I gotta admit that the movie made me think. I always say that I get tired of some of these inane "gay" movies, and this one should have fit that bill, but turns out to be an exception. Rent this.  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Messing With Perfection (Book Thoughts: Better Than Perfect, Melissa Kantor)

In Melissa Kantor's book, "Better Than Perfect," Juliet Newman thought she had a perfect life. She is a senior in High School, with a handsome boyfriend, and is on her way to Harvard - until her world starts to fall apart: her parents divorce, which affects her mom's mental health, and she gets tangled with Declan, who is much less perfect than her boyfriend. This is a young adult book, and it is a pretty engrossing one. I couldn't sleep last night, and these characters kept me company. I can't remember the last time I was up with a book. At times, teh plot seems by-the-numbers but Juliet is an interesting enough character that the book is not as tiresome as it could have been. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

British Bad Boys (Movie Thoughts: The Riot Club)

Do we really need a movie about posh spoiled brats in University? Apparently so. I cannot remember the last time I was riveted by a movie as I was with "The Riot Club." Written by Laura Wade based on her play "Posh," the movie revolves around a group of ten young men who are members of a club loosely based on the Bullingdon Club, which is an Oxford University dining club. (The current British Prime Minister was a member) They are a rowdy bunch who dine and drink with fearless abandon, backed by their families' wealth. Members of this club go on to such prestigious desks that they feel that while at college, they need to live their lives to the fullest because it's their last chance of unsrcutinized fun. It looks like every single handsome young man in England was cast in this movie (the one hold out, Robert Pattinson, was part of the original casting) and their photogenic faces helps you (sort of) empathize with their characters even as they do the most despicable deeds. The meatiest part in the piece is of the fish-out-of-the-water character, Miles, played by Max Irons (Jeremy's son)Playing the moral center of the piece, his does eyes help bring out an innocence and later corrupted state.  Directed by Lone Scherfig, this isn't the subtlest movie - you are immediately faced by contrasting points of view even as you try to decipher who's who and what's what. A long dinner scene - the center piece of the play -  was the most fascinating part - you are instantly enthralled, amused, horrified, disgusted all at the same time, with each emotion overlapping the other that you don't have time to catch your breath. I am a certified Anglophile and I had a ball trying to decipher the accents and placing specific Oxford locales. And Douglas Booth is a dreamy and soulful actor - I bet he will be the next best Hollywood thing. This film is highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sise Fina (Music Thoughts: Anna Sise, But Beautiful)

Who is Anna Sise? Your guess is as good as mine. The only thing I could find on the internet is that she hails from Sweden and is big in Asia, especially japan. This album I am listening to, "But Beautiful" was produced and released in japan and even boasts of great musicians: Jan Lundgren, Patrik Boman, and Max Schultz among others, and the album does sound full. Sise has a great big voice and has a great solid repertoire: "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square," "I'll Never Be The Same," and the title track "But Beautiful." Her voice reminds me a bit of Diane Reeves: full throttled yet controlled. Her lyrical readings are fine, and for someone is (presumably) a second language, pretty intelligent. She is soulful in ballads, and swinging when asked to. I took interest in her because she is supposedly big in Japan, and i trust the Japanese' taste, especially in jazz vocals. This album, from 2007, is pleasant enough, and now I want more information on her.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Only A Day Away (Movie Thoughts: Annie)

I saw "Annie" a while back, when it first came out, and I didn't like it. But there was already an avalanche of bad reviews about it then that I didn't want to add to the chorus of discomforts. So I told myself I would wait a bit until writing about it, and then forgot about it altogether. But now that it is out on video, I saw it again, and wondered to myself if I would feel the same. Sadly, yes. I look at the movie as wasted opportunity. The producers - Will and Jada Smith, Jay-Z among them - had an opportunity to bring this wonderful piece to a new generation and they didn't. It's not that this Annie is bad - it's respectable enough - but they managed to make it bland and boring. The musical numbers all fell flat - with weird arrangements and reconstructions. Why would you have hand choreography in the middle of "maybe?" Why would you reorchestrate "Tomorrow?" Why did you cut "N.Y.C"? These are just random questions I had while watching it. I have a strong affinity for the piece, for sure, because it is the first Broadway production I ever saw, thirty one years ago. But it is also the love for it that makes me want this piece to succeed. When I was watching the movie, I was more sad than angry, and now I feel kind of apathetic but I felt I just had to say my smal piece about it. Why can't they get Annie right these days? The past Broadway revival was devoid of fun, and felt that they did the same here. This is a boisterous, joyous musical, and no one nowadays sees te happiness in it - and that makes me want to take a Xanax. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

With One More Look At You (Television Thoughts: Looking Season 2 Finale, Looking For Home)

Here we are, the last episode of season two, "Looking For Home," and just like Patrick, the audience is at a crossroad. Patrick starts to move in with Kevin, and then he finds out that Kevin is still on Grinr, and is logged on, this giving him more questions than answers. What we get is a half hour discussion between the two of them. I guess be careful what you look (wish) for, you just might get it. Is it a dealbreaker if your boyfriend is on Grindr, or is it just one of those things. As Augustine says, "we all have the app, it's what we do with it that matters"  The episode ends with Patrick still at a crossroads after all these months - in some sense he is still looking. Is this a metaphor that in life, we will always be looking?

It would be truly sad if HBO cancels this show. I purposely kept HBO just for this, and as a matter of fact, tonight I am logging on to my DirectTV account and canceling the service. But if it does go away after this season, ti was a great shot.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Oh, The Orange Blossom (Perfume Thoughts: By Killian Sweet Redemption)

Yes, the Orange Blossom.  It's a note I have truly grown to love - because on my skin it casts a wide range, from soapy (Penhaligon's La Castille) to rich and pungent (Jo Malone Orange Blossom) In between hose two extremes, it still pleases. Francis Kurkdjian plays with it a lot, and does best with it - his Gaultier Fleur de Male is an Orange Blossom masterpiece, in my opinion. So when By Killian released Sweet Redemption, their tenth and last in the L’Oeuvre Noire collection, I gladly gave in to it. Calice Becker, its creator, is known for big bombastic creations, but here she is restrained in her use of orange blossom. It's still there, front and center, and it is big and bright, but it is framed well by sweetness. This is an orange blossom that makes you happy, there's no exploration of its dark side here. Today it was bright and sunny, and when I was doing my morning walk, the orange blossom not, um...blossomed. It was glorious, and while you could smell the sweetness, it did not cross that headache-inducing kind. I love this, this is one of those scents that would work well with a tuxedo: it creates a presence, and stays there, never overpowering, never disturbing.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Belongings (Book Thoughts: Where He Belongs, Trina Solet)

When I started reading this book, I hated the two main characters. jack is a bore, and Gus is one of those busybody gay guys I can't stand (Who flirts with their boss on the first meeting?) But Gus's son, Josh is adorable and steals whatever scene he is in. Honestly, he is the only reason this book was bearable. And why must we really endure pages and pages of these sex scenes? I sound like a prude, I know, but they just seem excessive, and ruin the mood for me, so to speak.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Show Is Over Say Goodbye (Television Thoughts: Glee Season 6 Series Finale)

I was a GLEE fan from the start - before the hype, before it was fashionable to be a fan, before it was hip to be a Gleek. I went through everything it gave me, I stuck to it until sometime last season when it was just too much, when I felt it was so done. So in a sense, I already said goodbye to the show. But then this year, it apparently came back, for its last season, with a vengeance. I will binge-watch the earlier episodes one of these days but I just had to tune in to the two hour series finale. And I am still crying. This show broke so many barriers, it redefines musical comedy for television in so many ways that it was kind of tough to say goodbye to the show, and these characters who brought me so much joy in the past. All the goodbyes are here, maximized to squeeze tear ducts, and you know what, that's fine. Let's all grieve. The first half is a bittersweet look at how New Directions came to be, and gave us a glimpse at how the group was formed - it even showed us how Kurt and Rachel met, culminating with the two of them singing "Popular," from WICKED. (They have done every other hit song from the musical so it's a wink and a nod)  The second half hour has all of them saying goodbye, and that's when the waterworks started. From Mr. Schuster with his ukulele to Sue Sylvester singing "The Winner Takes It All" all emotions are laid bare, and when we fast forward to where the characters are five years later, we see their triumphs. I couldn't stop myself from bawling when Rachel Berry finally wins a Tony, and when Sue introduces the whole cast on stage to sing "I Believe" I think a temporary flood alert was broadcast in my building. The show ends with a plaque that says "See the world not as it is, but as it should be," a mantra that capsulizes what the show is all about. Thanks for the laughter, tears, and music, Glee. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

50 Shades Of Pigeons (Movie Thoughts: Flying Home/Racing Hearts)

To capitalize on the success of the film 50 Shades of Grey,  "Racing Hearts" has been released on video. I think this was previously released all over Europe with the title of "Flying Home"  and I am guessing the title was changed because the new one would seem more romantic. What's in a title? Funny how a change in it can alter the perception of a film. The movie, starring Jamie Dornan, is really less a romantic comedy and more one about pigeons. Yes, you heard me right - pigeons. The story may seem convoluted, but it is about an acquisition of a pigeon orchestrated by Dornan so he could land a billion dollar account for his firm. And yes, it was fascinating, who would have thought? It gave me an insight into that pigeon race of sending them off from Barcelona and tracking which one flies home the quickest. Dornan is a presence, for sure, and I didn't think he was too bad here - he is very muted, for sure, but you cannot stop looking at him, and that is more than enough. He is definitely a movie star. The side romantic story line seems like an afterthought - they don't have chemistry and I didn't care at all.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Root Of It All (Perfume Thoughts: Creed Acqua Originale Iris Tubereuse)

It's St. Patrick's Day, and I didn't want to go too "obvious" with today's scent. So I searched for something that evokes green, and I chose Creed's Iris Tubereuse (Look, add the letter H to Iris and you got the greenest of the green!)  This perfume is from the limited edition Acqua Originale collection. Look, I am not the biggest Creed fan for a lot of reasons, but I found a bottle of this extremely cheap, the kind of cheap that you would be crazy enough not to grab. And this line is supposed to be lighter and more accessible. Say, if you were a fan of Jo Malone, this would appeal to you. iris Tubereuse is exactly how you woudl picture this perfume to be: a white floral bouquet of both flowers, with a slight tip towards the iris, and the addition of lily. The acqua is more in execution than form - this is far from the aquatic perfumes of the likes of Cool Water. This is a transparent floral, with a rooty iris. You kind of smell a little bit of the stem, thanks to the combo of musk and vanilla in the base notes. The dry down is a little heavier than the top and middle notes - it smells like you used a lotion of these flowers, as those same petals ripen. It's a little bit of an odd scent, or maybe I just think it's odd for a Creed scent. I don't dislike it, but I think multiple more uses will make me embrace it more.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

It's Better Late (Music Thoughts: Sue Raney, Late In Life)

It's only February and I think I already have my favorite album of 2015: Sue Raney's Late In Life.  As a matter of fact, I think I may have found my new favorite song of the year, which is the title track, "Late In Life,"  written by Shelley Markham with lyrics by Adryan Russ. It is a song abotu finding love late in life,  unexpectedly. It's such a wistful, hopeful, thanksful song and Raney expresses all these emotions with such vulnerable passion that at first listen, I just found myself crying.  The same sentiment permeates throughout the whole album, and I even think I found a new favorite version of my wedding song which is "On My Way To You."  I think on my actual wedding day (I hope no one holds their breath for it, though) I will splice versions of the song by Barbra Streisand, Ann Hampton Callaway, and now Sue Raney.  And the medlette of "My Idea;/Long Ago and Faraway" is beautifully rendered,  and the tenderest version of "at Last" is found here, it feels so different after all the bombastic soul versions of this song. I cannot think of a track to throw away, and I even like her version of a song I thoroughly dislike, "Something New In My Life."  I now will find myself putting this album on an infinite loop, and doubt will tire of it.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Living For Love, I'm Gonna Carry On (Television Review: Looking S02E09, Looking For Sanctuary)

Of course it had to happen - a show I love will be cancelled. I read an article last week that had a headline that read "Looking is the show that nobody is watching," and I think even the show knows it. Here we are at the penultimate episode of the second season and things are...well, they are wrapping up. We are getting to a point that these characters are no longer "looking." This makes me infinitely sad, because these are characters that I have grown to love, and I have enjoyed the time (albeit short) I spent with them. On this episode, titled "Looking For Sanctuary," we see Patrick maybe finally finding happiness - at the end of the episode, he makes a decision to move in with Kevin. This even after he gets the wrath of his sister, whose husband is very good friends with Jon, who is Kevin's ex. Yes, it has been a bumpy complicated ride to where he has now arrived, and he may finally be happy. And Eddie has also reached a similar place with Frank, wherein he stops trying to woo him, and gives him an ultimatum: are we or are we not? (They are.) There's even a frank discussion about Truvada. The only hanging thing, for now, is Dominick and Doris, but I think that is something that can be fixed by a trip to Pinkberry. It pains me to see another favorite show of mine close shop. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

In Dreams You Will Lose Your Heartaches (Movie Thoughts: Cinderella)

Does the world need a new version of Cinderella? We have the cartoon, the musical, and now we have a live action movie. I admit when I saw the trailer a couple of months ago, I was excited to see it. Charge it to the dearth of romantic movies nowadays, I guess. This movie feeds my hopeless romantic hit like nothing else - it's glorious, it's swoon-worthy, it's modern and fabulous. 

You know the story by heart, but this version, directed by Kenneth Branagh beefs up the story. We get the back story, for example, of Ella's life before the stepmother's regime, and we even get a scene on why she is called Cinderella. Plus, this is a post-feminism Ella, who isn't as much a doormat as her previous incarnations. For example, I liked the fact that she screamed "How dare you," when her stepmother ripped her gown right before she was supposed to go the ball (pre-fairy godmother) 

Oh, and all the spectacle. This movie is gorgeous to look at: colorful, flashy, splashy. The CGI is effective but not over-the-top. There's even a hint of the original songs from the cartoon. Cate Blanchett as the stepmother borders on camp, but she is a good enough actress to recognize this is live, nto cartoon. As Ella, Lily James is charming without being too sweet, and Richard Madden is a fine though slightly bland prince (he could have used just a tad more sex appeal) 

But all in all, a good time, and a great Cinderella for today's youth. Between "Frozen" and this, today's young girls are getting a great childhood.