Friday, November 28, 2014

Randy Andy (Book Review: The Andy Cohen DIaries, Andy Cohen)

"The Andy Cohen Diaries," Andy Cohen writes, was inspired by Andy Warhol's diaries, a book that Mr. Cohen treasured and carried with him when it first came out. I think Mr. Cohen himself will not say that his stature is as great as Mr. Warhol's, and this whole book is written with s a little bit of tongue-in-cheek irony. Mr. Warhol dealt with real artists and superstars, and well, Mr. Cohen deals with "real housewives." Still, this book is a juicy read, if you know and mildly care about the people he hangs out with, like Kelly Ripa or Anderson Cooper. Mr. Cohen has a more interesting day to day life than I do, but I wish it had a little more depth. I wish he dealt more with some of his executive decisions at Bravo, for example, instead of his incessant drinking at parties. But perhaps that is what his audience is expecting from this book.

Her House In The Middle Of The Street (Television Review, House of DVF, Sundays on E!)

I've been trying to catch up with all my stored shows on my DVR and started watching the first four episodes of the new reality competition, "House of DVF," which is about Diane Von Furstenberg's search for her new Global Ambassador. It's premise is nothing new - it is sort of a mix of America's Nect Top Model and The Apprentice. The idea is that Ms. von Furstenberg wants to have a non-celebrity represent the brand, and will act as the company's face, aside from DVF.  Jaded me was really cynical about the show, and was ready to write it off if it didn't keep my interest. But, it did, primarily because of Ms. von Furstenberg herself. Acting as part matriarch, part mentor, part mother hen, you can't help but be glued to the screen when she is on. Even when she is doling out rote advise ("It's not what you do it's how you do it") you feel as if you are hearing these things for the first time. Maybe its her French-accented English that makes it sound so convincing. But things aren't all smooth, though - a lot of the drama seems set up, like for example, when bitchy contestants get rewarded which makes for better drama with the contestants. But this show has a lot of things going for it - pretty people in glamorous situations acting bitchy and competitive. They all make for good television, and I will be watching.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Letting Christmas Go (Music Review: Idina Menzel, Holiday Wishes)

It had to happen. Elsa can't help but freezing everything, and icicles mean Christmas, right? So here we are, Idina Menzel has released a Holiday album titled "Holiday Wishes." I mean, look at the album cover - she gives the illusion of being covered in ice. But did we really need a Christmas album from her? I don't really get the Idina hate, because I think she is a fantastic singer. Yes, she belts and screams, and her voice can be on the loud and sharp side, but it is theatrical, it reaches the back row, and it's a marvel. It's exactly what I would expect from a Broadway diva! And this album perfectly showcases that voice. The word restraint isn't used here, and she sings all these songs full throttle. That, in my opinion, is a good thing. Menzel doesn't tone down the proceedings just because it is a Holiday album. Rote choices like "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and "the Christmas Song" are on fire, thanks to her. The arrangements can be a bit unimaginative, btu who cars, Idina just runs away with these songs. I particularly like the breathless "All I Want For Christmas Is You" (The Mariah song - that has become a modern classic, hasn't it?) And she is theatrically passive on "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" (I imagine it as a theater piece, and it works) Even her self-penned "December Prayer" satisfies. All in all, this album is perfect for tree-trimming parties for show queens. You know if you're in the target market.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Shake Your Bon Bon (Perfume Review: Viktor & Rolf, Bon Bon)

It seems like Viktor & Rolf's scents don't do subtle. Their biggest hit, Flowerbomb, is a descendant of Angel, and its male counterpart, Spicebomb, is tobacco overload. So of, course, their newest release, BonBon, follows the same lead. This is an overload of sugar - as sweet as sweet gets. It's gourmand with a capital G. The line up of notes, mandarin, orange, peach, jasmine, orange blossom, gaiac wood, cedar wood, sandalwood and amber, are amped up, and you get a sweet syrupy fruit cocktail. And caramel. But this is not the gauzy powdery caramel, more an amped-up version. And BonBon sure could be cloying. I haven't tried it, but on a humid summer day this could be brutal. But on a cool day, this could be delicious. And fun. I wore this on my recent trip, and it stayed linear and sweet the whole day. It was perfect if you want to wear something fun, maybe to match your pastel colored ensemble. But, it's not for everyone. A diabetic can get comatized from its sugar content. The sillage is not overpowering, and longevity is primo (I sprayed yesterday and a day after, I can still smell it) Feel young and wear this.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Knowing When To Leave (Movie Review: This Is Where I Leave You)

"This Is Where I Leave You" has an all-star cast that will leave you breathless. So what then are they doing in this sophomoric movie? Directed by Shawn Levy, this movie wastes these fine actors in a movie filled with unlikeable characters in cliched situations. Judd (Jason Bateman) catches his wife sleeping with his boss, Tina Fey plays a woman with a dick of a husband who only cares about money, Adam Driver plays the young son with a Peter Pan syndrome. They all get to sit shiva (even though their parents are atheists) and are "forced" to interact with each other for seven days. I mean, I get the concept - when families do get together, every little thing from the past s forced out, but in here I don't think any character makes any kind of right decision, and even so, their interactions all feel manufactured and fake. And if all else fails, they resort to potty humor which makes you feel that you wandered into a Judd Apatow movie. Jane Fonda, as the matriarch, seems to be lost. I can just seen her thinking in her head, "I am better than this." (And she is) While we get to see these actors try hard in the best situations (Bateman, Driver, and Rose Byrnes shine the brightest), the shoddy script can sometimes highlight their limitations (Tina Fey's character looks the most one-note) I have the book somewhere, and after reading this, I decided I just won't waste my time reading it.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Due To One Little Word, Married (Television Review: Marry Me, NBC)

NBC's "Marry Me" is another rom-com sitcom, this one from real life newlywed couple David Caspe and Casey Wilson. He was also a writer and she starred in "Happy endings," which was a mild hit on ABC. I remember not liking that show, but am giving this one a try. The pilot was a hoot. It started out by having Annie (Wilson) and Jake (ken Marino) arriving from a vacation in Mexico where she thought she was going to be engaged. Upset, she started to riff and insult him and his friends and family, not knowing that they were all hiding in their apartment for her surprise engagement party. After more mishaps, the couple finally get engaged by the end of the episode. But, where does the series go from there? I guess it would explore their relationship as they start to live together, until they get married? I was skeptical, and the second and third episodes weren't as funny as the pilot, though I am liking the supporting cast more (JoBeth Wiliams as Jake's father is a standout) I am also having likeability issues with the leads. While I like Marino, Wilson sometimes rubs me the wrong way, as I sometimes thinks she tries too hard. But I have seen worse.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Brandon, Boringly (Book Review: Jason Priestley, A Memoir)

It was my friend Dee who turned me on to the television show Beverly Hills 90210 years ago, and I became hooked. I mean pretty rich people falling in love and sleeping around., it doesn't get better.Jason Priestley played Brandon Walsh on that show, and he just released a memoir. I figured, it would be interesting to get a glimpse of his experience while he was working on that show. Well, we do get a glimpse of that, but he writes in such a hurried way that we really do not get to learn much. And even though he is forthcoming with a lot of juicy details (he writes how about and why Shannen Doherty was fired from the series) they are still sparse. And the most shocking thing in the book? That there really no meat to it after his days from the show. The book is strictly for his die hard fans.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Love Alphabet (Television Review, A to Z, NBC)

Of all these rom-com comedies on television now, my favorite is NBC's "A to Z." Why? Bacuse of the charm of its two main stars, Ben Feldman and Christin Milotti. He was in "mad Men," and she was in the Broadway production of "Once," and here they have instant chemistry. Even Milotti's somewhat joyless aura serves her overworked lawyer here well, and Feldman's neurosis in Mad Men is toned down here to good use. But the two is not served well by the limiting premise - we know from the narrator (Katey Sagall) that they dated for x number of time. Plus, each episode starts with a letter of the alphabet, thereby limiting this series to just two seasons tops. Still, the pilot episode is one of those rare things: smart, funny, and yes, very romantic. Subsequent episodes pale in comparison. And, the second episode scenario (should one still go on a date scheduled before they have met) is exactly the same as the second episode plot of "Manhattan Love Story." (Do these writers just get their ideas from one pool?) By the fourth episode, things are more unfunny than funny. I kind of miss the vibe of the pilot, as it seems the writers have already run out of ideas! And lo and behold, this series is one of the early cancellations of the new season. Oh, well.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

When Your Lover Has Gone (Book & Film Review: Gone Girl)

It seems like everyone and their mother have read Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" and it has been on my TBR pile for two years now. Well, with the movie coming out, I told myself that I would finally finish reading it, as I have started numerous times but never continued. Well, it does start just a bit slow for me - the mystery part seems a bit too "set up" and manipulative. Though not uninteresting, it tested my patience. But once it hit the half-way mark, though, it sparkled. Then it became one of those books you stayed up in the night for. Last night, I zipped through the latter half of the book - a true page-turner. I couldn't wait to see what would happen to the characters, how the "mystery" would be resolved. I was torn between hating and admiring the character of Amy, while also sympathizing with her husband, Nick. And yes, the story is over the top and Flynn definitely knew how to get your attention. I don't know if I really agreed or not with the ending, but I understand it as a social commentary for today's society.

I don't know if it was a good idea to see the movie mere hours after finishing the book, but I just couldn't let go of the story just yet. As good as the book was, the film is better. Maybe it was an advantage that while I was reading the book, I was already picturing Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as the characters, and I must say that they did perfect casting for the roles. Affleck is smooth and likeable, earthy with an edge, and totally relatable. Pike has a great mix of beauty and danger, and just the right amount of self-awareness as well as a wink-wink to not take herself (and the character) too seriously. And Fincher understands how over the top the book was, and playing this up without going too caricaturish. Flynn wrote the screenplay herself and while there have been changes and cuts, have stayed more or less faithful to the spirit of the book. I can't think of any choice I disagreed with. If for anything, the movie even broadened its message, on how relationships thrive, survive, and endure in the recession-riddled times of today. The mystery part of the story is just as satisfying - a man behind me was saying, "This is like Hitchcock" - but I found this more a love story- a sick and twisted one.

Duetting With The Dead (Music Review, Barry Manilow, My Dream Duets)

Natalie Cole started this trend, of singers duetting with dead people. But with Natalie, it was a great idea, since she was singing her father's songs, the duet highlighted the poignancy of the project. A lot of people have followed suit since, most recently Barbra Streisand singing with a young Elvis Presley. I always found this idea a little on the weird side, and when Barry Manilow employed this gimmick on his newest album, "My Dream Duets," I cringed.  In an interview, he says that he did it because he wanted his duets album to stand out. Don't get me wrong, I am as big a  Fanilow as anyone, but i have to admit his singing voice has really deteriorated of late: it's become raspy, and his key isn't what it used to be. On a duets album, it will be all about the voice, and I feel his can't carry the songs through. But Manilow (and his producer, David Foster) wisely makes the dead singers the stars of the tracks. What a fantastic line up. Manilow has great taste, choosing one great singer after another. Moreover, in a lot of cases, he doesn't choose the most cliched songs to sing with them. Any other singer, for example, would choose "Over The Rainbow" to sing with Judy Garland, but he opts for "Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart," and it made for a zippy track. The best thing about this album is how on each track, the production has cleverly extracted the vocal tracks of these singers, and every single one of them felt like they were in the studio with Manilow. (Curiously, Streisand couldn't duplicate that chemistry on her album) Maybe because Manilow loves and knows these singers and the songs, and he chooses their songs. It may be unbelievable, but almost all the tracks work. There is great joy in him singing with Marilyn Monrow on "I Wanna Be Loved By You," and he weaves seamlessly with Frankie Lymon on "goody Goody."  On some of the tracks, he adds verses and songs that make the track more meaningful. For example, he counterpoints "What A Wonderful World" with Louis Armstrong an original composition of his called "What A Wonderful Life." And on his track with Andy Williams, the predictability of "Moon River" is edged by him singing a verse from one of his other hits, "May Each Day."  But what makes this project such a joy to listen to is it demonstrates a musician's love of music.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lost In Transalation (Movie Review: Lilting)

Once in a while, a movie just hits my core, and I feel like "Lilting" just had something in it that punched me, and I am still unable to recover, these characters and their situations are still with me, days after. This movie tells the story of a Chinese-Cambodian woman (Junn, stunningly played by Cheng Pei-pei) whose son, Andrew (Andrew Leung) suddenly dies, and she is left to deal with her son's "best friend" (Ben Whishaw) But Richard, is not only his son's best friend, he was Andrew's lover, though Andrew never came out to his mother. We get to see the complexities of what happens after (and what happened before, seen in flashbacks)  Aren't mothers always the first to know, though? We see the questioning, the acknowledgement, and the despair all in Junn's eyes, and she is matched stare by emotional star by Whishaw, who gives here one of the finest performances I have seen in recent years (I do think he is one of the best of his generation) Junn doesn't speak English well, so Richard brings along an interpreter, Vann (Naomi Christie) to act as a middle mean. But, the more things are said, the more they get lost in translation, and Vann gets embroiled in the drama, because what is more important here, of course, are the things that are not being said. "lilting: is one of those textured movies that do better with multiple viewings - a raised eyebrow you may not have noticed the first time enhances a meaning of a scene the second time around. And these characters are all pained they will touch you before you even realize.

Something Like Summer (Book Review: Summer Fling, Serenity Woods)

Chloe has a broken heart. Garth is a tortured soul (like, literally - it happened in Afghanistan) They meet cute, as they jump from a plane. So this makes their love story doomed, right? Yeah right. This is a love story, and it doesn't take a genius to see how these things will go. I mean, the author's name is Serenity Woods! This is a casual, mindless read, designed to be read by the beach or the pool. It may not be the most ideal time to read this book, but it does give me the illusion of still being summer. I miss summer sometimes.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Born Yesterday (Television Review: Manzo'd With Children, Sundays on Bravo)

Truth be told,  Caroline Manzo isn't my favorite New Jersey housewife. Well, I actually don't have a favorite New Jersey housewife. Although I watch the show, I only do so out of force of habit. So when Caroline's spinoff show "Manzo'd With Children" started airing, I added it to my DVR because, well, why not, and since I enjoyed "Domn't Be Tardy For The Party," Kim Zolciak's spinoff, I thought this show might duplicate the energy of that. But, really, I have seen four episodes of this show, and all I can say is that it is boring, Caroline herself do not hold my attention, and her children, Albie, Christopher, and Lauren all annoy me. Plus, it's just so blatantly fake. I mean, I am no fool, I realize all these shows aren't really 100% authentic, but every premise here seems to be manufactured and I am not even interested enough to roll my eyes. I mean, who would really believe that her adult sons Chris and Al went back home to live with Caroline ( That has been disputed in this article )  And coincidence of all coincidences, their gay BFF Greg just happened to be in town the first week they started filming? I wan't born yesterday (Make mental note to delete show from DVR)

Where The Wind Comes Sweeping Down The Plain (Book Review: A Map Of Tulsa, Benjamin Lytal)

When I saw that Benjamin Lytal's novel "A Map Of Tulsa" was compared to Michael Chabon's "A Map Of Tulsa," I speed tracked the book to the top of my TBR pile. The novel tells the story of Jim Praley, as he goes home to Tu;sa from his first year of college. he gets smitten by Adrienne Booker, who is a descendant of a prominent rich family in town, and proceeds to have a summer fling with her. But she is some sort of a free soul, and while he doesn't forget about her, they go their separate ways. Years later, he comes back to town, because of a tragedy, and has to face his feelings for her. I wanted to like this book so much, and gave it several chances. But it just never caught my attention. I never believed the two of them together, and didn't really care what happened to both of them. While I appreciated the writing style, which was more observant than narrative, I felt it slowed the book a lot. But it did give me a sense of life in Tulsa, a place I have never been, and have no plans on visiting soon.

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.