Monday, April 14, 2014

Kleig Lights, Places, Action! (Book Review: Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Tim Federle)

"Fix Six Seven Nate" is Tim Federle's sequel to his NYT Bestselling book "Better Than Nate" and of course I loved the first one so I just had to read and find out what happened to Nate. When we left him on the first book, he was just getting the call from the producers regarding his audition for "E.T. The Musical." And here we find out from the first page that he has been hired as the understudy for the role of "E.T."  I couldn't help but feel a little bummed by this, because, I thought, all that set up in the first book and after rooting for him, he only gets an understudy role? I wish I could say that the sequel is as good as the first book but I felt that it wasn't. There's a lull in the middle of the book, and I couldn't keep track of all the characters in his cast. But it eventually picked up and the last quarter of the book is thrilling, and we get sort of a cliffhanger again, setting up for the third book. This is still good reading.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rose's Advocate (Perfume Review: Hermes Rose Ikebana)


I need another rose perfume like a hole in my head. So of course, when I was at the Hermes store, the first thing I sprayed when I was at the Hermessence section was Rose Ikebana. I have not sniffed most of the Hermessence line, and I think it's because I have always been afraid of its price point. Or more to the fact, I am scared I would fall in love with it, and then obsess over one of them. I love the name Rose Ikebana, too, and in my mind I am conjurign a Japanese Ikebana bouquet, and my mind is reeling from all of the possible Jean Claude Ellena image associations of his rose interpretation. And the opening is a cold arctic  grapefruit blast, and then a full-bloomed rose explodes. It is pretty strong, and it is a red-yellow rose. It's watery but not aquatic, sheer but not thin. It's instantly loveable,a nd for a rose scent lover like myself, heaven scent. Then it becomes even lovelier as the rhubarb comes in, and yes, it is a classic fruity floral, in the best possible definition of that term. As I wore it longer, the rose stays, and it is a clear transparent rose. It never really develops further, but it really doesn't need to. So here comes the dilemma: it is a beautiful creation, but it isn't terribly original. I can probably think of ten fragrances that are comparable, and some at budget prices even. While this is surely done with the best raw materials, does that justify its price tag? There's a part of me that says yes, because this is an easy to wear scent that is artistic and will never go out of style. The practical Virgo in me, though, is asking why bother? I don't know who in the angel and devil on my shoulders will win. At the same time, I am also at odds as to which opinion is the angel's, and which one is the devil's.

Little Darlings (Movie Review: Kill Your Darlings)

Daniel Radcliffe is doing a fine job of eradicating his wholesome Harry Poter image. Case in point: on "Kill Your Darlings," even though he wears similar spectacles, he conveys a much different persona. Playing a young Allen Ginsberg, he essays a character and his performance adds a layer of complexity that gives us a glimpse of how Mr. Ginsberg came of age, as he first meets some of his ilk from the Beat Generation. The movie starts from Ginsberg's acceptance to Columbia University and ends after he is expelled. In between, he meets Lucien Carr, and Carr becomes his partner, but we see there's more to that. Dane DaHaan plays Carr with smoldering sexy charm that we kind of see why Ginsberg fell in love with him. As a matter of fact, Carr's presence is felt more throughout the movie and he seems o be the glue that kept the whole threads of friendships together with David Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. The movie is well done and told the story well, but it still fell flat for me. Maybe because I was never really that interested in the Beat generation (give me th more hedonistic 70s any day over that) I did appreciate getting a glimpse of what Greenwich Village look and felt like during that time (it's a sad commentary that today Bleecker Street looks more like a shopping mall than the birthplace of rebellion and queer history)  I liked Radcliffe, and especially DaHaan's performances more than the film, but your mileage may vary.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Charmed, I'm Sure (Television Review: Southern Charm, Bravo,, Mondays at 10 pm)

This says a lot about my Saturday: I just binge-watched the first five episodes of Bravo's new reality series "Southern Charm," and I am kind of worn out.  These people are exhausting. Who are they? The "main" character here is Thomas Ravenal, a former politician who was convicted of a drug felony and served less than a year for it (Of course, most people in he cast say "he served his time")  Anyway, he is now contemplating of running again for public office. Which begs the question, if you were really thinking of doing that, then why did you sign up for a reality series where we can see you bedding different women and getting drunk all the time? He hooks up with Kathryn, a pretty young redhead (think a young Julianne Moore) who has, by the second episode, slept wit half the male cast. By the fourth episode, she even gets a pregnancy scare and is unsure who the father is. Then there's Shep, a womanizing boy-man who doe nothing but parties from Wednesday to Sunday. And there's Craig, who is a young lawyer but would also rather party. But I gotta say, though, Bravo makes this train wreck really addictive. This is sort of the Southeast aristocratic Vanderpump Rules, where relationships are incestuous, and the characters are either despicable or a bore. It is that kind of television that eats your mind and soul, but, honestly, once I started watching it I couldn't stop myself from finishing and wondering what train wreck these people are going to do next.  I bet some of these situations are staged beyond belief. I bet some of the cast members are acting. But hell if I take it out of my DVR.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Born Too Nate (Book Review: Better Nate Than Never, Tim Federle)

Why am I reading this book, Tim Federle's "Better Nate Than Ever,"  just now? I have read so many people of like interest rave about this that it is a wonder it took me a year until I finally got this book. I think it's because I have literally thousands of books on my to-be-read pile I couldn't justify buying a book. The other day, after Amazon gave me credit for their price-fixing suit, this was the first book that came to mind when I was deciding what to spend that credit on. What a great decision, as this is one of the better books I have read in the recent past. It tells the story of thirteen-year old Nate who travels alone from a Pittsburgh suburb to New York City to audition for a role in "E.T. the Musical."  Federle peppers the book with so many musical theater references that I am sure this book would be more enjoyable for a show queen (like myself) than a regular teenager, which if I am not mistaken, is the target market for the book. I understood every inside joke, and felt every New York City reference. I felt that this book was made by me, or for me. Yes, it could feel a little too twee at times, and I must admit some jokes felt shoehorned, but this book is joyful and the cliffhanger at the end took my breath away. So I am just glad that I waited too long to read the book that the sequel/encore, titled "Five Six Seven Eight" is already available, and I should start reading it in five, four, three two....

The Motion Of Potion (Perfume Review: Dsquared2 Potion)

I remember when I first tried DSquared2's Potion.  It was in London, about two years ago. I had been unimpressed with the whole DSquared2 scent line, from sampling them I thought they smelled generic and aquatic. But I was at Harvey Nichols, and at the time Potion was exclusive to them, and I remember there wasn't anything to sniff so I went ahead and indulged myself. Initially, I thought it was okay and went on my merry way... only to be haunted by it later, I remember liking Potion a lot, but there were so many other exclusives in London at the time I thought to just look for it at Heathrow if I saw it at a good price. But then i didn't, and for some reason or another never saw it again. I don't think it really got major distribution in the US, but at the same time never really looked for it (I am not particularly a fan of Dsquared2's fashion line so that added to my apathy) Cut to now, and I am wearing it again. I now remember why I like it - it is  cold spicy scent, which is kind of unusual. It opens with cinnamon, but that quickly goes away to some kind of vanilla amber accord, and it is quite pleasing. It. The spices stay in the heart - basil? thyme? pepper? - but they never warm up. The musk/vanilla base keeps them all grounded. The dry down is unique, for a mainstream male scent, and really, there's a lot to be said for that. My big complaint, though, is that it is weak. On skin, it only stayed for a couple of hours, and sillage is so faint that even at first spray, I had to do it over, and over, because it felt like I had nothing on. This potion needs to be motioned in order for it to work.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Love, Small Town Texas Style (Movie Review: Pit Stop)

There's gay love in Texas, who knew? Of course I am being facetious, because love is everywhere, and gay love can thrive even in small southern Texan towns. But not before some heartbreak. Two gay men live on opposite sides of a town: Gabe (the swoon worthy Bill Heck) has a wife and kid, and they have a weird modern family set-up: he is still very much present in their lives even as he and his wife navigate paths to new love. Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) just broke up with his live-in boyfriend, and they still live in the same house, even as the set-up gets more complicated. Both are sad, and it makes you think how gay life in a small town is as lonely as it can be in the city. But the film isn't all melodrama. Malaysian Director Yen Tan infuses some subtle comedic moments that kind of splashes small color to the film, which is coated in a lot of drabness (perhaps to show the provincial element of a small town)  In this day and age, gay people can pretty much be comfortable everywhere, and it kind of felt a little weird to still see Gabe be uncomfortable being out, or for two men to feel comfortable giving each other a goodbye peck for fear that someone will see them. But there is a great earnestness for romance here, and it is subtle and quiet but just as effective. Gabe and Ernesto meet towards the end of the movie, and its happily ever after still feels jarring, in a great way.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Look What Love Found (Album Review: Barbra Levy Daniels, Love Lost & Found)

Barbara Levy Daniels had been working as a psychotherapist when she started to pursue singing again. As a child, she auditioned for ABC Paramount Records and when they called in Ray Charles to hear her sing, he apparently said "Sign her!" but for one reason or another, and probably because of her age, she never pursued a singing career at the time. This new album of her - apparently her third - mines old chestnuts from the Great American Songbook, and that initially sparked a yawn from me. But, Levy Daniels has an engaging tone in her voice. It sounds like a woman "of a certain age," and I am reminded of mid to late work from singers like Carol Sloane, or Barbara Lea. For me, there's nothing more expressive than a woman singing about these songs of love, and you can feel the experience in her voice, in her interpretation. This woman has lived the life, and it sounds like it. On "Talk Of The Town," for example, you can sense the desolation, the regret, the stilled hopefulness. On "the Nearness Of You," there's longing in each phrase, in each word, in each sentence. I even like that she has a bit of Northeastern accent (Buffalo, New York, as it turns out) making this woman singing these songs so specific.  On "I Got Lost In His Arms," when she sings the last phrase, "I was lost, but look what I found," you immediately see the story of the song, specifically of this woman's journey.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Enchanted Evenings (Book Review: The Last Enchantments, Charles Finch)

Isn't it funny how small moments we share with friends end up being the memories we fondly remember years later? I thought of that as I was reading Charles Finch's THE LAST ENCHANTMENTS. The book tells the story of William Baker, who spends a year studying at Oxford after working in the (losing) John Kerry campaign in 2004.  Last summer, when I was in London I took a half-day trip to Oxford, and I wish I had read this before visiting there, the Harry Potter location references were mostly lost on me, as I never read or saw any of the book/movie franchise. Still, I thought the place was very romantic, and Finch paints a romantic portrait of the place, as well. I always love coming-of-age novels, although this one is of the second-coming type, as the character is already an adult, chronologically, contextually. I love how Finch portrays the adult infatuation/love angle, and is my favorite part of the novel actually. We have all been there, when we have fallen in love, and all of a sudden nothing else matters, but everything does, of course. Baker is surrounded with interesting people around him, too, though I felt some were underwritten. The book is so personal it often felt like a memoir. I ponder if these characters are true or composites.  (I have half a mind to google if there was really a "Timmo" who was cast in Big Brother UK, for example)  The book ends in a very wistful note, and you do feel like you have lived the year with William and his friends, and there's a pinch in the heart as you say goodbye to them.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

You Must Believe In Spring (Perfume Review: Jardin du Poete, Eau D'italie)


When lonely feelings chill
The meadows of your mind,
Just think if Winter comes,
Can Spring be far behind


These are the lyrics of the song "You Must Believe In Spring," and it's kind of apt poetry for right now.  The days are now longer, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, and the nip in the air is but by sunshine, and more than anything we just want that gruesome Winter to now be just a memory. So I set on finding a scent to match this mood, and for once I find myself not craving the heavy oriental, but something light, and green, flowery and pretty. I look through my pile of samples and find Eau d'Italie's Jardin du Poete, and I don't even think twice and put it on. Suddenly, it's 75 degrees, and I am in Sicily, walking through a lush garden. It's instant bliss. It's a poetic scent, if there ever was one. It starts as an herbal green: bitter orange, grapefruit, a touch of basil. Then flowers come in: angelica, cassis, immortelle. They all blend together seamlessly, and the effect is a floral melange framed by green. I also get vegetal hints - bell pepper? tomato ? (tomato leaf, probably) and they give the scent a heft. It is not citrus, nor floral, and it's more on the metallic cold side. A lot of people compare it to L'Artisan's Fleur de Liane (which I also love) but this more "real" smelling, as opposed to the latter which I compare more to a painting of a garden. I haven't been fond of the Eau d'Italie line: i remember one of its bestsellers, Magnolia Romana was a scrubber for me, smelling like Glade. But maybe not now, but when the weather really warms up, I would crave this. My complaint, though: longevity was short, and sillage was minimal.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hashtag Unlikeable (Book Review: Drinking And Dating, Brandi Glanville)

As a fan of "Real Housewives Of Beverly hills," and also because I read her first book, I felt compelled to read "Drinking & Dating," by Brandi Glanville. Though I can't help but be cautious about this book since i have not liked her on the show this season. As a book, this is readable, and you will just find pages flying as you get into it. But the content, oh, so many contradictions, so many hypocrisies, so many vulgar references. It got really tiring after a while. She has said in interviews that she will not talk about her ex-husband in this book, but of course she broke that code in the very first chapter. On another, she writes that he never said anything about LeAnn Rimes, then on another she half-apologizes for everything she has said about her. I can't help but think, "move on, girl" It seems like she has been trying to milk this victim ex-wife gig for a while now. And she talks about all these hookups and dates with famous people but she is shy about naming names. Why all of a sudden so shy? (Yes, I know, it's probably a legal thing)  After reading the book I came into liking her a lot less. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Falling In Love With Love (Television Review: Looking Episode 8: Looking Glass)


It's kind of sad that this is Looking's season finale, but what a first season it was. This was a slow burn start, but by the end of the first season, these characters get to crossroads and this early I cannot wait for what it is in store for Season 2, and I know that will be long coming. Jonathan Groff is great int he season finale tonight, and he really serves us a full, three dimensional character. We get to see his character Patrick tonight lose all and lay bare and be vulnerable, and I got tears in my eyes when he had this specific breakdown. Well, he has done and slept with his boss - all that sexual tension has not gotten to waste, and all that chemistry between them did combust. After the deed was done, though, we, just like his character are asking: is that enough?  The physicality, the rush, was it all worth it? Kevin has now cheated on his lover, and Patrick asks himself what's next - only to be greeted at his doorstep by Richie who has professed his love for him. Patrick lays bare his heart in that scene, and it just cuts through you. Richie tells him, "you are not ready to love," and yes it's true, he is still....looking. What a wonderful bookend to the beginning of the season when he was still trolling on OkCupid.  Dom's story line also comes to a head: his feelings for Lynn gets stronger, and we finally get that pay off in the end. What a great boil to burn performance by Murray Bartlett, and every scene with Scott Bakula lights up the screen. He brings an air of experience in this show that elevates it. The only blind spot for me was Augustn's character. As I had suspected, he ends up in the exact same position where he started at the beginning of the season, and it doesn't seem like anything happened to him, or that he had any growth. Please, take his character away. Looking, like any other show, was still looking for a voice, but based on the last few episodes has found it. Andrew Haigh has said in an interview that he looks at each episode like a separate independent film. I think essentially he has achieved that, and I am confident that the next season will just be better and more assured.

Love, Near Or Far (Movie Reviews: "Diana," "Baggage Claim")

I was truly expecting the worst with "Diana."  I know it got scathing reviews when it came out, and it recently won the top award at BARFTRA, which is the British equivalent of the Razzies. But maybe these low expectations helped me just enjoy the movie. If this were just a love story between x and y, and not the People's princess, I bet reaction to it wouldn't be as harsh. It's a story of a love that's complicated, complex, forbidden, but in the end is deep and real. The story, and the film, isn't as expansive and perhaps not worthy of its subject, and that is why it's not as easy to take. I admit to just being a casual admirer of the Princess, so I had no horse to protect in this race. But the person depicted here isn't quite likeable - depressive, manipulative, drama queen. It's as if we are already to assume her sainthood, and these just "round" her up. But Naomi Watts is a fantastic actress, and you can see the work she put in this character. She has mastered the mannerisms, the eyelash bat, the neck swivel that even though she doesn't really resemble Diana, you still believe, and believe, and believe. I don't think this is an absolute waste of time, honestly. 

I found "Baggage Claim" more insulting. The "urban rom com" genre is big business right now, and why not? I was looking for a good time going into this movie but felt cheated. First of all, the plot was ludicrous, but that wasn't even my problem. I won't spoil it, not because I respect it, but because it just felt so stupid writing it  Plus, watching it just became so tiresome, and we just kept on waiting for that big inevitable familiar finish. For me, it didn't help that I thought Paula Patton is such a clunky actress - self aware, self involved, and her comedic timing left a lot to be desired. This would normally be my kind of movie, but I just couldn't wait for it to finish. This the equivalent of a bad Tyler Perry movie - just imagine the horror of that.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Laura, It Was Only A Dream (Music Review: Laura Austin Wiley, They Say It's Wonderful)

When Tower Records was still alive, they used to have a jazz vocals section. I remember I used to go there and see all these "unknown" jazz vocalists have albums of standards and wonder to myself, "who the hell are these people"?  That was not a diss, of course, because, I would sample some of these albums blindly, and indeed some of them are horrid,(or worse, generic) but I also have to admit that I discovered a lot of my life-long favorites from these risky acquisitions. I remember I used to have a certain criteria how I choose the ones I used to get: if an album is Harold Arlen heavy, for example, it's a plus point for them (ditto for anything Rodgers & Hart heavy)  I used to steer clear of albums that do not feature a picture of the singer, but at the same time, I was wary of albums that rely too much on the singer's looks. So when Laura Austin Wiley's album "They Say It's Wonderful" fell on my lap, I was curious. First of all, I am not a big fan of butterflies, and those were prominently featured on the album cover.  And, well, the cover also does not feature her face, so I wonder, why not? I tried to be as objective as possible, not even googling her before listening to the album. The song selection is fine, if on the uninspired side. So play, play, play. She has a very "musical" voice, and I can tell it's a trained one, as opposed to a natural one. She sings a bit more on the technical side, but her phrasing isn't bad, so there's a little more there there. The arrangements are well-done, and I like ti's a bit folky, too. She's jazzy, for sure, I hear a lot of improvisation, and a lot of it seems pretty natural. I particularly liked her takes on "Hey There," and "Speak Low." She plays the flute, and there was an extended flute section on "Speak Low" that I thought was very good. And she includes verses, which is always a plus for me. But all in all, the album tend to be on the bland side, there really weren't any moments when I sat up and got really curious. I get a sense that she would be better in a live setting, and I finally checked her website to see that she plays a lot in the San Francisco area. That might be a better representation of her artistry than this album. If I had bought this at Tower Records, the album probably would have been buried in a pile.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Father And Son (Movie Review, Nebraska)

There comes a point in our lives when our parents become our children. It's really not a sad inevitability, just an inevitability. Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" captures a feeling. It's not a movie that tells a grand story - there's a stark minimalism in the plot that matches the gorgeous black and white cinematography.  Bruce Dern plays Woody, who receives one of those false sweepstakes letters with a marketing come on that the recipient may have won a million dollars. Stubbornly, he wants to go to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim he price. His son, David humours him, and drives him there, with stops along the way.  The film is introspective - we get to see Woody's life through various people's eyes. The movie doesn't really move a lot, until we realize we are just getting to know the characters deeply, and yes, that is enough. Dern is tremendous: the best role of his career which won him a nod from Cannes Film Festival. He is stoic, irritable, irritating, annoying. There are layers in his performance I suspect I haven;t even gotten to. I thought Will Forte, as David, was just as brilliant. His character is more a set-up for Dern, but it's just as soulful, and in my opinion, Dern's would not work as well without it. Squibb, as Woody's wife, gives a more showy performance, and for me is sometimes a distraction. But all in all, this is one of those movies that will stay with you. It may not catch you right away, but I bet it will linger.