Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lay Lay Lady Day

Thinking about Amy Winehouse has made me listen to a recent release, a tribute to Billie Holiday, which was produced by Swedish actor Peter Stormare. He says he was inspired by Holiday's autobiography, and parts of that book are narrated by the actress Angela Bassett in between cover versions of her songs. The line up of singers are diverse, so I thought it would give interesting takes on them. And, it's nice to hear Ms. Bassett's readings of the text, for she brings just a bit of drama to the proceedings. However, the mostly modern R & B arrangements of most of these songs give an almost campy juxtaposition to her recitations. Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds sings an almost jubilant version of "Strange Fruit," and I shake my head, asking if he understood the lyrics of the song at all. Renee Olstead sings "Good Morning Heartache" as if she was singing about eating bad sushi the night before. Deborah Cox has the soul fine  "Fine and Mellow," yet iot still sounds bland. Rickie Lee Jones infuses a bit of bohemia on "They Can't Take That Away From Me," but it seems out of context after a text from Ms Holiday's addictions.  Shelby Lynne's "You've Changed" is good, and I have finally heard Esperanza Spalding and she is fantastically breathy on "I'll Look Around," but these are small tinkles in a sea of duds. One is better served paying tribute to Billie Holiday by listening to "Lady In Satin," which in my opinion is the definitive Billie Holiday album.

Just Friends

I think it's kind of interesting that the two female leads in "Black Swan" followed up with similar themed rom-coms. Natalie Portman earlier this year released "No Strings Attached" (with Ashton Kutcher) and now Mila Kunis has "Friends With Benefits" with Justin Timberlake. While Portman won the Oscar, though, it now looks like Kunis won this round with a sassy romantic movie that is the best so far this year.  Kunis and Timberlake wins because they have the best thing a romantic comedy should have: sure-fire chemistry. I won't even try to discuss the premise of the movie because it's not relevant at this point: Boy Meets Girl, Boy Becomes Friends With Girl. They try to have sex without commitment. I mean, we all know where all this goes, right? However, the fun of this film is how it gets there. Written and directed by Will Gluck (who did the fantastic "Easy A" last year) he gives these two fantastic word play in and out of bed. Kunis is perfection: doe eyed, sophisticated, clunky, adorable all at the same time. She's pretty but not icy, she's smart but you'll only realize it after you've only fallen in love with her. Timberlake is great, too. he has the screen presence and the irony needed for his cocky character to come alive. However, on scenes where he needs a little more depth, you can see his limitations. (I'm sure that will be remedied in time) This movie's support is just as interesting: Woody Harrelson as the stereotype with a twist sports columnist, Richard Jenkins as Timberlake's father with Alzheimer', and really now, can Patricia Clarkson do no wrong? Even in a sliver of a role as Kunis' mom, she steals scenes. This romantic comedy may be by-the-numbers, but I laughed, I felt like I was in love. I don't think Captain America can make me do that, even in 3D.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Love At First Click

I won an e-book of "Click" via Chick Lit Central (my second win over there!) and the author herself, Lisa Becker, emailed me the book. I actually did not know that you could send a book to Kindle. I thought you had to buy books from Amazon to read them on it. But, I googled the instructions on less than a minute later - there it was, on my list of Kindle books. "Click," the novel, is told entirely on email, mostly told from the point of view of the main character, Renee Greene and her three friends, Ashley, Shelley, and Mark. Of course, each friend has a distinctive (read: cliched) trait: Mark is anal-retentive, Shelley is sex crazed,  and Ashley is a prude who is stuck in an abusive relationship. It made me wonder how they were all friends to begin with, but that's okay, I'll play along. I kind of like the idea of the story told in email form, because it gives you perspective of each of the characters' voices. However, it seemed to me that there weren't variance on the voices of the characters. In fact, i thought they sounded all the same that after a while, you couldn't tell one from the other. It would have made a more enjoyable read for me if the characters were given more distinct personalities. Renee's character sometimes infuriated me - her actions at times seem to be at odds with her words. But underneath it all, there's a sweet and simple love story. If I had spent more time reading this, I wouldn't be as generous, but the book kept me company on a recent coast-to-coast flight so I guess it was tolerable enough. 

America's Clean Sweetheart

What does America's Sweetheart smell like? Well, if your definition of America's Sweetheart is Jennifer Aniston, then it would smell like a clean white floral with some clean jasmine. That's the impression I got from her eponymous fragrance. If you like heady white florals, this perfume is not for you - it's much too clean. If you like indolic jasmine, this scent is not for you - it's much too clean. Clean, clean, clean - Jennifer writes in the copy that  this scent reminds her of the smells when she was growing up in California, She must have taken a lot of showers when she was young, for this really smells like the classic Johnson's Baby Cologne, but not literally. It is more a "grown-up" version of it, but still...clean. Maybe I was (mistakenly) expecting some kind of musk, but it is just soapy clean. Some people have described this as a beach-y scent, and I can see where they are coming from, but there's not enough saltiness in it for me. (I'd take Bronze Goddess by Estee Lauder or Fire Island by Bond no 5 for the beach definition)  Surprisingly, I don't dislike Jennifer Aniston's scent. It's easy to wear, and cheap enough that it can be an "everyday" scent. I could easily see myself reaching for it on days that I cannot choose what to wear, and want to feel clean...and safe. For a Celebrity scent, it's a little more interesting than your average fruity floral. If it had a little more longevity, it would even be better. But then again, clean only lasts so long.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Played Out By The Band

I found out about Amy Winehouse's death on Facebook. There was a torrent of status updates as soon as people heard about her passing. I was instantly sad, but can't say I was terribly surprised. News about her "hot mess" lifestyle have been circulating for a while now. Perhaps this is the reason why she had such pain in her voice. It's funny how I hear pain in almost all the "tortured" voices from Billie Holiday to Judy Garland to Karen Carpenter to Kurt Cobaine and now Amy. Maybe that's why each one of their voices have a melancholy undertone. I especially hear it in Amy's voice, too. My favorite Amy Winehouse song of all time is "Love Is A Losing Game." it's not one of her biggest hits (it's the fourth of fifth single from her big 'Back To Black' album) I think her voice perfectly translates the sad, ironic, slightly bitter tone of the lyric. That's how I would describe her voice. Of course, her voice means so much more than those words, but for this song, that's what they are.

A Swell Night For Romance

The year was 1988 when I was first introduced to "Anything Goes," and it was via the campy and brassy Patti LuPone. She was the kind of leading lady I loved: fearless, sassy, larger than the largest thing in life. I suspect she was similar in scope to Ethel Merman, whom I obviously never show on stage. So, essentially, Patti was (and is) my generation's Ethel. (With, of course, Bernadette as our Mary Martin) I remember sitting at the Vivian Beaumont totally mesmerized by her star power, never taking my eyes off her, and delighting in the monstrous voice which was coming out of her petite frame. I thought tho myself, "so this is what they call a leading lady!"    So fast forward to 2011. Sutton Foster is reprising the role of Reno Sweeney, and on paper, I thought she was a horrible choice. I like her fine, but always thought her on the bland side. I always say that she is the Broadway equivalent of Beyonce: triple threat, but does nothing for me, over all. On stage at The Stephen Sondheim Theater - she works hard at pleasing the audience - she dances like a mofo, sings with gusto (I still think its colorless, though) and mugs her role as the script demands. And she is winning hearts and souls - she won the Tony! I must admit to being impressed, especially by her out-of-this-world toe tapping skills in the title song that closes the first act. But, I don't know if I will love her as much I will always love Patti.

I didn't need to - I love the show unequivocally. Yes, the book is silly, but the show is one of those song and dance extravaganzas, the kind they don't make anymore. Each and every song sparkles, and I always thank the Lord above that I am blessed to hear songs like "I Get A Kick Out Of You," "It's De-Lovely," and "You're The Top" sung on stage- twice in my lifetime now.  I fall in love whenever I hear "Easy To Love," (one of my favorite love songs of all time, in case anybody is asking. No? Ok.) well, because it's just easy ! (Ba-dum) and Laura Osnes reminds me of a young Melissa Errico (there you go again with references to 'my generation')  This is the kind of show that casts Joel Grey as a lovable gangster, and the leading man, Collin Donnell, can waltz without making it look like he is on "Dancing With The Stars." With Kathleen Marshall directing, it would make sense that the dance here is as much a character as the songs. 

As I pass by the stage door, I can see lines of young boys and girls waiting for Sutton Foster. Twenty three years ago, that was me, and I remember Ms. Lupone had the glamorous graciousness of a diva when she came out to see her fans. I hope Sutton Foster gives the same experience to this batch. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When They Begin The Begin

BEGINNERS is the my kind of summer movie.   It deals with love and death, but is never saccharine nor maudlin. 

And it boasts of two great performances from two great actors: Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor. Mr. Plummer has only been nominated for an Oscar once. A lot of people are saying that he may finally win for this film, and it will be well-deserved. I have always conjured this image of him as always being serious, stern, joyless. Perhaps this is from his role of Captain Von Trapp in "The Sound Of Music." But here he is 100% mirth. Playing a 75 year old man who, after being trapped in a (traditional) marriage, declares he's gay, he finds some sunny shadings in his performance. When he is diagnosed with cancer, he smiles, and says, "Well, let's not run out and turn the world."  That smile is a simple twitch: but it totally turns a scene that could have been drenched with all kinds of cliches. Ewan McGregor, in my opinion, gives his best performance yet. It is quiet, subtle, robustly melancholy. He feels like a mess, but he doesn't act a mess. His character deals with losses and loves he can't contain: his love for his father, his burgeoning romance with a French actress, his poignant relationship with the Jack Russell terrier his father left him behind. His performance is a study of sadness.

BEGINNERS is about different kinds of beginnings - a man's escape from a stifled self, a son venturing on a new life after the death of his father, a young man starting a relationship with a woman who may be the love of his life. It is also about a myriad of emotions. It is funny, sweet, sad, uplifting, all at once. It's life. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Summer Before Sex

There was a time when me and my friends used to think that "Sex And the City" mirrored our lives. So needless to say, I was a fan of the television show. Candace Bushnell, of course, capitalizing on the show's successes, wrote prequels on the characters starting with "The Carrie Diaries," which dealt with Carrie Bradshaw's Senior Year in High School. That book ended with her first day summering in New York City. "Summer And The City" picks up a day after that book ended. I thought the first book was fine enough, if a little on the YA side, so I had not a lot of high expectations on this one. True enough, it started kind of slow, and I wasn't sure where it wanted to go. As the story picked up, though, I was happy to find out that this is quite a mature story. Carrie Bradshaw may have started out as a High School graduate in this book, but by the last page, she emerges as a young woman. I especially loved how Bushnell ties up the story of how she ended up friends with Samantha and Miranda, and you can even see how the chemistry started. I thought it was fascinating to see how these characters started out as friends, and how their personalities evolved to the character we grew to know and love. And just like the series, I love the "realness" of the Carrie character - flawed and sometimes infuriatingly stubborn. This is still a summer read so it's thin and shallow, but it's a perfect beach read, all so much the better, since it helps me pretend I am right by the water. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

White And Safe

I always forget about the Jo Malone line. When I first started discovering niche lines, it was one of my favorites. Later on, I became a little bored with them. They are nice, for sure, but they felt a little too "common" for the perfume snob in me. That's not their fault, though. They get imitated so many times that sometimes I can't distinguish them from the latest concoctions at Bath & Body Works. (For the record, I like B B & W products) When Jo Malone launched their "Intense Cologne" series last year, my curiosity was piqued, and one in particular sounded appealing to me in paper: Iris and White Musk.(They also claim in their press release that these were inspired by Middle Eastern scents, which I thought was so opposite of the Jo Malone aesthetic)   A dirty flower? I am so there! Plus, iris is probably one of my top 3 favorite notes, and musky always calls my name. When I spritzed it, I was full of hope. And's a fine fragrance. But, and this is a big but - the musk did not really do it for me. It's musk alright, but it is a pretty tepid one. I wasn't expecting dirty animalic musk, but this is just too well-behaved for me. The iris on the top  is sharp and cold, just the way I like it, and rounded by something citrus. It disappears quickly, and the musk enters, and for a while I have visions that it will evolve into something more interesting but, alas, it's just your typical white musk, not unlike the Body Shop version. In the end, it's clean, soapy...and safe. And very Jo Malone. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Live Girls!

A new Ann Hampton/Liz Callaway show is a cause for celebration, so it just goes that a new live recording of theirs would be a national holiday.  I always say that no two voices blend as well together as The Callaways. Their previous live recording, Sibling Revelry, was played so much in my house I can recite their patter there verbatim. This new recording is a preservation a show in New York's Birdland last May: a celebration of shows from the 60s. Both Ann and Liz grew up listening to the music of the 60s. But their musical preferences are as distinct as their voices: Ann's earthy alto favored the music of Joni Mitchell while Liz's sunny soprano went for Petula Clark. Still, they found a common ground: Carole King and the classic "tapestry" album.  They alternate solos between their duets and each one is as great as the other: Liz has always been  a great interpreter of the Bachrach catalogue (She even starred in a Broadway show revue of his songs) and Ann's sensitivity is perfect for Mitchell's "A Case Of You."  I love how they make some of these chestnuts sound very new, case in point: I felt like I was hearing "The Way We Were" for the first time, perfectly well-blended with their harmonies. And that blending is never better in "That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be." (There's a fantastic studio version of that in Liz's album 'Passage Of Time.)  As a live album, the disc preserves the show perfectly as it captures the energy of the evening. It doesn't get better than this, and I suspect it won't be long before I memorize the patter on this show and disc.

And while I have your attention on live performances preserved on disc, I have to mention Adele's July 7th performance at The Roundhouse in London which is now available as an EP. This is her first live show after her recent bout with laryngitis, and it looks like her voice survived that attack. I don't think I have to convince anyone how great she is - a deeply-feeling singer with a robust voice peppered with just the right amount of huskiness. The EP has her singing most of her hits that we know and love: "One And Only," "Rumour Has It," and "Rolling In The Deep."  But lo and behold, she covers Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," and even though this a song I have gotten cold on over the years, I realize that with the right singer, it can still break my heart.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Who's The Boss?

Chick Lit Central, in my opinion the best chick lit blog out there, has graciously published a book review of mine, and I couldn't be more ecstatic! Find out my thoughts on Tina Fey's "Bossypats."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Big Band Laura

THE BEST IS YET TO COME is Laura Fygi's 12th solo album. I remember discovering her around her first album and being blown away, and here I am more than fifteen years later and I still feel entranced by her. While at first she just seems to be channeling her idol Julie London, I think now she has a sound and confidence all her own. I do think the real stars of this album are the big band arrangements. Jan Menu and Johan Plomp have constructed arrangements that pay tribute to classic arrangements of Billy May and his ilk, while making these songs still sound fresh. It is always a treat to hear songs you have heard thousands of time and feel like you are hearing them for the first time. I especially like the languid take on "The Good Life," the melancholy lilt of "Smile," the briskness of "Too Darn Hot." Don't think for a moment, though that they overshadow Laura's big, breathy vocals. There's an appealing huskiness now in her voice which enhances her cool school styling, although Laura is much too engaged to be the modern Julie London. No more comparisons - Laura Fygi now is Laura Fygi.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

After The Rain

The Martin Margiela fashion line has always been associated with avante garde fashion back when Margiela himself was designing for the house. I havent' checked if that tag can still be applied for its current line. The House's first scent, Untitled, can't really be describes as such. Untitled, at first, reminded me of a 70s powerhouse fragrance. The initial spray is a burst of galbanum: very strong, very green, very moist. Someone described this perfume as smelling something "after the rain," and I think that is very apt. There is a slightly wet, slightly moldy quality to it. But don't get put off by that description, for it is enveloped by a very subtle bitter orange border. The jasmine then kicks in, and it is a very sweet jasmine, silhouetted by the galbanum still, which makes it veiled. All these change are subtle, and substantial, proving how well-blended the fragrance is. It dries down to a soft, musky, woodsy (and still sweet) cedar, with just a hint of incense to wake it up a little bit. The over all effect is still very retro, I think, but its quiet elegance and wearability will instantly make this a modern classic. No wonder I liked it so much, it was created by Daniela Andrier, who created the Prada Infusion series, all of which are favorites of mine. This is perfect for the summer, and for me a green shower in the middle of the desert.

Martin Margiela Untitled

Top notes: Galbanum essence, Box green, Bitter orange blossom absolute
Middle notes: Lentiscus resinoid, Jasmine, Galbanum resinoid
Base notes: Musk (Serenolide), Cedar, Incense resinoid

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Crowne Jewels In Search Of A Movie

Sometimes it sucks being "different." It's Summer, and I am really not interested in the Summer Blockbusters. Transformers don't titillate me, I thought X-Men was a porn flick , and I presumed The Green Lantern was something you put out on your porch during the Christmas season. So I am left with something like "Larry Crowne," which is a romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. At first, the idea was kind fo appealing: an adult romantic story starring real adults. 

But this romantic comedy was neither romantic nor comedic. Both Hanks and Julia are game, and they show up ready...but they and their personas are bigger than this movie. They eat it up, and the movie is too.. nothing. It's akin to the King and Queen showing up to a party, and they are serving watermelon seeds. It's such a waste of star wattage.  Plus, the two movie stars have zilch chemistry. When they kiss, you can feel that they are awkward and having a "are-we-really-doing-this" kind of moment, as they almost roll their eyes.  The whole time, I kept on thinking, they must be really great friends for Julia to agree to star in this, and I wonder if Hanks paid her usual rate. This movie would be good for 100 minutes of airconditioning on a hot summer day, but, frankly, not much more than that. Maybe I should rethink my apathy for Harry Potter.