Monday, November 28, 2011
Remember the 80s? Of course you do. We all did, and with Frank Anthony Polito's twin set of novels, "Band Fags" and "Drama Queers!" I remembered it a little more. The exclamation points on the titles give the tone of the book away. It is as if it is saying, reminisce your high school days in a fun way. The first book centers around Jack Paterno, a teenager who hasn't fully come to terms with his sexual orientation, and this is his "coming of age" tale, riddled with all kinds of 80s memorabilia. The author inserts all the popular songs, movies, television shows of the day. I must admit it was kind of fun to remember them, but the over all effect seems to be more a scrap book than a novel. I could have done with a little bit less with the minute details, but all in all, I got hooked into Jack's story, and felt a little wistful towards the end as he graduated High School and went off to college. I thought the follow up novel "Drama Queers" was a continuation of his story. But "Drama Queers!" really just essays the same senior year, but now told through the eyes of Bradley Dayton, Jack's best friend from the first book. Deja Vu - could you be the dream that I once knew, if I may quote a lyric from an 80s song. The second one lingered on details even more, and the plot here is even thinner. If I had to choose between the two, i would go with the former. I really wanted to love these two novels, but I only borderline like them.
BC - 45-46
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Michel Legrand is celebrating his 80th birthday by releasing a Christmas album, "Noel! Noel!! Noel!!!" and it's my favorite Christmas album this year. First of all, I love the line up of talented edgy singers who are just slightly on the side of the radar. Mika sings a wonderful oh-so-French version of "Jingle Bells" that will take you right to a scene of a French musical set at the Eiffel Tower on Christmas Eve. Jamie Cullum tough swings "Let It Snow"like a mutha let loose, proving he is the young generation's Sinatra. And I totally love the almost-ironic Madeline Peyroux "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" where she strangely sounds like she is telling everyone it's the end of the world. When Emilie Simon sings about "Santa Baby," she sounds as if it is about James Bond, and that is a wonderful thing. And Carla Bruni is poignant in "Jolis Sapins," a beautiful French Christmas song I had never heard of. Who would ever think Iggy Pop and Legrande would do something together but their collaboration here in "The Little Drummer Boy" is kinda weird, kinda unique, and definitely not boring. There are so many generic Christmas albums out there, and this one is definitely not run of the mill, which, for me makes it an instant classic.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
I have loved every single one of everything I have read from Emily Giffin that it had to happen. "Baby Proof" just didn't cut it for me. It had an interesting and brave premise - that of a successful woman who does not want to have children, but aside from that, the story veered towards all kinds of cliches. The main character, Claudia, is complex and real, but I detested her. She is one of those self-centered, seemingly-entitled women, and I have known a couple of them during my day, and they make my skin crawl. It is a testament to Ms. Giffin being an engaging writer that I still followed the story when I surely was not rooting for the protagonist and was hoping against hope that she get her due at the end. Alas, her audience probably would resent an ending that's not happily ever after so I am guessing Ms. Giffin had to go that route. As soon as I finished the book, I wanted to instantly delete it from my Kindle.
Lady Gaga really exasperates me. I am all for pious message, but I just feel she always has to have a message in everything she does, and unlike Madonna, she doesn't seem to be having fun in anything. There's a lot of trimming there, but no there there. I got bored by her Thanksgiving Special, frankly, and four song EP, " A Very Gaga Holiday" didn't do much better for me. She sings "White Christmas" and complains that it only has one verse (that Irving Berlin is such a hack!) so she makes a second one. Um, she changes the tone and the mood of the piece for the worse. Stick to your day job, Gaga. Her "Oange Colored Sky" is okay, I guess but again I think she tries too hard, too much forced energy, like she is trying to convince us of...something. And lastly, doesn't her styling on the EP cover remind you of Streisand's Stoney End period?
Friday, November 25, 2011
There is a scene in "Like Crazy" that stays with me, until now. It is not a big scene, there are no gunshots, no explosions, it is just between Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) and they are inside the London underground subway just looking at each other, and in the middle of the scene, they just smile. It's such a small, simple but powerful moment, and then I thought to myself - that scene defines Love. But the again, small moments define a relationship, and in this movie, there is no meet cute, they just meet. And they look at each other and then they fall in love. You've seen it, you've been there. This is one of the most touching movies I have seen this year. It'a a feel good "Blue Valentine," an updated "Before Sunrise." What makes it good is the undeniable chemistry between Yelchin and Jones. What makes it great is how fearless their acting is. Apparently most scenes were done as improve stemming from only an outline that the Director, Drake Doremus gives them. It's powerful how heartbreak, longing, confusion can be achieved just from a reaction from a text message. When Anna's character bypasses her student visa and overstays to be with him, there's a part of you who is furious at her, but at the same time you understand. That's what love is: it's complex, it slays you, it invigorates you, it exhausts you. This film will do that to you, too, but only because you'll want it to.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Since it's Thanksgiving, I want to write about a book I just read which is a testament to this Holiday. Skipping A Beat is a story which makes us realize what is important in life. I think what it is changes from person to person but overall the underlying theme is that relationships, love outweighs everything else. It's a cliche, but it's true. The characters in the book, Mike and Julie have been together for a long time, and they both suffered from childhood despair which helped them strive to achieve their goals in life. Now that they are both successful and wealthy, they realize how they lost each other along the way. The writing style brings you in immediately, and I found myself reading intently right away. You sympathize, empathize with the characters instantly. Some characters around them are caricaturish and one-dimensional, and quite a few polt points are manipulative, but thats fine, I can suspend my disbelief and it never feels less than genuine in theme. Overall, I quite liked the book, it's spiritual without being preachy, and the characters stayed with me.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
As the year ends, I am finding "Christine Ebersole Sings Noel Coward" as the one vocal disc I keep on coming back to with great affection. It's so beautiful, it's so elegant, her singing so full of layers that I keep on finding new things I love about it with each spin. Her lilting soprano is expressive, and earthy that it doesn't sound like it's breakable porcelain. Why do I love the album so? Perhaps because Noel Coward's songs have characters of their own, and Ms. Ebersole is such an intelligent singer that she gets to the core of these characters. I was hooked from the first note of "Someday I'll Find You," as I can't remember when the last time I felt such melancholy and hope all in one track. And then there's such joyful charm in "Chase Me Charlie," and you can see that she is just at home with a comedic performance. And she can essay being in love, as evidenced by her duet with the wonderful Howard McGillin on "A Room With A View." In fact, I cannot think of a track I don't like. The album can be described by that box of chocolate cliche - you never know what kind of wonderful you will get in each song. I love to play the album on shuffle mode, more often than not, each song blends effortlessly with the next in any order. Much credit should be given to Larry Yurman, her pianist and arranger, for making each of these songs sound fresh. But it's Ms. Ebersole who wins us over here again and again...and again.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Sometimes you just need a cute wholesome love story to brighten up your day. "Love Is In The Title," by RJ Scott did that for me today. It's about Luke, a High School Math nerd, who has a crush on Cameron, who is the Captain of the football team. Luke work at a diner where Cameron and the football team goes every Friday, and the diner plays a radio station where people do song requests, and what do you know, Luke puts in a song request for Cameron anonymously based on what is happening with Cameron that particular week. Awww shucks, isn't that adorable? The cynical me was rolling my eyes at the beginning of the story, but I told myself let go and enjoy it, and I did. It's mindless, and obviously a fantasy, but ultimately it's harmless. I am always a sucker for cute romantic comedies, and this one fit the bill.
BC - 43
Sunday, November 20, 2011
I cannot remember why I put "Suborgatory" on my DVR at the start of the Fall Season but there it was, and when I watched the pilot, I found it just okay. Six episodes in, though, and I can't imagine my DVR list without it. Set as another one fo those "fish-out-water" setups, it initially sounded very familiar. A father (Jeremy Sisto) and her daughter (Jane Levy) moves to the suburbs from Manhattan, and this opens up a wide net of hilarious possibilities. I thought the set up was kind of trite and I really wasn't too impressed with the pilot. Sisto and Levy didn't seem too comfortable with each other, and it was difficult for me to believe. But after a couple of episodes, they got their groove, and now six episodes in, I am hooked. And this is because of the great ensemble acting, led my Sisto and Levy. Levy, in particular has found a right balance between snark and sweet, and shows a whole lot of vulnerability, making her character more and more likable by the week. But the dual punch of Cheryl Hines and Ana Gasteyer give the series its true edge, with them playing to straight man Sisto. Give them more to do, please !
Saturday, November 19, 2011
I wanted to read something light and fun, and I thought "Stacy's Dad Has Got It Going On" would be a good choice, based on the cover. Guess I did not pay attention too much because I actually thought this was a YA title. And it turns out this is the opposite. The book is actually very very smutty, and i had dialogue that made me blush. I started rolling my eyes and became entertained because of how ludicrous the book was. The plot is unbelievable - why would a just-separated father live with his daughter in college? - and the situations sound like they are from a bad sitcom. And the narrator's logic is all over the place that I felt it more a machine than a real person. After I finish the book, I find out that the author, Giselle Renarde is a lesbian, and it seemed weird that she wrote a book where women were being treated as play objects.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
I cannot believe I will be complimenting an Olsen (Mary Kate and Ashley's younger sister) but Elizabeth Olsen is terrific and she was just wonderful in "Martha Marcy May Marlene," giving a breakthrough performance which just might give her award nominations. She plays the same woman with all the names in the title (I can never remember the names, I even had a problem mentioning it to the ticket taker) and she is all those women at once. While Martha may be her real name, she had just arrived at her sister's house after leaving a cult/commune, where she was called Marcy May. She plays a young woman confused, with no concrete realization of what is right from wrong after living in a place where there is a different definition of those words. The director alternates scenes between present time and when she was at the commune, and I found it fascinating how a scene would start somewhere and end somewhere else. It is a technique that could be confusing, but I thought added poetry. With Olsen as the emotional core of the movie, you can see how deftly she expresses the difference of her lives before and after so vividly in each shrug, in each wandering eye, in the way she delivers a dialogue. There is as much said in what she doesn't say. I was riveted by her every move, as she plays each scene in unpredictably, even if the script seems familiar. Sarah Paulson and especially Hugh Dancy are great as well, as the couple who has to deal with her post trauma state. And John Hawkes is creepy/charismatic leader of the cult. A lot of people have complained about the ending of the movie, but I found it bafflingly fitting. The performances here are the real star of the movie, see a star being born in front of your eyes.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
I will probably be preaching to the choir with the people reading here, but let's pause for a very important message: Let's Stop Bullying. Everyday, kids are being bullied in school and we should really do our part because kids are committing suicide because they cannot handle it. Believe me, I know, I have been there, but I am lucky to have support system with my group of friends. I recently read two books about bullying, so I thought why not write about both of them in one entry. "Bullied," by Jeff Erno is a compilation of seven short stories with that central theme. On a surface level, they could be cloying, and I am not going to pretend they are manipulative and self-serving. But, the service is for a very important message and I am willing to overlook whatever triteness exists in the narrative. I couldn't help but sympathize and empathize with each heartstring that is tugged. For variety the stories are told from different points of view and more or less different circumstances, but essentially they are all the same. I think it could have been edited better because some stories are redundant, but I really feel guilty criticizing this book because it is so important and the right kid could be reading this and that kid's life could potentially be saved. In a perfect world, this should be required reading for all high school kids. "It Gets Better," is subtitled "Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, And Creating A Life Worth Living," is a compilation of messages from different people about bullying. We get President Obama, we get Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton, We get Ellen Degeneres here, among hundreds of people. I can just imagine someone at a low point in their lives reading these pronouncements from this people, and it could hit them at the core. These two books use two different techniques to hammer the same message, and if even one life is changed by them, then nothing has been wasted.
BC - 40, 41
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
The thing I love about Serge Lutens' fragrances is that it always take a unique and dark approach in presenting its art. Take Tubereuse Criminelle, for example. Christopher Shedrake (working with Mr Lutens) explores the white floral tuberose like an abstract painting: the flower is there somewhere, but there are cubes, there are lines, and there are browns and blacks and green everywhere. It may not conform to the conventional definition of beauty, but darn if it isn't beautiful. This perfume has the most exhilarating top notes, a mixture of rubber, eucalyptus, Vicks Vaporub, gasoline. Don't let the mixture of those smells scare you : the over all effect is smooth and well-blended, and eccentric. It wakes up your nose. On a cold morning like today, it is perfect, and I cannot discern if it's hot or cold. Then the tuberose flower starts to unfold, almost like an afterthought. Oh, this is a tuberose scent, I suddenly remember and the flower is right there. But it is not the heady creamy Fracas, the spicy notes like nuteg and orange flower stay in the background. The over all effect is modern, even if I realize this scent was created twelve years ago. 'Tis then I realize the scent is timeless, and I have been hit by a smooth criminal.
(The picture is of the bell jar version, this scent is now available as an export via The Ephemeral Collection)
Monday, November 14, 2011
I am more a soprano person than a tenor, so maybe that is why I have really not heard of Alfie Boe before he was cast as Jean Valjean on the 25th Anniversary of Les Miserables. But he impressed me with his performance there, and I wanted to hear more. And so I did, because he recently released his new album, "Alfie," which is right by my alley because it is mostly a collection of songs from musicals. And guess what, he does very well here and you don't get a sense that he is slumming. You can actually sense his affinity for the material. There are no excesses to his singing, and that's why the songs sound sincere. Just listen to a very tender version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," which is brimming with honesty. Even though there is great technicality in his voice, he is still very expressive which goes a long way in lyric interpretation. It never sounds like he is overselling the song. I love the quiet intensity of "When I Fall In Love," and the tempered bombast of "Wheels Of A Dream." Sometimes, the songs don't quite match the voice, like "When You Wish Upon A Star," where he sounds like he is auditioning for the wrong role. And even the best of voices cannot get past the schlock of "It Was A Very Good Year." But her him duet with Michael Ball in "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" and hear two superb voices blending. That's what it's all about, Alfie.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Saturday, November 12, 2011
This book, "I Just Want My Pants Back," can be filed under Dick-Lit. Single White Male, fresh graduate from Cornell, sowing his oats in New York City. I have read this story a hundred times before, the only difference is that the central character has always been female. I liked the "gimmick" of the premise, where the young man has a one-night stand who steals his favorite chinos, and he sets on a quest to get them back. However, the book wasn't really about that. I would have liked it more if the novel had a focus. As such, it was a semi-interesting diary of a young man looking for himself. I even think that description may be a little too heavy for what it was. I even question the point of it all, as the character is the seems to be the same person as he was in the beginning of the novel. Then I find out that this book has been bought by MTV to be essayes into a weekly sitcom. It makes more sense that the whole book is a set up for something. Maybe now the something somewhere here would finally make sense.
Two-time Grammy nominee Tommy Emmanuel is one of Australia’s most respected musicians. The legendary guitarist has a professional career that spans five decades and continues to intersect with some of the finest musicians throughout the world. A household name in his native Australia, Tommy has garnered hundreds of thousands of loyal fans worldwide. Tommy’s unique style – he calls it simply “finger style” – is akin to playing guitar the way a pianist plays piano, using all ten fingers. Rather than using a whole band for melody, rhythm, bass, and drum parts, Tommy plays all that – and more – on one guitar. Guitar legend Chet Atkins was one of the first to inspire Emmanuel to try this “fingerpicker” style as a child. Decades later, Atkins himself became one of Emmanuel’s biggest fans.
He does has a very light way with the guitar and I totally love it, and if I had to compare the style, it would be like Bill Charlap on the piano. I call it intelligent strumming - he knows and interprets these songs as if he was a vocalist that there is nuance in every pluck, every pull. It's vivacious when it needs to be ("Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," "Rudolph") and there's an underlying melancholy where needed, without being too sentimental, like in the heartfelt "The Magic Of Christmas." There's an exquisite "I'll Be Home For Christmas" here, without a beat that's a little urgent. I imagine this version about someone rushing home, full of anticipation, and it just touched me. Plus, there's a "Jingle Bells" here that has a simplicity that's so relatable. I remember years ago I found a generic Christmas CD of a String Quartet and it was so beautiful I couldn't stop playing it. I think I found this year's version of that.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Mothers always stay with their children. My mom passed away 20 years ago, and I always say this, whether people believe me or not - I feel her presence all the time. I see her all the time, I sense her frequently, daily. "The Glass Case," by Kristin Hannah touches this subject vividly. It's a none-too-subtle take on this subject, and it is a short and powerful slice-of-life story about feeling your mother's presence in your life. It's a story of April, a young mother wondering if she has made the best decisions of her life. Shortly thereafter, something happens to her, and she finds the answer to her question. This is a wonderful story, and resonates.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
They say that "time is money," and in the movie IN TIME, that statement is taken literally. The movie is set in a world where the denomination of life is time, everything is measured by minutes, hours, days, decades, centuries. So a hotel room will cost you two months, a bus ride 2 hours, a sports car 59 years. It's an interesting concept, and director Andrew Nicol fully realizes the theme. Plus, this movie tackles the disparity between the haves and the have-nots, where there are zones for rich people and the ghetto. The topic, of course, is quite topical, with all the occupations going on all over the world. Will Salas, a kid from the ghettos is given a century of time, and circumstances take him to gamble what he's got. This is an interesting movie, but it just did not interest me after the first hour. Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried more than adequately give what they are asked of, and it's not them, it's me. I would have preferred for it to go the psychological route, but I am of the minority, of course, because people want action, and there are car chases, gun shots, and explosions, which appeal to everyone else. In this case, I am the 1%, but I ain't complaining.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Leather scents. Yes, I love them and can't get enough of them. They just seem so unique, and beautiful. And even if these leather notes gets mixed with floral notes, they always smell very...stately and, for lack of a better word, manly (which is very different from 'masculine,' of course) Serge Lutens' Cuir Mauresque is one of my favorite leather fragrance, and I would choose it over his other popular leather, Daim Blond. Cuir Mauresque 's very top note is a weird, and strong one: it conjures those leather with just a hint of dirt, and plastic. It is so hard to describe, and as I am writing this, hundreds of different descriptions come to mind: oud, amber, spice, butter. It's not shy, but it tempers itself almost instantly, and the leather comes up front and center. There are tons of spice in the background, and the amber on one side gives it a sweet edge, with cumin on the other side preventing it from being syrupy. As with all of Serge's scents, there's stewed fruit there somewhere, and darn it if I could identify it (madarin peel? orange blossom?) I think Cuir Mauresque is one of the sexiest scents ever, as there is enough earth in it that comes off as alluring. Just a couple minutes ago, our secretary came up to me and said "you smell so good, it's so different..." I can imagine myself in a library inside a mansion, sitting on those supple leather couches, reading a hard-bound book, with spice around me. That's Cuir Mauresque for me, and that image makes me happy.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Friday, November 4, 2011
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
I have too much on my mind to be a Justin Bieber hater. Besides, I saw "never Say Never" on Blu-Ray and was kind of impressed with the kid. I didn't think of it a second after I saw it, but I am not going to deny its existence either. I kind of think of him as the tween's combo of Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson. That mop of a hair has a lot of personality, and he is certainly working that little white boy soul and it obviously works for a lot of little girls because he has a lot of fans. Musically, I guess his music is closer to Michael's, and there's a variety of genres touched here, all under an umbrella of soul. There's the reggae tinged "Mistletoe," which is the single that anchors this album. I liked the originals, like "The Only Thing I Get For Christmas," and it should only get better to listen to when the weather gets colder for me, and I see more tinsels around. He doesn't skimp on duets too, with Usher adding extra cuteness in "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," and Busta Rhymes brings the crazy in hip hop as the Drummer Boy. The high-profile duet with Mariah Carey fizzles, with Mariah sounding like she is phoning in her vocals (zilch chemistry there) Yes, Justin's voice is a lot deeper (his publicist said "his balls dropped") and there's a certain "maturity" in the music, if your definition of maturity is graduating from Middle School. All in all, the whole thing is harmless, if a little on the corner of bland.