Monday, December 31, 2012

Anna On A Wicked Stage (Film Review: Anna Karenina)

Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina" is a very different Anna Karenina.  It is set in a soundstage, and has been art-directed to death. Actors appear as if on stage: with cues and marks. It took me a while to get used to it. I was kind of expecting scenic and picturesque, even looking forward to how Saint Petersburg will be filmed, since I fell in love with that city when I visited it last year. I read the novel a long time ago and I really can't recall much about it, except for the main character committing adultery. Keira Knightley is fabulous: she looks fantastic, and fills the role with eroticism and oodles of sexual energy. I know people get hot or cold on her, but I find her an appealing actress: one of the bests from her generation. We see a three dimensional Anna here: someone who fell in love, fought for her love, and suffered the consequences. (I hope she gets accolades for her performance)  Jude Law, too, is great: subtle, stoic, elegantly virtuous. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, looking like a member of Village People, provide just the right electric connection with Knightley, although at times they look too pretty together, each strand of their hair in place, each muscle of their arms color coordinated and perfectly entwined. There were times that the visuals seemed to be a little claustrophobic, but that may be just me projecting. It is still just a tad too long for me, I found myself clocking it a moment or two. But, it is still a film I would recommend, because it is just so picture-perfect. Each frame is a postcard perfectly arranged on a stage. The heart is not always there, but it makes an appearance more often than not.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vermont Is For Lovers (Book Review: Well-Offed In Vermont, Amy Patricia Meade)

This will probably by my last book review for 2012, and what do you know, it's on a genre I normally don't read: a mystery. More specifically, it is a "cozy mystery," a genre I want t read more. I used to associate these mysteries with an older demographic, and all I can say is: look at me now. The story centers on Nick and Stella, two former Manhattanites who move to Vermont. On their first day there, a man gets killed by the well at their new home, and at first they think it is accidental, only to realize it was murder. It was a fun mystery read: the suspects were laid out, and I guess I am still new to the genre that I was kept guessing until the big reveal. But, what struck me most was my first reaction, which was the murder would not have happened if assault weapons were not as readily accessible to everyone. Maybe I just associated the story with what happened at Newtown, because the setting was in new England. I wish the characters were a little more colorful, not cliched, though. 


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Red Is The New Black (Scent Review: Tom Ford Noir)

Tom Ford Noir is a party scent. If I were going out for New Year's Eve, I would probably wear this. Nowadays, I am more the quiet stay-at-home type, but I will still wear it. Somehow, this scent suggests opulence and festivity to me, and maybe that's just my projection, but hey, that's how I feel. Noir is probably one of the most overused description for 2012, and here it makes sense, and at the same time it doesn't. Noir most times mean black, and this scent screams more red than black to me. And obviously, maybe I associate red with this perfume because it reminds me of Guerlain Habit Rouge. Everyone else in the world has pointed out the similarities, but Noir is more the modern child of Habit Rouge. It's younger-smelling, brighter, more alive. As much as I love Habit Rouge, there's something about it that's "flat" to me, while the burst of bergamot in Noir makes it more youthful. Noir starts out flowery, with the deep rose and iris in the beginning. There's something mysterious about it, and then it brightens with the aforementioned bergamot, and it comes alive. That floral heart is unique for a men's fragrance nowadays. It isn't original, but in today's aquatic men's fragrance market, it's downright revolutionary. But what I love most is its drydown - the musk, the leather, the opponax creates a modern, plastic (in the best sense of the word) mix. You thought the scent has already peaked, but it is still evolving. I love that at the end of the night, it gives you that feeling of sex - there's a dirtiness there. I may be alone in bed at the end of the night, but I don't really smell like it. Now that's the best party ever for me.

Monday, December 24, 2012

And So This Is Christmas (Stage Review: A Christmas Story, Lunt Fontanne Theater)

Apparently, the film "A Christmas Story" is beloved and iconic. I have never seen it. So of course, I also had no desire to see this production. But when the reviews started coming in after the show opened, it had almost unanimous raves and it piqued my interest. "A Christmas Story, The Musical" is quite terrific, and is a must-see if just for the one scene with Caroline O'Connor and Luke Spring. In the second-act opener, they star in a dream sequence set in a speakeasy, they have a tap-off and it's such a rip-roaring crowd pleaser that you won't be able to help but give in. Spring, is a little dynamite that I would give him a Featured Tony award if I had my way. And Caroline O Connor, how come I have never seen her before (or have I?) I know she is a West End legend, and I do have all her CDs, but she is the real deal. (She should have taken over Evita across the street) Seriously, that scene so won me over that I feel like they eclipsed the whole show (and they aren't even the stars!) Based on Jean Shepherd's autobiographical radio show, the story isn't much: little Ralphie wants a Bb toy rifle for Christmas, but things don't go his way before the big day. Along the way, we get to see his eccentric father and his obsession with a leg lamp, and there is a school bully storyline that's just a little creepy for me. I wish I could say that I was fully engrossed in that storyline, but let's just say that I am not its target audience. But, the tuneful score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul is good enough (I think repeated listenings would make me love it more) and there is a serviceable set by Walt Springer and inventive choreography by Warren Carlysle (he makes good use of the leg lamp) Though I probably would listen to the score, I don't know if I would want to see this show again - but it's just me being a scrooge. If this sounds like something you would see, then I can assure you that you would love this.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Miss Happy Ever After (Book Review: Elyse Douglas)

Slowly and surely the Christmas spirit is coming to me.  Maybe that is why I have been less cynical today, while reading Elyse Douglas "Christmas Ever After." This was yet another one of those Holiday tales wherein you are shown what you will become if you don't change, and sometimes I did roll my eyes while reading it, but I am being generous this time and say that somehow it got to me. Why should I not be happy about a sorry that may inspire good in everyone. Here I am, on the eve of Christmas Eve, and I will just be thankful for m own blessings, and reading "Chrismas Ever After" is one of them. 

Plus, this is my 100th book this year, and I have officially made my goal. When I set it out early this year, I was honestly unsure if I would be able to achieve it, but here I am, triumphant. 

God Bless Us All

BC- 100

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ain't Got Nothing To Be Guilty Of (Film Review: The Guilt Trip)

I was kind of dreading seeing "The Guilt Trip," and it's not what you think. You see, I had been looking forward to this. It's Barbra's first starring role  since like, forever - her Fockers movies are none-existent to me. But then I started hearing not-so-good things about it, and the reviews have been decidedly mixed. So, I was afraid i would be disappointed with it. As I was entering the cinemas today, my expectations were lowered, and perhaps because of that (though I doubt it) I found the movie to be thoroughly entertaining, even touching. Barbra is in fine form: I have always felt that she is great in comedic roles, and here she shines. She is natural, fearless, and very very funny. (She ain't the original Funny Girl for nothing) And I was surprised to find myself laughing several times throughout the movie (as well as the frankly geriatric and lesbian-heavy crowd I saw it with) I get so jaded with comedy films sometimes that it sometimes quite tough to get me to laugh. I had also feared that the movie would have an Apatow-vibe to it: mainly low and crass humour. But, maybe because Barbra is part-producer, the humour never panders, it is never not classy. I even liked Seth Rogan here, an actor I have never found appealing. And as I mentioned earlier, there is a sweet surprise in the ending that will make you all verklempt. So, really, what's not to like? Okay, so the film gets a bit sluggish in the middle, and the story is really mindless fun. But, anyone coming in probably won't be expecting anything thought-provoking. So, go see it. It's the Holidays - take your mothers! It's just the right thing to do.

Never More Alone, Never More Apart (Music Review: Highlights From The Motion Picture Soundtrack, Les Miserables)

They say that if "Les Miserables," the movie musical, proves to be a hit, it will pave the way for other movie musicals to be made. So count me in among those who are hopeful for its success. I cannot tell you how I am so looking forward to seeing it on Christmas Day. Meanwhile, though, I have listened to the "Highlights From the Motion Picture Soundtrack" release and while as an aural experience, it is very satisfying, I have mixed feelings about it. First off, since this is one of those musicals I know inside and out, it was a bit disconcerting for me to hear "highlights," (As per Amazon, anyway, I don't think there's a release for the whole music) and I felt like I was hanging hearing songs "unfinished," as it were. Now the performances are great. But, on record, they seem too act-y, and very showy. I am sure with the visuals, these would work better but taking them as they are, some performances seem just a little overdone. Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, doesn't possess the best voice. It's nasal and a bit shrill, and on a lot of the tracks those traits show, but the thing with him is that he has such charisma and presence that any deficiencies can be overlooked.  Anne Hathaway's "I Dreamed A Dream" reportedly has been getting applause after applause on the test screenings and I can sense why. The recording here is great, but again, I suspect gains from more acting than singing. (I have read reviews wherein the camera never leaves her face during the scene) Samantha Barks' "On My Own" fares better - she is a stage veteran, after all, and you can sense that she knows her way through a song. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Eddie Redmayne so expressive in his singing - ready your hanky for "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables." There's even a song just for the movie, "Suddenly, " if only to get a Best New Song nomination for the Academy Awards.  The recording just whets my appetite for the movie, truthfully, and I just hope it lives up ti its promise. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Scent Of Music (Scent Review: Vocalise, MPG)

Do you ever describe a city by music? I was in Vienna over the summer and if I were to ask how to describe the city, I would answer "Classical Music." I know, it's weird, akin to dancing about architecture. If someone was to ask me how to describe Maitre Parfumeur Gantier's "Vocalise," I would also answer "Classical Music." I will try to explain - this scent starts with berries and fruits: blackberries and red berries. And then the vanilla and musk comes in, and it's that trademark Gantier musk - slightly salty and slightly sweaty musk. Then floral hints take center stage: I get rose, and ylang ylang. It's a great mix: the dark sweetness is certainly fruity, but you don't smell like a fruit basket. It's classy, and it soars, but it's never overwhelming. Truthfully, I wish the longevity was tougher. (MPG has released a Vocalise Extreme, but I read that they add jasmine in the mix ) This scent is very pretty, very refined, it's like Bel Canto, very full but fragile.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

She Was Kissing Santa (Book Review: Santa Maybe, Scarlett Bailey)

It sounded interesting as an idea: a woman falling in love with Santa Clause, and it at least made me want to read this short novel by Scarlett Bailey (That, and I am still desperately trying to get into the Holiday spirit) However, the execution was really sketchy. I foudn that there was no chemistry between Amy and Santa. There were some cute touches (a stop in Venice, a gay dad) but all in all this was a tepid egg nog of a Holiday novel. 


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Saving Grace (Stage Review; Grace, Cort Theater)

There is nothing new in "Grace."  Craig Wright weaves a story about faith, and how it is tested. And it's pretty much by the numbers. The direction makes it clear that there are no surprises here. We know s soon as the curtain rises that something terrible will happen to the main characters, Steve and Sara (played by Paul Rudd and Kate Arrington) So we get set up on appreciating how we get to that terrible place in their lives. And we ask ourselves, what is this play trying to tell us, what are we to infer, to judge, to take from this evening? As the play is written, not much. But, strangely, though, I still found "Grace" to be a satisfying evening. Why? Because of the electric performances. Paul Rudd, as a religious Christian who moves with his wife to Florida, is a natural actor, who plays the role with charm, obnoxiousness, and passion. He never goes over-the-top which could have been an easy and obvious trap. You feel he doesn't have a desire for the character to be understood deeply, but you do anyway. When his character reaches a breaking point, it is realized: you aren't surprised by the characterization even if the situation is surprising. Arrington is perfectly foiled: she brings a softness and vulnerability to her role. Shannon is fantastic, too. He is low-key and down-to-earth. Ed Asner steals his scenes, but then his role was written that way. Dexter Bullard, the director has fine touches - the turntable stage hasn't been effectively used since Les Miserables. The play may be lightweight, but the amazing performances here are the saving grace for the evening.   

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Green (Film Review: The Odd Life Of Timothy Green)

I don't know why I ended up spending Sunday morning watching a Disney film, considering my dislike of them, but there I was, immersed in "The Odd Life Of Timothy Green." It has been highly recommended by a friend whose taste I really jive with, and the Blu-Ray just came out, so there was Netflix to the rescue. It tells a story of a husband and wife wanting a child. After a drunken night, they got one (Okay - pun intended) The only thing, though: it came from their garden. And the kid has leaves growing from his feet. (no feet fetish jokes, please) And just like most films of this ilk, the child teaches everyone a lesson. It's your pretty standard children's film, sweet and wholesome and inoffensive. I can't really say I loved it, and I thought it would be a tearjerker, but it didn't really get me, so to speak. It has a very competent performance from CJ Adams, who plays Timothy. I still can't get past Jennifer Garner, though, and here she plays her role as if she was still stuck in a rom-com. All in all, though, it really is a good children's movie, with a fairly interesting story to tell. If I had a child, I would rather he watch this than a violent superhero movie, for example. But then, I don't have one, so my opinion is moot.

In Love With A Joy Delirious (Book Revew: So Inn Love, Catherine Clark)

Baby it's cold outside.  As I was trying to decide what to read next, the cover of Catherine Clark's "So Inn Love" spoke to me: the pastels, the sand, the memory of a summer day by the beach. And I just started reading, got so into the novel, and finished quickly. It's one of those no-sweat reads: fun, appealing, young. God, was I ever this young? Was I ever this foolish? Yes, I remember that I was, and it is kind of nice to read a story and say, "I've been there in that situation." There were a couple of times when I thought the main character, Eliza, was just acting foolish. I was shaking my head with incredulity. But then I remembered how youth doesn't give you the benefit of experience. What I liked most about the novel was that it made me want to go to a beach right now. And then I realized I can't, and it made me sad.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Naked And Sacred (Scent Review: Madonna Truth Or Dare Naked)

While I was at the mall today, I decided to try the Madonna Truth Or Dare flanker called "Truth or Dare Naked."  I was expecting to like it, and as a matter of fact was ready to buy it. I loved the gardenia-tuberose-caramel accord of her original one, and was raring to own this. When I initially sprayed it on, it smelled almost nothing - I only got vanilla, musk, and a lot of benzoin. I was, frankly, underwhelmed and ended up not getting it. Fine, I told myself, better to have save money than have lost. I went along with my Christmas shopping, and went home. Now, about two hours later, the scent is still on my skin, and it has blossomed. The base is quite lovely: a vanilla musk with cocoa, a little hint of peach note, and ...oud.  Yes, the ever-trendy oud. Iyt's not the medicinal sappy kind of oud, though, as this is more the equivalent of white musk to musk. So, it kind of smells like white oud, I guess. I can't stop sniffing my wrist now - the coco gives it an exotic feel, which is quite balanced with the earlier vanilla and benzoin mix. It is kind of like Prada Candy if you replaced the caramel with coco. For a celebuscent, it is quite different, and miles miles better than that horrid Lady Gaga scent. Now I kind of regret not getting it, as I think this would be a great winter comfort scent. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Single For Christmas (Music Review: Christmas Singles: Michael Buble, Shane Dawson, Linda Eder)

How about some Christmas singles? I think in this age of digital downloads, the single thrives. For a cool ninety-nine cents, (or $129 on iTunes sometimes) you can get your favorite artist's Chritsmas thrill - in some cases these things even become collector's items. Most of these even benefit charities, so all is good. 

Michael Buble had a Christmas special the other day, and unfortunately I wasn't able to see it. (I'm sure it was good - his Christmas album was) Apparently one of the highlights was the ubiquitous gimmick: I call it the "duet with the dead" that was popularized by Natalie Cole when she did that duet with her father years ago.Michael does a duet with Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas"  I don't know if it worked in the Christmas special (I am sure the visuals would help the song) but in the single, it falls flat. There isn't enough of either singer, and the too-short arrangement makes you feel like you lost. Buble's voice should sound vibrant and current, but here it doesn't. Maybe this will finally put a nail on the coffin of this trend. I do still want to see the Christmas special, though. I hope they repeat it. 

I don't know who Shane Dawson is. Apparently he is some YouTube sensation known for making videos wherein he impersonates celebrities. I don't know why he released a Christmas single, but it's not bad. Set in a pop-rock beat, it starts out very cynical about the holidays, but in the chorus turns hopeful. I like the big catchy lyric: "Maybe this year I won't be sad for Christmas."  We have all felt that, haven't we? I don't know if I will ever listen to the song again, but I am sure his fans could (and have) have worse. The song has that ironic-hipster vibe, and I don't even know if that represents who Mr. Dawson is. Oh God, I suddenly feel so old.

Linda Eder, via her fan club, has given an mp3 gift to her fans: "Christmas Where You Are," an original song she recorded. It's apparently been part of her Holiday repertoire, and it's a good song. I have always had a fondness for her voice: it's creamy and strong without the iciness of, say a Celine or a Barbra. I still think that she will be forever be the best musical muse of Frank Wildhorn. This song has that message of asking someone you have loved and lost: do you celebrate as I do? Are you as sad as I am that we aren't together? It's my favorite among these three singles.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Perks Of A Wallflower (Book Review: Wallflower In Bloom, Claire Cook)

"Wallflower in Bloom," by Claire Cook was a pretty fun read. I have read a couple of her novels, and sometimes they can be a little too cutesy for me, but this one, while still overloaded with cuteness, didn;t feel overbearing. I liked the main character, Deirdre, a sister who has spent her adult life working for her much popular brother, so she has described herself as the wallflower in the ball. She inadvertently puts herself in the ring for a spot in Dancing With The Stars, and makes something for herself. This was a good quick read, and I found myself zipping through the book and never getting bored. I liked the fact that it didn't seem too chick-litty. It was more an interesting story than a story of a woman looking for love. And I like the fact that she is middle aged, and persevering (It kind of gave me hope for myself) Recommended. 


Sampaguita (Scent Review: Jo Malone Orange Blossom)

I keep on forgetting that orange blossom is one of my favorite notes. I keep on forgetting that Jo Malone does really stellar perfumes. So it is not a surprise that I really have ignored Jo Malone's Orange Blossom Cologne. I shouldn't have. I randomly sampled this a couple of months back and loved it - it was one of those "unforgettable scent" moments that we all have once in a while. You spritz something, and it just grabs you and holds you hostage. I couldn't stop thinking about it, and when my sister had the opportunity to pass by Heathrow Airport (they have the best Jo Malone deals there, by the way) I asked her to pick this up for me. I've worn it past couple of days and it's glorious. It's a very soft orange blossom scent - there's that bitterness and tartness to it, but it is certainly less abrasive than, say, Uncle Serge's Fleur D'Oranger, and less abstract than Annick Goutal's watery Neroli. The heart of the scent is really lovely, thanks to an addition of a jasmine note that's full and lovely-indolic. After wearing it, I realized that the jasmine accord here is reminiscent of the jasmine of my youth - sampaguita. No wonder this scent spoke to me - the sampaguita flower is very close to my heart. We used to put it on all  the "santos" in our house. Linda Pilkington has a Sampaguita scent, but I found it very dissimilar to the real sampaguita flower. This scent comes closer. My one complaint - since this is under the cologne line, it is kinda fleeting. While it does moderate projection, the longevity is on the short side.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Maybe Gayby (Film Review: Gayby)

I am sure a lot of gay men and their straight women best friends have made the same promise: that once they get to a certain age, and they are still unattached, that they would have a baby together - a Gayby!  That's the premise of this movie, and it's nothing really revolutionary. This film is one of those breezy comedies filled with real, cosmopolitan erudite characters without those being caricaturish. Matt (Matthew Wilkas) and Jenn (Jenn Harris, hilarious here) do take on that challenge: they want to try and have a baby. First they try to have one the "Old-Fashioned" way, and when that doesn't work, do the turkey basting way (via a cat's medicine injection) Along the way, this movie says more about single life in New York City, where friends become families. It's sweet and touching without being sentimental at all. The writing and direction by Jonathan Lisecki is never with a heavy hand, and the zingers made me laugh like no other movie has done lately. It's a great comedy: you don't have to check your brain in at the door when you see it, and at the same time  not too dumb for you to be guilty about.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

You Decorate My Life (Television Review: Million Dollar Decorators, Bravo)

I got very engrossed with Bravo's "Million Dollar Listing: so I said what the heck, maybe I should also watch "Million Dollar Decorators." I mean, what is there to lose, right? Two episodes in, I am ambivalent. I mean, it is entertaining, but I do not find myself rushing to watch the episodes right away as they pile up on my DVR. This season stars four designers: Jeffrey Allan Marks, Kathryn Ireland, Mary McDonald, and Martyn Lawrence Bullard. They are all strong characters, as you can imagine, and on the second episode, at least, there seems to be sparks flying against Bullard and McDonald as they are asked to collaborate on a project. I think my problem thus far with the series is that the situations all seem forced and manufactured. (Is it a coincidence that the company that hired for the collaboration advertises during the commercial break?) And there seems to be the obligatory cooky maid, here in the guise of Kathryn's French one? Maybe I have watched too many of these things that I can spot contrivances a mile away. But I will watch it more, perhaps there is enough drama here to lure me in.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tidings (Book Review: Comfort & Joy, Kristin Hannah)

Sometimes you have to keep on reading. I started reading "Comfort & Joy" a while back, but just finished it. Even though I have a couple of Kristin Hannah books on my TBR pile, this is the first of hers I have read so I really did not know what to expect from her, except for the fact that I know she has a huge and devoted following. The first part of the book was quick, if a bit too familiar. About a quarter in, I thought it stagnated, and starting venturing into almost-lame territory.  I started rolling my eyes on every plot point, telling myself I really can't suspend my disbelief anymore. But then she hits the reader with a surprising twist (yes, it even surprised jaded old me) and the book perked up, and I started to get into it, and everything kind of made sense. I liked it a lot, and it gave me a very positive message. Even though this is marketed as a Christmas novel, I don't really think it's Holiday-specific. And I do wonder how dated this is, as some references (camera with film?) seem a little too old-fashioned already. This was originally published in 2005 but I wonder if it was written way before then. I am still desperately trying to get in the Holiday spirit and this definitely made me step an inch closer. 


Fireside Scent (Scent Review: Donna Karan, Chaos)

In chaos, there is serenity. I just made up that sentence as I was thinking about what to write about "Chaos," the scent by Donna Karan. Chaos was created in 1996 (commissioned by her then-husband) and I remember wearing it then. But as a scent-wearer, I was pretty inexperienced at that time and while I thought it was pretty and nice, I didn't really appreciate it. (I think I gave my bottle away) Cut to the 2000s, and it has gained such a cult following that bottles of it were being sold in the thousands(!) Of course that made me want it more. In 2009, Lauder (who bought Karan's fragrance arm) re-released it for a brief minute and I ran to get it, and I don't know why I don't wear it often, for it is truly stunning. I saw the bottle peeking at me earlier this week and I have worn it for three days straight now and I love it. Chaos is one of those rare breed nowadays: a spicy oriental. It open you up with the most unexpected mix of cinnamon, cardamom, and sandalwood. I think he name of the scent is meant to be ironic, because this scent is the equivalent of comfort food: it soothes, it calms. The incense comes in in the heart, but it is a behaved myrrh. I get lavender, saffron in the middle notes and it's a sweet-spice mix, down to its base with everything mixing harmoniously. I use the word harmoniously because it is so well blended and rich. For me, this scent is perfect for colder weather. This is the scene I imagine with this scent: a cozy night by a fire curled up reading a book. Even though this is a spicy oriental, it is not one that overpowers you. You never feel like this scent wears you. It feels very personal (the sillage is average but it has powerful longevity) and it feels like a scent that's a "secret." You know it, you like it, and it's yours, only yours. 

This is the original bottle from 1996:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Magnolia Mess (Book Review: Christmas In Magnolia Cove, Rachel Hanna)

There are so many things going on, and I am a bit overwhelmed. I am desperately trying to get into the Christmas spirit but I find it getting difficult by the day. Christmas can you hear me? No? Well, I have been trying to read Holiday stories, hoping the bug catches me. After reading "Christmas In Magnolia Cove," though, I found myself grouchier. It's a run-of-the-mill tale full of cliches, painted by the numbers. I wish I could find any kind of redeeming value from it, but I guess I liked the font on the cover. Maybe it's me. Maybe if I were more "in the spirit," so to say, I would have appreciated it more. I will persevere, though: at some point, Christmas will come and I will have no choice but to deal. 

BC = 95

There's No Hitch (Film Review" Hitchcock)

After I told a friend that I just saw "Hitchcock," he asked me if I would recommend seeing it, and I actually had to pause and think. I mentally divided its pros and cons. The good ? It has spirited performances. I wasn't initially sold on Anthony Hopkins but it didn't take a long time for me to warm up to him. He didn't seem like a duplicate of "Hitch," but he seemed to get the director's mannerisms and spirit. Helen Mirren gives a good Alma, the director's long-suffering wife, and I have read that a lot of what is shown here about her character is speculative, but Mirren is a fantastic actress so you a see a fully fleshed-out character. I am still clueless on Scarlett Johansson's appeal as an actress, and she still hasn't won me over here. I find it difficult to find more things I liked about the movie. Though it should be about how he made "Psycho," it isn't. What we get is mostly a tepid storyline about how he struggled to make the film, first by not getting financing from his company - he had to mortgage his house to finance it - and then later battling with the Board Of Censors to get his famous shower scene intact. There is an out-of-place storyline about Alma getting cozy with another writer, but that went neither here nor there. It kind of made me wonder the point of the movie. So, I answered my friend "no." It may be worth a stream off of Netflix when it arrives there, but I wouldn't go out of my way.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Winter Wonders (Music Review: Lady Antebellum, On This Winter's Night)

I know they're huge music superstars, but I only know one Lady Antebellum song, "Need You Now," and I liked it. So it took me a long time to finally listen to their 2012 Christmas album, "On This Winter's Night," which I learn now is not really a "new" release. It was originally a limited release, only available at Target, though I understand they have added tracks to this version. It's a good album - a good mix of traditional and modern. And I was pleased to find that the arrangements are not really country-centric, but veer more towards pop. My favorite track is definitely a heartfelt version of Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You," where Hillary Scott strips the song of Mariah's divadom and you realize that deep down, it really is a poignant love song. Even Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" works in their stripped down version. And the original,  title track,  is a great song. The standards fare well, too: I am really impressed how they are invested in the lyrical quality of the songs. I admit that I have lumped hem with all the generic bland country groups, but now I realize they are much more than that. I am converted!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Maybe, Just Maybe (Stage Review: Annie, Palace Theater)

ANNIE was my very first Broadway so it is very close to my heart. I didn't even realize that while watching it, I knew all the words to the score: it is simply one of the best ones there, so effervescent, so hopeful, so tuneful. I was ready to be touched, and I was ready to be wowed. This show has also never been timely: these are dim recession days, and yes, we can all use hope, and this show gives those in spades.

Too bad, I only just liked the show as a whole. There are some great performances anchoring the show. It is my first time seeing Anthony Warlow, an Australian theater superstar, and I think he has one of the greatest voices on the boards today. He has great rapport with Lilla Crawford, who plays the adorable tot. She has a great set of lungs, and serves the score very well, but there's something in her performance that doesn't score a home run: is she not big enough? I felt she took the role a notch lower. Katie Finneran, as Miss Hannigan, should be better. Again, there's something off. I have read people describe her performance as joyless, and maybe that's it. 

I also think that's what the production is missing for me: it could be a little more happy. Perhaps James Lapine's hand was just a little bit too heavy for this show. The sets are a bit too drab, and seems cheap, and the costumes are right, but not dazzling. The choreography is horrid - it's pretty lifeless. I know there are complaints that there are no buckets in "It's A Hard Knock Life," but the idea could have worked. I can't help but feel a little underwhelmed by the whole thing. 

Thank God for the score, and it hasn't lost its luster.  When Annie sings "Maybe," I couldn't help but shed a tear. And I have always loved "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile," and even if it is probably the most oversung showtune of all time, "Tomorrow," is still "Tomorrow." . This is one of those shows where you leave the theater humming, and one cannot say that about a lot of scores nowadays.

Of Gardenias And Green (Scent Review: Arquiste, Boutonniere no 7)

I was at Aedes the other day and tried on the newest Arquiste, Boutonniere no 7. This perfume is based on an idea, and it is a pretty swell one. Imagine a scene at Paris' Opera Comique: a bunch of well-dressed young men in tuxedos are milling about during intermission, and they all have gardenia boutonnieres on their lapel. I can see the scene vividly as I close my eyes. This perfume is marketed as "Gardenia for men" and that in itself is intriguing, as there are probably very few male-centric gardenia scents out there, if any. At first sniff, the gardenia her is beautiful, bloomy, and very very bright. It's also quite green, because there is a splash of vetiver in the beginning. And while it was beautiful, I didn't really recognize a lot of development in the scent, and I even said, "it's pretty linear!"  And while it is, perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux also made a perfume that speaks quietly after, in soft and hush tones. I had left the store, and as the cold day wore on, the perfume showed some complexities: the vetiver became more pronounced. In a way, it was like seeing a gardenia flower and its white petals, and then slowly its stem comes out, and there's the green, and as it settles, I even get hints of lavender and jasmine. I had thought I didn't need this scent, but now I can't stop thinking about it. I was putting away my clothes today and got a whiff of it via my shirt, and it's really exquisite - I smell gardenias there, but it is framed beautifully by everything else that it's like a beautiful portrait of white flowers with numerous colors in the background making the white flower stand out more in the picture. While I think about it, I really have yet to smell anything in the whole Arquiste line that I don't love, Carlos Huber doesn't try to be unique just for the sake of being different. His scents are elegantly different - instantly recognizable even if the idea seems common: a gardenia scent like this one for example. Santa, if you are listening, I really would like this on Christmas morning.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas Dreams Can Come True (Book Review: All She Wants For Christmas, Jaci Burton)

I saw the Rockefeller Christmas tree the other day, and it was gloriously lit, and there was palpable Holiday energy around it, and it made me think and wonder what Christmas does to people. For many people, it's a great time, but it also heightens loneliness for some people. The main character in Jaci Burton's "All She Wants For Christmas" is  country superstar Riley Jensen, but she has really lonely Christmasses. All the fame and money in the world cannot give you what is most important: family, companionship, love. Until she goes back to her hometown and she meets her high school sweetheart again - the one she left ten years ago because she caught him sleeping with her best friend. This is a simple story, but it is told with elegance. Nothing here will surprise you, but you still go along with the story. This is a kind of novel that will make you think afterwards about your own blessings, and will make you realize what makes one happy during Christmas. 


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Look For The Silver Lining (Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook)

If you look at it simply, "Silver Linings Playbook" follows the formula of a classic romantic comedy: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, big misunderstanding breaks them apart, they get back together. But, in this movie, it doesn't necessarily come in that order. Here, boy goes crazy so he loses one girl, only to meet crazy girl, and... Well, to pigeonhole this movie into one genre would not give it justice. "Silver Linings Playbook" is a lot of things - a family comedy, a love story, a dance movie - and thank God for that. Director David O Russell gives us a very complicated and satisfying movie that hits right at the core: the heart. 

Pat Solitano, played by Bradley Cooper, plays a high school teacher just released from a Baltimore psychiatric ward. He comes home to his parents, played by Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro, and he pines for his wife who he caught cheating while Stevie Wonders "My Cherie Amore" plays, coincidentally their wedding song. He meets another tortured soul, Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and the rest, well, the rest of the story is hard to describe. It is topsy turvy and makes unexpected turns. 

Cooper makes it all work. Sure, his frat boy tendencies still show up here, but he delivers a layered performance. He understands his character: this damaged good guy and he could have gone the sentimental route but  instead injects it with just the right balance of vulnerability and strength. Lawrence is a revelation. I knew she was good, and was even impressed by her Katness Everdeen, and even though I still think she is a tad too young for the part, she bulldozes her way into the role, and runs away with it. The two of them deserve at the very least his and hers nominations. Robert DeNiro has never looked more alive. I see him nowadays in all these thankless roles where he looks bored that it was nice to see him tackle a real character, for once. Actually, the whole ensemble is good. 

The romantic comedy fan in me wishes that the development of their love story was better, but that would be asking for a different kind of movie. And the last quarter of the movie seemed just a bit rushed. Still, you can't those away from a wonderful movie experience that you should hear honored on Oscar night.

Blog, Scandal, and Videotape (Book Review: Sad Desk Salad, Jessica Grouse)

I was attracted to "Sad Desk Salad" because it is a story of a blogger, and right now I am writing on a blog. Jessica Grose used to write and was an editor of Jezebel, a famous women's blog, and I thought it would be great to get an insider's take on the whole blogging business. It's a fairly entertaining novel, and though I thought it would be, it's not entirely a rip-off of the Devil Wears Prada formula. 

Alex Lyons works for Chick Habit, a snarky blog that skews a female audience, and she has a tough boss, Moira. When someone tips her off on a NSFW video of a daughter of a conservative politician, she at first questions publishing it, but eventually does. She then confronts the consequences of her actions. 

The book raises some very important questions - mainly on how people live in the internet age, and on the twenty four hour news cycle. It also touches on celebrity, and notoriety, and how it makes or breaks people. It also deals with how some peopel live in an internet bubble - how they surround themselves with online life, and how that can destroy one's perception of "reality."

I found the novel very engrossing, if uneven. While I don't think it was a distraction, the side story about Alex and her boyfriend seems unnecessary plot contrivances. The whole story was also rounded up rather quickly, with some plot points hard to swallow in their impossibility. But, there was enough drama in there to keep the pages turning, and I like the fact that Alex wasn't entirely sympathetic: she was unlikeable at times, making her human. All in all, I liked it more than I didn't, and would even recommend it for a quick read.

The Adorkable Doctor (Television Review: Emily Owens, M.D.)

I guess with CW's success with Hart Of Dixie (A show which I like a lot) they just had to find ways to replicate the formula, so they came up with Emily Owens MD. Mamie Gummer (she should really change her screen name) plays a young doctor in a Denver Hospital.As most young doctors are, she is unsure about hat to do at the hospital, and she realizes that it is "just like High School," with meanies and bullies. And crushes, too of course. Emily Owens is adorkable. Her character - and the way Gummer plays her - sort of reminds me of the Jess character in "New Girl" (a show I stopped watching because that character just annoyed me) Adorkable works, I know, but Gummer is a good actress not to go for the overkill. Two episodes in,  there's a part of me that's ready to give up with this: the meanies are two-dimensional, and the story lines are generic. I wonder, though, if the show will move into a more soap-y direction, just like it did with Hart Of Dixie. I am sure the love angles here would be developed. Emily pines for Will Rider (Justin Hartley) aka the bad guy, though Will has told her he doesn't like her that way. There's another guy - the good guy - Micah (Michael Rady) who we know likes her, but Emily doesn't recognize that yet. I know that situation is a big set up for multitude of things, and I know Gummer is a good enough actress to run away with that storyline. This makes the whole show a bit predictable, if sweet and familiar. I decided I will not give up. I had the same dilemma with Hart of Dixie last year, but I got patient and it paid off. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fame Is Overrated (Scent Review: Fame, Lady Gaga)

I know it's been out there for a long time now, but believe it or not, I just sniffed Fame, Lady Gaga's scent, today while at Sephora. I liberally sprayed on my left arm, and waited for the magic to happen. The Lady herself said in very early interviews that her perfume would smell like blood and semen (though that's been done before, via Etat Libre d'Orange's Secretions Magnifique)  When the perfume was launched, though, she changed that and said that the perfume would smell like an expensive hooker. Well, if only. All the hookers I know have good taste, and I would venture to say that none of them would proudly wear this fragrance. Just like her music, Fame is a derivative. It smells like a cheap knockoff of a drug store scent, not even in the same league as something in a department store. It smells so plain, a generic fruity floral. It smells faintly of generic fruit. The notes say apricot, but I smell powdered Kool-Aid. There is a cheap vanilla base that smells very fake. To say that I am disappointed would be incorrect. This is much worse that I feared it would be. I can think of a dozen celebuscents that are better than this: Halle Berry's and Hillary Duff's come to mind. And there are even a handful of very good ones, like Madonna's and Queen Latifah's. Why Lady Gaga would attach her name with something so uninspired I will never understand. This is as bad as they get, folks. Lady Gaga, the singer, is an attention whore, yet this perfume is a wallflower - it barely registers. It has medium sillage and longevity. I know they spent a lot of money developing this perfume's black jus that sprays clear. They should have spent just a little more to better the more important part of the perfume: the smell.  

Raspy Holidays (Music Review: Rod Stewart, Merry Christmas Baby)

Maybe I am getting older. The "Standards Snob" in me wasn't really fond of Rod Stewart's foray into The Great American Songbook, although I certainly understood why he went into them, and why people responded to those albums with ferocity. I do admit Mr. Stewart has a great, distinctive voice. It's not for everyone, but I like that rasp. He employs that rasp to full effect on his very first Christmas album, "Merry Christmas Baby," and what do you know? I think it's a very enjoyable Holiday album. Producer David Foster has infused the album with a variety of genres, and the end result: there's wistful, there's happy, there's body, there's soul! I love the collaborations, there's a funky duet (the title track) with CeeLo Green, and there's a bragaddocio Rat-pack style with Michael Buble, and there's even your duet-with-the-dead with Ella Fitzgerald. But I really liked his take on Christams standards the best. There's a great dichotomy between the sweet lyrics and the roughness in his. Without a "beautiful voice" to go with the pretty lyrics, you get the sense that you are getting something new. I could totally myself trimming the tree with this!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Therapy (Movie Review: The Sessions)

The first part of "The Sessions" is difficult to watch. Set in 1988, it tells the story of Mike O Brien, a 38 year old man who has an iron lung. He can only be off a metal contraption to his gurney for about four hours a day. He is a devout Roman Catholic, and a virgin. But he is a man, and he can still feel sensations in his body, so he asks his priest, played by William H. Macy, if he should pursue to lose his virginity. Startled at first, the priest says, "I think God will give you a pass on this one," and gives him a go-ahead. John Hawkes, in an Oscar-worthy performance, plays this awkwardness with such believability that you cringe. (You really feel his discomfort - there were a couple of walkouts in the theater in the screening I went to) This is such a physical performance without all the obvious physicalities. Each pause in his voice, each tick in his eye, they all serve a purpose, and he flawlessly delivers. Enter Helen Hunt, who plays a sex therapist. She gives a raw and naked performance, both internally and externally. A lot has been said about her nude scenes, but I never felt they were exploitative. She enters this transaction with stern professionalism. ("Unlike a prostitute, a sex therapist doesn't want return business")  But somewhere along the way, it begins to mean something more. And that's when the film hits a stride. It hits you, holds you and doesn't let you go. I had trepidations about the theme of this movie, and when it started, it felt like a documentary. You empathize, but don't connect. Until you do.

This film will make you think about loves in your life. O'Brien wrote that he expects that on his funeral, there will be people who will come and he knows that he will have loved them, and they would have felt his love. To that, one can say that he has lived as full a life as the most abled man in the world. We can all only aspire for such a life.You will enter the theater thinking you will see a story of a sick man, but in the end, it is you who will get therapy.

Parisian Violet Mist (Scent Review: Balenciaga Paris)

I will always associate Balenciaga Paris, the scent, with Kanye West. Why, you ask? I had my first encounter with the perfume at the Balenciaga Store in Chelsea, and that day, Kanye West was holding fort at the store. He had a big entourage, and he had his then-girlfriend traipsing around in Nicholas Ghesquiere's creations. He was making her try on piece after piece. I spritzed the jus on my skin, and didn't think twice about it. I thought it was nice, but my initial impression was that it was meh. But I remember walking home, and it started to mist, and suddenly the scent suddenly blossomed in the wet air. The delicate violet notes started to soar, and it was all I could do to go back and get a full bottle. I didn't, though, and largely forgot about the perfume until this year when I finally got a discounted bottle. Perfumer Oliver Polge does for the violet note here what the iris note for Dior Homme. We get a misting of it - this is a transparent and watery violet (but not aquatic) that is like a scent veil - it envelopes you elegantly, and never takes the attention from you. It's a very subtle scent, and the drydown is beautiful, but stark. It is also very earthy. There is a white musk here that brings down the violet - it is kind of like a trail. You sense it, but do not really smell it most of the time. Balenciaga Paris is a scent I would recommend for a specific type - someone who is very well aware of a streamlines style, somewhat conservative but not stodgy. It is not a casual scent at all - you feel "dressed up" when you wear it so you would be inclined to wear it when you have something a little ore special on. I don't think it would match a jeans and t-shirt aesthetic, but I also think it would feel right at home with a ball gown. I think it's a very modern interpretation of Paris, very different from Sophia Grosjman's classic Paris for YSL. It's beautiful, and I think will stand the test of time.

Sweets For The Sweet (Book Review: Sweetness, Lindsay Paige)

"Sweetness" was a free book on Amazon, and what caught me initially was its cover. They always say don't judge a book by its cover, but in this case, I lucked out. This is a simple story, a young adult book about two people who find each other in the midst of their emotional damages. Emily has had a rough time - she has been abused and pimped out by her own mother while Jake just lost his mother from cancer. They find love with each other, and try to let love grow. It's not lighthearted. The characters around them could be more real, but they serve their purpose well. I did not realize this was one of those "serial" books and this is the first of the series so it doesn't really end, but is set up for the sequel. I guess that's why they gave this one for free, to whet people's appetites so they buy the next books in the series. The one thing I didn't like about this book is that it was promoting the fast food chain Chick Fil-A, making me think that the author is a Fundamentalist Christian homophobe. I don't think I will be buying her books for that reason.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Soul Sisters (Movie Review: Your Sister's Sister)

I love films about character studies. Isn't it weird that sometimes you watch a movie, and even if a gorgeous story unfolds, there are times when you feel like you never got to know the characters? On the other hand, there are movies wherein even if nothing much happens, you leave the theater feeling like you just met new life long friends. "Your Sister's Sister" is one of those movies. Written and directed by Lynn Shelton, this is a wonderful small film. Mark Duplass plays Jack, who is a man who has lost his brother. He is still depressed, so his best friend, Iris, commands him to spend a weekend at her family's summer house. He gets there and finds Iris' other sister, Hannah there, smiting after a breakup with her girlfriend. A simple enough premise, but things get complicated after Iris follows there. A happy reunion? Yes, but maybe not. This is a movie about nuances, with great subtle acting by all three (DeWitt is my favorite) The last eighth of the movie goes the predictable route, but you forgive because these all are three dimensional characters you learn to care about. And it has a doozy of an ending.

I Love You, Oh, You Pay My Rent (Book Review: Rent, Rick R Reed)

I thought for sure that Rent, written by Rick R Reed, would be one of those tales as old as time. You know, like those stories from Douglas Sirk movies, where a good girl gets trapped in situation, sells her body, and then gets a retrieved reformation. This book is similar, but not quite the same as that story. It tells the story of Wren, who tries his hand at being a rent boy, and then...well, there's a murder mystery plot that occurs after. The story flows well, but I can't help but think it's a little disjointed. There's a middle part that seems like is written from another book - a diary hat resembles a portrait of a cocaine addict. While well written, it comes out of left field and disappeared just as quickly. I wish the murder-mystery part was interesting, but it, too was kind of predictable. There wasn't even enough trash in here to make it a guilty pleasure. It was okay for mindless reading, but nothing more. 


Shy Sandalwood (Scent Review: Santal Majuscule, Serge Lutens)

Maybe it's just fitting that I wore Santal Majuscle on Thanksgiving Day. I was running late, and was trying to quickly decide what to wear. I told myself I wanted to wear something Holidays-ish, when I saw my new-to-me Santal Majuscule, and spritzed it hastily. The first impression it gave me - cocoa. I thought to myself, here we go again with Uncle Serge. It's always a journey with him, a sandalwood with hints of cocoa to start? I am in. And then his trademark stewed fruit jumbo enters - I smell apricots, and I smell roses. The thing about any Serge Lutens fragrance for me is that they are so complex and layered that what you smell depends on the temperature. It was kind of balmy today so maybe the fruity and flowery aspects are the ones "winning out" ? In any event I smell roses and roses after. They aren't the jammy kind. I am pleased to see this is less sugary rose, perhaps there are spices (cardamom?) that balance it ? And then I smell my arm and there it is - the sandalwood. It's a very clean kind (Serge says in an interview that this is based on Australian sandalwood) and it's very appealing, but... I also think it is kind of...boring? I miss the boldness of Santal de Mysore. As time passes, Santa Majusule veers into sweet toasted bread variety. It becomes increasingly gourmand, and stays so. The sillage is on the shy side, but the longevity is fierce. For a sandalwood scent, the sandalwood is kind of hard to discern, though it is there. And for Thanksgiving, it seem appropriate because, of course, it's a very food-centered holiday. For a Serge Lutens fragrance, the story here is not as convoluted. one may even call it safe, commercial, and compared with the rest of his line, uninspired. It is still solid, though.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Christmas Chills, They're Multiplying (Music Review: John Travolta & Olivia Newton John: This Christmas)

You wanna feel old? Do you know it has been thirty years since the movie version of GREASE? Yet the piece still resonates. Heck, the kids from GLEE just did their own version of it. I grew up singing the songs from the movie, and of course with John & Olivia so I was super excited to find out that they have done a Christmas album. Benefitting their respective charities, this album, I thought, has to either be so good, or so bad that it would be destined to be a camp classic. I mean, look at the album cover on the left - it's the gayest thing since Liberace's piano. And with guest stars to boot - Barbra Streisand for cryin' out loud. and you know what? It's a fine Christmas album. I was expecting camp, but this is a very listenable and tuneful Holiday album. I don't particularly think their voices blend well together, but the sum of them amount to something fun. The song selection is great, if a bit familiar - there's a touching "Silent Night" from both of them, and you can't doubt their chemistry, especially in "Baby It's Cold Outside." It was kind of weird to have Barbra chime in during "I'll Be Home For Christmas" but I will take Streisand anyway I can. Even Tony Bennett shows up in "Winter Wonderland," and he brings a lot of fun with him. The album sounds like a star studded Christmas party. Imagine both John and Olivia hosting a party, and then singing along with their guests. It's fun, it's Christmassy - what's not to like?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Best Abe (Movie Review: Lincoln)

LINCOLN is overly long, it's talky, and it's slow. I won't argue with anyone who says those things about the movie. But, it is also thrilling, inspiring, rewarding, and touching. This movie is not about Abraham Lincoln's life. This movie is about the journey to having the thirteenth amendment passed. I couldn't have imagined all the drama that went on to have that passed. And it is so vivid on this screen I felt like I was there. Sure, the movie felt like a civics lesson, but we need to be schooled a lot of times. I really hope the ADD-addled youth of today pays attention, though I doubt this would keep them up - there are no vampires, no car chases, no explosions here. (Well, there is a war scene in the beginning of the movie, but I doubt it'd be enough) And Daniel Day Lewis' performance is so authentic, so realized that I will forever think of Lincoln in his incarnation. Though at times Lewis can overact, here he is subtle and real. I remember going to that Disneyland attraction where they have the motorized Lincoln reciting his speech and it scared me. None of that here. Sally Field is also great, and she is another one who could be over the top but she is reigned in here. She may be triumphant Oscar night. The whole ensemble is great, but I loved Tommy Lee Jones best as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. (It's Mr. Jones' year - he was also brilliant in the comedic Hope Springs)  This is the type of movie that demands to be seen again. I am sure I lost a lot of Tony Kushner's words, and the dialogue is particularly poetic. I know there's a lot more to see this year, but for now, this is tops.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Walk In The Garden Of Eden (Scent Review: Tokyo Milk No 3: Eden)

I am always up for cheap thrills. I have heard of the niche line Tokyo Milk but have never tried it until recently, when I chanced upon a *very-cheap* full bottle of Eden(03). It was so inexpensive that it was so worth the risk. And it paid in triple-digit dividends.Tokyo Milk was created by Margot Elena Wells, and I thought maybe the line would be too "twee," but I was glad to find out that the line is pretty sophisticated. Eden is an elegant fruity-floral, a scent sub-genre that could easily go bad. This opens with fresh greens - I smell crushed leaves - and then the flowers come through: cassis and a clean iris. Musk rounds it out pretty quickly, and stays there, thought the florals never really leave the scene. It's blended perfectly - nothing is obstructive, the musk is clean and pretty. I have this new thing of doing one spritz on my shirt daily, and every now and then I get a whiff of Eden, and it brings a smile to my face. Eden isn't the most innovative scent, but it's formidable, with great sillage and longevity, and for the price, unbeatable. I must admit that I had predisposed judgement on this line before - the perfume snob in me sometimes takes over - but I definitely want to sample the rest of the line now.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

After All, Just One Song (Music Review: Deborah Winters, Lovers After All)

I hear so many standards albums that most of them go in one ear and out the other. Deborah Winters' album "Lovers After All" got my attention because of the title track:  a simple beautiful song composed by R R Bennett. And she does quite a good job with it - sung plaintively, with intelligent and emotional phrasing. It was such a promising first track in the album. Unfortunately, the rest of the didn't quite hold up for me. And I think it just boiled down to a 'taste' thing. I disagreed with all the artistic choices for the rest of the tracks. There is a slightly swingy version of "How Deep Is The Ocean" that felt all wrong for me. It felt overly long and missed the point. And why ever would someone employ "Haunted Heart" with a bossa nova beat? Even a fool-proof song like "The End Of A Love Affair" misses the mark. Ms. Winters has a nice voice, but it's a bit colorless, and just gets lost in the spacious arrangements. I wonder if she would fare better in a duets album. There's just too much happening here. But, she does have that one good track and that will go to my iPod.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Sometime Parisienne (Book Review: Paris In Love, Eloisa James)

There are a lot of people who are just madly in love with the city of Paris. My sister is one of them. She goes there at least once a year. Whenever she travels in Europe, she makes it a point to stop there, even for a day. I have written this numerous times: I do not get along with the city, but I am certainly not immune to its charms. Eloisa James had a cancer scare, and when she got her doctor's clean bill of health, she decided to uproot her family, selling her New Jersey suburban home, and live in Paris for a year. And it sounds like such a wonderful idea, and is the premise foe the book "Paris In Love." The book is a collection of short essays, and Facebook status updates of her year there. It is written kind of like a memoir, and it certainly is very personal. You know how you friend someone in Facebook and then inspect their page, looking at their past status updates? This felt exactly like that, and even though a lot of it is very personal, there was something detached in it. I wanted to like this more, but there was something missing somewhere for me to fully appreciate it. But, I felt like I got to know her family. When they finally left Paris to go back to live in New York City, I felt wistful. 


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Her Name Is Not Susan (Music Review: Susan Boyle, Standing Ovation: The Greatest Songs From The Stage)

So sue me, I kind of like Susan Boyle's voice, and her records. I like that in her past albums, there is always something pleasantly unexpected: a cover of Depeche Mode or a Stones song, something you never thought she would cover but brilliantly does. On her new album, "Standing Ovation: The Greatest Songs From The Stage," she still sounds divine - there is always such a vulnerability in her voice that slays me. I can' help it. But the song selection here is so uninspired - it's as if they had a quest to choose some of the most overplayed songs ever to hit the stage. Name a cliche, it's here: "Over The Rainbow," "The Winner Takes It All," "Memory."  You know how you look at a track listing and you know exactly how the album will sound even before hearing a single note? That's how I felt here. I mean, I wasn't expecting a cut from "Coco," but a little unique variety would have been nice. She literally chose some of my most-unfavorite songs of all time. Someone on Facebook asked me if there were any "highlights," and the closest I could think of is her duet with Donny Osmond in "All I Ask Of You," a song I can tolerate. But then again, it brought back memories of when I saw her on stage with him (singing another song) and she seemed wooden and almost mentally-challenged. I hate to say this, but this album is a misfire for me.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

All About Connie (Television Review: Nashville, Wednesdays on ABC)

After watching the third episode of the new television show, Nashville, I still don't know how I truly feel about it. I have watched it, and it has kept me interested enough, but I can't say I am loving it enough to watch the episodes right away. I feel my emotional involvement with it isn't as strong. And I cannot understand why. What I do know, though, is that Connie Britton is a force of nature here. She smolders in her role as Rayna James, a Country Superstar. Rayna is experiencing some challenges: her label is now gravitating towards Juliet Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) who is the new hot young thing in country music. And her husband has started to run for Mayor of Nashville, against a friend of hers and her family. Rayna has her plate full, and Britton provides just the right balance for her character: strong without getting too overbearing, stubborn in her strength which makes her flawed enough to be real. A lot of people are already talking Emmy for her in this role, rightly so. But I am also quite impressed with Panetierre. I thought she would be just middling in her role: a young brat diva. But she has shown surprising humanity, perhaps aided by a well-drawn script. It's definitely a three-dimensional character and she is convincing. The storylines verge on soap-operaish, and some twists and turns are predictable. But these two women keep on pulling me back. I just wish I was more invested, but there's enough here to still see.