Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dead Lived

A live album is always tricky. Sometimes the magic just does not translate on record. Karen Oberlin's Frank Loesser show at The Algonquin was praised by Stephen Holden in The New York Times. Writing about it, he calls it a "smart, polished show" and praises Miss Oberlin because she "concentrates on Loesser’s softer-edged zaniness and on his unjustly neglected romantic side"  This recording doesn't really zip anywhere, it just registers bland, and I got bored with it after the second song. And I can't really fault the Loesser canon, because it is filled with wonderful tunes. he wrote some of my most favorite ones, like "My Time Of Day," More I Cannot Wish You," and "Spring Can Be A Little Late This Year." Those songs are sung without any punch. She sings it almost without feeling or nuance. Even a most dramatic "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" just lies there flat, unanswered. the slowed-down  "Heart And Soul," for example, is slowed down, but it doesn't smolder as it should have. (I also wonder how Mary Cleere Haran would have sung it with the same arrangement, and I am sure it would have been better) Perhaps the show's charm wasn't captured by the recording? Maybe she exudes charm that is not aural? She is a very attractive woman, perhaps her strength lies there? I disliked this recording so much that it felt like a chore listening to it, and since I wanted to be fair, I listened to it a couple of times before going "negative." But I want to be honest, this was interminably bad. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Smash Episode 4: Half A Diva

Wow. I have read that this episode was a good one, where the series starts to get its groove, and I was scared to expect too much. Well, the good news is that they were right, this is the best episode since the pilot. The story moved, and I like where it is going. All the expositions from the past two episodes are starting to pay off. First of all, I love the rehearsals scenes. They give you a glimpse of the process of constructing a musical. While I have been borderline Team Ivy before, I think, after this episode, I still am. Yes, even if she has started to become a lot less sympathetic. But then again, Karen has also started to be less sympathetic for me as well. I thought she was acting too "entitled" in the rehearsal scenes. I wanted to tell her, "For better or worse, you are in the chorus and you need to listen to what the creative team is telling you." In the real world, I doubt the director would have tolerated her tantrum. Chorus girls are a dime a dozen in NYC and you can walk down Ninth Avenue and can easily find a swift replacement for her.  And this us vs them team is a little too "Mean Girls" though it is delicious and campy. The insertion of pop songs aren't as organic as I want them to be, but  they were great, so I am not complaining. Nick Jonas was a revelation for me. I just saw him on "Watch What Happens Live" and his character here is very different from how he i sin real life, so his performance here was quite believable so I would say he has acting chops.  And the hopeless romantic in me really loves the Michael/Julia storyline  and I really like where that is going. And I am even getting used to Anjelica Houston's caricaturish character, as much as she tries to humanize it. And I also am liking the Tom/lawyer storyline as well, a testament to Christian Borle. I keep on forgetting that he is not only a gay man, but a playboy in real life. It's really starting to come together. I can't wait till next week. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fixed Income Follies

Last night, "The Devil Wears Prada" was on television and I just couldn't help but stop and watch a little bit of it. I think that book (and the movie) are modern classics, even inspiring derivatives. "Bond Girl," by Erin Duffy has been described as "...Prada" meets "Wall Street," and as a novel, is pretty good. Duffy is a master story-teller, and she created an interesting character in Alexandra, the main protagonist. She is well-fleshed out, and even though in real life, I probably would not like her, I liked her character enough that I sped through this book, finishing it in a day. Maybe because I am very acquainted with the environment she was in. I, too, worked with bond traders for almost thirty years, and she describes the "trader mentality" to a T. I have known every single trader character she has here: the brittle but with a heart-of-gold boss, the happy-go-lucky traders, the bitter women traders who had to prove themselves to be accepted. I assure you, soem of their antics may be crazy and unbelievable, but I have seen worse in real life. If for anything, her stories even have are more "now," as I even consider myself to be "Old School Wall Street." It kind of made me wistful for my old life, but at the same time I also remembered the stress it used to give me and the hard work everyone put in. Wall Street has vicious highs and lows, and she also touches on that in here. The end seemed a little abrupt to me, and I read in her acknowledgements that the original manuscript was 700 pages long, so I kind of wonder how the "long" version might have been like. After my depressing last read, this was a welcome change.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sweet Melissa

I recently saw an indie movie titled ""Dirty Girl" and it featured a lot of Melissa Manchester's music, and I was suddenly reminded of how great her pop songs are.  Who, you ask? Melissa Manchester is a relic from the late 70s, and 80s, one of those smooth pop singer-songwriter types, from that era when record albums were called "albums." (She even says "Pardon me when I reference my albums as albums) She was performing at a small venue outside the strip and we thought it would be fun to see her.  As she started the show, she said "We are going to sing old songs, new songs, brand spanking new songs, and really old songs," and it proved to be a fantastic mix resulting to a fun evening. Let's be straight, though: the voice is not as rich and bold as it used to be but it would be unfair to compare it to recordings done almost thirty years ago.  Its still a beautiful alto, and the depth and intensity of her interpretations are still intact, if not even more felt nowadays. She goes through all her hits: "Midnight Blue," "Looking Through The Eyes Of Love," and a beautiful "Come In From The Rain," which was done  with just her and apiano. She sings with her younger self on video in "You Should Hear How She Talks About You," and duets with her friend  Barry Manilow on video for "You've Got A Friend." There were songs from her "When I Look Down That Road," which one of my favorite albums of hers, as well as songs from the "First Great American Songbook," and a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.  And there's even that new song she wrote for "Dirty Girl," which she says was in the first round of nominees for Best Song on this year's Academy nominations.  The crowd was low wattage, mostly older, more nostalgic than anything else. When she started singing "Looking..." the lady right next to me literally started weeping, and there was a part of me who understood her, and was thinking what could have caused her crying:  Lost Love? Regret? A Happy Memory? Melissa Manchester comes from a time when pop songs were simple and beautiful, lush without being too complicated, heartfelt without having too much drama. Give me those over today's excesses. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

On Probation

Tom Mendecino's "Probation" is a good book. But... I respect it more than I like it.  It tells a story of Andy Nocero, whose seemingly perfect life is torn apart by one mistake - he was caught having anonymous gay sex at a highway truck stop. See, the thing is, though, he is married to a woman, and this incident was the catalyst to their getting a divorce. He was sentenced to a year of probation and counseling and he narrates his journey from that year on, and we are also treated to flashbacks of how things were before. The writing style is great; it's well balanced between tragedy and black humor. however, maybe it's just my state of mind right now, but I found the whole book depressing and most of the time it took me on a tailspin of downward emotions. Bad things after bad things happen to the main character, and after a certain point, I wanted to say enough is enough. It's all me, too, because probably I just need a lot more gaiety in what I am reading nowadays - it's been a tough beginning of the year, and perhaps I should be reading more escapist fare. I know this book won a lot of awards, but all the accolades in the world is meaningless if I don't connect to it. It really is ultimately my loss. 


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Food Porn And Cinematographers

Sometimes I get to see quiet gems on my Netflix queue. One that I liked recently is "Toast," which is a movie based on the life of British chef Nigel SLater. I don't really know Mr. Slater which may have contributed to my appreciation of the movie. Slater grew up with a mother who did not really know how to cook, so as a kid he used to read cookbooks and he used to stare at the pictures, hiding to look at them like they were pictures of naked ladies - giving new meaning to the term food porn. Really the only thing her mother can really do is toast. When his mother dies, he makes a mission of learning how to cook after his father marries their housekeeper/cook as a way of trying to compete for his attentions. There are a lot of things I liked about the movie - it had this atmospheric fantasy vibe scored by some of Dusty Springfield's songs, and Helena Bonham Carter gives a deliciously over-the-top performance. And Freddie Highmore is a cutie - chaste and accessible, although, really, even though he is billed above the title, he only appears in the last third of the movie. I wish the gay storyline was punched a bit to fully know his character, and I suspect it is more fleshed out on the memoir. I also would have loved to have known about his "rise" in his field, but perhaps that's where knowing of Slater would be beneficial.

When I saw Julia Roberts in the cast of "Fireflies In The Garden," I half-asked myself what the hel is she doing in a small independent film until I saw her husband's name as the cinematographer (Danny Moder) and I got my answer. She is photographed beautifully, of course, and heck, the picture does look like a glossy magazine. The movie isn't as bad as the scathing reviews it got, but that's perhaps because people were expecting a lot more from it. Not that I am saying it's any good - characters are cardboard pieces, and there really isn't an arc in the supposed heart of the movie - Ryan Reynolds'. This has some very good performances from Reynolds, Roberts, and Watson, but there's no there there, so they're all kind of wasted. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

The End Of Innocence

We all had our last summer of innocence, before we crossed over to that stage wherein we realize that we really aren't kids anymore, yet we ask the question, "Are we adults yet?" It's a subgenre that isn't really fresh, but I like it. Plot wise, there really isn't much here, it's more  "slice of life" than anything else. But a lot of things happen. Dade Hamilton is tryng to extricate himself from an ex who is confused about his sexuality (he is the only one confused about it, though, as we all know) and meets another guy, who is a part-time drug dealer to the popular kids in school. I find I cannot relate to a lot of the drug use and partying they do, but then I venture that is what kids these age do. I can relate, though, to a lot of the mixed feelings of dealing with first love, or whatever you define these relationships you have when you are that age. I think the novel is well-written, and my interest was kept the whole time. I had a feeling that normally I wouldn't have liked these kids, but I did. The ending(s) were a little too predictable, and there is this weird sub-plot of a missing girl that went nowhere for me. Still, I am glad that they are still writing these kinds of books, though, for I could imagine they would make some kind of emotional impact for younger readers. I hear it's a pretty successful title, and there are even plans of movie-izing it. 


Smash Ep3 : Love Is Found At Brooklyn Bridge

Episode 3 for me was not as bad as I thought it would be. There was that piece on Huffington Post saying that this episode was not going to be the best, and while I do agree, I think this episode was much needed because it set up a lot of exposition for various story lines in the series. First of all, I loved the story between Deb Messing and Michael (played by Will Chase) Maybe it's the old romantic in me, but I found myself pulling for them, even though it is evident that they shouldn't be right for each other. He's married with a new child, she's in a stable marriage. (Incidentally, there are parallels in real life, as both Deb and Will allegedly left their respective partners for each other. They are now engaged.) I found the scene at Brooklyn Bridge very romantic, and I want them back together, darn it. Also, I think the show does a great balance of mixing the pop music numbers with the original songs. I liked both Will's Bruno Mars scene and even Kat's Gretchen Wilson number, even if I totally do not dig that song at all. I loved loved loved the closing number, and it gives us a sense of the musical as it is coming to fruition. I wish Anjelica Houston's scenes weren't so contrived, and couldn't they get a better villan than Ellis? More and more I am thinking Megan Hilty is the perfect choice for Marilyn but at the same time I am pulling for Kat. I am so confused, and it is a wonderful confusion. I look forward to next week's episode - they're doing Adele! 

Friday, February 17, 2012

First Love

Sometimes I read a book and I love it so much that I tell myself, "This is why I read." That was exactly how I felt after reading "Something Like Summer" by Jay Bell. This is book is easily the best book I have read in recent memory. As a matter of fact, if I were grading my reviews, I would give this a close to perfect score. It's the story of Ben Bentley, and it starts when he first falls in love at age 16.  And that is the foundation of the whole story: his first love, how it never dies, how it stays with you, how it shapes how you love for the rest of your life. Just like all first loves, Ben's ended up in a lot of heartbreak, and when the first part of the book finished, Bell writes the circumstance with much poignancy that I literally had to stop, and weep.  It made me want to hink, it made me want to digest what I just read. For me, the first third of the book is easily its best part. We then follow Ben as he goes through college life, and as he embarks on his next serious love, and we see him transform from a boy to a man. The rest of the book is a little predictable, but there are enough twists and turns that you are still caught off-guard, and I know a lot of people have had problems with how the book ends, and I initially agree. However, as I thought about it more, I realized that just like real life, we just have to settle with what life gives us, and make peace with it. I saw that I bought this book from Amazon for my Kindle on Feb 12, 2011. (Amazon gives you a little notice when you go back to the book's page)  I don't know why I waited to read it until this week, but maybe I wasn't prepared yet last year because right now I am in a much better place emotionally to fully absorb this story. I recently read that the rights for this book has been bought to be turned into a motion picture, and I welcome a more visual interpretation of this story. But, I doubt it will be able to duplicate the roller coaster of emotions I felt while reading the book. 


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Diggin' For Blossom

There are so many jazz vocalists nowadays that it is really difficult to keep track of every single one of them. I have never heard of Amy Cervini, a Canadian singer who has released a new album, "Digging Me Digging You," which is a Blossom Dearie tribute album.  A brilliant idea, it is, because Blossom was one of the greats in my book, a unique and distinct voice as there ever was in jazz history. At the same time, though, this has got to be the worst idea in the world because these songs are so iconic (especially the ones she wrote herself) and I don't know if I could listen to them without hearing Blossom in my head. The latter proves to be the case.  While Ms. Cervini is a good musician, her voice is colorless, and her style too generic to make a dent for these songs. One just wants to pull out Blossom's original versions of these songs as soon as one plays this album. It doesn't help that her arrangements - while strong - don't really offer much variation from the originals. Still, it is a treat to hear these songs, all my Blossom faves like "Hey John," which was written for John Lennon, who was a fan of Ms Dearie, and "Im Shadowing You," which is the best stalker song since "On The Street Where You Live."  As an album, this has got to have one of the best collection of songs - there's variety, there's depth, and there's a lilt in the mood that is carefree. And then I realize - those are adjectives that I could describe the whole Blossom Dearie experience. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Love Potion

LP no 9 by Penhaligon was obviously named from the song, and is obviously marketed to a younger customer, somethign that the Penhaligon House needs to conquer.  Just look at the bottle, it looks like something you can get from Victoria's Secret (even the font is 'young')  It has a very citrussy opening, but it quickly goes into floral territory, then has a woody-ambery drydown. It is welldone, well-blended, and wears quite well, a little bit more formal, and is more suited for 'evening wear.' It is inoffensive, but also somewhat generic and kind of boring. I like it, but it just isn't unique enough for me to want to pull it out from my collection. I have had it for a while, and son't wear it often, only pulling it out today because it reminded me of Valentine's Day. It has good sillage, but not tenacious and overbearing. and right now as I write this, I forget it. And as for it's magical partner-baiting powers, well, I don't expect to be waking up with someone tomorrow. But then again, one can hope so let me spritz some more, just in case.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Empty Calories

Since it's Valentine's Day, I guess I should write about two love stories.  First up we have Lindsay Kelk's "Jenny Lopez Has A Bad Week,' which was a slim book, and to be honest, it was also slim on plot. Jenny Lopez was a character from the book I earlier read, "I Heart new York" and it was nice to revisit her character (and other characters) from that book, but there isn't much here. She comes back from California, and starts working for a public relations firm taking care of a bratty movie star. She ends up being that star's best friend, and then she meets a Swedish model who she thought was gay, and...well, that's about it. It was a very quick read, and was painless. But it was also empty calories. 

But nothing was emptier than Ally Blue's "Life Love and Lemon Cookies, which is also a slim book about Chris Tucker, a chef whose restaurant caught fire. He becomes unemployed, and starts losing his self esteem, driving his partner, Matt Gallagher crazy. Will this break up their great relationship? They go through a couple of fights, and some steamy sex scenes, and then Chris gets a bright idea from one of Matt's co-workers of a catering company. That's it, too, and this plot is even flimsier. Again, this was a painless read, and is as much empty calories as the cookies  that Chris bakes in the story. 

BC - 14/15

Monday, February 13, 2012

Smash Episode 2: Will She Be Your Star

Ep 02: Loving the show, and for the most part, I also love how we are seeing its structure. It is well-paced since I don't feel like it is testing my patience. I chose this picture above because even though they have built up this "rivalry" between Ivy (Megan Hilty) and Karen (Katherine McPhee) I have never seen Kat as a blonde Marilyn until this episode, and I was kind of rooting for Ivy all this time because I thought she physically resembled Marilyn more, but after seeing Karen in action as Marilyn, I thought to myself, well she would be just as good. Even though I wished I liked the "20th Century Fox Mambo" number more (I feel like I have seen it all before) I think it was a well-done musical number, and I liked how they staged "Let Me Be Your Star" for the actual show. Debra Messing was good tonight, and even though I dislike the adoption storyline, I got misty when she read her letter. And Anjelica Houston - wow she is over the top here, and I fault the director. Must she act like she is in a soap, even though yeah, this is kind of a soap. All in all, though, I am beyond hooked and cannot wait until next week's episode.  

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Time In New Orleans

On surface, this is yet another "standard" gay coming-of-age story, and that's fine by me. I love knowing how we all come to a certain place in our lives. This is a story of Mason, who grew up in rural Mississippi, and how he deals with being gay in his environment. He has a "best friend" Billy, who he is in love with and literally after graduation, Billy takes a bus to New York City. Mason gets to spend a weekend in New Orleans with his aunt who runs a drag queen theater, and he is hooked. It was a very interesting story, it didn't bore me, and I liked experiencing the flavor of New Orleans gay life, as I have never been there and have always heard that the scene over there is interesting. The characters were interesting enough, although some of the ones around the main character were stereotypes and were never fully developed. I kind of wish the novel were a bit longer, as I didn't want to say goodbye to Mason yet. There were more than a couple of typos, though, and find those a little unforgivable with published work. 


Saturday, February 11, 2012


Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for anything "romantic." So of course it would not be a shock that I saw "the Vow," this year's Valentine offering. If we were to just employ logic about this movie, then yes, one would say it is horrible and unrealistic. So the filmmakers more than once remind us that this is "inspired by a true story," and even show a picture of the inspirees at the end reel. So okay, let's suspend disbelief. I feel like we don't need to, because both Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams are terrific in this movie, and because of them, you believe. Tatum continues to surprise me, and he is really evolving to be a sensitive actor. Maybe because he is so beautiful that my expectations of his acting are lowered? Here, though, he is charming, and you can sense that he really took his time and effort into understanding his character. (At the same time, though, I am now kind of imagining the role being played a little darkly, maybe Johnny Depp, and wondering what kidn fo movie that would have been if it were the case) I thoroughly disliked McAdams in "Midnight In Paris," but we see her here bouyant and vibrant, and perfect, like she was in "The Notebook." And they have chemistry, so you end up rooting for them, even if the peopel around them are all two-dimensional. Jessica Lange here (my God, she looks awful - bad plastic surgery?) gets what I call the "Joan Allen" role - wherein the schemes and cheats only to have a small transformation at the end.  Haters of romantic movie will despise this movie, but for hopeless romantics like myself, this will be nirvana. I remember years ago when it was first released, "The Notebook" was reviled, but today it seems to have amassed a cult following. There are numerous songs on YouTube wherein sentimental songs are visually set to scenes from there, and every day I always see retweets of the user "TheNoteBook" wherein the owner quotes dialogue from it daily. I don't know if "The Vow" will have the same fate, but right here, right now, it made me think of love, of regrets, and made me hope for just a little bit. If only for that, my money spent has been well worth it. 

Roberta And The Beatles

Make no mistake, "Let It Be Roberta," Roberta Flack's tribute album to The Beatles is not your typical Beatles tribute album. Miss Flack doesn't treat these songs as museum pieces, because she knows that she can let these songs breathe, and they will be just as beautiful. And for sure, some of her arrangements are, shall we say, different enough that I have seen some violent reactions to them. My first reaction has been mixed : while on one side I applaud the brevity of the arrangements, the old-fashioned in me blinks at them. But maybe because I have always liked The Beatles songbook when reinvented, because (gasp) while I respect the original band, more often than not I don't find myself reaching out for their music. And I also feel that these arrangements will grow with me after repeated listenings. So yes, I love her most when she does an acoustic take of "Hey Jude," or when she does a quiet, contemplative version of "Here There Everywhere" ( a live recording) which ends the album. But this is, most of all, a soul album and it has tons of soul. Modern young producers like Sherrod Barnes have produced fun funky today-soundign arrangements that still sound spare and not over the top. And, Flack is still in good voice, fragile and sensitive when most needed, and strong and assertive at the same time. It is chameleon-like, effective on all settings. Heck, Yoko Ono herself has approved this recording. One last thing, though: what is up with the cover art? It is ugly, and looks like it was done by a five year old. Scratch that, a lot of five year olds can do a better job. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

To Be 29

"Regrets, I've had a few," so goes some of the lyrics from the song "My Way," and yes when we have lived a fuller life we find ourselves asking "what if..." and that is the premise of Adena Halpern's book "29."  A 75 year old woman blows her birthday cake and she wishes she were 29 for a day, and she wakes up and her wishes come true. So she spends a present-day as a 29 year old of her former self. It's a clever enough ploy for a novel, and I looked forward to reading it. For the most part, I had fun reading the book. I went along with it, and found it not too light, and there is a deep message in there that is uplifting and made me think about my life. I wish the tone was more even, as I was less interested in the cooky slapstick-y parts, but I understand why it was put there. I read recently that this book was bought to be developed as a motion picture(that was actually the reason why I pulled it out of my TBR pile) and I could see someone like Cameron Diaz having fun with it, and I actually think this might be one of those instances wherein it will make a better movie than a novel.  


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

When One On One Doesn't Make Two

I was very hopeful about Rosie's show on OWN when it premiered last year, but the show never found the stride it was looking for. Rosie, as good as she is, never struggled in finding  a balance between..whatever she was looking for, and what was working, and what was not. In the middle of January, she debuted a new format - a one-on-one, face-to-face format that put her square and center with her guest, most of the time just one for a full hour. And as much as I try to like it, it just isn't working for me. I felt the "fun" energy was gone, and that was what made it very interesting for me. A lot of times, the conversations turn too "serious" for me, and maybe it's a personal thing, but it isn't what I am looking to watch when I come home from work. She has had more interesting guests - Kathy Griffin, Kristen Chenoweth - but the conversations to me were bland, and I found myself turning the show off after the second segment. I haven't taken it off my DVR list yet, but I get a sense that even Rosie isn't happy, and I think it may have to do with the fact that she isn't too comfortable in Chicago. Bring the show back to New York City, Rosie. I am sure you will find what you are looking for there. 

Start Spreading The News

It would be almost redundant to say that I love New York, and I loved "I Heart New York."  Life has been tough lately, for me, and for a lot of my friends, and I just want to escape sometimes, and this book is just what I need right now. Angela Clark is at her best friend's wedding and she discovers her fiancee schtumping someone at the back seat of his car and to make matters worse, all her friends knew about it and turned a blind eye. Hurt, she takes a flight to New York City, and starts a reinvention. As someone who lived in YC for 27 years, the next parts of the story, initially, were pretty hard to swallow. She befriends her concierge, she gets taken under her wings, and things start to magically happen for her. I know the city only too well and can say that things don't come too easy, but then I had to stop myself from analyzing and suspend disbelief, and told myself to just enjoy the story, pretend it's a fairy tale, and let go. And let go I did, and before I knew it I was immersed. Sure, there were very predictable twists, but Lindsay Kelk is clever enough of a storyteller that towards the end of the novel, Angela was faced with a dilemma, and what do you know - I was right there with her holding my breath - waiting for a final resolution to the plot twist presented. I adored the book, it made me feel young, it made me feel carefree, and it reminded me of how I felt once upon a time when I, too, was a young soul in a wonderful city that never sleeps. This book is like a sugary sweet cotton candy that made me laugh, made me smile, and made me feel alive! Sure, they were empty calories, but darnit, it felt so good going down. On days like lately, it was a welcome distraction.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Prince Of Ides

I didn't realize that "The Ides Of March" was based on the play "Farragut North" until I was doing some reading about the movie earlier today and then I realized that Jake Gylenhaal was attached to the stage version of this material (John Gallagher Jr. ultimately played the part onstage) so I tried to do a visual test with Jake in the role of Stephen Myers, and lo and behold, I couldn't imagine the role being played by anyone other than Ryan Gosling. He is fantastic in this movie and he embodied the role so perfectly. I know most people think he should have been nominated for an Academy Award for "Drive" but I honestly think he was better here. He underwent a perfect transformation from an idealistic dreamer to a jaded man raped by politics. The last scene where director George Clooney gives him a blank closeup  was brilliant - it conveys the film's message in a single frame. What precedes it is a little bit of a mess, though. There are holes in the storyline, and the piece seems too small for a film, but Clooney is an actor's director (obviously being an actor himself) since this film is more about performances than the film itself. You see snaps of brilliance in the ensemble piece, each form a piece in a puzzle that doesn't really work as a whole. There's juice in Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Marisa Tomei's performances, even if at times what they are doing do not make much sense. The brightest shine, of course, is Gosling, and if you haven't gotten him before, you will surely do after this.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Brother Dearest

I just finished watching Madonna's fantabulous performance at the Super Bowl Half-Time show and thought about "Life With My Sister Madonna," By Christopher Ciccone, which I had just finished reading. I am a big Madonna fan, and think she has given a huge contribution to the music industry. There have been a zillion things written about her, and she has used the media to her advantage, so I don't think there were any big "surprises" to be gained from the book. So yeah, Madonna is cold and controlling - haven't we heard that about every successful woman out there - Barbra, Martha Stewart, Oprah. What is the big deal? If she was male, she would be a great manager, for that management style some say brings out the best in people, and for sure she has the success to show for it. In the beginning, I kind of felt a little bit of sympathy for Christopher, but as I read on, it becomes evident that he doesn't aspire to be anything but Madonna's bother. He feels like he has been used, he feels like he was responsible for her success, but he keeps on coming back to her over and over again. Can someone please give this guy some dignity and self-respect. Well, as it turns out, he admits to drug addiction among other things, and buy the end of the book, Madonna has almost cut him out of his life, and is not even close to any of her children. Can you blame her? I wouldn't want a leechy WeHo queen druggy influencing anything on my children either. I felt dirty after finishing the book, like I was contributing to his hot mess of a life. The greatest information I got from this book is the fact that during the Girlie Show tour, Madonna doused herself with her then-signature scent, Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion, which of course was very new around that time. All other accounts I have read say that she wears Fracas, so it seems that she loves white heady florals, and well, that just makes her more of my kind of girl!


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Quietly, Etta

Etta James passed away early this year, and for sure, her biggest achievement is her iconic rendition of "At Last," a song that will be associated with her name for years to come. No one can bulldoze blues and soul in a song like she can. But Etta James also shows her "quiet" side, and that's what I liked most about her. One of my favorite albums of her is 2006's "All The Way," where she is mostly contemplative and sensitive, but she never skimps soul in exchange. In this album, she shows restraint (something that Aretha Franklin can sometimes learn) and the effect can even be romantic! Who would have thought?! In the title track, she is robust but with the understated arrangement, the track is softened, and is a success. This was also an album where she dipped into more contemporary material, like R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," and Prince's "Purple Rain." I think they are both successful. She lets loose in the former, giving it the urgency it needs, and on the latter, she is bluesy and rock-y and soul-y and she gives everything to it, and most importantly, it is quite different than Prince's. She is a little lost on Bob Telson's "Calling You," but then most people who cover that song (even Celine, Barbra) don't do justice to Jevetta Steele's originals. This album got some negative notices when it first came out, and cohesively I would agree that it is disjointed. Taken tracks separately, they shine, but altogether, the full experience is all over the place. I think on some tracks, there's too much energy, and perhaps people are not too happy when she gets more laid back. It seems like there are two albums in here that never should meet. Still, it's ETta James and let's give props!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Leather Opulence

When I got into fragrance niche brands, I never turned my back on mainstream designer brands. I liked both, and appreciated commercial scents because there are days when I just want something uncomplicated and easy to wear. Last year, Bottega Veneta, the leather house, launched their first ever scent, and what do you know - it's a leather scent! It is refined, quite elegant, and expensive smelling. It would easily match when you are all "dressed up" and even if you are just wearign jeans, you would feel opulent. For some reason, though, it took me a while to just want a full bottle of it. The bottom base notes soured a little bit, and while I love the suede, I kind of felt some of the fruity sweetness (pink peppercorn?) clashed with the buttery suede of it. There is definitely something indolic in there, probably the jasmine. When my sister asked me what I wanted for Christmas, though, I thought about it and told her I wanted a small bottle of this. Now I think maybe I was just making excuses to *not* buy this, because I love it so very very much. The drydown, which was my biggest problem when I sampled it, is now my favorite part. It is so unique, a big departure to the ambery musky base that most commercial fares have nowadays. There is a melange of patchouli, oakmoss, and that buttery soft leather smells sweet but not sugary. It's instantly modern and classic at the same time. It really does smell like a handbag full of jasmine petals. And that is a good thing. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Couches Are For Slepping When You're Bored

"On The Couch" is my first Alison Kwitney book, and even though I *should* have read her before, I haven't because I thought her books were "mystery" and "crime" with human emotion thrown in. But recently, I have been getting more and more interested in crime stories, so I said now would be the right time to start with her books. I randomly chose "On The Couch." It may not have been the wisest choice, and I hope it does not turn me off the genre. It's a hot mess - it couldn't decide if it wants to be a mystery, or a sexed-up love story, and neither part has any depth to be effective. It had a good premise, and I have no problems suspending disbelief for an interesting plot. It just dragged on and on, and as I continued reading, I cared less and less about the characters. Th "mystery" part wasn't intelligent enough for me to want to pay attention to it, and when it was "resolved," I think even the main characters were bored with the outcome. I'll do better next time.