Sunday, September 30, 2012

Paper Soprano (Music Review: Jackie Evancho Songs From The Silver Screen)

Jackie Evancho is twelve and she can reach high notes. That's as much depth there is in "Songs From The Silver Screen," the wunderkind's new album, primed to sell for the Holiday season. Here she sings wonderful ditties like "Pure Imagination," and "Reflection." I am glad, though that most her songs as age-appropriate, though I was just a bit concerned about her singing about seeing "a stranger across a crowded room" (in "Some Enchanted Evening") and I really don't think she went really deep into what "The Summer Knows" is all about. But then again, she's twelve, so normally someone her age can't really analyze much. (You kind of need life experience for that)  I didn't think I would love this album, but I didn't think I would dislike it as much. It was interminable, her soprano was lifeless, her lyric interpretation non-existent. It was nails on chalkboard bad. The production values were excellent, and most people who love her would be in heaven, but this is close to hell for me.

We Are Magic (Book Review: The Lifeguard, Deborah Blumenthal)

I thought "Lifeguard," by Deborah Bumenthal would be one of those light, summer romances. The cover's book cover caught me eye, frankly and was instrumental in me choosing it over other titles. It turns out that the book is just a bit more than your typical summer yarn. It took unexpected twists and turns for me, even if at times they came out of the blue and did not really make sense. I liked that the narrator was very three-dimensional at the cost of being sometimes unlikeable. I am not a fan of supernatural novels, but this one just balances that fine line between magical in the literal and literary sense.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Needs Re-Mastering (Film Review: The Master)

"The Master" runs 137 minutes.  You would think by that time Paul Thomas Anderson would have crafted a fine story, but tried as I might, this film had none. Zilch. Zero. Or maybe it wasn't supposed to? Was this movie a two character piece about Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) ? Then why are these characters underdeveloped that we have no real sense of who or what they are? We are supposed to believe that there is this interminable bond between the two of these characters, but how, and why? Throughout the movie, we go through Dodd trying to reprogram Quell, and we see Quell trying to resist him. Sometimes he give in, but ultimately he isn't really drawn to the spell of "The Cause," as this cult thing is called. We don't even know what is the central cause of this cause: it's all so vague, something about getting rid of your past which hinders your present, among other generic pleas. Is this a thinly-veiled expose about The Church Of Scientology? (Anderson was a remember) "The Master" seemed to be closely resembling that of L Ron Hubbard. By credits time, I had more questions than answers, and frankly, did not care. Hoffman and Phoenix give committed performances, though the latter seems like he gave too much commitment. I know this movie is getting raves from critics left and right. I side with the boos it got from the Venice Film Festival.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Love, Dominican Style (Book Review: This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz)

Junot Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," and when I read that book, I thought to myself yeah this is good but to quote Peggy Lee, is that all there is? I conceded that even though the book is not really my kind of thing, it kept my interest. So I was expecting "This Is How You Lose Her" to be good, but again, perhaps not for me. The fact that it is a short story collection helped because there wouldn't be much commitment, I thought. I loved almost all these stories. They are by and large connected: they are the tales of love of Yunior. Dominican, American and Jerseyan, Yunior has such a unique interesting voice that I kept wanting to more about him. And the stories are cohesive enough that you can tell they come from the same person, the same brain. Even though I casually some people of Dominican descent, I felt like I knew about their people, their culture, even the way they fall in love, based on the stories here. In a lot of ways, it felt like I was traveling - these stories taught a lot not just about a specific culture, but of life and love in general. 


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Our New Normal (Television Review: Partners, CBS)

David Kohan and Max Mutchnick created "Partners," Tuesdays on CBS based on their real-life friendship. So yes, this show will inevitably be compared to their earlier hit, "Will And Grace" because it is also about four people. I was a big fan of W & G in its earlier seasons but thought it declined pretty quickly (around the third season or so)  But you knwo what? I kind of liked "Partners." It seemed very ordinary to me. Michael Urie plays his character big, but it seems just normal for me. This show, I think, will hinge upon the situations, because even if these characters, especially Urie's, seem big, nowadays they just feel ordinary. I guess, in a lot of sense, this is the new normal. (pun intended) Actually, I even like this show a smidgen better than Ryan Murphy's over at NBC. It seems more low-key, more relatable, more accessible. I want to know more about these characters, whereas on that other one, the personalities are too big and cartoonish that I want to know less about them.

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's All In The Sauce (Book Review:When In Doubt, Add Butter by beth Harbison)

I'm not going to lie. This book caught my eye because of the title. "When In Doubt, Add Butter." You gotta admit, it's pretty catchy. And the cover looks delicious. So I told myself, why not? The story? It wasn't bad. Beth Harbison writes well, and the heroine here, Gemma Craig has a distinct voice. She sounds like a real person, one that I wouldn't mind knowing. Gemma works as a private chef, and goes to a different house every night to cook. Some are families, some are single men, one is even a Russian family whom she suspects is connected to the mob. The book starts with her adventures and misadventures on being a chef. Around a third in, we start dealing with her love life. The story is pretty balanced, although the end seemed a bit predictable, though I can forgive it because Harbison's pace is pretty steady and quick, so you won't really have much time to notice holes. I thought it was a great quick read. 


Enveloping (Scent Review: Costes)

Last week, on my birthday, I was kind of stumped as to what to wear scent-wise. It was a Monday, and that narrowed my choices, as I try to follow feng shui and only use red bottled (or red colored jus) sscents on Mondays. And then I saw Costes, which was my signature Monday scent in the past. It then became a no-brainer. I wore it, and thought it was prefect. I can't remember why I stopped using it. My love for it never went away. It is even more appropriate nowadays, with the weather cooling a bit. Created my one of my favorites, Olicia Giacobetti, it was one of my very first "niche" loves, and will always be one of my favorites. It is such a unique scent: starting with its herbal, cinammon-y blast of an opening, with big blasts of pepper, bay leaves and coriander. It should be an assault, but it is rounded with soft edges (roses, lavander) that it is just a melange of beautiful spices.Don't think it gets kitchen-like, though because of one thing: incense. It gives the scent a certain glow, when I wear it, I actually sense it ever-present, enveloping. It is stylish, it's modern, but it is also old-fashioned, even religious. My bottle is now about half-done. I really should get a replacement because I think I will hyperventilate if I ever to be without it in my wardrobe.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Don't Worry About Where You're Going, Move On (Television Review: Go On, NBC)

Maybe because I love Matt Le Blanc in "Episodes," I am rooting for Matthew Perry and his new show, "Go On." Or maybe I am rooting for this show because it has two of my favorite Tony award-winning ladies, Laura Benanti and Julie White. Be that as it may, though, I found myself enjoying the first three episodes and it won't be leaving my DVR soon. It starts Perry as a widower trying to deal with his grief. His manager, played by John Cho (why is he doing second fiddle television roles?) required him to go through grief counseling, and in there he meets a bunch of misfits, and this is good because it opens wide the comic possibilities. Everyone's quirks are still being explored, and I imagine a of of the back stories will be further revealed, but as it is now, there's enough interesting characters for me to tune back. I wish the writing was sharper: jokes fall flat with me and are sometimes predictable. And Perry could be quite predictable as well - this seems like an updated version of Chandler Bing. But I will be patient, and this show, partnered with "The New Normal" could turn out to be a good hour of solid entertainment.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Mirth In Girth (Book Review: Chaser, Rick R Reed)

I liked the premise of "Chaser," by Rick Reed. It is the love story between Caden, who is a chubby chaser, and Kevin the "chub" he meets one night while out in the Chicago gay scene. They have an instant connection, and after one blissful night, they realize that they each have found "the one." But Caden's mother gets sick and he has to go home for a couple of months. During that time, Kevin goes on a diet and loses his beefiness. While he thought that he was making him more attractive for Caden, the shock when they finally see each other again is too much to take, and Caden wonders now if he is able to continue his relationship with him without his "girth." It's a thought-provoking premise, and the first half of the book is wonderful - romantic and sexual without being too much of one or the other. But what could have been a great exploration of fetish vs love turned into a trite soap opera with a one-dimensional villain. It was quite disappointing to have the story sink to a lower level. I found myself shaking my head as the story predictably tied up its loose ends. Such a shame.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Art Of PersuAsian (Stage Review: Allegiance, Old Globe Theater)

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt authorized the forced evacuation of more than 120,000 Japanese people living in the West Coast (a lot of whom were Japanese-Americans) and sent them to internment camps all over the United States. These people were forced to uproot everything they had. At the time, the American government insisted there were no racial prejudice in the decision, they decades later, they recanted and apologized. This incident is the basis for the musical "Allegiance," which opened last night at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California.  I thought the story was interesting and unique, and I had high hopes for this production, which begins its pre-Broadway run. The book, by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione, is wonderfully written, with a great balance of the historical and the romantic. However, the music was a case of schizophrenia: it toggled between generic ballads, pop songs with tinges of Japanese indigenous melodies, and angry.ironic pieces. I wish it had a more cohesive sound - there is one song, "With You," that sounded like songs from the WW2 big-band area that was melodic and appropriate for the piece that made me wish was the style of the whole show.The direction is solid, too, if a bit uninspired: there are numbers reminiscent of other shows: one number is derivative of the Master Of Ceremony one from "Cabaret," and there seems to be an unconscious attempt to crib from "Miss Saigon."  Lea Salonga, as Kei Kimura, runs with the show.  It is amazing that she sounds just as good as she did in "Miss Saigon," which catapulted her to stardom more than two decades ago. Even her acting, which was tentative then, is assured and solid here. No wonder the show is basically handed to her. She is given a lot of solos, some of which do not forward the story. Don't get me wrong, it was nice to listen to her sing, but this ain't her concert. Telly Leung, as Sammy Kimura, is the heart of the piece and tries his best to fill large shoes, but in my opinion is miscast: I wanted someone with more commanding stage presence (I suspect he fares better on television)  When he is on stage with Salonga, his voice is dwarfed by hers. George Takei's as the elder Sammy Kimura bookends the show, and delivers. His character is fully three dimensional when he is playing it while on Leung's hands it is not as realized. All in all, "Allegiance" is still very much an imperfect show, and I wonder if it's broad enough for a Broadway stage. I also wonder, in this day and age, if the subject is much too niche for a mainstream audience. I still believe there's a great show there somewhere in this production, I just don't think it is on stage at the Old Globe.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

You Can't Rush Blackberries (Scent Review: Jo Malone Blackberry And Bay)

We were at Nordstrom's the other night and there was the new Jo Malone "Blackberry and Bay."  I was raring to try it, of course. Jo Malone describes it as "The Scent Of Innocence," and the copy is "Inspired by the memory of blackberry picking, stained lips, sticky palms. blending with the freshness of just-gathered bay and brambly woods." Well, my childhood memories really did not include blackberry picking (Mine was more tropical-themed) but I'll play along, why not. The scent opens with a big bright blackberry - ripe, full sweet, and very very big. I didn't mind it at all, it was refreshing and full-bodied, there was a boozy accord to kind of keep things rounded, but on me, there was very little bay. I was waiting for it to add a bit of tartness, but the blackberry, as big as it was, just got bigger and bigger, and the drydown is this hyper blackberry that just sat there. I mean, it's nice and very sweet on my skin, but I just wish there were more development. It is reminiscent of my other favorite blackberry scent, Lalique's Amethyst, but that had a little musk and aldehydes which made it more elegant. Blackberry And Bay is more down to earth, for sure, and frankly has better quality and longevity than Amethyst. I like it, but I am not raring to have it. If I find a cheap discounted version, I'll take one, but I won't rush.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Glee Moves Forward (Television Review: Glee Season Four Premiere Episode)

Does GLEE still have it? I have been wondering myself, actually. I have felt like it has been on a downward spiral of late, with flashing spots of brilliance. Last night's episode, the fourth season premiere, is critical because this is its make-or-break season. It's in a new time slot, and you wonder if its fans will still follow it there, or stop watching altogether. The action for this season gets split between the remaining kids at McKinley High and NYC, where Rachel has moved and enrolled at NYADA. I liked the Rachel storyline better, and I suspect most other fans will identify with her having grown up with the series. I do feel a little shortchanged not seeing some of the other characters. Kurt was annoying in the beginning, but I saw the point that Blaine and his father was telling him: that he has to move on. I loved his father's reaction when he left, because he know that once he leaves, he is forever gone. My interest is piqued: I am in for him and Rachel's New York journey. Back at McKinley, we get introduced to new characters, and it looks like Marley (played by Melissa Benoist) will take center stage : she gets the solos and to further emphasize the point has a back-t-back duet with Lea Michele. Storyline wise, it looks like same ol, same ol. There may be new characters, but their characterizations are nothing new.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bland Friendship (Movie Review: Nate & Margaret)

Sometimes you see a movie, and it's just meh. I wish I felt something more about "Nate & Margaret" - either more love or more hate - but I just don't. It's a genial enough movie, but I think I may be too jaded in life now to appreciate just "nice." Maybe I am looking for something more in art, something that attacks at me, something that incites an emotion in me. I think the title is a play on words, liking it to "Harold & Maude." But this film, a story about a friendship between a 52 year old spinster woman and an 18 year old gay man - is too bland for any comparisons. It's not that I did not believe in their friendship - I did - but it was just too natural, and I wanted a spark somewhere that would make their relationship something out of the ordinary. Even on a rental night, this movie was just too plain. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Remember Them From Herald Square (Television Review: Broadway Or Bust, PBS)

Finally, a reality talent competition show with a lot of class. Actually, if we must be strict about it, "Broadway Or Bust," on PBS,  is more a documentary than a reality show. But nowadays, the lines are blurred. This show focuses on 60 students who have been chosen and won regional contests to be the best, and they are sent to New York City for four days to rehearse and star in a two and a half hour show. These young men and women are the creme de la creme of young Broadway aspirants, and I am amazed, very pleasantly surprised by the raw talent displayed. This is not the sector of Kardashian-obsessed youth, to them Sutton Foster is the better role mode. It makes me believe there is still hope for mankind. They are mentored (by among, others, Liz Callaway, Telly Leung and Michael Feinstein) by some of the theater community's bests. I loved the segment when Mr. Feinstein does an impromptu class and a young man volunteers to sing "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and he gets top notch advise about lyrical interpretation (I hope he listened and took it to heart)  I am also impressed by their song selections, although they run more towards pop theater than classic. But then again, that's where the young start to appreciate Broadway anyway. I wasn't expecting - and didn't see - thespian talent, but as I said these are all raw, formable young men and women, and they can only get better. And probably, the series will only get more and more interesting as the weeks go by. I am so hooked.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Peggy, Slowly (ALbum Review: Jessica Pilnas: Norma Deloris Egstrom, A Tribute to Peggy Lee)

For some reason, I have been thinking about the song "The Folks Who Live On The Hill" lately. Perhaps it's the change of season and the early sunset which is doing this as it is a very contemplative song. For my money, Peggy Lee has the definitive version of that song, and I can't help but compare any other interpretation to hers. So on Jessica Pilnas' Peggy Lee tribute album, "Norma Deloris Egstrom," I was particularly curious about how she sings that song. Pilnas treats it more like an aria (not in a literal operatic sense, but in theory) and for me, it doesn't work. I always think of this song as more internal, and Pilnas' "big" delivery, though with sparse arrangement, just didn't cut it. Actually, she treats the Lee songbook pretty respectfully, with curiously fragile arrangements, even on swinging songs like "This Is A Very Special Day," and "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'." (The latter sounds dragged through) This works on the ballads - a churning "Smile" caught my attention - but the whole album could be mistaken for a funeral march. I know her intention was not to mimic Peggy, but there's no ebullience here, none of the effervescence. I am somewhat reminded of Helen Merrill stylistically, without any of Ms. Merill's gravitas as a singer. Pilnas showcases some of Peggy Lee's lesser known songs, though, like the haunting "There'll Be Another Spring" and the witty "Boston Beans," so it's not a whole wash-out. Miss Lee won't be spinning in her grave, but I doub't she will be dancing for joy either.   

WHen Text Turns To Love (Book Review: I've Got Your Number)

I have a dilemma. There are parts of "I've Got Your Number" that I absolutely loved. Sophie Kinsella obviously has a great ear for dialogue, and comic situations that I found myself laughing out loud while reading various parts of the novel. But then, these parts are interspersed with an eye-rolling mystery-lite plot and whenever the story goes there, I instantly lose interest (The laughable resolution didn't help, too)  And so now I am at a loss. Do I consider this a good book or not? I feel like with a major reworking and a charismatic cast, this could be a great romantic comedy film, though. I guess it is now time for a romantic story where texting would be as much a character as the people in love. Love stems from connection and communication, and nowadays texting connects people.  Kinsella crafted two interesting characters here, and it was exhilarating to find them falling in love. I just wish they were done under better circumstances.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Words Get In The Way (Movie Review: The Words)

"The Words," as a film, has a very complex set up. It is a film about a book within a book. It is actually two and a half stories in one, so it is quote ambitious ins cope. I liked the layers it slowly peeled. Dennis Quaid plays an author reading from his book, about an author, played by Bradley Cooper who finds a typed manuscript inside an antique briefcase his wife (Zoe Saldana) buys for him at a Paris store. On a lark, he types the story as is, his wife reads it, and persuades him to show the story to a publisher, not knowing it is plagiarized work. It becomes a huge success, and all is well, until an old man (Jeremy Irons) sits next to Cooper at a Central Park bench and introduces himself the author. The old man's back story, set in post WW2 Paris, is also told in sepia-ish flashback. The story unfolds well, and well served by fantastic performances, especially by Bradley Cooper, who shows us he can give us much more than sequels to "The Hangover."  The third act of the movie, which should really be the most interesting part, peters out, and the ending is underwhelming, almost ruining the whole film. Jeremy Irons is fine in the park bench scene, but in a later scene seems to be wandering from a Shakespearean stage, making it all bereft of believability. It seemed to me the writers didn't really know how to end the stories, utilizing cliched elements to wrap things up. Do I think it's worth the time? Perhaps, though I might recommend it more for a rainy night rental.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Almighty Iris (Scent Review: Dior Homme)

When Hedi Slimane was still at Dior in 2005, he created Dior Homme, and to this day, I think it is the best of modern non-niche men's scents. Although, frankly, I know of a lot of women who love this scent as well. I have found that I have a lot of iris-based scents, but I always find myself always reaching out for Dior Homme. It is such a modern classic, and I am always scared that it will be discontinued. I have this mad sense of hoarding it. Last year, I got a second bottle, a 100 ml one, and I recently just opened it. I think it is the reformulated version, and though I have not compared it from an original bottle, I have not sensed a difference. It still opens with that beautiful iris. It is still as rich, and subtle, and buttery, slightly bitter, almost paper-like. I cannot get enough of it. It's a cold scent, but it's not sterile. It speaks of an elegant language. It is like a flower, but it is not a loud or screechy floral. There are small hints of vetiver and patchouli, but the iris never feels rounded by them. On my skin, the iris stays for a long, long time, until the eventual drydown, where there's a hint of leather, and some lavander, and the iris gets sweeter and sweeter. The sillage is fantastic, and I am always spray liberally anyway, because I always love smelling myself throughout the day. I have always been curious about Dior Homme Intense, and wonder if any of the notes (besides Iris) is amped up. I would love, for example, of a leathered version of this, similar to what Dior did with the Eau Savage Cuir. But good ol' plain Dior Homme always makes me happy, anyway. I'll wear it for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We'll Take Manhattan (Book Review: Gulliver Takes Manhattan, Justin Luke Zirilli)

"Gulliver Takes Manhattan" will not win any Pulitzers but it is a lot of fun. This novel reminded of those modern coming-of-age stories I used to read in the 80s and 90s. I bet if "A Diiferent Light" bookstore were alive today, this would be one of their recommended picks. Justin Luke Zirilli writes with enthusiasm, sometimes with too much, but you do feel the energy of New York City with every word he uses. Gulliver's story reminded me of my salad days - those times when life was carefree, when you were young and careless. We have all made bad decisions and paid consequences for it. In the beginning of the novel, I thought the characters would be tiresome: party boys who hang out at "The Abbey" or "Industry." But then I realized they were just young. At the end of the novel, we see Gulliver learning some of his lessons, but not really a lot of growth. (Maybe we see that in the promised sequel?) Still, this was a lot of fun to read, and I am surprised to find the character stay with me after finishing the book. 


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mindy Weather (Televison Review: The Mindy Project, FOX)

"The Mindy Project," on paper, seemed perfect for me. It stars Mindy Kaling as a 31 year old young doctor navigating her love life. She grew up on rom-coms and sees her life in rom-com colored glasses. She loves sex, so there's a Sex-In-The-City angle. And there's a set up of a will-they or won't-they chemistry with a co-worker (played by Chris Messina) All these should add up to a romantic, love-centric sitcom, but based on the pilot, this plays like a self-absorbed experiment gone awry. I did not find the character likeable at all. She is selfish, and mean. (She discreetly asks her nurses to give her more white patients because those have more insurance, a joke that is morbidly racist) I have never seen an episode of "The Office," where Kaling gained fame, so I am not very familiar with her brand of humor. If this was her flavor over there, then her fans would certainly love this show. It just turns me off. I don't even think I would waste space on my crowded DVR for this show. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Back At The Campus (Book Review: The Fall, Ryan Quinn)

It's the first day of September, and most if not all students have gone back to school. I guess it is appropriate that the first book I finished is Ryan Quinn's "The Fall,"  a book that has gotten a lot of favorable buzz and is being supported by Amazon. I had high expectations for this book, but sad to say, it wasn't met. But I also must say that this is not the worst book in the world. It is well written, and is certainly modern. My problem is, I wish I liked the characters more. For the most part, I found them to be mostly insufferable creatures with impossible sense of entitlements. There's Haile, who moves to a rural college because she can't handle the stress of Juilliard. There's Ian, a young gay man who breaks another man's heart. Casey fares best among the three of them, because he is the least pretentious. Quinn spreads himself too thin with three interlocking major storylines that perhaps we are not given enough time to fully understand the main characters. While the story is fast paced, I found myself thinking it almost a chore to go back to the book, and I thought this would be a much quicker read. Or perhaps I am much too old for this book and I cannot relate anymore.