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.