Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gardenias In The Rain (Perfume Review: Annick Goutal, Un Matin d'Orage)

Annick Goutal was my very first niche line, and this was even before I knew what "niche" meant.  I remember seeing the line at Bonwit Teller, and loving Eau d'Hadrien then, and this factoid is maikng me date myself, of course. I don't know why, in my mind, I think of this line as "old-fashioned." Perhaps it's the bottle? They have redesigned their bottle recently and the line is enjoying new popularity lately. As a matter of fact, I recently read that they will be opening a dedicated store in the Village soon. My sister got for me Un Matin d'Orage just recently, and I realize that Annick Goutal is a solid line. Un Matin d'Orage has a great gardenia note. It's white floral at its prettiest: flowery, with just a hint of indolic note to make it smell "real."  The gardenia is edged out by magnolias, making the floral notes smell like a bouquet. But what makes this gardenia so special? It is framed by a dewy, watery element that is almost always present in all Annick Goutal perfumes. Isabelle Doyen, the house perfumer for Goutal, sprinkles all her creations with this dewy, watery note. It is kind of a wet musk, slightly vegetal especially in the floral creations. It's like gold musk here, and it makes the gardenias smell like they have just been picked from the wet rained on soil. It's beautiful, and gives the gardenia an edge. Un Matin d'Orage is a beautiful scent that whispers. It is elegant, not loud. It is kind of a wallflower, but the type that blooms when brought to the dance floor. Mostly it stays close tot he skin, but ever present to the wearer.

Bluer Than Blue, Sadder Than Sad (Movie Review: Blue Is The Warmest Color)

The French do the Art of Melancholy better than everyone else. Melancholy is certainly plentiful in "Blue Is The Warmest Color." I always say my personal criteria for what a good movie is always revolve around the question: did it make me think? did it make me feel? Well, this movie did both of that to me, and it also made me wince, it made me long, it made me hope. This movie is the story of Adele (The French title is “La Vie d’Adèle—Chapitres 1 et 2)  and we first meet her as a high school student, and like everyone else at that age, she still does not know what she feels, or rather, she has a difficult time understanding what she feels. Adèle Exarchopoulos plays her wide-eyed, and her face is transparent. We see the world new in her eyes . She kisses both a boy and a girl until she meets Emma (Léa Seydoux) and their great love affair starts. And it's a love for the ages, a great can't-breathe kind of feeling that takes over your world. Much has already been said of the ten minute "realistic" sex scene between the two characters. Do I think it's excessive? Perhaps it is, by a hair, and it is certainly quite a bit of male-gaze (How many close ups of their ass do we need?) Do I think its important and necessary to the story? Infinitely affirmative. It shows the emotional and physical bond that they have, which is very important as we see the relationship disintegrate later. And it does fall apart magnificently. A friend of mine has proclaimed that this move has the best break-up scene ever on film. I don't know about that but for me there are two more heartbreaking scenes: when they meet up again years later, and we see them both with love for each other, though one is no longer in love with the other. Exarchopoulos is fantastic there, though the direction was a bit tighter, as I am imagining that scene was more naturally set up. The film closes open-endedly, and as we see a character walk away, we know that her feelings have not settled, and we get an idea that it will never do. True love will always linger, just like in real life. This movie is merciless in showing us that, and for me, that makes it eternally unforgettable. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Annie-mate Your Holidays (Music Review: Annie Lennox, A Christmas Cornucopia)

Note:  This is a review I wrote in 2010.  In a perfect world, I would want to consolidate all my reviews here, but I know it's impossible, so I am going to try and post hem here sporadically. Here is the first one:

One of the most puzzling things in the world is why Annie Lennox was dropped by her label, Arista. I think she is one of those artists who have never made a bad record. All her solo albums have been emotional journeys for me. But she is back, now on Decca, and has released a Christmas album. It is nothing short of a Holiday miracle. 

It is not your traditional Christmas album, though. You won't be imagining sleigh rides nor won't be seeing your momma kissing Santa while listening to these Christmas songs. Most of these are ancient chorale numbers, and indeed she recorded these with a South African choir. (Proceeds of the record will benefit women and children living with AIDS in Africa)  Imagine yourself in those atmospheric Protest churches, and add to that a dash of modern arrangements, and you will get the vibe of this album.  The songs aren't secular, but it doesn't matter, cause the message is the same. The great thing about Annie's voice is that it's so flexible - it is ancient, it is modern, it's always arresting.  

Review Originally Written 11/22/2010

Friday, December 13, 2013

Don't Know Much About Geography (Movie Review: Geography Club)

"The Geography Club" feels dated. Based on Brent Hartinger's book from ten years ago, it is great to feel that we have all moved on from issues facign gay teens from last decade. Russell is a High School student who is ostracized because he is gay. This is the children who grew up with Will and Grace, folks. I really doubt this is an issue with the Glee generation. But the movie gives us a fairly interesting story, though we also sense we have heard it all before. The performances are pretty stellar. Cameron Deane Stewart is a little stiff perhaps but maybe that's a directorial choice. The plot machinations get very clunky, and it shows on screen. Hopefully, you don't have to let that affect its heart, which is abundant.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I Go To The Hills (Television Review: The Sound Of Music, NBC)

"The Sound Of Music" is such a beloved thing to me that I am very protective of it. SO when NBC announced they were doing a live telecast of it, I was happy, but cautious. You see, it's success would all depend on who they will cast as Maria. When I heard their choice - Carrie Underwood - I was very disappointed. I can think of more obvious choices. But I held hope. I don't have much opinion about her pop/country music, but she could very well surprise me, in the best way.  When I saw the "making-of" special last week I was happy, mostly because I saw that she has been surrounded by Broadway veterans: Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, Christian Borle, Cristianne Noll, just to name some. I know that perhaps they can compensate for whatever she may lack in experience. About ten minutes into the telecast tonight, I had two thoughts about Carrie Underwood: one is yes, she can sing the score. Unfortunately the other thought I had is that she is so wooden in her acting that her performance is doomed. She sings the songs eagerly, and she hits the notes. But her singing sounds so clinical, like it has been stripped of life by a real good voice teacher. I don't hear any emotion behind it, just competence. Acting wise, her uneasiness is not helped by the fact that she has no chemistry with Stephen Moyers, who plays Captain Von Trapp. At times, it even looks liek they don't want to touch each other. Thank goodness for both Laura Benanti and Christian Borle. They bring much levity to the proceedings, and when they sing "How Can Love Survive," it lifts the whole production. I joked that perhaps Benanti could midway take over the role of Maria, considering she has done the role on Broadway in the late 90s when she took over from Rebeca Luker. And of course, Audra McDonald steals every scene she is in, and when she sings "Climb Every Mountain," it is goosebump city, thoguh it looked like she was singing to driftwood. I loved how unsanitized the Nazi scenes were in the end, and that part of the telecast were the most effective, I thought. All in all, I am glad this project *exists* in this day and age. I mean, can you imagine? A live telecast celebrating one of the most well-known and beloved shows on Broadway! I sincerely hope this garnered good ratings, we need more projects like this.

And My Heart Is Frozen (Movie Review, Frozen)

So I was a skeptic coming in to "Frozen." I had heard a lot of great things about it. Some people even claim it's the Disney animated movie since "The Beauty And The Beast."  But, I just don't really do animated movies. It's just a personal thing - I don't enjoy watching them. But, I said, why not see this - it promises a nice Broadway musical experience, and there are enough Broadway thespians in the cast. I even sprung for the 3D version. But when I got to the theater, I felt really funny. It kind of looked suspicious, actually. What is this middle-aged man doing seeing this movie alone, amidst all the little girls in the audience? I felt like a pedophile. i was so thankful when the lights finally went down and the movie started. The music swelled, and I was in heaven. Bobby and Kristen Lopez have crafted some marvellous songs, and both Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff sounds glorious. the story, an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "the Snow Queen" is compelling enough. But as the song from "A Chorus Line" goes., I felt...nothing. I had no attachment to any of the characters. i wanted something more - a fuller love story, someone to root for, someone to dislike. The ending seemed tacked on. And oh, that annoying snow man really got on my nerves after a while. And now I feel kind of bad, and think I may really have a severe disorder. What was it that made me not love this movie?  Could it go back to my predisposed dislike of animation? Should I seek professional help? I should have just gotten the recording and listened to the score.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

South In the City (Book Review: Tinsley Mortimer, Southern Charm)

I had to look up who Tinsley Mortimer was after reading her book, "Southern Charm."  I knew she was some kind of socialite, but never really paid much more attention to her. On Wikipedia her entry seems to be very similar to the plot of the book, so I don't know if she wants people to think that this book a thinly-veiled autobiography of her life. I have to say it starts out well, but very quickly I started to find a lot of things I didn't like about the book. The character felt a little too much to be believed. First of all, if she was really well-off (I mean, she didn't take the subway!) why would toil at a PR firm. Also, there were small details that bothered me. For example, one scene the main character starts teh day holding the NYT and Post, and then hours after, she has her cab stop to get the Post. And, later on, the character starts acting like a spoiled entitled brat. But I gotta say, the book kept me interested till the last page.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Smokes Of Roots (Perfume Review: Chanel Sycomore)

Chanel Sycomore is part of Chanel's Les Exclusifs Collection. This collection are copies, evocations of some of Coco Chanel's original perfumes from the 1930s. Sycomore is signed by Jacques Polge (Chanel's house nose) and Christopher Sheldrake and it is very modern, yet retains a classy elegance I associate with vintage perfumes. The star of Sycomore is vetiver: but it isn't the grassy, bright vetiver that we normally see. This one is dry and root-y. (If you are familiar with MPG's Route de Vetiver, it would be a slightly sweeter version of the dry vetiver there)  I am imagining that if Sheldrake was making this for Serge Lutens we would have a more oriental and oakmossy version of this perfume. But this is Chanel, of course: more fashion, more couture. So that is exactly the finish we get from the vetiver in Sycomore. There's a hint of tobacco, there's a citrus edge, and it is all rounded up by sandalwood.  There's a soul of incense permeating, which gives this a smoky, woodsy feel. That makes this a puzzlement if you are wont to differentiate perfumes by gender. This is unisex all the way: sweet and woodsy for a woman, dry and smoky for a man. And it feels luxurious - there's something about a Chanel creation that instantly feels expensive. I love it, and I reach for this on days when I want to put a "period" to my wardrobe. On a colder day like today, It is pure perfection. I felt like I was leaving a "trail" wherever I went. I felt rich, I felt fashionable. Chanel always does that.

Frat Boy (Book Review: Rob Delaney, Mother.Wife.Sister.Human.Warrior.Falcon.Yardstick,Turban.Cabbage)

I follow all sorts of people on Twitter, although, admittedly I only go there sporadically. I don't know how I ended up following Rob Delaney, but I guess I found him somewhere and followed. I know he tweets incessantly, and I may have chuckled from a tweet of his since I still follow him. Cut to now, when apparently he has written a book, titled "Mother.Wife.Sister.Human.Warrior.Falcon.Yardstick.Turban.Cabbage" and I have read that this season it has beat Sarah Palin's in sales. So, I thought, there is something good here. I read the book in a sitting, and it's instantly forgettable, bot unpleasant. I am just not its target market. The book is just a collection of essays from Mr. Delaney's young life, and it's pretty ordinary, a series of frat boy experiences as a young man finding himself in modern day America. I hope and think Mr. Delaney will have more success, and hopefully his experience will be deeper.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Volo Natale (Music Review: Il Volo, Buon Natale The Christmas Album)

I only got caught in who Il Volo was because they were guests at Barbra Stresianf's last concert. They are a younger version of Il Divo, I guess, who in turn is a younger version of The Three Tenors.  (I heard a runour that Barbra wasn't too happy with Il Divo who were her guests at her last tour so she choose Il Volo when she resumed it) As you can see, these are teenagers, with big tenor voices. And, yes, they are very handsome in a Tom Daley/Zac Efron vibe) But I promise, that wasn't a factor when I say I enjoyed this album a lot. Sure, it isn't really too unique, but for what it is - a Holiday album to play as you celebrate the season - it serves its purpose quite well.  It's pretty standard Holiday fare - White Christmas, I'll be Home For Christmas, O Holy Night. But you can still feel the enthusiasm these young men feel with how they connect with the material so the all over effect is pretty joyous. Surely they excel better with the more classical choices like Ave Maria and Panis Angelicus. When they sing Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree, for example, it omes close to slumming. But even that is harmless. This album put a smile on my face.

One More Time (Book Review: One More Little Problem, Zelah Green)

I liked the first Zelah Green book, so I was looking forward to Vanessa Curtis' second book about her, "One More Little Problem." When we last left her, she had gone back home from Forest Hills, a hospital/rehab center where she was placed because of her OCD. The action now picks up straight away, and we see her dealing, unsuccessfully, with her disease. And then we get complications: Caro, her cutter friend from the center goes to live with her. Plus, Zelah has joined social network (a MySpace-ish kind of site) and she is getting hits. All these are just too much for her to bare, and her OCD is getting worse. Curtis nails Zelah's mind perfectly, but just like the first book, this ends almost abruptly, with the resolution feeling tacked on.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Feel Of Philomena (Movie Review: Philomena)

The Holiday Movie Season just started, and I think I've already found my favorite: Philomena. I hope come Awards season, Dame Judi Dench will be given her due, because she gives such a stunning and intelligent performance here that, in my book, will be very hard to beat. She plays Philomena Lee, a woman in her 70s living in Ireland, who is looking for her son. In 1952, she got pregnant, and after giving birth in a nunnery, her son was adopted (against her will) by an American couple who raised her child in America. Now, she is determined to find closure by looking for him. What follows next is a poignant, somewhat bizarre story. I hadn't known that this was based on a true story, and a book (Martin Sixsmith's "The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee" from 2009) so I gleefully followed each turn. About two thirds in, I was stunned by a revelatory twist, and I was a mess. The film gently balances the laughter and the tears - it's one of those movies wherein you find yourself laughing as tears are still streaming from your eyes. And yes, Dame Judi: she gives a quiet, dignified, subtle performance. On the hands of a lesser actress, this character would be caricature-ish, but she knows when to pull back that you know every nuance, every gesture of Philomena is honest, believable, true. I was mesmerized by her. And Steve Coogan matches her scene by scene - when she turns almost sappy, he puts bitter in there so the result is never too much of anything. This may sound like a depressing picture, but I felt buoyant after, even life-affirming. I truly hope this movie doesn't get trampled by the biggies and finds its audience here.

The Truth At Seventeen (Book Review: My Own Miraculous, Joshilyn Jackson)

A doctor friend of mine once told me that young mothers make intelligent babies. Apparently it has something to do abut their recessive genes not showing up yet that gives these offsprings the best possible gene pool. That was on my mind while I was reading Joshilyn Jackson's "My Own Miraculous." Shandi, at seventeen, has a baby, and four years later she is realizing that there is something different about her child, Natty. He can read, and can figure out difficult puzzles quickly. And something about that scares her - she just wants her child to have a normal childhood, and this - however good this thing might be - may be big enough to not give her kid the normalcy she wants. Enter Hilde, a fifteen year old who recognizes her own miracle in Natty and she goes overboard in trying to "recruit" him. It is then that Shandie turns from a woman to a mother, by making sure she protects her son. This is a prequel to a novel, "Someone Else's Love Story," and Jackson whets your appetite. I cannot wait to see the big heart and minds of these characters fully.