Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Married To The Mob (Book Review: Mafia Chic, Erica Orloff)

This is a throwback read: "Mafia Chic,"  by Erica Orloff, from Red Dress Ink, ca: 1994. (This book is almost ten years old, but to its credit, doesn't read dated at all ) I loved all the books from the Red Dress imprint, and this one sort of escaped me. It's about Teddi, whose family is in the mob. Yes, even mobster's daughters need love too. I was expecting a quirky, craze cast of characters and I got that in small bits, but I thought the main character was just a bit too tame to be interesting. Or perhaps I just did not connect with her? She starts dating a television journalist but starts really connecting with another man, who is an FBI agent assigned to do surveillance for her family. I don't think I need to tell you how this one ends, right? I am just thinking maybe I am not really into this milieu, as I am not really into mob-inspired things. (I never saw an episode of 'The Sopranos') This book is pleasant enough, but maybe just a bit bland. 


Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Summer Stop On The Way To Love (Movie Review: The Way Way Back)

"The Way Way Back" is one of those small gentle films that is very rarely done nowadays. It is sort of a coming-of-age film, but I consider it more coming half of age. It might even be called a summer-in-a-life film, but as it is, it's more half-a-summer. Even though it is set in present-day, it feels nostalgic, of a more innocent time. Written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (they won an Oscar for "The Descendants") it tells the story of fourteen year old Duncan, played with quiet intensity by Liam James, as he spends a summer in a Northeastern beach town, dragged by his mom (Toni Colette) and her new boyfriend (Steve Carell)  His indifference is exacerbated by the fact that his mother's boyfriend has labeled him a 3 out of 10. He finds solace and acceptance at the local water park, and in fact starts working there, aided by Owen, played by Sam Rockwell in a great performance. You can see the difference in tone when he is at home (dreary) vs when he frolics in the park (sunny) He finds himself among this group of seemingly misfits. But before he truly finds himself, issues surface. There's also a side storyline between him and the girl next door, played by Annasophia Robb. Robb plays the young Carrie Bradshaw in "The Carrie Diaries"  and in my mind I look at this a summer in Bradshaw's life. The movie's sweet tone never gets too saccharine, and there's a great mixture of sweet and sour here. These are real characters you will see, experience and almost smell. I was pleasantly surprised to see a robust mid-afternoon audience. Perhaps there is a hunger with a movie with beating hearts, after all.

That's All I Ask Of You (Book Review: All You Coud Ask For, Mike Greenberg)

Mike Greenberg's "All You Could As For" starts off almost generic, with stories of three women each with their own stories. I was looking for the connection between these three women, but stopped looking after a while when I couldn't find one. Halfway through the book, Greenberg drops a bomb: all these women will be touched by breast cancer. I was quite surprised by that and kind of dreaded what I thought was a change of tone. In fact, as important as the issue may be, I didn't know if I really wanted to read a story about cancer survivors. But the wit and honesty he gave these characters in the first part continued, and even flourished in the second. I grew to love the three women more, and of course this book brings to light women's issues regarding breast cancer. I was very surprised to find that this novel was not only written by a man, but an ESPN kind of guy (No sports buff am I, I read that he hosts some kind of sports show) He wrote this book based on a friend's experience dealing with the dreaded disease. You will find yourself rooting for these women. 


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

If I Only Had A Brain (Movie Review: Identity Thief/21 And Over)

Over the weekend, I saw two movies, via Netflix that I normally wouldn't have, and I should really just trust m instincts. You know how, in the middle of watching a movie, you ask yourself, "why am I wasting my time on this," well, that's how I felt watching both these movies.  First was "Identity Thief," which was a hit over the Spring. It stars Melissa McCarthy, and cemented her as a box-office draw. I have an irrational dislike of Ms. McCarthy. I am sure she is a fine woman, but there's just something in her humour that just doesn't sit well with me. I cringe whenever people say she is this generation's Roseanne. The only thing they have in common is that they are both female comediennes who are heavier. Roseanne had more intelligence in her comedy, and come to think of it, never used her weight for slapstick, as McCarthy does. I know she had an attention calling role in "Bridesmaids," and she tries to replicate that in her other roles, which she does here. And it doesn't help that she has such an unsympathetic role in here. I kind of feel bad for Jason Bateman, his disdain for this movie shows in his face. Does he really need money that badly to have accepted this role?

In "21 and Over," the one I feel bad for is Skylar Astin, an actor I admired when I first saw him on Broadway in "Spring Awakening."  He also starred in last year's "Pitch Perfect" and was quite good in that movie, even showing his vocal chops there. I understand why he thought it would be a good move to follow up that movie with this, as this was written by the writers of the "Hangover" series. "21 & Over" tries to imitate that, this time lowering the age demographic. I tried hard to keep up with this, and it wasn't as unbearable as "Identity Thief," to be honest. It's kind of stupid, but not in a winking, ironic way as, say the Harold & Kumar series.  I also don't see the appeal of Miles Teller, who people say is the next best thing. Between the two movies, I grudgingly prefer this, but that is not meant as a recommendation. 

Isn't it funny how, on Netflix, you would go see movies you normally would not spend a cent on in the cinemas. More baffling, there are other choices but I still go with these two. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fruit Cocktail Froo Froo (Perfume Review, Marc Jacobs Honey)

It's always interesting, for me, to pass by Sephora whenever I can, just to see what's out there in the designer commercial offerings - that's how I discovered the fabulous Bond No 9 I Love NY Marriage Equality.  I see a cutesy bottle, and instantly I know it is from the Marc Jacobs cutesy collection - Dot, Honey, Lola, and its ilk. This new flanker is called Honey and sure, why not let me try it. Look at the bottle ->   and you can kind of tell how this perfume looks like. It's your ubiquitous fruity floral, even after that trend has started to dry down. It's instantly sweet on my skin - more fruit than floral. Instantly I try to determine what the floral notes are, and can't locate them. The only one I see in the press release is honeysuckle - a note I love - but I truly do nto get it here. What I do get is a fruit cocktail of sorts - a melange of pear, mandarin, orange. I see that they list orange blossom as a note, too, but again I don't smell it, and at some point the sweet concoction could use some edge. I don't dislike it, honestly, and case in point, I tried it during a hundred-degree temperature day and the it's syrupy enough to have gone in a sour acrid direction. It didn't. The drydown is kind of different than usual:  the fruits never leave, and the generic ambery notes don't overwhelm. All in all, it's ok. If someone gave it to me, I would use it, but I would never buy it. It's $50.00 for a 1 oz bottle, and I could find a myriad of other perfumes I would rather get in that price range.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Fade In On A Girl (Book Review: Let Me Be Your Star)

A friend of mine recommended "Let Me Be Your Star" to read because he knew I was a big fan of the television show SMASH.  When I checked it out, I realized it was realized that it was written by Rachel Shukert, who did the SMASH recaps for Vulture. I couldn't wait to read it. I faithfully read Shukert's weekly recap, although I must admit that towards the end, I found her writing a little too exhausting to read (I fault myself more to not fully appreciating her style) In here, she writes about how her recaps took off, and even got the attention of Tony Kushner. I knew the piece was going to be short, but I just wished it as more focused. I wish she spoke more and in depth on the process on how she wrote her recaps. She only hints at it, saying she did it in the wee hours of the morning. I also think that she had a major break up in the middle of the second season, and I think that would have added a great personal touch to the story - maybe compare/contrast to Ivy or Karen's story? But maybe I was expecting too much? Maybe a fully-formed memoir is in the making? I hope so. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Girl Didn't (Movie Review, Girl Most Likely)

A lot of people, I am sure, have been waiting for Kristen Wiig's follow-up to 2011's "Bridesmaids," and here it is, "Girl Most Likely." I mean she quit Saturday Night Live to concentrate on a film career, and this is what we got? What a waste of her talent. Written by Michele Morgan and directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, it's a hot mess equal to a drunk bridesmaid. Wiig's character, Imogene, showed such promise but her life down spirals after she gets dumped by her Dutch boyfriend. She ends up back at home in Ocean City, New Jersey, and well, we see a journey to self-discovery. The problem is, the "zany" antic are so desperate that I never found anything funny, much less believe in it. Wiig is great, and you can see her really trying her damndest, but you cannot resuscitate  anything that is dead on arrival. Too bad because the rest of the cast tries their best as well. Annette Benning is game as her mother, and Matt Dillon is fun enough. Darren Criss is charming, and is utterly wasted her, too. I hope this is not a foreboding omen to his movie career. I found myself yawning halfway through the movie, and I never imagined myself getting bored by Kristin Wiig. I actually felt very sad, because on paper, this movie showed such promise, and I thought it was great "counter programming amidst the summer's sequels and blockbusters. What a wasted opportunity.

Imperfect (Book Review: Mrs. Porter, Jane Porter)

I needed a book to get me out of a reading rut, and I knew Jane Porter's "Mrs. Perfect" would do the trick. I think I am truly becoming a fan of Ms. Porter's writing since I think I have yet to come across a novel of hers that I don't love. "Mrs. Perfect" is a perfect novel for our times, of dealing with the "new economy." I had to look at when this was written - 2008 - and I have to think it's a precursor to the economic bubble burst of 2009. Taylor Young had the perfect life: husband, children, money , luxury. Everyone envies her because she makes it look easy. But what happens if all this is taken away from her? She finds the strength she has always had, and learns how to deal with the new cards she has dealt with. Porter creates perfection out of imperfection, and it was nice to catch up with characters from an earlier novel of hers I loved. This story is six years old, but feels as contemporary. 


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Her Heart Belongs To Porter

Who is Joan Curto? I don't know either. She is apparently a Chicago native and is a big deal over there. I chanced upon her album of Cole Porter songs titled "Joan Curto Sings Cole Porter From Major to Minor," and I always think that Cole Porter songs are the best songs to "test drive" a singer. Curto sings in a cheery clear voice, and it's not uninteresting. She sings these ditties conviction, and with some known intelligence. Though I can't say they are the most unique interpretations, I have also heard worse versions. She gives justice to the difficult and always poignant "So In Love," in a challenging arrangement. I must say that I wasn't bored listening to these tracks, and I can say I have heard 'em all - the best and the worst. I can sense that she knows and loves these songs, and I can hear them in her renditions. Some of the arrangements can be a bit flaky, but she navigates them well. It's not bad!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Slice Of Friends (Book Review: Friendship Cake, Lynne Hinton)

Lynne Hinton's "Friendship Cake" is inoffensive, and sappy.  There's nothing wrong with that, for sure. It was a little too soap opera-ish for me - there were non stop tragedies and crying scenes that seems excessive, when I look back at it. Could this be a Southern gothic thing that I am not getting? Even though there is an undercurrent of a religious theme, it explores a (tame) same sex relationship, which I kind of appreciated. I didn't dislike the book, but I wasn't jumping and up and down when I was reading it either. I can't say I will be seeking the rest of the books in the series, though, 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ah, The Smell Of The Hermes Logo ! (Perfume Review: Terre D'Hermes)

Terre D'Hermes was one of Jean Claude Ellena's first creations for Hermes in 2006 and it is your classic Ellena: etheral, somewhat transparent but weighted, and really elegant smelling. For the most part, I am not the biggest fan of the orange note because my stomach turns with some of the "sour" smelling ones, but somehow the note here does not go to that territory. Instead, there is a tart grapefruit note in the beginning that is just beguiling - it gives it that sharp edge that enhances its sophistication. It is quite different to the raw, sweet grapefruit note in, say, Jo Malone Grapefruit, that is sharp in a more naturalistic way. That grapefruit feels like it is from the Farmer's Market, while this one is from a couture house. If the orange Hermes logo had a scent, I could envision it smelling like Terre D'Hermes. This is so refine, and yet also versatile: it can be home during day as well as a formal scent. I can as easily wear this at Wimbledon watching a tennis match as I could at a tuxedoed gala at the Metropolitan Museum Of Modern Art. I hate to use the term "modern classic" once again, but if there was one scent that would fir that description, this would be it. I hope to always have this on my wardrobe. In 2009, a parfum version was created as a flanker - I've been meaning to at the very least sniff it. I hear an earthiness rounds it up. Maybe I should do it soon.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Wander Wonder (Book Review: The Wonder Bread Summer, Jessica Anya Blau)

"The Wonder Bread Summer," held such promise. It starts out kind of raw, with a very frank (almost) sex scene, and I thought, well this isn't your usual love story, which I thought was a departure to the cutesy book cover. I was instantly hooked, and kept on reading. Unfortunately, that was the best part of the book. It just tried to be "quirky" too many times, and I did not believe anything else that happened afterwards. You are supposed to root for the heroine, Allie, but she keeps on making one bad decision after another, and the characters and situations around her get more bizarre, in the most unrealistic way. The conflict is resolved in such an unbelievable way that it is almost a disservice to the set up. I go back to my being anal-retentive, and that is the only reason why I finished this book. I couldn't wait for it to end, and then feeling like reading it was a waste of time.


Summer Fosters (Television Review: The Fosters, ABC Family)

I recently wrote about the first two episodes of "The Fosters," (here) and I was cautiously optimistic about the series. I liked the premise enough, but the first two episodes seemed somewhat too safe and predictable, as I saw them. Well, thank God for the Holiday weekend and I am now caught up with the third, fourth, and fifth episodes, and I must say that I am mighty impressed now. Instead of going the safer route, I think the series is tackling very important issues, and the drama is very real, helped by fantastic acting led by Teri Polo, who is fantastic here. I love the fact that the series is frankly dealing with real issues affecting teenagers today, but it is doing it in almost a subtle way that you do not feel like the lessons are being forced in your face. There was a very delicate storyline wherein one of the kids, Jesus (Jake T. Austin) has unprotected sex with his girlfriend and they get caught buying a "morning after" pill. The Moms caught it and confiscated the pill. He presses them, saying, the clock is ticking and it is called the morning after pill for a reason. Who would ever think that something like this would be discussed in a Disney channel? It presented the issues fairly, and the resolution was satisfying. Other storylines blend seamlessly: there's a very delicate love triangle between David, Calley, and Wyatt that seem to be simmering, and a sweet subplot about Jude wanting to wear nail polish in school that gets him bullied.  All these make me invested in the series. You got me, J-Lo.

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Twist In My Sobriety (Book Review: Jack With A Twist, Brenda Janowitz)

While I was reading Brenda Janowitz's "Jack With A Twist," I was wondering why the book sounded so familiar. I had to double check on Goodreads if I had already read it (I have done that numerous times - unintentionally reading books I have already read before) but no, it seems liek I have not read this yet. Then I also saw that this was a sequel to a book I have already read, so no wonder the characters sound familiar. I gave that one a one star review.  Anal retentive me had to finish this one, and yes my reservations about the characters from the first book resonated: unlikeable selfish insecure narrator. Plus, I was realizing that this may be one of those wedding-centric books, which is a sub genre I am not too fond of, because I am not a big fan of wedding ceremonies in general. It's a weird quirk of mine, I know, but it is what it is. I was glad to see that there was more to the book than just a wedding, which made this a lot more bearable. The quirky family characters also added a bit more spice than usual, and a predictable but still believable twist was kind of endearing. I read this book while relaxing at a Fourth of July barbecue and it was just the kind of mindless read that complemented the holiday.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Let The Sails Begin (Television Review: Below Deck, Monday Nights on Bravo)

Take eight strangers, put them on a boat, and find out what happens when they stop being polite and start getting real. That seems to be the template for the new Bravo reality show, "Below Deck," and you know what, it turns out I like this show a lot. Perhaps this is also because I love the high seas, and I love cruising, and yes, this is close enough. Sure, I have not been on a chartered yet - it costs $100,000 a week, apparently - but I would love to experience it at some point. The cast of characters here, are pretty standard: there's an entitled party girl, a bitchy micro-managing boss, a stern captain, a himbo. But most interesting, for me is David Bradberry, a former gay porn star who is also a former miltary men, who did some gay scenes for "Active Duty." On a get-to-know episode, he seems pretty upfront about it to the rest of the crew, and that's pretty bold. Usually these things are glossed over. I have read some reports saying that most of the crew do not have real yachting experience, and you do wonder why they would be entrusted with the duties, knowing it is a high class operation. The drama starts with the first episode, on their first charter, when the "L.A. type photographers" (whatever that term means) are caught with cocaine on the premises. The charter is immediately ceased and the passengers leave the ship right away. Is this real? These so called professionals would not want to be filmed looking like cokeheads, no? Whatever the case may be, I am now hooked to this show - it will probably summer's guilty pleasure. And I confess, I already liked "Below Deck Dave" on Facebook.  Let the Sails Begin.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

At The End Of A Love Affair (Book Review: Hidden)

I guess it had to happen.  I loved all three of Catherine McKenzie's first three novels, and actually just finished "Arranged," so I was so looking forward to starting "hidden," her latest novel. It's a story told in the voices of three people: a man and two women. Jeff passes away from an accident, his wife finds out he may or may not have had an affair with a woman he works with. We go through their voices, these three characters and their complicated layers of relationships. This is a character-driven story, but I felt there wasn't enough there there. I felt disconnected with any of them half-way through, and stopped caring about what happened, and would happen to the characters. While I was interested in the "mystery" of the story - the reveal well placed in the epilogue - it was just barely enough for me to want to finish the book. Perhaps it's just me, but I felt like I have already read this story, and written more interestingly. This, of course, will not drive me away from Ms. McKenzie. I'll consider it just a little bit of a misstep.