Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lonely Ladies (Book Review: Morning Glory, Sarah Jio)

This is the third book I have read from Sarah Jio, and I am kind of sensing a pattern: all of them have parallel stories, one from an earlier time, and one modern day. There are always similar themes in the stories that connect the two stories together. In "Mornign Glory," the recurring theme is loneliness, and a houseboat.  The mid century story is about a woman who lives on a houseboat with her artist husband, and she is always left alone. Her modern-day counterpart is a woman who loses her family and seeks solace in the same houseboat. We get a "mystery" on the earlier story, which in turn is "solved" by the modern-day woman. I wish the pay-off was a better reward. I didn't believe the soap-y resolution, and thought it was an idea gone bad. There is even a sub-plot that was too similar to a Mad Men plot line, and they both take place at the same exact time. The book is readily accessible, though, and I have to say I kept turning the page. It just felt like empty calories afterwards.

Somewhat Holiday (Music Review: Jennifer Holiday, The Song is You)

It's been three decades since Jennifer Holiday made a splash on Broadway on "Dreamgirls," and it has been two since she released her last secular album, "The Song Is you.." So it is with great anticipation that I listened to her new album, "The Song Is You."  And an article read intimated that this new album will be jazz-tinged which made me even more excited, because, well, I can imagine her singing standards, yet at the same breath, I can't imagine how she would singing these songs from the Great American Songbook.  Well, it looks like only less than half of the album are standards. And those, she does interestingly. Holiday has always had a voice you cannot categorize. As a matter of fact, that was part of the problem why she hasn't enjoyed a healthy recording career. Her voice is too big, and she has all these 'tics' - grunts, melisma - that were a little too much to take sometimes. They worked well in the context of, say, "And I Am Telling You," but can you imagine it on, say Lins' "Love Dance,"  a sweet subtle Brasilian ballad? Well, it turns out she gives this song an unexpected kick - she sings the words almost defiantly, and it becomes an aggressive paean of love, giving the song an unexpected freshness. That same style also works for "the Song Is You," as if she was bombastign her love, for better or worse. On "Nobody Does It better," that same defiance works as well, and when she sashays "Baby you're the best," you wanna give her a high five. But the rest of the album falls flat, unfortunately. Her "at Last" is strong for sure, but somewhat karaoke-ish of Etta James version, and the rest of her R & B flavoured songs left me all cold. They all have a dated 90s smooth-jazz sound, era Anita Baker. This really saddens me because after all these years, no one still knows what to do with her voice. But I will cherish the four tracks here that I love (they would be great additions to compilation albums)  I know when my iPod randomly chooses those songs to play, I will feel a touch of Holiday magic.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Rose Without A Rose (Perfume Review: Balenciaga Rosabotanica)

I don't know why I sprayed Balenciaga's winter release Rosabotanica (a flanker to Florabotanica) I reviewed the original one here, and was a bit underwhelmed by it. Well, looks like I feel mostly the same way about Rosabotanica. I think it's because of the beautiful bottle. It called me, it beckoned me, but as usual, the bite is more interesting than the chew. Rosabotanica is an interesting idea: 

The fragrance opens with crystalline floral accents of hyacinth and creamy green notes of fig leaf, refreshed by the natural green character of petitgrain. The experimental rose offers bright vegetal notes while sparkling, slightly bitter drops of grapefruit and fresh spicy notes of pink pepper and cardamom enhance its personality. The white ambery dry-down is cleared by a structure of vibrant and luminous white woods, made of cedarwood, vetiver and patchouli with clean woody notes.

I wish the perfume was as interesting than the copy release. It opens with an indistinctive floral melange: nothing to write home about.  Then a burst of green comes in: hyacinth, and it is slightly sour. I thought, okay, why not? The sour lasts a little bit - it's the heart of the perfume - and then it dries down to this generic shampoo scent. This literally smells like if you dried shampoo in your hands. It's shockingly generic. And never did I ever smell the rose here, which is weird because it's in the name. Never mind the fig - that note also never materialized on my skin. This is one of those instances that I am glad that the longevity is weak: it's gone before I could get really annoyed at it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Don's In Love With You (Film Review: Don Jon)

There's this thing I call the Saturday Night Movie, and "Don Jon" fits that bill to a T. It's that kind of movie you just want to see without really thinking much about, and in the end gives you a (predictable) lesson painted with bold strokes. Written and Directed by Joseph Gordon Leavitt, this is the kind of movie that just breezes through, with enough jokes to keep you entertained, with enough skin for it to appeal to both sexes, so voila, Saturday night you're on! The thing is, Levitt is smart. This is a smart mature movie and you would never have guessed this was a debut effort by Levitt. The script is pistol-sharp, and he gets fantastic performances from everyone involved, especially Tony Danza as your typical yesteryear chauvinistic father. And what is this about me really warming up to Scarlett Johanssen? After "Her," she now has power over me to like each of her performances. (I mean, I think I am that one person who wasn't impressed with her Tony award winning Broadway performance!)  Julianne Moore shows us what sensitivity, sensuality and sexuality really means, and Levitt himself gives an impressive performance. Levitt the Direcor is smart enough that he slips that little message in a negligee. We may be a little titillated by all of the movie, but we also get the film's reason for being: that making love is empty when the love is not there. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Oops I Did It Again (Television Review: Looking Episode 2: Looking For Uncut)

After tonight's episode of "Looking," I think I am going to adjust what I expect from this show.  I don't think "Looking" will be less a plot-driven show and more a character-driven one. I think and hope we will get to now these characters better and fully without necessarily seeing them have "stories," besides living life, the gay life, and specifically the gay life of younger people in San Francisco. Jonathan Groff is still the adorable loser, naive and still looking for himself. That is fine and good, but maybe just a tad too twee in this day and age. If he wasn't so adorable in the role, I don't know if I would like the character as much as I do. And I did like the sweet awkward touch of his first date with Richie (Raul Castillo, just as adorable) which is really what first dates normally are. Yet again, his loquaciousness brings him trouble, and I hope he doesn't become the bumbling adorkable gay version of Zoe Deschanel. We also get to learn a little bit more about Dominic - how he substitutes random Gridr hookups for love, and how he was hurt be his meth addicted ex. I am still trying to see what's beneath the surface there. Agustin is still a character-in-progress. He moved in with his boyfriend and adjusting to his new life. The one thing I note between the three of them is that they have very good chemistry together. You believe they are friends that have gone through a lot together. There were two great jokes that I loved: when Dominic's Grindr trick (Broadway's Andrew Keenan Bolger) starting singing "Defying Gravity" in the shower, and Doris (Laura Weedman, I want more of her) quipped "Did you fuck someone from the touring company of Wicked, and also at the very last scene when Patrick tells Arturo that he was eating a kale salad instead of mac and cheese.   I like this second episode much better - it's looser, and has a little more to say than last week's pilot. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Table Hopping (Book Review: A Place At The Table, Susan Rebecca White)

"A Place At The Table," by Susan Rebecca White held such high hopes for me - a story about three people living in New York City, set in the late 80s and early 90s, a point in time I am very familiar with. And the book is written with grace and poetic elegance, that you read and savour each word. But maybe the high expectations ruined really enjoying it for me. After around the 60% mark, the book lost its fizzle for me, and never recovered.  I loved reading about Bobby, a boy growing up gay first in Decatur Georgia, and I love how he became that wounded Southern boy to a celebrated chef in late 80s New York City. I loved his chemistry with the chef Alice, whose chef kitchen he took over years later. I thought I had exhausted all the AIDS related fiction of the 80s, so it startled me to find this book cover that sad period again. But then almost too late into a book, White introduces the third character, Amelia. I know her character is integral to the surprise plot twist at the end of the book, but I felt like this character was being pushed in my face after I have already loved the two main characters. And yes, like a lot of people have brought up about the book, the ending feels sudden. I would have loved to have known how Bobby's relationship with his parents evolved, for example. Still, there's a lot to love int he book - these are richly-drawn characters. I wonder if there is a longer unedited version of this book somewhere. I bet there is and it's better.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Oolong You Long time (Perfume Review: Atelier Cologne Oolong Infini)

I have been trying hard to resist the Atelier line. I think it's because they have "cologne" in their branding that I am thinking that these are very weak cologne-type perfumes. On the contrary, Atelier claims that their "Cologne Absolue" lines even have 15% concentration, which is roughly the same as a standard eau de parfum. I have had untouched samples from them, but never really tried them. I guess a part of me is petrified that I would fall in love with one of their releases, and feel like my life would be empty without it. Well, my fears have been founded. I got a new sample of Oolong Infiniti recently, and wore it this morning and what do you know: it was love at first sniff. Oolong Infiniti opens with black tea, and it smells like Earl Grey. Even though I am not a tea drinker (not a fan of hot beverages here) I like the subtle scents of teas, and during the 90s, wore Bvlgari Green Tea to pieces. The smoke of the oolong treea is quiet, and mixed with the jasmine and freesia make a smoky-floral combo that's gorgeous yet characterred . This is a fragrance that whispers, though not softly.  A lot of people have described this perfume as "gauzy," and that's quite apt. I wear scarves a lot, and most times, I spray my perfume of the day on my scarf so I invariable get a whiff of it as I move, and the fabric moves with me. This perfume gives the exact same vibe - it wears like a veil. There's not a whole lot of projectionhere: I doubt if the person next to you on the train would be able to smell it. Strangely enough, it never leaves you, even for a whole day. Around twelve hours after I first applied it, I even catch a sniff of it on my pillow. And I know that after my samples have gone (It's so unlike me, but I am even savoring my sample, not using all of it at once) I know I will crave this like nothing I have craved before. .

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Television Review: Looking, Episode 1, Pilot)

I had been looking forward to the new series "Looking" (Sundays at 10pm, HBO) because it is being touted as the gay version of "Girls," and while there are lots in "Girls," that I don't like, over all I respect that series. Plus, "Looking" is helmed by Andrew Haigh, who did the great movie "Weekend" which I loved.  Looking mostly centers, on the first episode anyway, around Patrick, played by Jonathan Groff. Patrick is looking for love. The title is a reference to a word used by men on social networking/hook up apps when hey are "prowling."  The show is set in today's world: there are pointed references involving Grindr, Instagram and OkCupid, so it does feel current. However the atmosphere is very dark and 70s - San Francisco is barely lit giving it an "edgier" feel. Groff is the guy with a heart of gold, who is just looking for the guy of his dreams out there (You know, sort of like Carrie Bradshaw of Lena Dunham) but Groff has such abundant charm that you still cannot understand why someone like he is still looking. Of course, this is just the first episode, and we hopefully will get a glimpse of some kind of neurosis in his character. There is a very funny scene where he has a date with a doctor, and you get a glimpse of Patrick' imperfection - though Groff still comes off adorable in it.  We get introduced to two other major characters, Augustin, who just starts to live in with his new boyfriend and Dom, a bitter unfulfilled waiter. The pilot is barley scratching the surface (how I wish this was an hour show instead of only thirty minutes) and I myself am looking forward to see this flower's petals unfold.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Absolutely Fabulous (Book Review: Fabulous Hell, Craig Curtis)

I picked another physical book from my pile: Craig Curtis' "Fabulous hell."  I remember the exact moment i bought this: for a dollar at a second hand book shop. As I touch the book, I notice that the pages have all yellowed. A great touch, since the novel, set in the 90s, now sounds like a period piece. A young man, just having found out that he is HIV positive, lives life in the fast lane, seemingly ambivalent to the consequences it could give to his life. The novel is meant to be provocative, and int he context, it is.  A young man is thrown a wrench as he lives his fabulous life, while he struggles to find himself in the world. Nowadays, while it is still a deal to get the same diagnosis, HIV infection is seen more as a chronic disease, akin or even less grave than diabetes. The older and wiser man in me now is strangely not as judgmental to this character, perhaps because I know this guy, from my generation. I don't even struggle to find the heart of the piece.  As I turn the last page, I even wonder where this person would be now: has he grown older and wiser as well, or did he get stuck back in the vicious circle of his lifestyle?  Either way would be fabulous.

Live And Let Lullaby (Music Review: Nick Lachey, A Father's Lullaby)

Did you even know that such a thing as a Nick Lachey lullaby album exists? (Did you even know that Fisher Price has a music division, and they released this album) Well apparently, it does. Just look at the album cover on the right, and one should not argue as to why it shouldn't be, as his son, Cameron, is adorable and the epitome of cuteness.  And the music, too. Nick Lachey technically has a generic 90s boy-band voice, and that is not a negative. It's pretty expressive, if a bit on the generic side. No wonder, he puts all of it on this album, and it's pretty special for its purpose. I don't have a kid to put to sleep, so it can't do tat for me, but listening to it a track at a time works. There are the standard lullabies her: Brahms, and "You Are My Sunshine." But I kind of like the original compositions that Lachey either wrote or co-wrote, where he sets stories to melodies, like "All The Pretty Horses," and "Sleepy Eyes." All in all, it's a bit self-indulgent, but it's not hurting anyone, and let lullaby!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Do The Hustle (Movie Review: American Hustle)

David O. Russell's "American Hustle," is in, the best possible way, a hot mess.  It starts out with Irving (Christian Bale) arranging his comb-over the same way that John Travolta dressed and danced in the beginning of "Saturday Night Live," and from the first frame you know this is going to be a wild and wicked ride. And it is. Based on the 1978 Abscam scandal which involved both FBI agents and con men, the plot is a little convoluted, but utimately engrossing and rich. The movie is more an actor's acting exercise than anything else: it loves it's colored cast so much it dressed it in campy 70s garb (which is fabulous - you would not know where to look) and every scene becomes an alternating actor's highlight. And these are some of the best. Bale, along with Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner have such cinematic presence they match the film's outrageousness scene by scene. I wish things were just a little more subtle. Bale seems to be channeling De Niro here, and I never felt Cooper was really comfortable in his character's skin enough to be fully believable. (De Niro actually makes a little cameo and it felt too meta) The ladies fare better. Jennifer Lawrence is getting raves for basically the Lorraine Bracco role. It isn't the most original thing in the world, but JLaw has enough charisma for weeks that even though she may be a tad too young for the role, you are never not convinced. I had mixed emotions about Adams - there's something about it that bugs me. Is it the (deliberately) fake British accent, or her wide-eyed deer in headlights look? It's still a formidable performance, but I wasn't completely sold. Maybe it's because I also have ambivalent admiration for the movie. It was fun to watch while I was watching it, but I didn't feel it was memorable as an experience: it didn't resonate, I did not root for anyone, and didn't care either way how it ended, or what happened to the characters. I guess I would be fine if this film won a lot during Awards season, but I just emotionally connected with others.

Fosters The People (Television Review: The Fosters, Winter Premiere 2014)

My DVR automatically recorded the Winter Premiere of "The Fosters" since I had set it to record all episodes of the series. To be honest, I had forgotten about this series, and did not even know it was coming back this week. So today I watched the first episode, and I realized that yes, I had missed this show. I remember binge-watching it last year but was glad that they did a recap in the beginning so I was instantly refreshed. At the end of the last episode, Callie (Maia Mitchell) ran away from home, hitching a ride with her boyfriend who is en route to Indiana.  This episode, the day after the wedding of their moms, deals with the aftermath of Calllie's decision. The show, with this episode is veering towards a soapy vibe with this episode, and I don't really know if it properly sets up the rest of the season, as it mostly focused on Callie's storyline. But it certainly did whet my appetite for the show. I didn't realize how much I know and cared for these characters until I started watching them again.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Golden Highlights (Book Review: Beyond the Blonde, Kathleen Flynn Hui)

As I move on in accomplishing my reading goals for 2014, I would like to also add another goal: that is, to go through reading my *physical* books. I know it's kind of a travesty for book lovers, but I have fully embraced my e-reader. Of course, I still like the smell of a physical book, but for me, holding on to a Kindle is just as convenient (if not more so) and just like I cannot live without my iPod, I like having literally thousands of books on my fingertips. And - less clutter! I hoard these ebooks like crazy, and think if I were stocking these physicsl book around, my place would be filled wall to wall with books. As it is now, I still have quite a lot of books, and I could clear a lot of space if I finish reading them (and then donating the books to Goodwill) So, I start with a book I randomly pick from a pile : Kathleen Flynn-Hui's Beyond The Blonde.

At first, Kathleen Flynn Hui's Beyond The Blonde seems like a Devil-Wears-Prada for the hair color industry, but honestly, I didn't think there were any huge and scandalous revelations here.  The main character, Georgia, is named "best colorist in New York City" and has an enviable character, but for me the strength of the book is in its good storytelling. Georgia comes from new Hampshire, where she grows up helping out at her mother's salon. Forsaking a college education, she instead goes to beauty school and upon graduating, moves to New York City with her friend Patrick. They get a job at Jean Luc, and well the rest, as you say is history. Even though this sounds like a familiar tale, Hui infuses it with a lot of down-to-earth humour and I never found it slow or draggy. I felt that at the end, I really got to know her character.  And even though the characters around her all filled certain stereotypical parts, I believed them for the most part. The book may not be the most original read, but it is still an authentic one, and I found it engrossing enough to finish in three sittings.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

She May Be The Voice I Can't Forget (Movie Review: Her)

There's this famous Albert Einstein quote: "I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots. " There are times when I ask, have we gotten to that time yet?  I think of those times when I am at a restaurant with friends and everyone is scrolling Facebook on their cell phones, and I think that maybe Einstein is right.  In "Her," Spike Jonez imagines a world in a not-too-distant future where there are operating systems who are so intuitive that they not only does scientific approximations but they also calculate "feelings" based on data that they accumulate and collate.  Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a sensitive romantic who is in a perpetual state of melancholy after separating from his wife.  He adapts a new operating system for, and voila, gets companionship - and more - from "Samantha." He spends a lot of time with her, and shares his innermost feelings and longings with her. Is it really a far-fetched idea that they fall in love with each other? At first the idea is understandably ludicrous, but Phoenix is magnificent, displaying raw naked vulnerability that you not only believe him, you identify with them . (And though I have never really been a fan of Scarlett Johansson, she is perfect here: her husky, throaty sexy voice fits Samantha to a T) How many times in our lifetimes do we sometimes love the wrong people? That we jump in something we know is pointless, or wrong, or is a dead end, but we still do it. Because it feels good to "feel." Amy Adams, who plays Theodore's best friend in the movie, has a brilliant quote: "“We’re only here briefly. And while we’re here, I want to allow myself — joy.” And sometimes we just need to accept what gives us joy. 

I saw this movie last night and literally couldn't sleep, thinking about it. In this  age of modern technology, does it sometimes feel like we connect with more people in a different way than we do in the "real" sense. How many Facebook friends do we know more than our actual friends ? Or is it just a different level of friendship? Maybe someday in the near future, the generation will go back to being more connected with their emotions, and will use technology to achieve that. The human existence will certainly still and always be there, right?  All I know is that love - in all forms, kinds, and permutation - will never disappear. 

I think that's why this movie touched me in a different way. I always say that the movies I love are the ones that make me feel, versus those that make me "see." I favor a good cry over a great special effect. This movie will hit you directly at the core of your heart. It's my most favorite of 2013.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Immortal Immortelle (Perfume Review: Annick Goutal Sables)

I remember and know the flower Imortelle pretty well. In the olden days, I see them being sold as garlands outside churches for people to put them around the necks of the saints they have on their altars. I was always intimidated by them - the garlands look like caterpillars, and I always thought the flowers - or how they were garlandized - looked a little bit like caterpillars. The smell was pretty pungent and spicy. It took a little bit of time for me to reconcile the fact that Annick Goutal's Sables highlights immortelle. I take a wild sniff o fit, and yes, memories come back. But Sables , of course is more sophisticated, and it is blended well with other notes. Created by Annick Goutal for her cellist husband, it was meant to capture a summer they spent in Corsica. I have never been to Corsica, but the place probably smells like immortelle, herbs, and sandalwood. Thje sandalwood here is an earthy one (mysore, I think) and the herbs are mostly curry sumin. I remember a time when I used to be deathly afraid of cumin, but I have learned to appreciate it more no, especially here where, combined with pepper,  it gives weight to immortelle. Sables is strong, but it doesn't overpower.  It gives an "enveloping" vibe - kind of like a brown halo. There's a sweetness underneath that is reminiscent of maple syrup but that just gives it balance. It's perfect for a cold, cold day - it's a polar vortex kind of scent. For some reason, it reminds me of Hermes Bel Ami (though Bel Ami has a lot more leather) and this scent makes me think of something a distinguished man would wear. I knwo it has a lot of female fans, but I just can't see one wearing this.

Wishes And Hopes (Book Review: Wish You Were Here)

So, before I start this review, I just wanted to write that I am disappointed with myself. I had set a goal for myself last year to read one hundred books, a goal that I had achieved the year before. But, I only was able to read 85. I gave up sometime around the beginning of December, sure that I would not be able to catch up. Still, I gave myself the same goal for 2014. I don't know if I will be able to achieve that this year, but one thing I promised myself is that I will read only what I want to read this year - no fillers, no easy reads just to be able to add one more to my list.

Mike Gayle's "Wish You Were Here" is, for me, the perfect book to jump start the new year. It's a contemplative read. They say that the best way to get to know yourself is to travel. Faced with situations and circumstances out of the norm, we are forced to free ourselves from mundane things that make us complacent. That certainly is the case for the characters in this book. Charlie, Andy, and Tom go on vacation to Crete, and come out of the experience different people. This is the first book of Mr. Gayle's that I have read, and I assure you that it won't be the last. (I may not even stop myself from instantly reading a second one.)  He is known for writing lad-lit, which some people say is chick-lit from a male point of view. I identified with a lot of the thoughts his narrator, Charlie, voiced.  There's really not much that happens in this book, but at the same time there are tons. It's an "internal" book, much of what is written is a reaction, an exploration of what one feels when faced with situations. I found myself identifying with not just one fo teh characters, and by the end of the book all of them stayed with me.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Tubful Of Sugar (Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks)

In theory, I really despise the idea of "Saving Mr. Banks." A Disney film about the making of an iconic Disney film? Sure. You know that that this will be a sanitized whitewashed version of the facts. as Disney is fiercely protective of anything that has to do with his legacy. I think I am one of those people who really isn't that impressed with anything Disney - I always deemed it too commercial and sappy - and as for "Mary Poppins," I have always been more a fan of Julie Andrews' other singing nanny role. But yes, I can try and relax and be objective, looking at this movie without any bias I harbor. In that end, "Saving Mr. Banks" is squarely entertaining, and looking back at the Holiday season, seems the most appropriate film to bring your kids to. (That is, if they haven't seen "Frozen" yet, and well, just scroll down to see what I felt about that) 

If there is one major reason to see the film, it would be for Emma Thompson's smart performance. The script doesn't do her character, P.L. Travers any favors: she is written almost one dimensionally: as a cranky, sour old spinster of a British aunt. (Travers is actually Australian) To give her character some gravitas, Director John Lee Hancock (can you believe this is the same director who brought us "the Blind Side")  cuts the action between Hollywood and earlier-day Australia to show us why Travers became the woman that he was. I prefer the Disney workhorse scenes: we get a glimpse of how the movie was developed. I wish the transition to bring warmth to Travers' character was better explored: we only believe it because of Thompson's masterful performance - she never oversells her bitterness, and a lesser actress would have run away the wrong way with that opportunity. You ask yourself, how did Disney get through to her? 

The requisite happy ending is here, of course, and I have to really stretch to believe it. It has been documented that Travers disliked (to put it mildly) the final version of the movie. When they show her crying when finally watching the finished cut of the movie, it is all for the wrong reasons. As with any Disney film, the reality is doused with a tubful of sugar.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Evil Accepted (Music Review: Rene Marie, I Wanna be Evil - With Love To Eartha Kitt)

On a cold wintry night, I decided to listen to Rene Marie's album "I Wanna Be Evil - With Love To Eartha Kitt," and it fit wonderfully. I have been championing Ms. Marie for a long time now, as she was introduced to me a long time ago by someone whose taste I trust. I remember loving her debut album. But, I kind of lost touch with her work. For my taste, her recordings took a weirder, more personal note. I much prefer her singing nuggets from The Great American Songbook. Then came her new album, a tribute to Eartha Kitt, one of my all-time favorites. I thought it was an odd choice, since Kitt was more a sophisticated song stylist while Marie is more down and earthy jazz. But the test of a good artist is that one can celebrate another without losing her identity. Rene Maries shines as Rene Marie in this album, and at the same time she celebrates the legacy of Eartha Kitt. Over the Holidays, one of my most favorite tracks to listen to was her version here of "Santa Baby." Instead of mimickign the bouncy arrangement that Kitt made famous, Marie slowed it down, and the result is a more contemplative, sober take on this great Christmas song. She infuses the lyrics with silence - at times I thought I was listening to Shirley Horn - and the plea becomes more assured, less insecure. It reinvents the song. She gives the same treatment to most of the rest of the covers: "Cest Si Bon" loses the arch and is more jazzy. "Let's Do it" is sung more syncopated, and even though I missed the lyrical Porter here, she makes the beat the star, and it works. That woudl not usually be my cup of tea, but I didn't mind it here. There's a hotness in "I Wanna Be Evil" that I caught on here differently. This is one of those late-at-night recordings for me: lights off, eyes closed, I can bask in her musicality in this album. And then I make a mental note to listen to Eartha in the morning. What better tribute?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Steve's Six Sticks (Television Review: Six By Sondheim, HBO)

What a way to spend the first afternoon of 2014: by viewing the HBO documentary "Six By Sondheim." This was shown a little while back, but I have been caught in the middle of a lot of things, and I know I wanted to give this my full attention. I am glad I did - this is not one of those shows that an just play. You have to carefully listen to the Master himself as he explains his craft. You miss a sentence and you could be lost. Through a series of interviews, we see Sondheim explains art his way, his style, and framed through six of his songs: "Something's Coming" ("West Side Story"), "Opening Doors" ("Merrily We Roll Along"), "Send in the Clowns" ("A Little Night Music"), "I'm Still Here" ("Follies"), "Being Alive" ("Company") and "Sunday" ("Sunday in the Park With George"). On some of the songs, director James Lapine has filmed them in new scenes. I tore up hearing Audra McDonald sing "Send In The Clowns," for example. It's a gorgeous marriage of pristine vocals and haunting melody. I loved how Sondheim explains how the song became a hit after being adopted by Judy Collins and Frank Sinatra. He relates that even Sinatra didn't understand the context of the lyrics of the song, as I have always felt Sinatra didn't always have the firmest connection with his lyrics.  It was great to see Larry Kert singing "Something's Coming" from archival footage, as well as Dean Jones belting out "Being Alive" from the recording sessions of the Original Cast recording session of "Company." For "Openign Doors," (both parts one and two) they have recast young upstarts like Jeremy Jordan, Darren Criss, America Ferrera and Laura Osnes and you instantly realize how the work still feels fresh and youthful. There are a lot of great things in this documentary, but it mostly made me feel nostalgic about friends I have lost whom I shared my love of Sondheim with. The New Year always makes us feel contemplative, and this show just made me a little more reflective.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Hungry Like A Wolf (Movie Review: The Wolf Of Wall Street)

Out of all the Christmas movies, the one I definitely wanted to see was "The Wolf Of Wall Street."  This is because, of course, I used to work on Wall Street. While I consider it now part of my old life, a lot of it is still swimming in my head, and there's even a part of me which thinks I could still go back and work in that industry. I thought I would find myself lost in this milieu, something I am familiar wit. That said, the movie gets the frat party mentality of a trading desk, an environment I am quite familiar with, having worked with these types for twenty seven years. But, I don't think the movie showed the other side to it. These workers did these to blow off steam, as a way to deal with pressure of working in such a stressful shows non-stop hedonism courtesy of Jordan Belfort, based on his memoir. Frankly, it became tedious for me after a while. The over-the-top sexuality and nudity never felt titillating for me, and its relentlessness made it even more ridiculous. But I guess that is the point. Or is there one? Is this a drama, morality tale, comedy, satire? I have read it noted more than a couple of times that none of Belfort's victims were never shown, as if their faces weren't worth of mention. Clocking in at three hours, Scorsesee could have given them a voice. I think that one of those guy movies, akin to his Goodfellas and Casino. (I can now see a whole generation idolizing Belfort, like Belfort was part of the generation that idolized Gordon gekko) Maybe I was never meant to get this. There's a scene that everyone cites as the best: when Belfort goes on a Qualuude high at a country club, and it elicited non-stop laughs. I felt saddened by it, and even more saddened that I didn't - do not - find it funny. And speaking of, Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort gives a full performance, and that may be part of my problem with the f him, against your better judgement. He made the character more superhuman than human, and while it served the overall tone of the picture, it diminished the character for me. I still think he deserves a nomination, as it's certainly a brave performance. Ultimately, I am giving this movie a marginal thumbs down. I can certainly appreciate it, but it incited all the wrong emotions in me. In a way, I guess you can still say it moved me and made em think, as art does. I just didn't feel good after watching this movie.