Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Man Who Would Be King (Television Review: Tyrant, Tuesdays on F/X)

When I saw a preview for the new F/X series "Tyrant," I was instantly curious, and I didn't even really know why.  The show has a certain cache, as it was created by Gideon Raff, of Homeland fame. (He is no longer involved because of backstage drama. Ang Lee was signed to be the Director at one point, to be replaced by David Yates) This show is pretty ambitious, as it tells the story of the fictional Arab nation Abuddin. Run by a dictator, the pilot revolved around the lavish ten-million-pound wedding celebration of the ruler's nephew. Barry, a California pediatrician, is the second son of the dictator, and is summoned to attend the festivities with his wife and two teenage children. There's a lot of action on the first episode, and it will certainly get anyone's attention. It's a tad over the top, but then again I bet the truth is even more bizarre. There's wall to wall solid acting here. Barry, played by Adam Rayner gives a more subdued approach, perhaps to counter his brother Jamaal's in-y-our-face character. As the main protagonist, you see a slow bubble there, and I think it's effective. You cannot wait to see the boil over of his character. And wait, there's even a gay subplot, with his son Sammy who at first sight seems your typical man-bro American, but is later subtly revealed as gay. (I can imagine that storyline will end in tears) The pilot ends explosively, with a scene reminiscent of Argo's ending. And it's set up in such a way that you will want to tune in next week to see what's next. I hope this show keeps my interest: I am more interested in drama over action so it will depend on he route that the show will take. But for now, I am on board.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Bullied (Book Review: Tease, Amanda Maciel)

We've all heard bullying stories. But in Amanda Maciel's book "Tease," we get the point of view of the bully. Sara was part of a group of students who bullied Emma, resulting to the latter killing herself. There are victims everywhere in cases like these, and this explores the mostly un-aired side. At first, I was resisting the character of Sara, because she is unapologetic and stubborn. But, the narrative is fleshed out so well that you accept her for her faults, and even her sins. You see her do a transformation, and in the end you can feel her sorrow, and her sadness. This is a book that will make you think. It will make you remember how life seemed so complicated at times, but in hindsight everything was so simple. This is a very brave and bold book, and I am glad I was able to experience it.

It's Not Easy Being Green (Perfume Review: Atelier Cologne Cedrat Envirant)

Didn't I just write about my favorite cologne a couple of days ago?  Well, it's Summer, anyway. so here I am again with another cologne. I was at Sephora and was conflicted as to what to try on until I saw that they had the Atelier Cologne line, so off I went and sprayed (with abandon) their new-ish Cedrat Envirant. I actually initially thought it was a cedar based fragrance, but the name means "Intoxicating Citron," and as you can tell, my French is really bad. The inspiration is the French 75 cocktail, which I have never had, although I read it is a gin and lemon drink.  I don't think the scent is particularly boozy (it doesn;t have that dry gin note of Penhaligon's Juniper Sling) but it is certainly lemony. And it is a particularly bitter lemon, complete with the zest of the peels. It's also certainly loud, and it also started to sour on my skin. I don't know if it meant to do that, but it's not an unpleasant sour, like the smell of sun on skin. It's is just a plain sour lemon smell.  I don't really know if I like it, to be honest. I have work this now for a couple of hours and while I am not loving it in a way that I must have it right away, I also find myself smelling and smelling it over and over again. The drydown has a musky vanilla quality not unlike one of my other Atelier Cologne favorites: Vanila Insensee. On one end, it is not a perfume that excites me, but it doesn't bore me enough to give it a negative review. It's just

Sweet Sweet Love (Movie Review: Stuck In Love)

There are a lot of things I disliked about "Stuck In Love." It's pretentious, and cliches are flying all over the place. The direction is at times so awkward scene setups are so predictable. But, this film has also a lot of heart that I couldn't just ignore it. I noted that this movie came out Fourth of July weekend last year, and I am just seeing it now. I tried very hard to look past a lot of what irked me in the movie, and focus on what I liked: Greg Kinnear gives a subtle performance that works, and is matched by the rest of the cast. Lilly Collins' performance kind of mystified me. While I never believed her as a young author, she was more effective in scenes where she was just acting her age (like when is sparring with Logan Lerman, who is again adorable in here)  This is a film about people navigating the waves of love, and though I kind of disliked the cookie-cutter ending, it was sweet enough. Once I started watching it, I cared enough about the characters to keep on it, which nowadays is rare for me. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Marry Marry Quite Contrary (Book Review; Mike Gayle, Mr. Commitment)

I am becoming a big fan of the author Mike Gayle. I have just finished reading "Mr. Commitment," and even though this novel is now fourteen years old, it hasn't lost any of its topical relevance. It tells the story of Duffy, who has been with his girlfriend Mel for four years. She is ready to take heir relationship to another level (marriage) so she proposes to him, and he freezes. It doesn't take a genius to see where all this goes. Mr. Gayle has created a great character though and Duffy keeps you interested. He has also a good knack for creating circumstances that get to you, and it's fun to see the characters navigate through the roadblocks given them. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and am now searching for more of Mr. Gayle's books to read.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Diddlin' Deedles (Music Review, Diane Schuur, I Remember You: With Love To Stan And Frank)

I have never been a fan of Deedles (Diane Schuur's nickname) but I have a lot of respect for her. her big brassy style, and needless scatting just turns me off, but I know she has a lot of fans who like the way she interprets songs. On her newest album, "I Remember You: With Love to Stan And Frank," she is her normal self. That is good news for her fans, but kind of bad news for me. It's really just a style disagreement. On "Here's That Rainy Day," a song I really associate with melancholy, her sunny breezy style is off-putting. Add her scatting towards the end, and while technically sound, just seemed out of place with its lyrical poetry. On Jim Webb's "Didn't We,"  she slows it down, but to me it becomes too slowed down. the song meanders, and her sometimes-spoken parts were to me comic. She swoops through the words too quickly, marring its intimacy. She fares better with a lilting "I Remember You," which she sings mostly straight, and Alan Broadbent's piano solo in the middle was mesmerizing. Her "How Insensitive" is a bit pf a puzzle - it's rhythmic, syncopated, and while it does not really serve the lyrics, I couldn't help but keep on listening to it, and even repeated the track at first listen. And I guess what? I was enamored with her "Nice And Easy," which was satisfyingly swing-y and respectful of the song.  So I either agree or disagree with her, so at the very least she makes me react, which is miles better than all these bland jazz vocals singer that just bore me to tears.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ibiza Summer Solstice (Perfume Review: Herbas de Ibiza)

Summer is here. The longest day, Summer Solstice, was Saturday and I have a specific scent memory for that day. I remember years and years ago I was at Aedes on a hot hot day, and was talking to the folks there. I asked for a recommendation on a good cologne. I wanted to steer away from the common choices, and at that time, the ultimate cologne for me was Anick Goutal's Eau D'Hadrien, but I told them I wanted something with just a little weight: somethign with a bit of spice to liven up the citrus of a cologne. "We've got the perfect cologne for you," they said: Herbas de Ibiza. And yes, I fell in love with it instantly. It had the lightness of a summer citrus cologne, but it also has spices, and it gives the scent a whole lot of character. The inspiration is Ibiza, the town. They wanted to capture the beach, the smells of the old town, perhaps a glimpse of what makes it a party town. It starts with a sweet lemon, and just a hint of orange, but then the weight start to come in: galbanum, lavander, violets, even vanilla. It becomes much much more than lemon. And there's even that sun-tan lotion note in there that would remind you of the beach, and I swear there is some musk in there, too which, of course gives the scent a sex vibe. But, this is still a cologne, and it even runs on the natural side, so the longevity is poor. I have to reactive it every couple of hours, but it does refresh on a hot day. I was at Ibiza last year and couldn't help but think of the scent when I was there. I even saw a bottle at a souvenir store and bought a small bottle with my travel magnets. I remember splashing it while I was there, and as I wear it now, on one of the hottest days of the year, I am instantly brought back to last year's trip. This is Ibiza in a bottle for me.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bad Boys (Movie Review: Jersey Boys)

I loved the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys." I think it's because I went in dreading it - jukebox musical of a genre I don't particularly love - and left the theater loving every aspect of the musical. What particularly impressed me were the musical numbers - they had such vibrance and energy - and I was also enamored with John Lloyd Young, who played Frankie Valli on sage. Well, the good news is that he reprises his role here in the movie version, and it seems to be one of the few good choices director Clint Eastwood had in the film. Here's my biggest question : why would you trust a movie version of a Broadway musical to a Republican? Eastwood is a competent director (some say very good, I say a bit overrated) but I think he excels most in telling simplistic stories. Here he is given a screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Ellis, and the story falls flat. It isn't much of a story, truthfully, and unfortunately by Eastwood focusing more on it, its flaws are revealed. Plus, as much as Young tries hard to give his character as much depth, there just isn't much on the page to work on. The musical numbers, which were the life of th eparty int he stage version, seems even more dimensional here, instead of being opened up on screen. Maybe it's just me, but it would have been the perfect opportunity to add more sparkle, more pizzazz to the numbers - this is the big screen, the sound is Dolby Digital, you can use CGI! - but Eastwood filmed them almost without any second thought. Numbers are cut out of nowhere, and the ending "mega mix" was so lifeless that you find more entertainment value in a Pepsi commercial. I feel it such a wasted opportunity. But, the film is well-acted by a mostly "unknown" case - Young, as I mentioned, works hard on a dead-end role, and Erich Bergen also shines. Maybe I was epecting something different, something more from my beloved musical that's why I am so disappointed. The only thing I can say is, instead of seeng this movie, go see the show.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Handler, On Travels (Book Review: Uganda Be Kidding Me, Chelsea Handler)

I recently got tickets to Chelsea Handler's comedy tour, which she was doing to promote her new book, Uganda Be Kidding Me. I soured on her because she made the crowd wait an hour and twenty minutes before coming on (who does she think she is, Madonna?)  and I actually left early and didn't finish the show. So I was curious to find if the book is as irritating as her act. Well, it is. The book is mostly structured on her recent travels. Half of it is from her South African Safari trip. Interesting enough topic, but clearly this book is only about Chelsea, and Chelsea, and most importantly, Chelsea. It would make sense, because her fans would only want to read about Chelsea. I wish the boo had just a little depth, but that may have been really asking for much. I found myself cringing throughout the rest of the book, which mostly tells about unfunny escaped everywhere else: the Caribbean, Switzerland, Wyoming. This is strictly for her fans. Just like her live show, it barely made me crack a smile.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

London Calling (Television Review: Ladies Of London, Mondays on Bravo TV)

London is my Favorite European city, fact.  So it's not a surprise that Bravo's new "reality" show, Ladies Of London has become a favorite. (At this point, I have been to London yearly for the past three years, and I am scheduled to visit again in September) It's fantastic  great to see all my favorite streets of London, and it is  even better to get a glimpse of the lives of these people who live there. There are six women featured here, and I wonder why they didn't call it Real Housewives of London. (Hm, maybe because this show wasn't developed by Andy Cohen and he owns the Real Housewives name?) Of course, they cast the show for tension and in here, it's the Brits vs. the Americans. I have finished episode three and the producers seem to be painting Anabelle Neilson as the de-facto villain. She is one of those reserved Brits and was appalled when, during a party, flamboyant Yank Juliet Angus opens her gift of panties. (the horrors!)  Elsewhere, pregnant model Caprice Bourret (she is sort of a low rent Kate Moss) reveals that she is having two babies - she was in the process of having  a surrogate carry her baby when she got pregnant naturally. This explodes in the tabloids, thanks to her granting one an "exclusive" interview, and she revels in the fact that she drove Kate Middleton out of the front page. Noelle Reno is engaged to Scot who is embroiled in a bitter divorce battle and the controversy has them playing leper because no one wants to invite them to the exclusive parties (boo-hoo!) so thanks to Caroline Stanbury - a blue blood who runs her own luxury gift website - she gets in the Salinsbury party. The drama isn't as explosive as what The Real Housewive have become (no bankruptcies or hair pulling - so far) and it is a welcome more light-hearted alternative. I am hooked now - I can't wait to see how these ladies interact. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Late At Night (Music Review: Carla Helmbrecht & Akio Sasajima - Quiet Intentions)

While I was listening to Carla Hembrecht and Akio Sasajima's album, Quiet Intentions, the first thing I thought to myself was, this is a late night album. Late Night Albums are what I call those recordings that are quiet, sensitive, almost-lullaby like - but they are sung with great expression that it would be impossible for them to put me to sleep. Julie London's albums, to me, are mostly late night albums. As a matter of fact, I find her albums almost impossible to listen to in daylight. So it wasn't a surprise that in an interview, Ms. Helmbrecht has said in an interview that the very first albums she owned was Julie London's My Name Is Julie. La London's influence is very evident in this album. I have always loved duet albums, and you can feel a great connection with Ms. Helmbrecht and Mr. Sasajima's guitar.  He plays to complement, and doesn't distract. Ms. Helmbrecht's cool school delivery is modern sounding, and she has great lyrical instincts.  The jaded critic in me can say that her song selections tend toward the familiar ("Slylark," "You Don't Know What Love Is") I found myself listenign to the tracks and not getting bored, and even on an old chestnut like "Bewitched, Bothered Bewildered,"  I am wowed and touched, which, really barely never happens nowadays.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Come To Me, Blend To Me (Movie Review: Blended)

I don't know how I ended up seeing the Adam Sandler movie "Blended," but, well, I did. I can't remember the last time I saw one, some of his movie's trailers alone offend me (which one was that one where he dresses liek a woman?) So I entered this with a mixture of trepidation....and dread.  thank God for Drew Barrymore, an actress I have a d=soft spot for, and she is great here. I don't think she is capable of being unlikeable even in an obnoxious role like she has here. As single mother Lauren here, she gives a suniness to her role that you just feel good watching her. The movie si a by-the-numbers production. You can see the set-ups a mile away. but guess what, though. I found myself smiling, chuckling, even laughing. I mean, it's ultimately an unmemorable movie, but I believed it more than I didn't, and I think it's because of the effortless chemistry that Barrymnore has with Sandler. Their banter, sometimes witless, is easy going and familiar. And underneath it all, there is an underlying sweet message that gets hammered to the audience as if they were children - subtlety is not the film's strongest suit. On a hot summer day, it is like a cold splash of water. It kept me awake for a bit, as it evaporates quickly in the summer heat.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Spicy And Sacred (Perfume Review: Sacred Wood, By Killian)

I was reading a lot of great notices about By Killian's Sacred Wood when it first came out that I was excited to sniff it. I remember being at Lucky Scent in Los Angeles and as soon as I entered the store, it was the first thing I wanted to sniff. That may or may not have contributed to my initial disappointment to it. Maybe I was expecting too much - sandalwood is a favorite note and I had heard this smelled like a different kind of sandalwood, although it's nose, Calice Becker, likens it to the Mysore sandalwood, which is of course, not used anymore in perfumery. I breathed a sigh of relief at that time: the By Killian price points always frighten me, and I thought, the more I don't like, the better. But the folks at Lucky Scent still gave me a sample vial of it, and I have taken my time to sample it again, and I also wanted a purer wearing: no distractions, just me and Sacred Wood: a proper wearing, if you will. So for better or worse, here goes: I like it a lot more now than then. The first thing I noticed when I first put it on is its spicy opening. There is an underlying woodsy sandalwood there, but it felt like it was on bonfire - there's cumin that rounds it up and adds a little mustard-y edge to the wood. In the beginning, it is not a pretty wood - its scarred, choppy, even a little angry. Wearing it on a summer night gave it more edge (i wonder if I would feel the same way on a winter night)  But then after that initial interesting stage it calms down to something cedar-y. I don't get the "milky" element that a lot of people get - perhaps I was looking for that tonka bean milk accord that I dislike. The scent becomes more ethereal, but that fire-y spicy ambiance never leaves me (maybe its the desert location?) and that is what is making it more appealing for me. A lot of people also compare this to Diptyque's Tam Dao, but I felt that is more "traditional" sandalwood than this one. This feels edgier. Am I contemplating getting it? For sure, of course, but with the dreaded By Killian price point, I am not rushing. But get me a discounted offer, and I will be quicker than Speedy Gonzales.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Suddenly Last Summer (Book Review: Since Last Summer, Joanna Philbin)

I am so behind my book challenge for the year that I don't know if I would ever recover. I started reading a book that I really could not get into, and got caught in that rut. Thank God I found Joanna Philbin's "Since Last Summer," which, I know is a sequel to last year's "The Rules of Summer," and I remember these characters already and felt that this wouldn't be such a hard book to get into. Plus, in a week or so, it will be officially summer, so maybe this will get me in a mood of summer reading. I kind of liked the first book from the series (My review is right here ) and this was not bad. I felt that I liked the first one just a little more, or perhaps I just disagreed with a lot of the choices of those characters here in this book. (I definitely liked these characters more last year) This gives us a glimpse of the rich Hampton crowd, so there's enough escapist fun here. Other than that, it was a pretty readable book, and I finished it enough to want reading more. So all in all, not bad.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

In Ourselves (Movie Review: The Fault In Our Stars)

I can put on my"critic cap" and find a lot of faults withe the movie version of "The Fault In Our Stars." I can perhaps say, that the movie is a lightweight love story that is basically grief porn. I could take issues with its length: a third of it can be judiciously cut and it would be a tighter film without diminishing what it accomplishes. I can throw disdain at all its rabid following - I mean, I liked the book well and fine, but when it got too popular, I kind of wanted to keep a distance from all of it. But really, now. Who am I kidding? I truly loved every minute of the movie. I loved seeing these characters vividly alive on screen, and I celebrated each tear that fell from my eye. The best thing about it is that it has been perfectly cast: Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort fit the characters to a T: it is as if they jumped out from the book the way I envisioned them. Or maybe because they are such skilled actors: Woodley gives a simple, dignified performance so natural and effortless that I don't know if I could ever take Hazel away from her ever again (It's kind of like I will always think Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trap even if she is playing Victor/Victoria)  I thought Woodley was already great (especially in "The Spectacular Now") but here she exudes blinding star wattage to match her effervescence. Elgort is heartbreaking: so charming and handsome that when their characters started wooing each other, I almost wanted to not root for them because you know that, well, things won't end well. But for me, the message of the movie is exactly that. the film celebrates a love that is so big, so magical, so great that it really doesn't matter if it got cut short. Few people experience a love this grand that one should just be lucky to have it in their lifetime. "The Fault In Our Stars" surely will touch a lot of hearts (One may say that it is so manipulative that it makes sure of that) but it will also make you think about love, life, mortality, fate.  I doubt if I will ever forget it.