Saturday, January 31, 2015

Fifty Shades Of Grey (Movie Review: Dear White People)

Are racial relations better now that we are under a black President? That seems to be the permeating question behind the movie "Dear White People," written and directed by Justin Simien. Times have certainly changed and it isn't merely black and white anymore, it's more fifty shades of grey. There is black culture, and numerous sub cultures. There's economic hierarchy now of course, too, and in the fictional setting of Winchester University, all these issues come head to head. Simien writes eloquently equal parts of wit and intelligence, and I am afraid that since this is not my generation, a whole lot of references went over my head. And it was also good to sea one particular issue tackled here, like homophobia in the black community, with the gay part almost an "aside" on that issue. This is a movie I admire more than I like maybe because I understand it more than have a real emotional attachment to it. I think it speaks for and by this generation. It's heartening that such dialogue is discussed for them, much in the same vein as "Do The Right Thing" was for my generation. I appreciate the movie and its importance, but I fear that was about it for me.

Friday, January 30, 2015

By The Beautiful Sea (Perfume Review: Jo Malone Wood Sage And Sea Salt)

I love salty scents - they have such a unique texture to my nose that is subtle but so appealing. (The Different Company's Sel de Vetiver is an all-time fave, and L'Artisans L'eau de L'Artisan's salty seaweed-y accord always satisfies)  I got Jo Malone's Wood Sage & Sea Salt over my late summer vacation last year, and loved it. I thought it was prefect for early autumn - that breezy salty smell combined with the late summer vibe. But today, on a coold-ish desert winter day, it just defeated me.  I love its salty grapefruit opening, and it really cheered me up as I started my mornign walk on this briskly sunny day. And the middle light woods notes brought depth and weight to the smell. But less than an hour after I (generously) applied it, as I always do with my scents, it was gone. Even my scarf, which I spray with my scent of the day, only had remnants after my morning walk. I guess this perfume is more like a cologne, and should be reapplied rigorously. I write this a couple of hours later, and it's so faint that I can't help but feel disappointed.  I know Jo Malone scents veer on the light side, but this is kind of extreme. This scent is Christine Nagel's swan song as Jo Malone's nose, and I wish ti could have been a more graceful exit.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

How Can I Ignore The Boy Next Door (Movie Review: The Boy Next Door)

I don't think anyone will be expecting "Citizen Kane" if they bought a ticket for "The Boy Next Door." I mean, one look at the trailer and you would know it is a retread of the lover/stalker formula a la "Fatal Attraction." (I bet any amount of money that the script was written around the same time, too) But I was hoping that this movie would be one of those so-bad-it's-good. And Jennifer Lopez has star wattage for days that you will be fine just looking at her. (And for the record, I don't think she is a bad actress) Plus, Ryan Guzman is a stud muffin and is a treat for the eyes too. If only this film was more camp. It takes itself too seriously that its by-the-numbers plot got tedious after a while. Kristen Chenoweth, as Lopez's character's friend has great comedic instincts to not take everything too seriously, but she seems to have wandered off from another movie. I wouldn't necessarily call the movie a total waste of my time. There were some funny moments, and the stars are eye candies, but I would have gotten the same pleasure had I been doing my laundry - and I love my laundry !

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Diana Moves On (Music Review: Diana Krall, Wallflower")

I always pay attention when Diana Krall releases a new album. Sometimes I love her albums, sometimes I just like them. I feel like I like her more than I used to. When she first hit it big, I kind of hated her, but then I started to really listen to her albums, and I realized maybe I had been unfair. I do have a deep appreciation for her raspy voice, and in her past couple of albums, her lyrical interpretation has really been very intelligent. The, this. Her new collaboration with David Foster for Verve is an album of songs from the 60s and 70s. I wish the song selections were a little more adventurous, because we get the usual suspects here. It's as if the selection was decided upon by a focus group: let's pick an Elton John song, a Carpenters, a Mamas and Papas. But pushing that aside, I think this album is a winner. Krall infuses a lot of herself in these albums, and I do feel her love for these songs. The arrangements by Foster are a little too predictable, but Krall saves the tracks by singing them with passion, and you can't help it but believe. I was torn by her heartbreaking "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word," and her melanchol;y "California Dreamin'" seems the perfect reflective take for the baby boomer generation who first grooved to the song. I can't say I was very familiar with Bob Dylan's "Wallflower," but i will remember it now as a Krall song. I also loved her "Superstar," and when she sings "Don't you remember you told me you love me, baby" you feel each moment of longing she feels. One track doesn't work, though: her too-cheery duet of the Gilbert O'Sullivan song "Alone Again Naturally" with Michael Buble. (For a great cover of that song, look no further than Nora Aunor's from her Alpha Records years) Ultimately, this album is a great marriage of singer and songs, proving there's more to Diana Krall. When she is singing the Great American Songbook, she is just "one of those," but here she may be inventing a genre she could own.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

To Catch A Fox (Movie Review: Foxcatcher)

Being that I am not really a big sports fan, I can't say that I am really familiar with the real life story of John du Pont and Mark Schultz. So after watching "Foxcatcher," I read up a little bit on the story - because I felt like the movie did not really fill me on what really transpired between the Schultz brothers and du Pont. This movie narrates what happened between duPont, a millionaire philantropist who took the US Wrestling team in, and helped train them. Enter Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum who is lured into this harem. What we see is the very complex relationship these two had, resulting to Mark's brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) being brought in to train the whole team (apparently du Pon't ultimate goal) which ultimately leads to the devastating murder of the latter from du Pont's hands. Well, and fine, but we never get a clue why he did it. Bennett Miller (whose previous films Capote and Moneball I both loved) gives this film a firm understated hand, but at times it felt too understated, and we could really read between the lines, and I guess that his point is we can make conclusions from his "clues," but really, he doesn't give us enough to really care about these characters. Is du Pont just a creep, a Momma's boy? or is he, as a lot have assumed, a repressed homosexual who harboured unrequited love from the Schultzes? The movie never really takes a stance, and without a point of view, the story just seemed so aimless. Steve Carrell does creep pretty well, and I do feel that he was making conscious efforts to give us a clue about hsi character's motives, but the movie doesn't help him. Channing Tatum is pretty good, but I couldn't really discern Schultz in his portrayal because to me it just seems like it was Channing tatum playing Mark Schultz. Ruffalo to me gets lost between the two. I truly wanted to care about the movie, but I just didn't.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Blanket Lavender (Perfume Review: Burberry Brit Rhythm For Her)

I think Burberry is a fine fragrance house.  They may not be truly innovative, but they are always well blended, have solid longevity, and never ever smell less than they should be. Last year's release, Burberry Brit Rhythm For Her was part of a his-and-hers set. I haven't smelled the masculine scent yet, but I truly like the female one. It's a cheap thrill - online discounters have the small bottle for less than twenty dollars, and you get a lot of bang for your buck. The perfume centers around lavender - a note that is usually associated with men's perfumes, with that barber-shop feel. It's a harsh and sharp note, and in here, perfumers Nathalie Cetto and Antoine Maisondue give it the powdery treatment that it almost smells like vintage. It's a very bright and transparent scent, but also cashmere-like: warm, comforting, and perfect on a cold day. It gives you that "hug" feeling, akin to being blanketed by a furry throw - a Burberry wool throw perhaps?That said, I think the marketing for this is atrocious: it's supposed to be youthful and rock-and-roll-ish when this would probably appeal more to a slightly older demographic.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Horny Harry (Movie Review: Horns)

I don't really venture into supernatural type of horror thrillers but "Horns" stars Daniel Radcliffe, a young actor whose choices I admire, so when this movie became available via Netflix, I streamed it. This movie tells the story of Iggy, a young man accused of killing his childhood sweetheart. But he claims innocence, and one day, he started growing horns - literally. But what he soon discovers is that these horns gives him the power of having whomever he encounters confess their innermost secrets whenever they speak to him. So he uses this power to track his girlfriend's real killer. Along the way, there are weird things that happen, and the biblical references become a little too heavy handed thereby spoiling the whole thing for me. Plus, the mystery part seemed obvious after a while, Visually, this film will catch your attention, from the picturesque cinematography showing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, to the lurid special effects that grossed me out. And Radcliffe is game, and for the most part makes you believe everything that's happening around him. In the end, I couldn't figure out if I enjoyed the movie or not. This isn't the kind of movie that makes me feel good, and I am conflicted if I had just wasted the last two hours of my life. But, I have to admit that it kept me very interested, and felt there was never a dull moment.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Side Show (Television Review: Looking S02E03, Looking For Top To Bottom)

We learn life lessons from taking life risks, and then failing. We feel like fools, but we grow and hopefully apply what we have learned.  It looks like Patrick is in the middle of such experience. But he seems to be still in the middle of the euphoric stage, and getting to the "why am I doing this"  phase. Yes he is having an affair, or as he points out, he is with someone who is having an affair. The weekend is coming up, and Jon (Kevin's boyfriend) is going away to San Diego for the weekend, so they have time to themselves. Patrick prepares by buying Fleet (and making a big deal of it, like the "naive" Midwesterner that he is) and preparing to bottom, but guess what, Kevin asks him to top, wasting douche, and Fleet, too. Dom is on a rugby league and Kevin and Patrick watch (as friends) and then they make out in the stands, just like Patrick envisioned it when he was in High School. but the relationship has a catch revealed int his episode. Apparently, Kevin needs to get married so he can have a green card, presumably because he only has a worker's visa. This, of course, plants something in Patrick's head, hopefully realization that Kevin may just be using him. Russell Tovey is such a charmer I would marry him, too! However, I hope the story line doesn't go that direction, as it would be predictable, and Kevin would seem a character that is not as three-dimensional.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Such Devoted Sisters (Book Review: The Smart One And The Pretty One, Claire Lazebnik)

Claire Lazebnik's "The Smart One And The Pretty One" is the first book I have read in the new year that I truly enjoyed - and guess what, it is from 2008. I chose this book randomly - started reading a couple of pages and couldn't stop, even finishing it swiftly. It tells the story of Ava and Lauren, who are sisters, and this book explores that bond between sisters, how they fight, compete, and protect each other all in the same breathe. I loved the familial interplay here, how open they are with each other and with their families, but at the same time how secrets are hidden as wel. And I also liked the fact that the HEA here isn't as clear-cut, although I also think that the ending came a little too quickly. I would have wanted to follow their stories a little further.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Eddie Is Everything (Movie Review: The Theory Of Everything)

The big reason to see "The Theory Of Everything" is summed up in two words: Eddie Redmayne.  I've always thought he was one of the most versatile actors of his generation, but here he does the almost impossible: give an honest emotional brave performance as Stephen Hawking, but more than that, complement that performance with an impossible feat of physically representing Hawking as well. Every blink of an eye, each flick of a finger, even the kick of a foot presents Hawking in its entirety. It is one of those all-around full performances that is unforgettable that if he loses the Oscar this year, I would be sorely upset. (And especially since his closest competitor, Michal Keaton gives an overrated performance in an overrated film, in my opinion)  If only the film was as bold. This film is a by-the-numbers biography that doesn't really frame his performance well. It's far from bad, mind you, but the screenplay never really makes us realize what makes Hawking tick, besides the fact that he was a genius. It never shows us how his genius created his theories. Perhaps because the film is based on his wife Jane's memoir of her life with Hawking? And speaking of, Felicity Jones as his wife gives a performance to match Redmayne's, though his is the star of the show. There were some parts of the film that, frankly, bored me, and thought it could have been cut a good half an hour. But still, I recommend this if only to see a work of genius acting, and to see that pivotal turn that makes Eddie Redmayne a bonafide star.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unfavorite Year (Book Review: The Year I Met You)

Cecelia Ahern is one of the Queens of Chick Lit so I was looking forward to reading "The Year I Met You,"  sand it even starts very interesting- one of those books that you begin reading and say, "wow this is going to be good." Jasmine just got fired from her job and starts spending time "gardening," which is euphemism for a non-compete clause. She gets fascinated by the man across the street, a shock jock who also just got reprimanded for crossing the line on his radio show. I wish the story went more interesting after that but for me, it didn't. There were quite a few things going on, and the characters to me were so unsympathetic that I ceased to care about any of them, and couldn't wait for the book to end. There's a good book here somewhere, only it wasn't in the one I read.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Timid Tobacco (Perfume Review: Diptyque Volutes)

Do you like tobacco note, but think it may be too rough, too manly? Well, Diptyque's Volutes is the probably the perfume for you. The other day, I was wearing Tom Ford's Tobacco Vanille and I was again admiring its richness and depth, and as I wear Volupte tonight, my initial reaction is that this is no match for Tom Ford's masterpiece. But as Volupte lingers on my skin, I begin to admire it for its softer virtues. About an hour after I put it on, the tobacco is faint, happy to be in the background btu still exerting its presence. What is more appealing for me is the iris note that takes center stage. It's pretty. That's the only way I could describe it - its a half-bloom unobnoxious note that's timid and shy, but has presence. And the tobacco gives it weight. As a house, Diptyque seems to be more mainstream than niche nowadays, akin to say, Tocca. They make pretty, interesting but safe and some say uninspired scents. Volutes seems to have been made with a target market in mind: those seeking for unobtrusive perfumes that can claim "edgy" notes like tobacco. It;s not that I won't wear this, but it seems if you want mid-range perfumes with tobacco notes, you get better choices in the market (Spicebomb or Burburry London men, for example) Diptyque Volutes i in the higher end of the spectrum, but less imaginative.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Bear With The English Flair (Movie Review: Paddington)

What the hell am I doing watching "Paddington?" I am not really a fan of children's movies, and I always feel like a pedophile when I go to the movie house and see all these kids around me.  But I am such an Anglophile, and I love the Paddington Bear, and of course this movie is set in London, my favorite European city, and add that Paddington bear is voiced by the sublime Ben Whishaw means I really should pay attention to this movie. So I did, and I kind of liked it. It's still just a tad too juvenile for my taste, but there's enough wit here that kept my attention. The film tells the plight of a bear from the deepest darkest of Peru, who comes to London because an explorer discovered them ages ago and told them you can come to London anytime you want. So he does, and is adopted by a British family, while he searches for the explorer. Mishaps ensue, and hilarity begins. It's all nice and well until Nicole Kidman shows up as a taxidermist wanting to stuff Paddington. Is she hurting that bad that she agrees to do this movie? She used to choose such edgy roles. Whishaw injects a lot of pathos to the bear role that you feel and relate. A couple of critics have commented that this movie is a great commentary on the issue of immigration, and I agree, though the message is subtle enough not to be havey-handed. It's a good idea for kids to watch and empathize.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Affair (Television Review: Looking S02E02, Looking For Results)

Looking's second episode this season, "Looking For Results" starts with Patrick and Kevin in bed in a seedy motel. Wasn't it just last week that Paddy asked Kevin that they have never had sex in a bed yet? Well, looks like Patrick's wish came true this week, albeit in a seedy motel. That sets the tone for this week's episode, one of the bests ever. The pacing was great, although I kind of miss the languid, contemplative tone of previous episodes. This one should be a crowd-pleaser, though, There's enough comedy and drama here that the half an hour flew by (This should be an hour episode series)  We get Patricks paranoia about him getting HIV, and Kevin's about their "affair" being exposed after Patrick confesses he told his friends about their relationship. But it's a testament to Jonathan Groff that even if his character is written so unsympathetically, he infuses depth and charm that he has striking chemistry with everyone. He sizzles with Russell Tovey that you can't help but root for their relationship. But then tonight we also see Richie come back, and that scene that Groff has with Castillo at his ktchen was full of nuanced longing that you find yourself lso rooting for them, too. So what are you to do? You just keep on watching, week after week.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

New York City Stories (Movie Review: Love Is Strange, Still Alice)

Earlier this week, a news story affected me: Ess A Bagel, which a lot of people - including me - consider as the best bagel shop in New York City announced it was closing its doors, a victim of a greedy landlord demanding higher rent. To me it mars an end of an era. Then I finally saw Ira Sach's "Love Is Strange," a movie I have been wanting to see since it first came out, but for some reason or another has eluded me. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow (both excellent here) play a married couple who, after thirty nine years of being together, gets married (yay for marriage equality) The marriage affects Molina's character, though, since he works for a Catholic school, and of course we know where the Catholic church stands on that. As a result, he loses his job, and they have to leave their apartment and temporarily live with relatives and friends. While this premise is a little bit over-the-top (I can think of different ways of circumnavigating the situation they nevertheless get thrust into households, and well you can probably guess what happens next. But Sachs is smarter than that, dealing hands that are very subtle but ass effective. We get to see meanings in ordinary circumstances, and extra ordinary circumstances pushes characters to see, feel, and express love. Strange dear, but true, dear. The last act simmers quietly, and i surprise myself by no even aware that I have been sobbing. The best scenes here come from still moments. Maybe this resonated to me more because I suffered a loss recently, and maybe that is part of the reason why I am just seeing this movie now. Maybe it was designed to heal a certain part of my pain.  I consider this one of the best movies of the last year, with probably the best ensemble cast of the year. Marisa Tomei is particularly effective, and Darren Burrows, in a scene towards the end of the movie, epitomized the pain felt by all of the characters in the movie. Moving beyond belief. 

Meanwhile, we move from the West Village to the  Upper West Side where we see Alice, played with subdued perfection by Julianne Moore, diagnosed with early on set Alzheimer's disease.  This come almost as an irony to her, for she is a Columbia University professor specializing in the study of how people communicate with each other. Based on the book of the same title, written by neuroscientist Lisa Genova. Moore is such an intelligent actress, as she never chooses the most obvious ways for her character to deal with the deterioration of the disease. No histrionics here, no cliched disease of teh week tv movie grabs. She gives an intuitive, nuanced performance that shows that she prepared for the role in the most prepared way. But her preparedness sometimes becomes too obvious at times. But no matter, if this is the vehicle that would finally give her an Academy award, then so be it. Sometimes her acting is more intelligent than the movie, and for that she should be rewarded. 

These two movies represent, for me, quintessential New York stories. These are two distinct, and individual tales that show how people live, survive, perish in the city. I will not lie when I say that it made me miss the city that made me th eperson I am today. But is today's New York City still my New York?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Only In My Dreams (Book Review: Dream boy, Shawn Bailey)

I can't help but laugh while I was reading Shawn Bailey's "Dream Boy."  The book is full of cliches, and it you really have to suspend disbelief while you are reading it. But at the same time, it is sweet, charming, and quite readable. It is juvenile, and may even be a little too simple for its target audience, which I am assuming to be teenagers. Although some of the sex scenes can be pretty gratuitous (why must it be so pulp-y?) the book is pretty light harmless fun. i thought the Asian/Caucasian romance seemed a little interesting, and playing it up would have added a little depth to the story. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Kathy The Policewoman (Fashion Police, Mondays on E!)

I have been anticipating this new incarnation of "Fashion Police" because I like Kathy griffin, and she seems to be the heir apparent of a lot of things Joan Rivers, whom I adore. I really don't think they have the same type of humour, although they seem to have the same type of chutzpah. So last night, the new "Fashion Police" premiered on E! (Mondays at 9 pm on E!) and I was...underwhelmed. Kathy Griffin seems lost in the shuffle, and doesn't have much chemistry with the rest of the panel.  And she seems stifled. Her critique of gowns seems to be forced ("I like her gown because one wrong move and we might see a boob," she remarks on Jennifer Lopez's gown) and her choice as worst dressed, seems insincere and if done for laughs, was misguided. Joan was the Queen of the old Fashion police, and it showed. Even Griffin's outfit - a black and white ensemble seems almost subdued compared to Rivers' caribou feathers. I know it is the first show, though , and hope she builds more rapport with the rest of the panel. And speaking of, I am still baffled as to how Kelly Osbourne is seen as a fashion e pert, and I do enjoy Brad Goreski (he got better zingers than Kathy last night) Guiliana Rancic needs a sandwich.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

One For The Birds (Movie Review: Birdman)

I will be Connie Contrarian for a second. I knwo a lot of people have been enamoured with Alejandro Inarritu's "Birdman" and it may even give Michael Keaton an Academy Award, but I thought the movie was one of the worst I have seen from last year. Why do I think that, you ask? I thought it was pretentious, self-indulgent, and quite frankly, boring. It stars Keaton as an actor who got famous for playing a super hero and is now trying his hand starring on Broadway, adapting Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love But he has some problems: his newly cast co-star(Edward Norton)  is a handful, his daughter (Emma Stone) just got out of rehab, and his girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough) may be pregnant.  Fine and well, but there really isn't anythign abotu teh main character that makes us feel for him. There are great technical touches in the film, the cinematography, bu Emmanue Lubezki, is a wonder: the whole film was shot like one single take, but you get caught more by that fact (ooooh, how will he transition next) instead of getting engaged by the story. And the overacting here is excessive. yes, I get it, they are all "theatrical" but after a while it just got tiresome. Keaton does give a fine performance, but for me, it is lacking the things that the film fails to deliver: heart and soul.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Good Batch Of Patch (Perfume Review: Erminigildo Zegna Javanese Patchouli)

A friend of mine who read my review of Zegna Iris Florentine  wrote to me and told me that I should try Javanese Patchouli from the same Zegna Essenze line. "You probably will like that much better," he told me. So I searched and found I had a sample of that, too. Well, he was right. I did like Javanese Patchouli better. I don't know if Javanese patchoulis are better than other patchoulis but this one is smooth, clean, and expensive-smelling. This scent is really linear, it starts and end with a glorious patchouli note. I always associate the note with the 60s hippies generation, so whenever I encounter a patchouli thatis luxe-smelling, I always pay attention (a good example would be L'Wren Scott's eponymous perfume, which skews slightly female)  I had to think if I had some other patchoulis on my collection, and I think I have the Dior Patchouli Imperiale  as well as Givenchy gentlemen, which I used to wear a lot when I was younger. Javanese Patchouli would be a great addition to complement my collection. I wish the price point on this was more reachable, but I may have to bite the bullet.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Into The Woods (Television Review, Looking S02E01, Looking For The Promised Land)

Well, "Looking" is back and I am a happy camper. I have been waiting for this new episode of the new season since, well, since the last episode of the last one. And teh action begins where it left off: Augustin is still living with Patrick, who is still having an affair with his boss Kevin. Dom is still with Lyn, and as a matter of fact brings Patrick and Augustine to Dom's Russian River house where they attempt to have a wholesome weekend trip. But all plains go awry, and in a fantastic way. The first thing I noticed, and liked, in this episode is its tone: it's not as somber and serious, and we get to see some mirth in the characters, even if hey are all embroiled in their own personal turmoils. Patrick still hasn't confessed his affair to his friends, and Dom is feeling insecure about his open relationship with Lyn. He looks for clues about Lyn's character in his house. But this is a gay show so there is a fabulous party, called "The Promised Land." They each even take a Molly pill. And by the end of the show, we get a clue to where the characters are headed, for better or worse. It's a great opener, and I am beginning to really love its languid place. Nothing has to dramatically happen for the show to tell these character's stories, and I really appreciate that it takes its time doing so. And the actors are really growing great in the role. Jonathan Groff is as charming as ever, even as his character infuriates me. I mean, how old is he to be acting like a stunted kid? I mean, own up to your decisions, even if some people would think it is wrong. Murray Bartlett has relaxed a lot, and even Frankie Alvarez finds some layers in an underwritten role. I look forward to my Sunday dates with these men.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

In Winter (Book Review: Winter Street, Elin Hinderbrand)

I wasn't feeling too Christmassy during the Holidays and wasn't in the mood for a Holiday read then. But the other day, i started reading "Winter Street,"  by Elin Hildebrand and was instantly hooked. It's a nice family read, about how things can fall apart during the holidays but because they always do, somehow things work out for everyone. It starts with a bang, with the family patriarch  (Kelley) catching his young wife (Mitzi) kissing the guy who plays Santa Claus at the Christmas party. She leaves him instantly, and he has to deal with his kids coming in for the holidays. And of course each child has a problem of his own. There is never a dull moment in the book, and even though it's January now, I couldn't help but be touched by the Holiday spirit.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

From Boy To Man (Movie Review: Boyhood)

I have been dreading watching Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" because I have been intimidated by its length - two and a half hours. But I should not have been, because there was not one boring moment in this film. Shot over twelve years, Linklater has made a film that makes you (literally) watch a boy transform into a young man. Mason (Ellar Coltrane) in the beginning of the film starts out as a wide-eyed six year old, and by the end of the movie has just started his Freshman in college. I don't know what Coltrane has done professionally, but he has this contemplative intensity as an actor, and especially in the later scenes, shows depth and sensitivity. I know Patricia Arquette has gotten accolades for her work here (and may probably win an Academy Award) and there is a scene towards the end of the film where she has a emotional breakdown, after realizing her son is going to college and she will be left alone. You feel her pain, because you feel like you have been there all along, as she made sacrifices and moved heaven and earth to have a better life for herself and her kids. That reduced me to a pool of tears. I think Ethan Hawke deserves just as much recognition. It was interesting to see not only how his looks have aged over he years, but also how he essayed his character evolving. Mason Sr. evolved from being a rabid bleeding Liberal to someone who marries a wife from a religious gun-loving family. It shows how we change and make concessions once we find the ones we love.  This is an emotionally affecting film, and I found it stayed with me after the film ended and I started thinking more not just about the characters, but on what life means for all of us.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Don't Leave Us This Way, Annie (Music Review" Annie Lennox, Nostalgia)

An Annie Lennox standards album. You would think that it would be a match made in sweet dreams heaven, right? That soulful voice paired with the most beautiful melodies is enough to give me hives of you. After all, she recorded quite possibly my most favorite version of probably my favorite song of all time: "Everytime We Say Goodbye."  But, it tears me up that I was not really satisfied with "Nostalgia," her newish album of songs mostly from the Great American Songbook. I will not even go with the misguided decision of her singing "Strange Fruit," which in itself is an assault in modern history. I thought, at the very least, her take would be thoughtful, finding ways to differentiate itself from the Billie Holiday version. I am sad to admit that the track turns out to be a watered-down version of Holiday's, so why bother with the controversial choice? It really smacks of a rookie, though I refuse to believe Lennox never really understood the meaning of the song. 

Lennox has also said in interviews that she is in a happier place now, and is talking about retirement. So I am as surprised to find this album is joyless. Where is the effervescence of when she sang the 1930s dittie "Young and Beautiful" from her Diva album. Instead, we get funereal versions of "Summertime," and "God Bless The Child," two common choices that does not really show how intelligent a singer she is. Sure the tango-ish "I Can't Dream, Can't I" is a great treat, and she does very well with "You Belong To Me," but the rest of the album passes by without anything original or innovative addition to these songs. The album isn't bad, mind you. It's just that it doesn't impress, it doesn't take your breath, it doesn't leave an impression. Please make another album, Annie, and don't leave us this way.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Like A Fat Girl Needs Cake (Movie Review: Cake)

Jennifer Aniston is de-glamourized in "Cake," and that's seems to be the catch-all for this movie.  Look, Jen has no make-up! Look, Jen has no scars on her face!  To focus on that is a shame, because in this movie, Aniston gives the performance of her career, and that really should be what people should be talking about. As Claire, a woman addicted to pain medications, she gives a nuanced - physically and soulfully - performance that is exemplary I was bewitched by just her presence in the movie. (Like Julianne Moore in "Still Alice, she is on every scene)  One of the major criticisms in general is that every character she plays seems to be a variation of her Friends' Rachel green character but in here she becomes totally immersed, and at once the viewer forgets it's Aniston they are seeing. It's such a bravura performance that it really is a shame that she was not nominated for an Academy Award. She deserves it. 

As for the movie, I wished it served her better. It falls flat with about a quarter left in the story, and even if it makes you want to care less about the character by that time you are already in love with Claire that it does not matter. As her maid and sometimes co-conspirator Silvana, Adriana Barrazais deserves notice as well. Actually, the whole support cast frames Aniston's performance well. I really do recommend this movie, if only to see an actress show her true thespic wings.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

For The Bible Told Them So (Book Review: The Bible Boys)

Forbidden love , it's a tale as old as time.  Dan Skinner tackles that in "The Bible Boys," where the love that dare not speak its name is complicated by religion. Caleb and Matt - teenagers who get together on a bible group trip - and they fall for each other. But their families are members of a cult   conservative sect, and that spells doom. The book is paper thin, but it's heart is in the right place. For my taste, the sex scenes are a little overlong, and Skinner could have used the space for more depth. But this isn't a bad book at all, it's sort of a Brokeback Mountain for teens, and will probably be useful for a lonely gay boy out there struggling to deal with his sexual orientation. If only for that reason, this book deserves wider readership.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Iris In Water (Perfume Review, Ermenigildo Zegna, Florentine Iris)

I have a mountain of samples and I told myself I would slowly go through them, and this morning I randomly picked Erminigildo Zegna's Florentine Iris, which is from his Essenze line (launched 2012) which was their venure into a higher-end more exclusive line. The perfumes in the line are all centered around beragmot, and this one has major notes of iris, violet. This is a very cold violet, not the raw kind. The violet rounds it and gives it a "barbershop" vibe, making this smell more masculine. It's not a flowery iris that's for sure, although in the background while it dries down I smell hints of some white flowers. It's also very aquatic, reminiscent of 90s mens' scents, although admittedly this does not smell dated. This is powerful and the sillage speaks loud. I would imagine that a lot of females would like to smell this on their men. I bet a player would get a lot of compliments while wearing this. But while it is that, I find it staid. It's too run-of-the-mill for my taste, for its price point of $195.00 a little too common smelling. If this was a commercial release, I would actually applaud it. But in a niche level, it just doesn't cut it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Deeper Love (Movie Review: Pride)

In September, when I was in London, the movie theater around the corner from my hotel was showing the movie "Pride," and I remember passing by it, looking at the huge poster and wondering if it was a gay movie. Then I read a rave about it somewhere, and realized that it was a movie with gay content, so I made a mental note to try and catch it somewhere. I missed it, but the movie has been in my radar sine and when it finally came out on video, I instantly put it on my Netflix queue. What a great uplifting feel-good movie this is. The story is set during the miner's strike during the Thatcher years in the UK when gay and lesbian groups banded with the miners because they empathized with their plight. Miners and gays would seem like an odd couple, and yes they are, but the film shows that even the most mismatched people can find common ground and band together. Director Matthew Marchus (who directed the stage version of 'Matilda') weaves personal stories with seamlessness that you instantly connect with all the characters on both sides. There's great performances everywhere, but for me Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy stand out among the vets.  So yes, at times, the proceedings become a tad predictable and you can see the resolutions a mile away, but you won't be able to recognize the big open heart tha lies inside this movie. Rent it, stream it, however you watch it, just do.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Unwedded Bliss (Book Review: Nearlyweds, Beth Kendrick)

I wanted something light to read and Beth Kendrick's "Nearlyweds" just fit the bill instantly. I mean, it even has a cute dog on the cover so this has got to be as cute a read, right? I wasn't wrong. It actually has a unique premise. Three couples get married on the same weekend, and the pastor who married them dies before signing their marriage certificates. So technically, they are all not legally wed. A curse or a blessing in disguise? The answer lies differently for each of these couples. Stella wants kids but finds out her husband has had a vasectomy. Casey feels insecure because she had to force Nick to marry her, even paying for her engagement ring. And Erin has a third person in their marriage: her mother in law. Nothing too new to see her, but Kendrick sets the proceeding quick and painless, and enjoyable enough to keep your attention. It could be worse. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Eyes Have It (Movie Review: Big Eyes)

Tim Burton's movie "Big Eyes," opens with a quote from Andy Warhol complementing the art of Margaret Keane, and the movie tells her story. Clearly, we are already biased and empathetic towards Ms. Keane. Truthfully, I have only heard about her/this story when I heard about this biopic of hers, although I have a very vague recollection of seeing her paintings when I was a young kid. I like her paintings. I think her style is a great mixture of melancholy and whimsy, though I do admit they are kind of kitschy. And I thought her story was interesting. She has a passive personality and agreed when her husband, Walter Keane decided to take credit of her paintings. Burton tells the story clearly. This is not your typical Burton production, though on one scene (the supermarket one) you get a glimpse of his quirk. Perhaps Burton has a lot of respect for this story and wanted to tell it in the most straightforward way possible. He succeeds and you are riveted from the first frame to the last. Amy Adams gives a great performance here, subdued but powerful. Counterpointing hers is Christoph Waltz's manic over-the-top turn, which really turned me off. Surely, there is a better way to convey the character than his histrionic over-acting style? For me, it just highlights Adams' performance more.  I think this film has an interesting story to tell, though perhaps may be a bit too tame for today's mainstream taste.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Ghost Of Diana (Perfume Review, Diana Vreeland, Outrageously Vibrant)

Anyone who is even remotely interested in fashion knows who Diane Vreeland is. For those uninitiated, there's a wonderful documentary on Netflix called "The Eyes Has To Travel," which gives us a glimpse of her genius. I love one of her most famous quotes: "Pink is the navy blue of India," and there was a time I used that as my signature quote on my emails. But I think what I loved most about her was that while she thought that perfume was an "extravagance," she was from that school of people who wanted their perfumes to be noticed. She hated the fact that Americans use them sparingly, and advocated that everyone should carry small bottles int heir bags for replenishing. She could have been speaking my motto. 

So I was excited to see that her grandson, Alexander Vreeland, has launched five perfumes in her name, and named them from her favorite expressions. I know a lot of people thought this was blasphemy, and wasn't too happy with the idea. But good or bad, I knew I had to have a bottle from this line, if only from a collector's point of view. When I went to Neiman Marcus and tried them all, the one that most spoke to me at first was "Extravagance Russe," which is a classic Oriental with predominant Russian leather and musk notes. But, I thought it was just a little too thin, so I went and explored the rest of the line. Bottom line: there in't anything innovative or daring with the line itself, but these are well-done scents. Later on, I kept on coming back to "Outrageously Vibrant," which is the one that is most unliek what I would like: a fruity floral with patchouli base. It is centered around mango and creme of cassis, and it just spoke to me. It is fresh, vibrant, and it smelled good on my skin, turning sweet but not overly so. I also thought it was a versatile scent: on that cold day it blossomed but didn't turn too dark on me, and I could imagine it soaring on a summer day. So I made an executive decision and got it. The more I sniff everything else, the more I will get confused, so I went with my gut. As i wear it again today, I don't regret my decision: it's a floral that's not too feminine, and I carry it well, if I do say so myself. So while I still kind of dream of "Extravagance Russie" (I have a 10 ml vial that the SA gave me and I am still contemplating on going back for it) I am at peace with my decision.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Wolf Street (Book Review: Ghosts Of Manhattan, Douglas Brunt)

Well, here we are, my first finished book for the new year. I was only able to accomplish half of my reading challenge for 2014, so hopefully I will be able to fare better this year.

I was initially attracted to "Ghosts Of Manhattan" because it centered around a bond trader and his work environment, an atmosphere I am familiar with because I used to work there. And indeed, the main character sounds like someone I may have worked with before. Even the people who work around him sound like people I may have worked with. Too bad there's really nothing else for me in this book. The story is a bit unfocused: part work drama during the mid 2000's banking meltdown, part domestic marriage drama between him and his wife. Neither storyline was interesting to me, and the final message - a morality tale? and greed is not good  - seems lost in all of it. I don't think the story went from point A to point B. The main character, Nick Farmer, waned to quit from the beginning of the book and only did so in the last page. There seems to be no there there.

Then I read the acknowledgements and find out the author is married to the execrable Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly and the whole book leaves more bad taste in my mouth. Yuck.