Sunday, May 31, 2015

Clearly It's Kristin (Theater Thoughts: On the 20th Century, American Airlines Theater)

Every once in a while, even a jaded theatergoer like me still gets shocked. yes, shocked from seeing something so good that my faith in theater is renewed. That's how I felt seconds into seeing the new revival of "On The Twentieth Century." now playing at The American Airlines Theater and produced by the Roundabout Theater Company. This is a show I have never seen, but whose original cast recording I have devoured when I was still "discovering"  Broadway scores. So I have only imagined Madeline Kahn doing the role of Lily Garland. Now that I have seen Kristin Chenoweth in the same role, she will forever be etched in my memory. As if I had a doubt before, but here Chenoweth proves her mega watt star power. And in playing role, her small frame gives a larger than life performance, and it is one of those performances that only comes once in a blue moon, and years from now, we will all be bragging about the time we saw her do this role. Yes, it is that great, and on Tony night, the theater community will not be able to resist giving her another Antoinette Perry.  She does everything here, and she does all of them big: she sings every note in the scale, she dances every step in the book, she chews every imaginable scenery - and she does them all with sheer delight. And she is supported by such a charming cast, starting with Peter Gallagher as her producer ex-boyfriend who is trying to woo her for a new production that will save his recent flops.  And Andy Karl, as her boy toy, displays comedic timing I never thought he possessed - and he was already sublime in last season's "Rocky." The score takes time to love, although once you do, it's irresistible. There are a lot of things happening on stage, and for the most part they all hit the right mark. But again, again, and again, it's Kristin - she carries this whole show, and lets it soar. On my death bed, this will be one of the highlights of my theatergoing experience.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

54th And 8th (Film Thoughts: 54 The Director's Cut)

I remember being excited when the film "54" originally came out (in 1998) and now it seems so weird that I remember very little about it. I do remember that the movie released was not the original cut of the director. It turns out 40 minutes of "dark" material was excised from the original version and reportedly Harvey Weinstein wanted to beef up the love angle between Ryan Phillippe and Neve Campbell (who was promoted from a glorified extra to love interest)  So here we are seventeen years later with the Director's cut of "54," and while I wouldn't call it a cinematic masterpiece, this is a more textured movie that is more focused. The heart of "54" now is the love triangle between the characters of Phillippe, Salma Hayek, and Breken Meyer (and the latter looked so handsome in this movie)  There is a clearer characterization of Shane's sexuality here: it is clear that he swung both ways, and the only ambiguity here is whether he was pairing up for advancement in his career. There has been a lot of talk in that brief kiss between Phillippe and Meyer, and it is a sweet and tender moment, representing the affection the two characters for each other (almost in a non-sexual way, even)  And I know that Mike Myers is still getting accolades for his portrayal of Steve Rubin, but for me he is sort of the weak link: I could never discern if his performance was mimicking or paying tribute. I love the fact that the director Mark Christopher did not treat this as a straightforward morality tale. While Shane, after all he has gone through, did fall down, you just know that he woke up the next day, and persevered. Lastly, if there is one shallow reason to see this movie, it is to celebrate the beauty that is Ryan Phillippe: he is everything in this film - innocent, angelic, sexualized, demonized, menacing, objectified. On that level, it is sheer perfection.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Got To Be Real (Television Thoughts, UnREAL, Monday nights on Lifetime)

You don't have to be a "The Bachelor(ette)" fan to enjoy "UnREAL."  I have only watched snippets of the popular ABC show myself, to be honest. "UnREAL" is a drama/dark comedy from Lifetime that goes behind the scene of dating show titled "Everlasting," and it is riveting. This show revolves around the character of Rachel (Shiri Appleby) who is a producer. She is back after having a nervous breakdown in the middle of shooting the finale of the previous season. After charges of grand auto theft and DUI, she is subjected to therapy and community service, and is thwarted back at the show. We see the inner workings of how a dating show is taped for maximum drama, as Rachel is the master manipulator, a trait that is best used in producing for these kinds of shows. I don't know if "UnREAL" is real or an exaggeration, but it is great television, and I have instantly put it on my DVR. Aside from "Project Runway," I don't think I have anything on there from the Lifetime network, and this show promises to bring a lot more sizzle to my summer.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Conversations With Tommy (Book Thoughts: Footnotes, Tommy Tune)

Someone somewhere (I can't remember where now) recommended Tommy Tune's memoir "Footnotes,"  from 1997, saying it was juicy and when I looked on Amazon it was selling for a penny (!) so I ordered it. It took the longest time to arrive (I am guessing media mail) so I almost forgot about it when it did. Whoever it was that recommended it,  I thank you a million times - because I can't remember the last time something worth a penny brought me such joy. It's a poignant, joyous, and yes gossipy little book. It doesn't follow the structure of a normal memoir - it's as if the whole thing was written like a stream of consciousness. He would start to tell a story about something, then remember something so he would continue with that, and then go back to his original thought. It's immensely personal - imagine you are having dinner with him, and then he tells stories from his life, and you can continue as you clear the table, wash the dishes, and end up at his sofa as he wistfully reminisces loves of his life. This book is funny, emotional,. touching - and it gives you a glimpse behind one of the greatest minds ever to hit Broadway. Highly recommended

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Amy, Amen (Music Thoughts: Amy Grant, Be Still And Know: Hymns & Faith)

I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you. One of my most favorite albums right now is from a genre that I would never associate with myself: Christian music. The album that I am digging right now? Amy Grant's "Be Still And Know: Hymns & Faith." of course, I shouldn't (and really don't) discriminate: a good song is a good song; wonderful music is wonderful music. A lot of people - including myself - probably only know Grant from her pop days from the 90s. But she has been singing Christian music way before that, and is something of an icon in those circles. One can see why - you can tell that she is in her groove singing these songs, as she infuses herself so immensely in them, that you feel that she feels every word, and every nuance is apt, every breath measured. My favorite tracks? "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee," and "'Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus."  I somehow can overlook the overly religious and self-righteous messages of these songs, and just listen to the wonderful melody, and Grant's great voice interpreting them. And "El Shaddai" always slays me. I read on Amazon that apparently that this album is a compilation from previous albums, and has been marketed somewhat misleadingly. (uh-oh, that's not very Christian) For someone who does not have this discography, this is a perfect starter for her non-secular music.  And if it converts you t  Christianity, I am sure they will like that, too!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Deal Or No Deal (Film Thoughts: Unfinished Business)

Not gonna lie. I mainly was interested in watching "Unfinished Business' because of my irrational crush on Dave Franco. These kind of raunchy testosterone filled comedies aren't really for me. About twenty minutes into the movie - Dave Franco or no Dave Franco - I was ready to give up. But I persevered, and I knew I wanted to write about it. And you know what? I am glad I did. In the midst of all the sex jokes, this movie had a tiny beating heart. It's a small one, but it's there, it's alive. And there is even a small and sweet gay angle to the thing - I was ready for a homophobic tone, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the opposite. And it is partly shot in Berlin, and they kind of capture the city in its glory: slightly deranged, slightly off, but an interesting city like no other.  And yes, I thought Dave Franco was kind of dopey adorable here, and perfectly gave his all to the role, even at times outshining his co stars Vince Vaughan, and Tom Wilkinson - no small feat. And yes, he satisfied my weird craving for him/ If only for that reason I don't regret seeing this. But truthfully, I left with a little more.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Clearly A Rose (Perfume Thoughts: L'Artisan Rose Priveé)

Does the world need another rose scent? Or more specifically, do *I* need another rose scent? That note is very much represented in my collection, but I don't mind. I like it in all forms: deep, dark, mysterious, or dewy, airy, light.  When L'Artisan announced they were launching a new rose scent, I was excited as I adore their two previous rose scents. I wonder, how will they differentiate this third release from their other two (I do think one of the earlier releases, Drole de Roses, has been discountinued, though) Rose Priveé is a more light airy rose. It is sort of aquatic, but with a dark shadow. It opens like a rose fresh from the rain, tinged with a deep violet note. The contrast is immediate, and striking. It then continues to a more vegetal state - this rose veers more green than pink. It's slightly bitter with an oakmoss-y note, which makes this a lot more mature. The woods stay there to a woodsy rosey finish - I detect hints of patchouli which grounds it, and hay which gives it more softness.  I like it a lot, and find it a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. Though I won't be rushing to buy, it will be on my radar.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Lies Lies Lies (Television Thoughts: Younger Episode 9: I'm With Stupid, Episode 10: The Boy With The Golden Tattoo)

I was a little bit disappointed with the past episodes of "Younger" and was draging my feet watching Episodes 9 ("I'm With Stupid") and Episode 10 ("The Boy With The Dragon Tattoo") but seriously, these two episodes are exceptional, and forward the story more. On "I'm With Stupid," Liza begins to have insecurities with his relationship with Josh. One of Josh's close friends mentions to her that she thinks he is dumb, and that idea permeates in her mind. The snob in her comes out when she finds out that he doesn't like to read. (He rightly explains that as an artist, he is a more visual person)  Meanwhile, a manuscript from the slush pile catches her eye, and she uses her old book club in New Jersey to get feedback on the book. Everyone loves it. On Episode 9, ("The Boy With The Golden Tattoo") we find out that the author (Ana Gesteyer in a great guest spot role) plagiarized the piece. Liza's doubts for Josh comes full circle here as well, when she gets introduced by him to his friends as a girl who he is "just hanging out" with. At the end of the episode, he proves his mettle by showing Liza he got a dragon tattoo (to symbolize the year of his birth) Both these situations give pause as Liza realizes the lie she is living with. With two episodes to go, I am curious and intrigued as to how the season will end - will the lie come out, or will it continue to the next season?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

C'mon A My House (Book Thoughts: Open House, Elizabeth Berg)

I liked my first Elizabeth berg book so much I decided to go read a second one,  and I read what I thought was a popular choice: "Open House." It was an Oprah Book Club selection, and was a bestseller.  The first thing I noticed is that it is kind of dated: characters still watch movies via VHS tapes, and people still calculated long distance phone call costs. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the book felt like a historical novel in that sense. I found this book very weird:  it seems like Berg couldn't decide on the tone of the book. It starts out sad and wistful, but she goes into comedic situations. But, it's very much readable and never boring.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Happy Hunting (Webseries Thoughts: Hunting Season)

Since Looking ended, I have been searching for a gay show fix ("Real Housewives Of New York," though gayer than Gay Gayerson, just can't fit that bill)  Guess what, I think I found it through "Hunting Season," which started its second season on Vimeo. But first, I caught up with it by binge watching the first season, and it was an easy task: most of the episodes were just over ten minutes. I met the main character Alex, Ben Baur. The show purports to be an unashamed gay version of "Sex And The City." (But wait - isn't SATC already the gay version of SATC?) It even copies the format - single guy in the city writing a blog about his sexcapades - right to the voice-over which frame the episodes. The first season was more a parade of sexual partners for Ben, and it was fun and titillating, if I want to be honest. (the full frontal nudity did not hurt at all)

As the second season starts, we see some series expansion. Aside from the fact that each episode now clocks over twenty minutes, we get more stories: Ben by the second episode loses his day job at Gawker - which opens the series up, storyline wise - and he ruminates about something more. In case you are confused, that would be falling in love, looking for a husband. The series becomes more soap-y (even the cast of characters around him get their own individual arcs) and it's addictive. It's mindless fun - the kind that you can't stop watching, and will make you a little guilty the morning after. So you know, like sex. Needless to say, I am hooked. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Come Visit (Stage Thoughts: The Visit, Lyceum Theater)

Some people are just born stars. They bring lustre in even the dullest projects. Chita Rivera brings lustre and sparkle at The Lyceum Theater every night in "The Visit," and for ninety minutes you think all is well.

The show has a lot of things for it: it is based on the famed work by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, which I devoured when I was in High School, and the book is by Terence McNally.  It is even the last collaboration by the legendary Kander and Ebb, and stars Chita (no last names, just Chita)  It is directed by John Doyle, whose work I mostly dislike. I saw the Hal Prince production a few years back and I thought it was fine enough for Broadway.  What is on stage at The Lyceum doesn't really work in the most cohesive sense. First of all, it's sort of bi-polar: it starts out kind of bitter, then veers towards sentimentality, and touches on a little bit of dark humour. Yes, it's fine to see all those three things in one show, but in there it is never balanced correctly. The score is dark and Brechtian, and is melodious, complex, accessible, and haunting: just perfect match to the material. The costumes and sets are moody and match the score.

Chita is a marvel. From the moment she walks on that stage she commands it. A simple flick of her cape enthralls the audience. She is menacing, she is funny, she is a delight. You know you are seeing a living legend on screen, and if indeed this is her last Broadway role, then she leaves with a bang. If there is one compelling reason to see the show, it would be her. The rest of the cast services her well (Roger Rees is more an actor who sings and his pitch problems can be troublesome for others)

So is "The Visit" worth a visit? I think so - it seems almost a throwback from the Golden years of Broadway - an imperfect show with a memorable score and a major star.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pitch, Please (Movie Thoughts: Pitch Perfect 2)

I wasn't in love with the first "Pitch Perfect," but I know a lot of people were. Hence, a sequel. And i know it has been raking in money, so for better ot worse, I thought to myself I might as well see it. (There are also not that many choices out there, right now) I think it is interesting that this movie was directed by actress Elizabeth Banks, and I think giving the film a nice feminine touch would serve it well. (She does double duty as one of the commentators in the film) So the verdict? I don't think it succeeds fully, but at the same time it;s pleasant, it's entertaining enough, it didn't annoy me so all in all not a total waste. So - meh. Let's start with the good: Anna Kendrick can do no wrong, Brittany Snow is solid, and Rebel Wilson made me laugh a lot more times than I care to admit. I have seen that opening scene (where her character Fat Amy accidentally flashes the President) numerous times in the preview yet it still made me laugh. And her scene where she professes her love to Adam DaVine was genius, and has markings of musical comedy. (Can someone please give the two of them their own movie?) Still, the pacing is glacial, and more jokes fall flat than land.The addition of Hailee Steinfeld didn't serve a purpose, and the film was overly long. I guess kids will have a lot of extra time this summer and they can do worse. So can you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Teach Me Tonight (Book Thoughts: The Price, Andrew Grey()

All you need to do is look at the cover of Andrew Grey's "The Price" and you can kind of discern what the book is all bout. Basically, it is set in Las Vegas and involves a male hustler who meets a teacher (also, incidentally, an old classmate of his from high school) and...well, you can predict the story. I don't really mind that, but this book attempts a little more, and it sort of succeeds. Grey has a good eye for character and dialogue, and I actually felt there's more there here. For my taste, it is still just a tad too pulp-y, but at this point thats a quibble.

Monday, May 18, 2015

All We Need Is The Girl (Television Thoughts: Pilot, Supergirl, CBS)

The first sign that I knew the Supergirl pilot was going to be good? Laura Benanti! I mean, Laura Benanti of Broadway! She was Maria, she was Louise! And here she plays not only Supergirl's mother, but also evil sister of Supergirl's mother! I just had a feeling this is going to be a good show. And based on the pilot, all points towards it being spectacular. Melissa Benoist! I didn't much like her anorexic character on "Glee" but here she finds her groove: cute, vulnerable, and when she dons her superhero outfit, kind of bad ass! She carries the episode like the supernaturak human being she plays. And I know Calista Flockhart has been getting flack for her role as Cara's boss, but I thought she was fine: equal parts loathsome and camp. That twinkle in her eye shows that she knows how to not play her role too seriously. And Cara has sizzling chemistry with James Olson. Even though it may not be the case, they would make a combustible couple. And well, let's go back to Broadway and we have Jeremy Jordan, who plays Wynn, Cara's friend/confidante. The best line of the show was when he asked, "Are we superfriends?" and she quipped, "We don't use that term here."  Okay, so maybe the action parts were not my favorite, but that is just me anyway: what will have me coming back for more here are the human storylines: how will she conceal her identity? can she survive her Miranda Priestly-ish boss? how will her friendship with Wynn evolve? will she fucking fall in love? Come Fall, I will be there with popcorns on.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Saints And Sinners (Movie Thoughts: Saint Vincent, The Last Time You Had Fun)

I  had a chance to catch up on some movies that I have meant to watch and write about. First up is "Saint Vincent," which was a crowd-pleasing hit last year. Directed by Theodore Melfi, we've seen this movie before, about the curmudgeon with a heart of gold. It's just a slight variation on the hooker with a heart of gold, but wait, Naomi Watts plays that character in this movie as well. So we see a whole bunch of people here with hearts of gold. In hard circumstances. Melfi squeezes the tears out of the viewer with a carefully manipulated story, and at first the cynic in me was trying to resist it, until i realize that I was tearing myself up. The performances here are what's golden: on a lesser year, Bill Murray would probably have had Academy Award mentions, and I was duly impressed with Naomi Watts as a Russian hooker who takes care of Murray's character. And even though I really loathe Melissa McCarthy as an actress, it was nice to see her more subdued here - no need for her larger than life characterizations. This movie as a rental more than delivers. I bet it can even make you cry.

And I was crying, too, while watching "The Last Time You Had Fun," but more from boredom and regret. I can't even discern why this movie exists. It focuses on four unhappy married people (not too each other)  They are all white, they are all privileged, but boo hoo for one reason or another they look for reasons why their life sucks. I can't bother with this people. Somehow I couldn't find the strength to empathize with these insufferable and shallow folks.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Is That All There Is? (Perfume Thoughts: Jo Malone Osmanthus Blossom)

I guess Osmanthus Blossom was a big seller for Jo Malone when it was first released as a limited edition scent that they decided to bring it back this Spring as part of the Blue Skies And Blossoms series. I never got a chance to try it the first time around, though I should say that I did (and do) like he lace-crested bottles they had then. (Yes, I could be shallow) So today I finally spritzed it, and asked myself, quoting Peggy Lee: Is That All There Is? The Osmanthus note is not as common, thought I love The Different Company's take on it. But here, in Osmanthsu Blossom, I can barely sense it. It's so faint that all I get is the citrus and some fruit (peach? appricot?) and the over all effect is so pedestrian, akin to any other department store fruity floral. It borders on too-sweet too, and the drydown is that screechy artificial sugary thing that I was shaking myself, asking, is this Jo Malone? That is, if the scent even stays on your skin for long. I gave myself little less than an hour and I could barely smell it on my skin. Yes, I want something light and fun for Spring, but I kind of want to have it last a little bit too. I am told the other two int he series - the Sakura Cherry Blossom, and Plum Blossom, fare better. Maybe I will have better luck there.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Once You Go Black (Movie Thoughts: Chocolate City)

Okay, I get it. Everyone (including the characters in the movie) is saying that "Chocolate City" is the black "Magic Mike." They wish.  Magic Mike may not have been Soderbergh's best work, but it certainly was above par. "Chocolate City" is bad. It doesn't belong in the "so-bad-it's-good" category (it has miles to go before it becomes 'Showgirls')  Rather, I would put it under So-bad-it's-kinda-okay category.  First of all, there 's only a whisper of a plot here, and it's familiar: doting son needs money for his family so he turns into stripping. We've all seen these whore with a heart of gold movies. And Robert Ri'Chard, as Mike (get it?) may look like fine chocolate, but he is dead in t he eyes. As a male ingenue, Alex Pettyfer had miles more charisma. Tyson Beckford, as his nemesis, is just as bad, but his character suffers from being underwritten and having no motivation. Ri'Chard's character is all over the place, too. He goes from one scene being unsure about stripping to the next performing a dance number so intricate and well-prepared for that I endedup guffawing. And despite the stripping numbers being well choreographed, I found myself bored: there's no soul or edge to the numbers. The saving grace: the flippant tone of the movie. It doesn't take itself way too seriously, and a lot of scenes in the last quarter were hilarious: some intentional, some unintentional.  I suspect some of these scenes would be camp classics. And lastly, when did Vivica A Fox - in an over the top wig - start being so "motherly"?  This may be a case of once gong black, to (the original) Magic Mike you go back.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home (Book Thoughts: Home Safe, Elizabeth Berg)

Could it be possible that I have never read any of Elizabeth Berg's books? She seems like my kind of author. But here it is, I just finished reading my first Berg book - Home Safe. And I feel like I want to grab as much of her books now, because this book really touched me, and I couldn't put it down (Strangely enough, this has a lot of negative reviews on Goodreads) I found myself identifying with the protagonist, Helen, who is recently widowed and is on a crossroad as to what to do next in her life. After her husband dies, she gets a revelation that changes the course of her life. This is a heartfelt novel, one that embraces both change and staying put. I am still haunted by it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Send In The Clowns (Movie Thoughts: Hot Pursuit)

I knew this movie was going to be bad. And I was right, "Hot Pursuit" is a hot mess. I mean, going into it, I wasn't expecting the next Citizen Kane but I thought I would at least get a chuckle or two out of it. But I honestly did not even crack a smile. With buddy movies, the one thing essential between the  main principals is chemistry. Sad to say, Reese Witherspoon and Sophia Vergara do not have any. Vergara fares just a tiny bit better, playing the Latina clown, but it's not like she put some thought into her character - this is just an extension of her character from "Modern Family" and after a while,  it's just a repetition of a repetition. Witherspoon even fares worse - I don't know what possesses her to do this movie. She is sorely miscast (I am imagining this could have worked better with, say, Melissa McCarthy) and cannot do comedy to save her life. I mean, she was brilliant in a black comedy, like in "Election" but she has no comedic timing to speak off for this role. The story is a disjointed mess, and I couldn't help but root for them to get caught so the movie can end right away. This was a total waste of my time, and I imagine anyone else's.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Ache In Her Song (Music Thoughts: It Had To Be You, Isabella Lundgren)

Isabella Lundgren is from Karstad, Sweden but studied music in New York City. At the age of twenty three she moved back to her native country and released "It Had To Be You," her first album. It is wonderful. At a young age, you can tell that she knows and understands the intricacies of songs from The Great American Songbook. I love her "Don't Ever Leave Me," as she infuses it with much longing. Her voice reminds me of a less harsh version of Stacey Kent, and it is wondrous. I couldn't help but feel her soul as she sings, like in "You Belong To Me," she gave me yearning, vulnerability, passion. Though in bluesy numbers like "Blues In The Night," you can sense her greenness, she always soars in the ballads. (I had "if I Should Lose You" in repeat for an hour and did not tire of it) She is one of those singers who can convey angst in her singing, reminiscent of Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf, and I am always a sucker for those. She can even make an ubiquitous song like "La Vie En Rose" sound like you are hearing it for the first time. I know at times I can be jaded when it comes to jazz vocals, but I am smitten by Isabella.