Pop Goes Natalie (Film Thoughts: Vox Lux)

large_vox-lux-posterI described ‘Vox Lux’ to someoone as one of those movies that is so bad it’s good. Well, I don’t really know if people will agree with me on that, as I see that it is getting some love from critics. This is a film that baffled me, left me scratching my head, and Natalie Performance’s was definitely bold and big and aggressive. I didn’t quite like it, but I did understand it, if that makes any sense. I bet that this will be one of those movies that will connect with a lot of people and will garner a huge cult following. I guess to put it simply: I just did not like it.

I liked small parts of it. The first half, for example, was more interesting for me. Raffey Cassidy stars as a teenage Celeste, who becomes an overnight pop sensation from a song her sister composed after they both survived a school shooting. They quickly get caught up with the pop music scene, aided by their manager, played by Jude Law. When Hatalie Portman takes over Celeste aged 31, Brady Corbett’s film veered more towards self-indulgence, I thought, and the storytelling stopped, and we get a more character study of what Celeste has become, what the business has done to her. At that point, I got exasperated with the film, and it totally lost me. So I gave it a chance, but sometimes, you just don’t gel with a film.

Christmas Cocktail (Film Thoughts: Cola de Mono)

MV5BNWNhMGJhNTAtN2NhZi00NzRlLTkwMWItOWZlZWE4ZjcxZDZhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzcyODUxOQ@@._V1_‘Cola de Mono’ is set at Christmastime, but it’s really not your typical Hallmark Christmas movie. It’s a little bit dark and very very gay.  The title is based on a drink that Chileans prepare for the Holidays, and the term is also a gay slur. The film is a about a set of brothers who both come to terms with their sexuality on Christmas Eve. The theme is on the dark side, and even though I had read the film labeled as a thriller, I was very surprised by the turn if events towards the latter part of the film. It is also quite explicit, and director Alberto Fuguet definitely has a very specific point of view that he slaps into the film. I thought it was a very interesting film, even if I really did not enjoy it in the sense that it wasn’t a feel-good kind of film. It’s a little offfbeat for the Christmas season, but offbeat doesn’t necessarily mean bad.

Jessie’s Day (Music Thoughts: This Christmas Day, Jessie J)

jjA Christmas Album is for me a good test drive for a singer. I know I have heard some of Jessie J’s music before, but sadly for me, nothing ever stuck. And listening to her voice, I am actually impressed by its great texture – there’s a huskiness there that is quite appealing and not too vocal fry-ish. And in this album, ‘This Christmas Day,’ she has some powerful production: Babyface, Darkchild, and David Foster, just to name three. There is a white soul R & B feel to the sound, and it’s great. And the songs sound perfect, creating a mood.

Maybe that’s my problem with it – it feels more a mood than a cohesive production. For sure, tracks will fare better taken as pieces instead of part of a whole thing. I didn’t connect with the songs, even if I enjoyed listening to the tracks at the moment. Am I weird? Am I too old? At this point, the best thing I can say about the album is that it is my two-degree connection to Channing Tatum, who reportedly is her boyfriend at the moment. (Shrug)

My Pump Is Gone? (Television Thoughts: Season Seven Premiere, Vanderpump Rules, Bravo)

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I have always liked ‘Vanderpump Rules’ because…crazy. They are. But things change, we grow. Or maybe I have and they haven’t? Or perhaps because now that I am now a resident of Los Angeles, and these people are three miles away from me, I have kind of now soured on the show. You would think I would relate more, right? But I find myself getting more detached from it.  I watched the Seventh Season premiere and I wasn’t as amused as I thought I would be. The first episode is more Jax/Britney-centric, for sure. In it, Jax finally proposes from Britney, after she stick with him as his father passed away. But I don’t know, the cynic in me really doesn’t buy this. Jax has been the resident bad boy of the show, and I don’t know if I am taking delight in him now being ‘good.’  We shall see if I get motivated to see succeeding episodes and feel that my heart-pump for the show is gone.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas (Film Thoughts: Ben Is Back )

ben_is_back_ver2I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a Julie Roberts performance, though I do remember the last time I enjoyed a Julia Roberts film (that would be ‘Wonder’ from last year)  But I thin she is fantastic in Peter Hedges’ Ben Is Back,’ wherein you can see Roberts go deep and try to get in a character, instead of just trying to go by and wing the performance through her trademark guffaw. In here, she plays Holly, a mother who has to deal with her son coming home from rehab to spend Christmas at home, and Roberts is great at that opening scene wherein she sees her son and her face has to show a multitude of emotions – glee with his arrival, but at the same time there’s concern and fear with what might happen. Roberts owns the film from that moment, as we experience what she goes through for twenty four hours.

There has been a couple of movies this season about white boys in peril, and this one is the one that resonated best so far from me. The film switches gears mid-way through, and that made it more interesting for me. I was on the edge of my seat as it veered towards being an almost-thriller. And I have to say that I have seen Lucas Hedges give one memorable performance after another recently and he is at his best here, and I believed him the most in this film. He and Roberts played off each other well, and their performance add heart and soul to the film. At my screening, there were people hired by the studio giving about questionnaires about the film and I thought they were very aggressive, which makes me think they don’t really know how to market this. I hope this film finds an audience. It deserves one.

The Christmas Norm (Music Thoughts: The Norm Lewis Christmas Album)

51drVEknVeL._SS500It’s always nice to see Broadway takes on Christmas albums, and I particularly welcome a Norman Lewis one, so I was happy to listen to ‘The Norman Lewis Christmas Album.’  At the very least, we will know it will be well-sung, with Lewis’ powerhouse vocals. And Lewis gives us a packed repertoire, with eighteen tracks. And some great tracks here: a swinging and funky ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer,’ to ‘Mary Did You Know,’ to a soulful ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.’ I mean, there’s plenty of soul here for everyone’s stockings. But I wish it had more Broadway inflections. He does include show tunes like ‘Where Is Love,’ from Oliver, and ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables. I don’t know why, though, but they sound like fillers and feel kind of out of place here. Still, good playlist shuffling would give a lot of satisfaction from this album, and his fans, me included, would be delighted to spin this.

The Age of Innocence (Film Thoughts: the Favourite)

FAVWhatever you think of Yorgos Lanthimos’ films, they certainly are very interesting and they make you pay attention. His latest film, ‘The Favourite’ is certainly both. There is a dangerously deranged quality to the film that is hilarious and makes the actors rise to levels you didn’t think they were capable of. There is some great acting here, starting with Olivilia Coleman who plays a frail queen who mostly leaves her decision making to her trusted Sarah (Rachel Weisz) In comes Abigail (Emma Stone) and we see a lose of a balance in the power structure. And then some. And then mayhem ensues. At first, I thought it was kind of bad that there is no one to root for, until you realize that these people exist in a Lanthimos world that they are all crazed evil – you just go along for the ride and check morality at the door. There is delicious fun when Sarah spars with Robert Harley, played by Nicholas Hoult (he has never been better here)  and there is delicious fun when Abigail tries to weasle her way in the Queen’s circle. There’s a lot going on but it it never feels crowded, and when you get to he cynical finale, you even root for everyone as you root for no one. The title is prophetic – ‘The Favourite’ will end up as one of my favorite films of the year.