He’s Got The Pain (Film Thoughts: Pain & Glory)

PAINGLORY-POSTER‘Pain and Glory,’ Pedro Almodovar’s latest film, is about a filmmaker who is at the Autumn of his life. it’s tempting to think that the film is autobiographical since the character, Salvador Mallo (played by Antonio Banderas) lives in a house that is an exact replica of Almodovar’s, and banderas even wears the director’s clothes. But I think Almodovar only wants one to think that, as his persona has always dallied with a wink-wink playfulness. As a Director, I never always agreed with his artistic choices, but I have to say his films are always interesting. This one s no exception.

Banderas is great here, as he now is more a Daddy than the carnal flower. There are lines and experience in his face, and Banderas shows them off with great dignity. Salvador Mallo has been experiencing some physical pain (he can’t swallow food) and is in an introspective mode. he reconnects with an actor of one of his films after a falling out, having not been satisfied with the actor’s performance. They bond and gets Mallo hooked in heroin. Then when you think the film starts going the route of a man in late-life crisis, it takes a turn to things a little more unexpected. The modern scenes are interspersed with a narrative of a boy (perhaps Mallo? perhaps Almodovar) who goes to live with hi parents in a cave. An intelligent boy, he starts tutoring a young man who becomes his ‘first desire.’  Everything in the film is heady and busy, but it’s never not making sense. I thought the first part dragged a bit, as if trying to get to a point, but once it got there, it all made sense. The ending is framed with a twist, and then all the pieces of the puzzle are strewn to make sense, only for it to get dismantled again. This film is typical Almodovar for me – there are things about it that I loved, but there are other things in it that confused me, stuff I think I didn’t get, that maybe I should read up on and see again. His films never sit still, and I am all the better for it.

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Dull Diamonds (Movie Thoughts: Lucy In The Sky)

lucy_in_the_sky‘Lucy In The Sky’ is loosely based on that sorta viral story of Lisa Nowak, a NASA astronaut who was stalking the man she was having an affair with (plus his other girlfriend) I remember the one detail that people were talking about was that she wore an adult diaper because she was such in a rush to get to where she was running after them. I don’t think that scene is in this film, directed by Noah Hawley, but maybe it should have been. As it is, this film is a dull affair which wastes a great case led by Natalie Portman.

Portman tries her best here giving dimension to a character that’s dead on arrival. She plays Lucy Cola, an astronaut who just finished a successful mission from outer space. ‘We are so small,’ she says as she describes her experience. This should have been a clue as to why her character goes crazy, but we don’t really know why. Lucy embarks on an affair with Mark (Jon Hamm) while her smiling husband (Dan Stevens) looks on. The story stalls until we get to the part when Lucy starts going mental, and I wish it had gone the camp route (at least it would have been fun) but the film still takes itself seriously. Portman is committed, and I don’t think she will ever give a bad performance, but it’s not enough to save this space wreck. And what is up with Hawley changing the aspect ratio of the screen in every other scene? Is that an artistic choice? If so, it’s as much of a fail as everything else.

Meet Me At The Abbey (Movie Thoughts: Downton Abbey)

Downton-AbbeyBelieve it or not, I have not seen one scene of the popular television series ‘Downton Abbey,’ and it’s mostly because of commitment. I am late to the game, and I am also anal retentive, because I would want to see the show from the very beginning, and right now six seasons are lined up on my Amazon prime queue.  But everyone I have spoken to has said it doesn’t matter, the film stands one its own, and you will love and be enchanted by it. So I said sure, why not, I have my trusty AMC A-List and since it would be ‘free,’ I can spar one hundred twenty minutes of my life for it (it was slim pickings over the weekend anyway)

My verdict? This is strictly for fans of the series. They give a brief summary in the beginning for most (all?) of the characters, but it’s a bit too much for a novice like me (it just made me wish I watched the series myself)  The plot and premise of the movie seems pretty slight. Basically, King George V  and Queen Mary have sent work that they will be visiting Downton Abbey, and the film just revolves around how everyone prepares for the visit. That’s it. But of course, they navigate through all the protocols and the politics of emotions from every single character connected, and some of those can be choppy waters. To be honest, some of them mostly went over my head, and I couldn’t relate to the audience laughing or sighing along. But yeah, I could appreciate Dame Maggie Smith lording over everyone as the main matriarch of the brood, and revel in her sparring with the family. And there are romances initiated, and even commentary on gay life in the 20s. I just chuckle at the difference between British and American life – if this was an American film, surely the current staff of a house would just give reign to people who want to take over service. But for the British, it is prestige and honor to cater to royalty.

I liked this enough, but it just made me want to watch the television series more than ever.

No Garlands (Music Thoughts: Judy Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

713h-RCHYXL._SS500_After seeing the ‘Judy’ movie, I was curious how I would react to the soundtrack. In the context of the movie, I was impressed by Renee Zellwegger singing the songs herself. But, on an aural enjoyment level, do the same tracks work?

My answer is no. Taken out of the movie, the songs feel flat. While you can tell that Zellweger wasn’t doing a total imitation of Garland, the songs just fall south of interesting. She sings in tune, and gets some of the Judy inflections, and at times puts her own spin, but all in all, they do nothing for me. Even the original orchestrations sound paltry in comparison. Nelson Riddle’s thrilling arrangement of ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ sounds thin here, and to my ears felt it was missing whole sections of instruments. The two duets she has are more interesting (curiously with two openly gay men, Sam Smith and Rufus Wainwright) but in the end, those two tracks will not enhance my life in any way. I hope anyone who listens to this will be compelled to listen to the original Judy Garland versions of this song, and see the difference.

The Gal Who Got Away (Film Thoughts: Judy)

MV5BYmE0OTE5NWItMGYyZi00MzUxLWFjN2QtYzBkZGRjZGVmMGFmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_I have been yearning to watch ‘Judy’ since I saw the trailer earlier this year, mainly because I am gay and there is nothing in the world is gayer than Judy Garland.  But the real reason one should see this film is because of Renee Zellweger’s once-in-a-lifetime performance as Garland. Seriously, her performance is multi-faceted, and she disappears before our eyes and instantly one of the greatest performers who ever lived is all of a sudden right there. She does a very specific version of Garland – around six months or so before her death – and it is awe-inspiring, heartbreaking, tragic, and everything a characterization should be. I am already rooting for her to win everything.

The film she is in, though, isn’t as impressive. The film is based on Peter Quilter’s play ‘The End Of The Rainbow,’ which tackles the final months of Garland’s life, from the time she goes to London for a series of one woman shows. She has already been ostracized in the States because of her problematic and erratic performances, but in England she is still queen. Of course, nothing goes right – she is already addicted at this point. The film takes long to get going, and you get a point where you realize it doesn’t know where it wants to go. I liked the framework of the play this is based on, which more or less documented the highs and low of that particular run in London. The film tried to broaden the story by inserting flashback scenes to show how she became to be, and the result is confusing – you shake your head and say, ‘which story do you want to tell?’

But there is one part here that touched my heart immensely, when the film shows Garland ‘befriending’ two of her biggest fans, a gay couple, and she goes to dinner with them, all ending up at their house in the wee hours of the morning. As one of them plays the piano, she sings a tender version of ‘Get Happy,’ and there’s a look at that fan’s moment that I can relate to – that feeling of having a moment of a person you have idolized, and realizing their humanness is as great as their persona. I have been in the exact same feeling, and the film captures that moment and that feeling. This film is perfect for someone if you have ever been a fan of someone, but I bet you will get out of it being a lifelong fan of Renee.

Come What May (Stage Thoughts: Moulin Rouge)

moulin-rouge-poster‘Moulin Rouge,’ now playing at The Al Hirschfeld Theater, was my birthday gift to myself. The ticket price was steep, but I know my self-worth and I more than deserve it. I knew the show wasn’t going to be deep, more fun that’s trashy and easy to digest. I confess remembering that I liked the film version, but honestly, don’t remember too much from it besides the fact that it starred Nicole Kidman.

Boy was I surprised. This was excruciating and difficult for me to enjoy. The book, by John Logan was paper-thin, akin to the Italian operas that inspired it. But I could have easily forgiven that if the music was palatable. but hell, this is a musical, and this show seems to have hastily compiled every disposable pop hit they could find from the past couple of decades. I have heard enough of these songs while riding in Ubers and picking produce at the supermarket, so forgive me if I don’t want to hear them on Broadway forcibly shoehorned into scenes. Songs are mixed and mashed for no reason – just when one grooves into a song, it’s cut mercilessly for another one. I despise pointless mashups.

The cast is competent enough, but I thought Karen Olivo was seriously miscast. Her Sabine is a force, for sure (with a grand sparkling entrance) but you never believed for a second that her character will waste any time for a twinky songwriter from Ohio. Yes, Aaron Tveit as Christian looks good on stage and sings effortlessly, but his Christian seems more scared of Sabine than in love with her – they have the chemistry of two dim bulbs. Poor Danny Burstein tries so hard to bring humanity to the role of emcee/engineer Harold Zidler, but you can only color cardboard various shades of brown.

The show reminds me of something you would see in a Vegas lounge show, or a cruise ship. That’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world, but this is the-a-teh. And I know that the show is polarizing, as I see the young lady next to me sobbing at the tragic ending (oops, I hope I didn’t spoil it for you) If I have to say one good thing about it, then sure I would probably commend its set design (pictures can be taken before the show, perfect for your Instagram feed!) but the heart set looks like it was stolen from Follies’ ‘Loveland,; so… Happy Birthday to me!

Smell Da Bomb (Perfume Thoughts: Pipe Bomb Intense, Blackbird)

pipe_bomb_intense_blackbird_edp_1024x1024Sometimes, in life, there are things you want but maybe you shouldn’t have because you know that you might regret t later on.  When I was in New York City, I wanted to make ti a point to visit my favorite perfume place there, Aedes des Venustas. I knew them when they were at their old location in Christopher Street in the West Village, but they have now moved to the Lower East Side by Chinatown. The place is just as marvelous – once you step in, you will feel like you wandered into a store in the Left Bank of Paris – all opulence, all ornate antique, there is a giant peacock figure in the middle of the store. While it felt completely in place with the Bohemian lavishness of the Village, now its richness feels even more pronounced, and in a way heightened. Right at the corner you have a fish market, and six stores down you have this store, all chi chi, selling the bells jars of Serge Lutens. I don’t know if I can love it even more. I was speaking to Karl Bradl and he said that when they first opened the store in the Village in 1995 it wasn’t as populated as it is now, and he feels quite at home in the quaintness of the LES. I agree.

I wanted to sample scents that are exclusively theirs, and while I think a lot of the new releases they have there are interesting, I was drawn to this new line called Blackbird. They have very interesting aesthetic. They are based in Seattle and is very progressive, emphasizing earth and nature and climate change, among other things. They also like to push the envelope, and you can see that from the first scent I tried from their line, called Pipe Bomb. loom at its description: the scent of lightning as it pummels the earth, the scent of metal heated and electrified, the scent of water as it sparks and bubbles its energy. And the notes: saltwater smoke, amber, and oud.

It’s all a bit much and intricate and complex, and you can smell that from the first spray. For a while, it felt like there was too much going on. There is that gunmetal note that I normally dislike, there is a lot of woodsy incense, and it is very rich, and this is definitely on the smoky side. It was a warmish high 70s day, and it felt…hot. But as it settled down, the dry down was a rich incense-y oud, and it is glorious. It was on the strong side, but it felt and smelled good on me. For the rest of the day, I found myself wanting to smell it over and over again. I decided it was going to be a keeper.

But then I woke up, as if from a dream? Will this work for me in Los Angeles,where it is nice and airy and spacious? In the confines of the grit of new York City, it felt at home, but probably not as I walk through gardens as I walk to work. And that is when I realized it may be fine there, but it doesn’t fit my life anymore.

Or should just rebel and follow my heart anyway?