At Notting Hill (Film Thoughts: Love Sarah)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a feel-good movie like Eliza Schrieder’s ‘Love Sarah.’ In these tryign pandemic times, I would even say that is very much needed.

All boxes are ticked int his movie, and sure, there are clichés, too. But who cares? The performances are warm and fuzzy, like pre-covid hugs. Celia Imre is wonderful as always, as the mother who helps build a store that was her daughter’s dream.

And the movie isn’t dumb, it has things to say thought it sys it with subtlety – it celebrates London’s diversity and the story promotes inclusiveness. The London locale is vividly bright and cheery. I loved watching this movie, and no, you won’t take that away from me.

Elitists (Movie Thoughts: Coastal Elites, HBO)

Some (most?) of the material presented in Paul Rudnick’s ‘Coastal Elites’ was supposed to have been staged at The Public Theater in New York City, but because of the pandemic, it has been relegated to Zoom-type monologues. This has proven difficult – I think some of the pieces in the film work well in the medium, but I could just imagine it being better on stage.

But I like most of what I saw. But then again, I am the target market for this – a coastal elite, I can identify with most of what the characters her say. Some i have even said myself.

Bette Midler stars in the opening monologue, about a Jewish NYC woman. I like the character, and I have known a couple of them in my lifetime, and Midler is effective – funny and colorful. But it wore a little bit after a while. Issa Rae’s section to me was the most effective, and it was probably good that I didn’t realize it was her until later one, having been unimpressed by her everything in the past. Dan Levy’s section was weak for me – it felt unconnected to the rest of the pieces, and Sarah Paulson’s was as bti forced, too. All in all, though, most of it was entertaining enough.

Call It By Its Name (Series Thoughts: We Are Who We Are, S01 E01, HBO)

When I read that Luca Guadigno had a HBO series, I knew right away I would want to see it. Then came the description: teenagers in a US Army base in Italy, and I was more piqued. Could it be? Then I saw it stars a young curly haired twink, and I asked myself, is he messing with me? This show screams call my whatever, and people will just sit idly? My heart was pounding when I saw the trailer and I couldn’t wait till the premiere. (The title is even referencing a song from my fave ‘La Cage Aux Folles’)

And it did not disappoint. It is wonderful, heady, moody – just everything I am looking for in the series. In the first episode, the action revolves around Frasier (Jack Dylan Grazer) who looks like post-teen Bieber, without all the messy tattoos, but with the brooding complicated edge of an Elio – edgier even. Frasier is curious, questioning, fashion-forward. It is not clear yet what his sexual orientation is, but just like most young kids nowadays, no one really cares. He has an odd relationship with his mothers, and you know as this story progresses, he will get involved with something you will love – you can smell it in the air. It captures base life accurately – I should know because my father worked in one in my youth – capturing a place that looks acts and feel American even when it is in a soil that is not.

This is the perfect summer series, even as I feel the mornings getting a tad chillier right now. I want to live in its world.

Pia, Intimately (Music Thoughts, All or Nothing at All, Pia Zadora)

Well, what do you know, Pia Zadora has released a new album. Titled ‘All or Nothing At All,’ it is an album of standards, and it’s not too bad. She was never really a bad singer, despite what people said. I mean, she used to open for Sinatra so she has an intimate relationship with a lot of these songs. In the album, her breathy sexy voice is perfectly matched with easy arrangements, and she does these songs very well.

But really, it just goes down too easy, and it is instantly forgettable. I don’t see anything unique with her voice and she sounds like any other jazzette out there. She has a solid but staid repertoire – you have heard all these songs before, and you probably have heard them sung better. You can hear this at any random airport hotel lounge.

In Any Language (Music Thoughts: Tokyo Sessionds, Delfina Oliver)

Delfina Oliver is an Argentinian jazz singer who got a gig in the prestigious Tokyo jazz room featured in the movie ‘Lost in Translation.’ When in Tokyo, she recorded ‘Tokyo Sessions,’ her fourth album, and really, that is all I know about this singer, and this album.

But the music says it all – Oliver has delivered a fine jazz vocal album. I was initially drawn to the album because of the cherry blossoms design on the cover, but the music is just as fragrant.

Oliver has a nice tender touch to these songs, and I like her nice Ella-esque version of ‘Moonlight In Vermont’ very much – it’s pure and heartfelt. But she can rhythmic, too, as evidenced in her ‘Love for Sale.’ And she gives tribute to her native Argentina with ‘Tonada del Viejo Amor,’ which is a tradional folk Zamba and in ‘Takeda No Komoriuta,’ a Japanese one. In any language, she is terrific.

The Immigrant Experience (Film Thoughts: Futur Drei/Moonson)

The immigrant experience already brings out complex emotions and I recently chanced upon two films about it. But, the great thing about these two films is that it doesn’t show the American immigrant experience.

Futur Drei/No Hard Feelings, for example, is about Parvis, an Iranian-German gay man. His family moved to Germany, so in a sense he is more German (there is a running joke wherein he speaks Iranian with a German accent) but he certainly has very close ties to his roots. He spends his days and nights just like any other gay German youth – Grindr, clubbing. But things change when he meets Amon while working at the Iranian refugee center.

The film becomes a sort-of love story between the two. I like the fact that the film doesn’t go straight melodrama when it could have – we see scenes of the two of them having fun, when the situation is dire. We see Parvis’s parents supportive of his sexual orientation, which I think is atypical of Iranian families. When the film takes a serious turn towards the end, you feel the shift in tone, and it highlights how you are affected. This film won the Teddy at Berlinale this year, and is slowly making its way via the digital platforms.

Henry Golding was a Crazy Rich Asian, and in ‘Moonsoon,’ he is a gay British guy who goes back to Vietnam after his mother dies. I was very interested in seeing this film after I found out it was directed by Hong Khaou, whose earlier film ‘Lilting’ I loved. And it is nice to see Gokding tackle this kind of role, which is a brave choice considering he could have gone anywhere after his hit film.

‘Monsoon,’ though suffers a bit from its indie credentials. The story is a bit unfocused, though we get that general sense of a man trying to go back home, and realizing he does not know this ‘home.’ His family fled to England after the reunification, and when he sees his cousin whose family got left behind, we see him realize what could have been. Still, the film is a great effort, and I was especially touched by Golding’s performance.

An Afternoon Gift (Stage Thoughts: The Callaway Hideaway – Ann Hampton Callaway sings The Bergmans and Beyond)

It must be really tough for artists to find an avenue to showcase their talents nowadays. But somehow, art persists and they create, we just need to sometimes seek where they show. Ann Hampton Callaway launched a series of Zoom-based concerts called ‘The Callaway Hideaway’ and it is great for her – who knew that Zoom would make her intimate music feel more so?

Her latest effort, ‘Ann Hampton Callaway sings The Bergmans and Beyond’ is wonderful. The concept alone would have made me cross hoops to join: a celebration of Marilyn and Alan Bergman.

The Bergmans have provided lyrics to some of the most wonderful love songs, and Callaway sang a whole lot of them with her inimitable warmth and feeling – you can really tell she loves these songs as much as we do, as she sang the most beautiful versions of ‘What are you Doing the rest of your life,’ and ‘How Do You Keep The Music Playing,’ just for starters. My favorites were all of them, but I tore up in the beauty of ‘On My Way To You,’ the wedding song for my wedding that would probably never happen. I couldn’t help but feel that the whole show was a gift – I felt so many emotions just in a span of seventy five minutes.

There’s The Tea (Perfume Thoughts: Vera Wang Embrace Green Tea and Pear Blossom)

It was one of those things, from a targeted ad. I saw this perfume on sale from those on-sale-for-a-day sites. I was intrigued about the green tea, because I love tea scents. It is by Vera Wang Embrace, which I had never heard about. ‘Green Tea and Pear Blossom’ sounds like an interesting combinations, and I thought that the scent is pretty much fool proof. At worst, I thought to myself, it would be a pleasant fruity floral.

It turns out that the perfume is actually very nice.It is of the Jo Malone vein – fruity and fresh – and it makes you smell like you just stepped out of the shower. The green tea accord is there, and it is very nice, well blended and not too dry (I like it drier, for sure, but I am not complaining here) There is a slice of bergamot here and the pear blossom is nice and sweet, but not sickeningly so. The scent stays close to the skin, but the thing is so cheap that I can reactivate it sparingly. I say this is a win.

Keys Closed (Music Thoughts: Keys To My Heart, Anne Bisson)

I used to more adventurous in the music I listen to but it is a trait when you get older that you are not as ‘welcoming’ to things you do not understand. I am listening now to Anne Bisson’s new album ‘Keys to My Heart,’ and I am just nit getting it. Maybe it’s my mood, and definitely it’s me – it’s a jazzier album that most jazz vocals I listen to, and a lot more discordant than I can handle. There’s nothing wrong with that, for sure… it’s just giving me a headache.

I don’t understand, for example, why a simple beautiful song like ‘For me, formidable’ had to go through so much hoops in her hands. And she brings freneticism to the Roberta Flack song ‘Kissing me Softly’ that I just cannot connect with. The rest of the original material? Well, let me just take a Tylenol instead.

Trans, Tenderly (Film Thoughts: Lingua Franca)

I sometimes make fun of Netflix content. It’s so commercial nowadays, and it is very tough to find something meaningful to watch. If there is anything remotely good, it is so overhyped that I get indifferent right away – sometimes to my loss, for sure. So it is a treat for me when I discover something there that I truly can champion. And I found one, in Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca.

The film has already made waves at last year’s Venice Film Festival, and was acquired by Ava DuVernay’s distribution company, and now Netflix is streaming it, assuring it will reach an audience willing to seek it out.

And one should. It is the story of Olivia (played by Sandoval herself) a trans woman working as a caregiver for an elder lady in Brooklyn. her world is small, and a little dank – she spends it mostly in a dead end manner, as she sends her earnings to her mother in the Philippines, and of what’s left for her she is saving to pay a man to marry her so she could get her green card. Complications arise when she falls for the lady’s grand son, and just like Madame Butterfly and Miss Saigon, you kind of know where this is going, You watch with dread as you wait for the inevitable, but the conflict is quiet, and mostly internal – you observe it as it is not brought to your face. My favorite moment in the film is one of its most tender – when Olivia dances with the grandson to an instrumental version of ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ and the camera zooms into Olivia’s face – you see the hope and longing in there, but you also know she knows it’s not ever going to work. This is one of the most affecting films I have seen in a while, certainly this year.