Thursday, May 26, 2011

American Idol Finale (Review)

I have been watching American Idol religiously ever since it started airing early this year. When the show’s Top 13 were revealed, I not only agreed with the judges’ choices but was happy that all 13 of them were super talented in their own way. However, I had never imagined that Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina would be battling out at the final for the idol crown. I personally think that these two are the vocally weakest and least experienced in terms of showmanship among the Top 13. Every week, I saw the vocal powerhouses such as Pia Toscano, Casey Abrams, James Durbin, Jacob Lusk and Haley Reinhart got voted out. Shockingly, one after another, just like that.  Don’t get me wrong, the top two are both good singers despite their tender ages but Jeez, compared to those who were voted out before them, I am sure these two as well must be shell-shocked to be competing in the finale. At this stage, it is clear that this show is not all about vocal competition anymore. Anyway…here's what I think about the finale. 

American Idol 2011 finale was a star-studded spectacular extravaganza. The show started out with top 13 performing a rousing rendition of Lady GaGa’s “Born This Way”. Then the heavy metal band, “Judas Priest” featuring the rocker of this season, James Durbin rocked the house. James’s soaring vocals and impeccable showmanship got us thinking why he was not even voted to be in the Top 3. There’s no justice in the world. After their performance, the reigning prince of Gospel Kirk Franklin and Jacob Lusk’s duet took us all to church.  One of my most favorite singers this season, Jacob sang with the legendary Gladys Knight. What a treat it was for Jacob! I hope he finds his career path in Gospel music.

Jack Black and Casey Abrams’s duet “Fat bottomed girls” provided comic relief but let’s not forget the remarkable vocal range of Black’s. He may be the funny man but his singing talent is no joke. Afterward, the ladies of Top 13 performed Beyonce medley and it was fun to see the divas of AI once again. They each had a chance to showcase their vocal chops with various Beyonce numbers. Towards the end, Beyonce appeared on stage and performed her smash hit, “Crazy in love” with the girls and of course she showed’em girls how it’s done!

Haley Reinhart, possibly the most remarkable voice of the bunch showed her versatility singing a jazzy number with the great Tony Bennet. “Stepping out with my baby” has been sung by numerous artists over the years but Haley managed to make her mark with her rendition. I wish that she would include a few jazzy numbers on her album. I love her husky tone in her voice. After their duet, TLC took over the stage. When Ryan Seacrest announced their name, I didn’t believe it.  TLC? Seriously? In 2011? I thought. The remaining members T-Boz and Chilli sang “No Scrubs" and then “Water Fall”. I almost cried. These songs were great Rn’B songs of the 90’s and God knows how much I adore TLC! Tim McGraw and Scotty Mc sang a duet but it was somewhat forgettable. Marc Anthony sang one of his salsa numbers and Jennifer Lopez gave a surprised appearance. What cute couple! The husband sounded sensational and the wife looked smoking hot. If anything, this woman CAN dance!

The best performance of the night belonged to Lady GaGa who performed one of her new songs from her newly released album called “Edge of Glory”.  As usual, she sang it whole-heartedly. It could be the dance moves or her outfit but the song somehow reminded me of Irene Cara’s “What a feeling” from “Fleshdance”. Once GaGa exited, the boys of top 13 sang Tom Jones medley and Tom Jones himself joined the boys and sang one song on stage with them.  Although he could still easily put on a good show, I guess, at this age, his once tremendous vocal range has lost its glory.

By the time Lauren Alaina started singing “Before He Cheats”, I already knew who her duet partner would be. Of course, it was Carrie Underwood. They both did great and sang their hearts out. Poor Lauren nervously tried to hold her own but it was Carrie who was determined not to get upstaged by a new comer. She took it home with a last big note while Lauren looked on. Meow!!!

Later on, Beyonce came back on stage and belted out one of her new songs namely “1+1”. While her soaring vocals and tireless energy should be praised, the song’s melody was definitely questionable. There was a piano led tune playing in the back but it sounded like it had nothing to do with what she was singing. She sang the heck out of that song and looked stunning as usual in her grey gown but sorry B, that song was weird. Perhaps with time, it will probably grow on me. And I hope it does.

Next, U2’s Bono and The Edge performed a song called “rise above” from the maligned Spider man musical with its actor Reeve Carney. Personally, I find the song a bit dull for a Broadway musical. A good song but it would be much more suitable as a film song.  Before they announced the winner of the show, Steven Tyler dressed in white sat in front of a white piano and started wailing his old Aerosmith hit “Dream on”. At the age of 63, his pipes are still golden. He delivered a spine-tingling performance of that song. Way to go, Papi!

When Ryan Seacrest came up on stage and announced the winner, it was as expected Scotty Mccreery. Obviously, this country-singing boy had got the girls texting. I just hope that both he and the runner up Lauren don’t become the last year’s Lee Dewyze and Crystal Bowersox whose albums flopped big time despite being America’s favorites at last year’s Idol. Those teenage girls went wild and voted for Lee Dewyze too but when his album came out, not many were there to buy his albums and lend support.  As a result, his album became the lowest ever charting debut by an American Idol winner. Where have all those screaming girls gone right??? Good luck, Scotty!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ricky Martin- "Me" (Book Review)

Ricky Martin’s autobiography “Me” (The Spanish version is called “Yo”) is not your typical celebrity tell-all book. It is in fact just about him in entirety. He does not even do name dropping here, simply describing other people in the book as the little yogi, that record executive, my backup singer friend, that woman or this man.  So if you are looking for some celebrity dirt, gossip, behind -the-scenes frauds or the scandals about the people he bedded, this book is certainly not going to please you.  A balanced and wise person that he has become, Ricky Martin keeps a very positive attitude throughout this appropriately-titled memoir which documents his younger days in Puerto Rico, from his time in the hit boy-band “MENUDO” to his living la vida loca days as THE Latin pop phenomenon in the late 90's, his spiritual discovery through travelling in India which later led to philanthropy, becoming a father and his homosexuality.

Ricky Martin writes well and he writes simple. In general, the book is a pleasant read. The chapter where he writes about coming out as a gay man is relatable to all of us who have been through it. The initial confusion and the denial period, the pressure of keeping a secret and the constant fear of someone finding out the truth and then of course, the whole process of coming out and the eventual bliss that comes with it, he shares his journey in a most genuine and optimistic way that I believe this book will benefit to those who are struggling with their sexuality or those who are simply in need of inspiration, help or moral support.  As he puts it “My intention in coming out was not necessarily to inspire anyone, but if on top of bringing me all the joy that it has, if my experience can serve someone else, that fills me with immense happiness. It is also a blessing to know that with my life I can benefit others, and I live that with great honor.” (So...brothers and sisters out there, coming out is definitely tough but don't give up. Read his experience. You'll see that IT GETS BETTER. )

Chapter three, simply titled “My time to shine” details his world domination at the peak of his fame.  What a mega star he was back then. I still remember how my grandmother went wild every time his FIFA World cup 98 song, La Copa De La Vida, showed up on MTV. She adored his iconic hip-swinging moves. Ricky Martin had the whole world in his hands. It was also a very important period for The Latin music industry and the stars like Shakira, Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias who followed the path he paved later on.  However, the most touching part of the book comes when he shares his joy of becoming a father to his twin boys.  He writes it so sincerely that even those who are not parents can absolutely feel what it must be like. He is incredibly proud and overjoyed about receiving this gift of nature. In his case, lucky man, he’s got two.

“Repetitiveness” is one slight weakness of “Me” though. Maybe he first wrote the book in Spanish and then had somebody to translate it into English (or did it himself). Either way, the same ideas, expressions and references reappear over and over again in the book. I just feel that it needs a bit more editing.  But overall, I applaud him for putting a positive spin on such a topic, homosexuality, which even in 2011 is still somehow a taboo and also for sharing his humanitarian work and philanthropic activities with us.  We do need more angels on earth, don’t we?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Season of the witch (Movie Review)

Season Of The Witch
If you put “The Exorcist (1973)” and “Robin Hood (2010)” together, sprinkle some elements from Harry Potter movies and blend them in a blender, you would get “Season of the witch”. In this reasonably entertaining movie, Nicolas Cage stars as a Teutonic knight who has witnessed the atrocities of the battles and left the crusade to return home with his fellow knight (Ron Perlman). On the way, they encounter the people infected with the Black Death and a girl (Claire Foy) who is accused of being a witch and suspected of causing the plague. The cardinal of the town commands the two knights to take the girl to a monastery so that the monks there can lift her curse from the land. A typical medieval period movie, rest assured this one features dirty-looking men in surcoats wielding swords in cold gloomy weather. However, it is overall a decent movie as it has got enough action scenes to keep the audience excited. The sword fighting, horse riding and the battles, oh… you name it. There’s even one scene in which Nick Cage wrestles with the demon. The movie gets spooky at times too although, interestingly enough, it is difficult to define the genre of this movie because this is definitely not an adventure flick like “Robin Hood” or the horror one like “The Exorcist”. The ending is weak and no standout performance from any of the actors involved but I doubt that is something we could expect from a movie like this anyway. Two stars out of five.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Notes on a scandal (Movie Review)

“Notes on a scandal” is a 2006 movie adapted from a novel by ZoĆ« Heller. It is about two female teachers at a comprehensive school in London, Barbara, played by (Judi Dench) and Sheba (Cate Blanchett). Both actresses were nominated for Oscars in their respective roles but the Oscars went to Helen Mirren for “The Queen” and Jennifer Hudson for “Dreamgirls” that year. Anyway, Barbara, a lonely old spinster, has a growing affection for Sheba who is caught up in an unhappy marriage with two children. Sheba then starts having an affair with one of her 15 year old students. When Barbara finds out about the affair, things start to get complicated. As the movie tagline says “One woman’s mistake is another’s opportunity”.

What I like most about the movie is its pace. Since the story line is dark and heavy, there are multiple scenes that involve the outpouring of intense emotions between the characters and it is truly exhausting to witness them but the director (Richard Eyre, previous works include “Stage beauty” and “Iris”) ensures that the audience is given short breaks in between these emotionally-charged scenes. For example, during these short breaks, the music score is minimal to nothing at all which snuggles down the tension and provides a much-needed relief.  Also a narrative told from the perceptive of Dench’s character, Barbara, from her diary occasionally appears. It is indeed a smart move by the script writer, Patrick Marber also because this narrative style storytelling gives a chance to stay true to the book (nominated for Man Booker prize, 2003)’s beautiful literary expressions. (His marvelous screenplay was rewarded with an Oscar nomination but he unfortunately lost out to William Monahan for “The Departed” that year.)

In addition, the development of the characters is subtle yet effective and swift. I particularly like the way the story reveals the important details and background information as the two central characters develop. For example, how Barbara finds out Sheba is married to an older man (fantastic Bill Nighy) and living with two kids only when she goes to her house for lunch.  That is also when the movie audience finds out who Sheba is. A scene like that, especially when cleverly and delicately done, not only gives an entrance to the new important characters (Sheba’s husband, her teenage daughter and down syndrome son) also builds up the film’s tempo and audience’s anticipation. Fast camera works (at times following the characters as they move) and dramatic score enhance the thrilling experience as well. “Notes on a scandal”, has got enough chills and thrills of a horror movie although it is definitely not classified in that genre. You just can’t help but anxiously wonder what will happen next and how the story will end.

Needless to say, two power house performances from Oscar winning actresses, Dench and Blanchett, are just splendid. Watching them play these multifaceted characters is like watching two skilled seamstresses intricately weave a beautiful immaculate piece of fabric together. They play these characters with such meticulousness, devotion and zest.  In my opinion, Judi Dench’s portrayal of Barbara Covett is the equivalent of Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the lambs”. Quiet and restrained but absolutely haunting and disturbing. Blanchett, of course, is not to be outdone here either. One of the finest actresses of our generation not only holds her own against the brilliant Brit but also delivers what maybe her career best performance in films. Her character, Sheba, plays with fire, gets herself burned and in the end, gets totally consumed by a hopeless, helpless situation. With this role, Blanchete explores a woman’s vulnerability, desperation, complexity and most importantly her angst, lust, guilt and sorrow. One of the most memorable scenes for me is when Sheba has to choose between her special need son‘s school performance and Barbara who is mourning for her dying cat. Barbara’s ulterior motive jumps out in her most fragile state and she demands sternly that Sheba stays with her. Sheba, confused, scared and appalled, goes through a brief period of moral dilemma but she undoubtedly chooses to go with her son.  From then on, it is a steady climb towards the climax of the story which I should not reveal. All I can say is “WHAT A DRAMA!” One of the best movies I have seen in a while. I give 5 stars out of 5.