Movies »Anna Karenina

ak1directed by Joe Wright (2012)

Anna Karenina is a sexy movie. Not necessarily for the soft close up nude romping (though it answers a few questions about how Aaron Taylor-Johnson was able to woo and bed a much older woman in real life) but rather, it’s sexy for us that get hot and bothered over exquisite jewelry, lavish ball gowns, and lush set design.

Is it style over substance? Perhaps – but that’s perfectly alright with me.

The literal staging (the film is shot moving in and out of transforming set pieces and stages) is almost distracting at first but undeniably beautiful. Fields of white flowers, ornate walls that had me buzzing with lofty ideas for a new house, diamond necklaces to drool over, and one particularly breathtaking chartreuse gown were backdrop to lots of pursing lips (a Kiera Knightly signature), rugged handsomeness, a couple pairs of piercing eyes care of Taylor-Johnson and Jude Law.. even the supporting cast, an impressive list of recognizable British beauties and dashing men, were more like living props with a few lines of dialogue to move the plot along. The lovely Cara Delevingne doesn’t have much more to do than titter at a distance.

There is emotion to be found, mostly and surprisingly in form of the stiff and nearly autistic suffering husband Jude Law. While Taylor-Johnson was quite convincing in his obsession, Knightly almost becomes too shrill to elicit sympathy as she careens out of control. The high schooler in me, who surely would have loved this, wanted to identify with a woman so committed to passionate, romantic and scandalous love, not get annoyed with her.

For a story so steeped in drama, it didn’t exactly move me, but I will be dreaming of tulle, gems, wainscotting and satin for weeks.



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Posted on March 25, 2013

Books »The Hunger Games Trilogy

by Suzanne Collins (2008, 2009, 2010)

I couldn’t resist seeing what all the fuss was about and besides a young adult romance set in a dystopian future where kids are forced to kill one another sounds exactly up my alley. There’s a prevailing and annoying habit of people, mostly men, around my age to flat out despise anything too popular (usually without ever having read or seen the offending pop hit) but I like to read before judgement (I even gave Twilight a chance) and found The Hunger Games spectacular.. Mostly.

The first book is riveting with well written action (usually hard to write and the part in most books that loses my interest) and the romance is nothing short of brilliant. I can totally understand how this captured the hearts of teen girls everywhere and frankly, it left me feeling a bit like a teen girl myself.

The plotting is smart, the heroine is complex and pishaw! to those complaints about similarities to the Korean gore fest Battle Royale. I’m a big fan of that too but feel they’re very different. Besides I ask you to name one sci fi theme that hasn’t been explored by more than one author.

The first book is intimate, exciting and heart breaking and left me very curious about book two, Catching Fire which surprised me by being equally great if not better. Collins moves the story forward in unexpected and inventive ways. After a whirl wind it ends in a cliff hanger which leads us to book three: Mockingjay and the downfall of the series.

I can’t help but wonder if Collibs was severely depressed while writing the final installment. With my love for dark material I’ll rarely say something like this but: couldn’t she have kept things a bit lighter? Given our beloved characters more satisfying justice and more romance? I mean really, this book is bleak.

Still, it’s worth reading the trilogy which takes about three days – you just may want to fabricate your own happy ending.

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Posted on April 10, 2012

Movies »Casablanca

directed by Michael Curitz (1942)

As I continue my resolution to finally watch movies I’ve always meant to, I rented the stunning bluray of Casablanca. Yes,I had yet to see it til now to my embarrassment.

Even knowing most of the iconic lines, most of the plot, and the ending, I found this stands up as a masterpiece. I am left, though with very little to say that hasn’t already been said about this classic romance.

I mean, you’ve probably seen it, right? It’s great. Bogart is tough Nazi Killer with a heart of gold and the courage of a lion, Bergman is gorgeous, brave and well dressed, and who isn’t moved by As Time Goes By?

However, I really wish there had been more Peter Lorre. I love that guy and when his character was killed I even asked Jim, like a seven year old watching Bambi “He’s not really dead, right – He comes back?”

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Posted on February 6, 2011

Movies »Days of Being Wild

directed by Wong Kar-Wai (1990)

Wong Kar-Wai, whose cinematic voice is all his own, brings to the screen quiet moments in time rather than sweeping plots in Days of Being Wild. The moments certainly stuck with me, as I’ve been trying to find the movie again since I saw it years and years ago.

Set in Hong Kong and the Philippines in the 1960’s, Wild is sumptuously shot by Kar-Wai collaborator Christopher Doyle with what looks like a hazy memory filter. The fashions here are eye candy too and I swear it looks like Muccia Prada must have just viewed this movie before her Fall 2010 season.

The attractive cast is also great to look at, including China’s biggest stars like the lovely Maggie Cheung and the dashing Leslie Cheung. They fall in and out of love in this study of relationships, manipulation, sadness and desire. It’s doesn’t sound like much to explain what happens, (someone leaves someone from someone else, someone gets sad…) but there’s something haunting about the whole affair.

An all around gorgeous movie, which unfortunately looks like it was transferred from VHS for instant netflix, Days of Being Wild sounds amazing featuring lilting, mid century tropic instrumentals.

Considered inaccessibly art house by many, this was not a hit in its home country despite an all star cast. Still, many consider it to be a pivotal film in Hong Kong cinema.

Click here for the rest of Days of Being Wild

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Posted on December 14, 2010

Movies »Bright Star

directed by Jane Campion (2009)

There’s a reason some people find the state of contemporary romance films dull, trite, and unwatchable, and for the most part, I’m one of those people. But in the hands of master filmmaker Jane Campion (whose best work is still the bloody skinemax-tastic In the Cut), the tired and staid genre is given fresh life with Bright Star.

Quiet energy radiates from the impressive cast: the beautifully fey and almost disturbingly rail thin Ben Whishaw as poet John Keats and the refreshingly non rail thin, spirited and (please forgive me Reese) quite pretty Abbie Cornish as the love of his life, Fanny Brawne. Filling out the cast – to my complete surprise – was Paul Schneider as fellow poet Charles Armitage Brown, whom you might recognize as Mark Brendanawicz from Parks and Recreation.

So many historical films feel like little more than tight-lipped actors in big costumes pontificating in period accents on museum sets, but there’s a lived-in, natural feel to the settings and the incredible clothing (multi buckle flats and three tiered ruffle collars, please make a come back!) of Bright Star. But don’t get me wrong, Campion’s vision of the period is characteristically stylized and visually romanticized. Crisp white curtains billow with spring breezes from every window, exquisitely serene and simple bedrooms look like paintings of dignified restraint, every garden is overgrown with the most sumptuous wildflowers.

Her signature touch elevates the sometimes slow (it’s just way too long) but sometimes heart-twitteringly romantic (couldn’t help but get flushed watching the first kiss) tale of love and heartbreak that’s been told in some way or another a million times (guess who’s going to die? The one that went out in the cold and came back with a cough!).

Click here for the rest of Bright Star

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Posted on February 7, 2010

Restaurants »Moto

394 Broadway, Brooklyn

More romance can be found among the trash-stuffed-pillars, fried chickenries and noisy dollar shops underneath the roaring JMZ track than one might ever expect at the cozy, Europeanesque Moto. It’s been ages since I headed down there for their impressive menu, jazz and hand cobbled together ambiance, and delicious desserts (years ago I praised their grilled donuts).

We ordered cappuccinos, despite a strong curiosity (particularly on my part) of the breakfast beer listed on the menu (Guinness plus espresso) which, unlike angry reports on Yelp, did not take forever to arrive at our table. Moto’s weekend brunch offers much to choose from and we were both very happy with our entrees: ham and cheese baked eggs for Jim and a fresh Turkish breakfast with olives, figs, tomatoes, cucumber, feta, and soppressata for me.

The real highlight of our meal was the warm date cake with toffee sauce and whipped cream; it was absolutely heavenly and is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes (it’s even on the menu at all meal times). Order it!

Click here for the rest of Moto

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Posted on February 7, 2010

Web Sites »Inspired Bride and Nonpariel Magazine

Online Inspiration

My sister-in-law Maddy, who is behind the blog The Inspired Bride and now the new online magazine Nonpareil, has a special eye for romantic details. Inspired Bride, which she’s been doing for a year or so, is a treasure trove of resources for the modern bride: from cakes, to favors, to floral arrangements and rings – she covers everything for those looking for a stylish wedding that is decidedly non-cookie-cutteresque.

Nonpareil takes the same dreamy but natural aesthetic and applies it to a broader scope of design projects; the first issue is built around the theme ‘Beautiful on a Budget’ and features DIY hairpieces and easy-to-make centerpieces. Highly recommended.

Click here for the rest of Inspired Bride and Nonpariel Magazine

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Posted on February 7, 2010

Books »Romeo and Juliet

shakespeare's romeo and julietThere's a reason junior high teachers believe they can make pre teens care about Shakespeare?by giving them Romeo and Juliet to read. It's an engrossing piece of literature with a timeless story of undying love.

If you weren't forced to read it as a kid, I recommend reading it now, there's plenty of reasons it's inspired people for hundreds of years. Not everyone would agree though, as Samuel Peyps, of the famous diary once wrote “it is a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life.”

Franco Zeffirelli's film adaptation is a great accompaniment, though I might be out of date. These days kids are all about the Baz Lurhmann, Leonardo DiCaprio version, or more likely, High School Musical, which takes plot cues from the eternal popular play.

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Posted on September 14, 2009

Movies »The Room

the room tommy wiseauIt's only fair to start this entry off by warning you that The Room is a uniquely terrible “movie” – but it's more than just hilariously bad, it's powerfully infectious and, make no mistake about it, The Room will haunt you long after its 139 minute running time. Weirdman Tommy Wiseau (who punctuates every hard to understand line from, “You wasn't kidding, underwear, I got the picture,” to “Yes, the barbecues chickens was good and the rice,” and, “Anything for my princess,” with his signature forced, eerie laugh), will show up mumbling in your dreams.

Actually, more accurately, after viewing an exorbitant amount of sex scenes scored to porny 1990s R&B (make sure to follow up with this week's song), wherein his filmy, blueish-white body (which looks entirely skin grafted), begins butt clenching and thrusting, it's your nightmares that he'll be showing up in.

Wiseau, whose name appears dozens of times at the movie's intro (including not one, but two poorly executed logos for his company, Wiseau Films), wrote, directed, produced and stars as Johnny in this strange tale about a strange man that everyone seems to love except his fiance, a blonde whiner named Lisa whose biggest achievement in the film was making me want to exercise more.

In a bizarre way, she's actually well cast (if she could have acted at all, and like everyone here, she can't, her portrayal of an underemployed 'computer worker' would not be nearly as memorable), you can really see this woman as the crazy girlfriend of a crazy man – but as a temptress who is “so beautiful” and makes every man fall in love with her with the aid of long “sexy” night gowns? Not so much, unless you harbor latent sexual fantasies about Becky from Roseanne with lots of whore thrown in.

She begins an affair with Johnny's explicitly defined best friend Mark, who kind of reminds me of Spencer without the evil, but if I may say it, even dumber? Like Lisa, Mark is quite a bit younger than Johnny, and the question of exactly how these two are best friends lingers throughout the film.

Age is unclear and disturbing in other characters as well, particularly with Denny (who everyone refers to as Dinny), a man/boy who barges into the first scene with no context or introduction. He's clearly a man, but with his clothes, the way he's treated like a ten year old, and his creepy affected child voice, it's clear he's meant to be a boy – what age boy and with what mental capabilities is not understood. No matter what the answer, it's awkward when he jumps in between Lisa and Johnny before one of their horrible, rose petal accented love making sessions in an attempt to start a pillow fight.

Unlike other plot holes, some of the?mysteries surrounding the origins of the “boy” Dinny are explained, but the answers only confuse matters. He has no parents, he's 18, Johnny wanted to adopt him but instead set him up in his own pad (which lacks butter and sugar) and has paid for his tuition. But if the boy is 18, and Johnny is meant to be the peer of a bunch of twenty-year-olds, isn't Johnny adopting a man just a few years younger than he is?

If you find yourself wondering what happened to Dinny's drug situation or Lisa's mother's breast cancer, I'm afraid you will be left in the dark. Always mysterious as a filmmaker, Wiseau doesn't answer all the questions and follow up all the plot lines he introduces – but he will throw in a long scene at a coffee shop that serves cheesecake and include two different sets of extras ordering before the action begins.

Set design, costumes, lighting, makeup – it's all terrible. Even rooftop scenes are weirdly blue-screened because there was no budget for a real rooftop.

The “film” debuted in LA and ran a billboard on Highland Avenue, it was word of mouth of the true horribleness of the film that has quickly gained its cult status as a midnight movie. Less well known on the east coast, you could have still caught glimpses of it in an episode of Tim and Eric featuring Wiseau or at midnight on April Fools, on Adult Swim. Numerous screenings have swept parts of the country (but to my heartbreak, I just missed a screening in the city) and everyone from NPR to the Times has taken notice of the phenomenon. Any fan of hilariously bad movies who hasn't already become obsessed should take notice too.

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Posted on July 6, 2009

Songs »You Are My Rose

the room wiseau you are my roseFeatured in the only sex scene that stars a man with actual skin over his body, You Are My Rose is by far the most memorable lite-Skinemaxy song to come out of this week's incredible “film”, The Room (which I have re-watched a few times since writing my entry, and if I could, I'd go on forever).

Singer Kitra Williams is actually a quite accomplished performer, she starred in Broadway's The Color Purple and is an activist who began the Agape Academy an:

“Organization honoring youth and young adults
desiring to rededicate their gifts and talents for the Gospel sake. We cultivate the gifts of our youth and encourage them to minister messages of hope through theater, film and cartoon animation. We provide scholarships and national opportunities for their talents to be showcased at out annual Agape Awards ceremony.”

Plus, as this song can attest, she can really set the mood for spiral staircase sex.

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Posted on July 6, 2009

Songs »Lovin You

loving you minnie ripertonWhile Lovin' You has become a bit of a shorthand joke in movies and TV shows to represent a kind of cheesy, schmaltzy romance that no one seems to believe in with such a hazy soft focus any more, I find it so simple both lyrically “loving you is easy because you're beautiful” and pretty that it still fills me with a sweet feeling.

As sweet as the baby's breath that halos Minnie Riperton's afro and the fact that she used to sing this to her baby daughter, comedienne Maya Rudolph.

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Posted on June 1, 2009

Movies »Age of Innocence

the age of innocenceIt's very odd that I never saw The Age of Innocence before: it came out when I was sixteen, an age at which I'd watch anything new (particularly something new by Martin Scorsese) and particularly something romantic, but most curiously, I adored Michelle Pfieffer (as you'll read in this week's style icon section), she was a kind of childhood idol of mine, strangely enough.

Still, it was not until this weekend that I actually saw the adaptation of Edith Wharton's classic tortured romance thwarted by social codes. With Saul Bass's excellent budding flowers on lace introduction, it was easy for me to settle into the mood.

Pfieffer, I'm happy to report, has almost never looked as radiant and Daniel Day Lewis is absolutely smoldering. Even Noni is cast well (which is rare) as a bright faced, simple women to whom women's emancipation is unfathomable. The rest of the cast is equally perfect and includes some of my favorite character actors like Jonathan Pryce, Richard E. Grant and Sian Phillips (who you might recognize from a far juicier role in the fantastic I, Claudius).

The gentile New York City of the late nineteenth century is impeccably presented by Scorsese and all of its finery. Shot of exterior sets (the mansion by Central Park is mind blowing), interiors (drool over the rarely used ballroom), and food, food food are an opulent feast for the eyes (see a photo essay of all the food in the movie I put together here).

The stifling social codes may be the things of modern women's nightmare, but there's some appeal to the diamond crusted archery brooches, white gloves worn at dinner, petit fours, and drawing rooms stuffed with brocades, gold and paintings of cheetahs.

Despite the long running time, I still found it to be sweepingly romantic, but be wary of watching it with those who are not fans of historical romance; this was one of the few movies Jim and I have disagreed on.

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Posted on June 1, 2009

Songs »So Easy, Blue on Blue, and Mr Lonely

bobby vinton blueElectronic music is not the most familiar genre to me (compared to say, obscure love ballads from the 50's), and it's the inclusion of a sample of the great, dreamy Bobby Vinton (of Blue Velvet fame) song that drew me to the Royksopp song, So Easy in the first place.

So you can actually count this as a double entry, because after raving, taking “e” and playing in a field, or any other activity that accompanies electronic music, you should listen to the original Vinton song, Blue on Blue.

And while we're on a roll, check out the equally great Vinton single, Mr. Lonely.

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Posted on May 4, 2009

Books »Guilty Pleasures

guilty pleasures laurell k hamiltonWhile Laurell K. Hamilton‘s Anita Blake vampire hunter novel Guilty Pleasures is certainly an appropriate title for this week’s theme, I wasn’t so sure I’d actually be able to recommend it due a few previous reading missteps. I tried re-reading some V.C. Andrews and found myself feeling all the guilt without any pleasure so I tried a Gossip Girl book but I found myself bored. Buffy knock off or not, I thought this book was perfectly entertaining and, happily enough, there was enough to keep me feeling a little bit guilty too.

For example, Guilty Pleasures refers to a vampire strip club where several scenes in the book takes place. Like most vampire novels (see Twilight) no one can get over how fast they are, and Anita Blake (a hard-boiled and, frankly, bigoted hunter) spends most of the novel gritting her teeth and resisting their power through sheer brassiness and sassiness. It’s a role I can only imagine a Hollywood casting director giving to Eliza Dushku – but I hate Eliza Dushku and her crooked eyebrow acting style, so instead I chose to envision Vanessa Ferlito (Butterfly in Death Proof).

It’s a good one to try for Twilight fans, though it lacks the high school romance. There’s romance, kind of, but it seems that everyone this Anita meets is a suitor, so it’s hard to figure out which buff guy to actually root for. Is it the stripper vampire junky who wears fishnet shirts? Or the ancient vampire who blushes and tells Anita he “likes” her? Or is it Edward, the ultimate bounty hunter who’s always there for her as a friend? It’s all pretty mild stuff but, from what I’ve read, Hamilton gets kinkier and kinkier as the series evolves and the last books are so groin-centric that they’re shelved in the romance section.

Plot-wise sure, Hamilton may have co-opted some basic ideas from Joss Whedon’s 1992 screenplay, but who knows – I will say that the much less successful and painful to watch True Blood (oh, my stars!) most likely took inspiration from Hamilton’s work. Set in an alternate reality 1990’s St Louis, vampires and other supernatural beings are recognized as citizens. Anita, aside from slaying vamps, is an animator. Not like an artist for Dora the Explorer, but someone who raises the dead. She does this for profit through an agency, but she actually prefers killing to reanimation.

The big kill would be the Master, a Shirley Temple-esque 1000-year-old vampire that runs the town. But, before she can drive a stake in the Master’s heart, Anita has to do a job for her: find out who (or what!) has been murdering vampires. In the process, she meets the coolest characters in the book, a pack of Were-rats that wear cut-off jean shorts.

It’s a quick and easy beach read, perfect for mindless fun in between books less likely to earn you judgey stares on the subway.

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Posted on March 30, 2009