Monday, February 28, 2011

Did the Oscars go to the deserving nominees? (Oscars 2011)

The Oscars this year went to the most deserving contenders thus it undeniably became one of the most boring Oscars in recent memory. And… I meant “Boring” in a very sincere way. Neither surprises nor stunts were pulled and everyone went home happy.  I was very glad to see nine out of ten awards predictions I made except for the cinematography category were accurate but that just simply means how easy it was to predict the eventual winners from the list of 10 brilliant films of 2010. The two hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway kept it simple and enjoyable which in my opinion was a good move as they are merely actors and definitely NOT the supposed-to-be funny comedians like the previous Oscars hosts. They relied pretty much on their charms, good looks and in Hathaway’s case, various glittery designer frocks. I however can already feel the hating from the critics and fans alike who weren't thrilled by their somewhat lackluster performance as hosts. I guess a lot of people expected a lot from them and I don’t think they delivered. They both looked very cute together though.

Melissa leo’s F-word bomb in her winning speech should land her in the front page news for the weeks to come as it probably was the most exciting yet inappropriate thing that happened at the Oscars this year. She deservingly won her first Oscar despite the back lash from her much publicized self-promotion scandal.  Personally, I applaud her for recognizing her own talent, preventing the chances of getting her work overlooked and most importantly taking the steps necessary to secure what she felt she deserved.  Let’s just not be hypocrites here. It’s Hollywood.  Narcissism is a well-known ingredient and any types of promotion including self- made ones are considered perfectly fine. What’s with all the fuss?  
It was delightful to see “The King’s Speech” become the best film of 2010 as it absolutely should be.  I like “The social network” but we’ll be remembering the brilliance of “The King’s Speech” in twenty years time.  It is indeed in the same league of old Hollywood classics such as “The Last Emperor (1987)”, “Schindler’s List (1993)” and “Braveheart  (1998)”.  The very famous, “Inception” took home some awards too but mostly in technical categories which I thought was fair. Both Best Actor winner (Colin Firth) and Best Actress winner (Natalie Portman) gave great speeches especially the one by Firth reminded us of why we JUST can’t get enough of The Brits in cinema. What a suave and classy man he is!
In short, the Oscars this year was a great finish for 2010, the year of great films and lawfully the right people were celebrated and honored for their great work.  Well done!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Evita (Movie review)

As we are gearing up for our trip to Argentina, I thought it’d be nice to watch “Evita” again. I must have seen this movie like 20 times and I always could find a lame excuse like this to watch Madonna belt out “Don’t cry for me Argentina” over and over. But joking aside, “Evita” is one of my all time favorite musicals and God knows I have many. Unlike other movie musicals where characters share dialogues and then all of a sudden Wham, Bam, they break out into song and dance numbers, Evita is almost 100% musical, driven only by songs and occasional dance sequences.

Although the story is about Eva Perón , the Argentine spiritual leader and the second wife of the Argentine president, Juan Perón, it is not entirely about the politics. In fact it is about a woman’s journey from a humble beginning to her meteoric rise to the top and the love she shared with a man she believed in and cherished. I always like Madonna but never really can call myself a hard-core fan. She won my heart and respect with “Evita”. Madonna, in “Evita”, is not Madonna, she is THE character and that’s what I love about this movie. I also like the fact that she could finally say “Suck it” to the critics and haters who consistently ridiculed her for her somewhat weak acting and singing skills. With proper training and determination, she has proven that she can transform herself from a controversial pop tart that she’s most famous for to a credible singer and a serious actress. Her dedication and hard work in “Evita” definitely paid off as she took home the award for Best Actress in a comedy/musical in 1997. Deservingly of course!

Songs like “Another suitcase in another hall”, “Don’t cry for me Argentina” and this hauntingly beautiful song exclusively written for the movie version, “You must love me” (the Oscar and the Golden Globe winner of 1997), have become modern classics and that alone gives you an idea of how genius and gifted Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber are and for turning this piece of history into a full-length musical. Although the film’s cinematography got most critics’ approval and some award nominations, I personally feel that there are too many close-up shots and not enough scenes showcasing the beauty of Buenos Aires. Shot mostly in Sepia tone, though an appropriate choice for an epic movie like this, it certainly can be a bit tiring to watch for over an hour. The combination of timeless music and stunning art direction apparent in the opening Eva’s funeral scene and particularly the balcony scene when Eva starts singing “Don’t cry for me argentina”, with the crowd chanting “Evita, Evita” bring goose bumps: one of the most memorable scenes in recent Movie Musicals history!

Although turning a famed musical into a mainstream movie is obviously not an easy feat, the director Alan Parker did such a fine job balancing the elements of politics, love and heroism while successfully blending music, drama and art. Here’s one interesting fact: “Evita” holds the Guinness world record for "Most costume changes in a film" (85 times in total for Madonna). Gorgeous Jackets, Beautiful hats and elegant pencil skirts on Madonna adorn the film’s many scenes. “She's the diamond in their dull grey lives”, Juan Perón (played by Welsh theatre great, Jonathan Pryce) sings in the film praising his wife’s influence and impact on the millions of poor Argentine through her charity work. Madonna is indeed the diamond here not because of the stylish clothes they put her in but because of her incredible acting and singing triumph.

“Have I said too much?
There's nothing more I can think of to say to you.
But all you have to do is look at me to know
That every word is true.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

You Again (DVD review)

You Again (2010)

High school is such a tough place to survive and “You again” has proven that it’s even more so for the girls.  Marni (Kristen Bell) was constantly bullied and ridiculed throughout her high school life by Joanna (Odette Yustman) who happens to be the soon-to-be-bride of her brother Will (James Wolk).  To cut the story short,  Marni’s mother Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Joanna’s aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver)also had the similar situation back in the day but the only difference here is that it is the other way around. Ramona who is now a powerful wealthy woman still somehow holds the grudge towards Marni’s mum. So they, with a twist of fate, find each other once again in the middle of the wedding preparation. Those high school memories are too painful to keep inside that these ladies within a few hours of meeting start clashing. That’s the story and how they come to resolve their conflicts is the ending.  Anyway, the first half of “You again” sincerely gave me great laughs. All four leading ladies are genuinely funny plus the hilarious supporting  turns by the Broadway’s darling, Kristen Chenoweth as the flamboyant wedding planner and the great Betty White as Marni’s grandma. Especially Betty White, who in my opinion is underused in the film, dazzles even with a few lines that she was given.  I was LOL-ing so much that I began to wonder why this movie got too many negative reviews.  Are the critics biased and simply being mean? Well- they were kinda right (in a way)!  After the comedy’s climax, the wedding shower scene, all the fun that I was having stopped. All the laughs I had on the first half had to be puked back out during the second half because the movie became so corny, predictable and clichéd. In particular the scenes where the girls make icky confessions and apologies to each other or the hospital scene where Will and Joanna get back together are indeed pass-me-the-bucket -please moments!  “You again” after all is okay (and I would even say “decent”) so I won’t totally trash it. Yes, it blatantly borrowed the great comedic elements from movies like “Bride Wars”, “Death becomes her” and “Mean girls” (no originality here, nada!) but sometimes a good mindless comedy is just what you need, no?  I REALLY thought it was fun but one last thing, I honestly don’t like the way they portray women, even if it’s for comedic purpose, as vicious, revengeful, bitter and scheming witches.  You know? Seriously!     I mean…………………They aren’t, right??? …………………………. or Are they?  ;o) 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Jennifer Hudson's new song "Where you at" (Performance Review)

I can’t stop watching this live performance by Jennifer Hudson on Oprah. It’s her new song “Where you at” from her upcoming album “I remember me”. It’s about a lover who doesn’t live up to his promises. She sings

You said when the storm came 
That you would be there with your umbrella to block the rain 
And you said you'd protect me 
From heartache, pain, lies, loneliness, and misery 
You said you'd tear down the walls that were in my way 
You promised things would be okay 
And I stood there in the freezing cold 
And I waited for you, but you never showed 
Where you at? Oh, where you at? Oh,where you at? 

The thing I love about Jennifer Hudson is that she keeps getting better. From her bumpy start on American Idol to her Dreamgirls Oscar glory, she has never failed to astound us with her powerhouse performances, one after another. When she sings, especially live, you can tell she interprets the song’s lyrics with her heart. She even acts out the song at times which nowadays is very rare quality. In fact, it’s a quality you’d find in artists like Barbra Streisand or Shirley Bassey. I know it’s quite a high praise but hey… she deserves it. Check out some of her live performances at various tribute shows and events on Youtube. You will see what I mean.
Anyway, back to this performance, it’s indeed a tricky song to sing live, in particular the bridge part where she has to soar. She nevertheless did a flawless job. It's a great song that showcases her powerful voice to a maximum effect. I love the bit where she ad-libs “Deliver!!!!, Deliver!!!” Classic J-Hud moment, reminiscent of her “Dreamgirls” days. I don’t think this song will be a huge monster hit as it’s not a very radio-friendly tune like those from Kehsa, Rihanna and Katy Perry but it somehow gives a glimpse of what we can expect from her new album which drops on March 22. I can't wait!!!!

Jennifer Hudson's upcoming album "I remember me" cover art

Who will win at the Oscars? (2011 Oscar Predictions)

Oscars 2011

2010 was a great year for films. Plenty of notable films in different genres graced the cinemas around the world, there were not only the million dollars-making blockbusters such as “Toy Story 3”, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”, “Iron man 2” and “Inception”, also the thought-provoking , art-house releases like “Winter’s Bone”, “Blue Valentine” and “The kids are all right”. When the nominations for Oscars came out, I was delighted to see that most categories were filled with the names of truly deserving nominees.  As I happen to be someone with so much passion for films and someone who can never shut up when it comes to sharing opinions, allow me to make predictions of who should win and who will win at this year Oscars. So let’s take a look at the nominees.
Best motion picture of the year
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Out of 10 films being nominated this year, I have seen 8 of them except for “Toy Story 3” and “True Grit”.  Honestly, I’m not a big fan of “Inception” and although “The kids are all right” (Best Comedy Film winner at the Globes) is brilliantly made and superbly acted, the theme of the film is not enough to make the voters go gaga for it. So I personally think that it’s a race between “The King’s Speech” and “The social network”.  I like both films but I believe “The King’s Speech” will and SHOULD win the “Best picture” simply because “The Social Network” may very well be the hip new cocktail of the moment but “The King’s speech” is indeed the fine vintage French wine.  The academy voters will go for wine as they have always done in the past.  Historical films that previously won “Best Picture” include “Titanic”, “Braveheart”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Gandhi” and “A beautiful mind”.
Performance by an actor in a leading role
Javier Bardem (Biutiful)
Jeff Bridges (True Grit)
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Colin Firth (The King's Speech)
James Franco (127 Hours)

Jeff Bridges won his Oscar last year and Javier Bardem, two years ago. They are not “Tom Hanks” or “Hilary Swank” so they will just have to be happy that they got nominated. On the other hand, Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco are still very young and they will have chances to shine in the years to come plus their respective performances are pretty light-weight. Have you ever seen Eisenberg off-camera? He’s just like the Zuckerberg character he played in the film. That means he pretty much played himself and won these rave reviews. Good but NOT Oscar-worthy. So that leaves Colin Firth who acts in each and every frame of “The King’s Speech” with such depth and mastery. If he didn’t win, that would be the biggest, I MEAN in all seriousness, the biggest upset in Oscar history.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Christian Bale (The Fighter)
John Hawkes (Winter's Bone)
Jeremy Renner (
The Town)
Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right)
Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech)

I have seen these five actors in their nominated roles and they are all equally good. My favorite is Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids are all right”. Geoffrey Rush is ALWAYS good but had already won once for “Shine” (1996). John Hawkes and Jeremy Renner are JUST okay, not enough screen time to really give jaw-dropping performances. Christian Bale has been sweeping up awards with this role (Globes, SAG, etc) so I’d put my money on him. Besides, he’s one of the industry heavy-weights and he will sure get some love from the voters. Oscars however can always surprise especially in the category like this. Remember “Alan Arkin’s “Little Miss Sunshine” win over Eddie Murphy’s “Dreamgirls”? Or Marisa Tomei’s scandalous victory in “My Cousin Vinny”???  Or Judi Dench’s 8-minute performance from “Shakespeare in love" that won her the gold in 1998??? SHOCKING!

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)
Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone)
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Michelle Williams (
Blue Valentine)

An amazing year for actresses as usual. So many great roles and so many soul-bearing performances but there will only be one winner and that is “Natalie Portman” for “Black Swan”. Why? First of all, her emotional delivery as the ballerina on edge is intense, candid and dramatic: a showy enough performance to take home the Oscar. Second of all, she’s one of the brightest young stars in Hollywood. Let me ask you one question. How many times dear old Meryl Streep sat and watched some young and pretty actress beat the shit out of her at the Oscars??? Sandra Bullock, Jodie Foster, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hilary Swank and Kate Winslet- Hello??? That means, the great Annette Bening will need Mr Warren Beatty to cry on his shoulder for they will surely go with young and crispy Natalie this year. And the other three, Kidman, Lawrence and Williams gave amazing performances too but this is JUST not the year for them. Just enjoy the gown they sent for free and strike your best pose on the red carpet, girls!!!!

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Amy Adams (The Fighter)
Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech)
Melissa Leo (The Fighter)
Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)
Jacki Weaver (
Animal Kingdom)

I haven’t seen True Grit so I’m not sure whether the 14 year old Hailee Steinfeld(True Grit) deserves the award or not. Personally, I think it’s a battle between Melissa Leo (The Fighter) and the Aussie Jacki Weaver(Animal Kingdom). Funny thing here is that they both play evil mums and boy, they are sooo good at it. Melissa has lost her Oscar before to Kate Winslet in “The Reader” and she’s been a darling at various award shows this season for her white trash mum role in “The Fighter”. That indicates she’s the front runner. But like I said, surprises happen in this category. What if the voters go with the quirky Helena Bonham Carter for her role as the queen mum in The King’s Speech??? That’d be absolutely fun to watch.

Achievement in directing
Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
David O Russell (The Fighter)
Tom Hooper (The King's Speech)
David Fincher (The Social Network)
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (True Grit)

I think Tom Hooper should win for the brilliantly-crafted “The King’s Speech”. Now THAT’s a movie. After watching the atrocious “The tourist”, “Burlesque”, “Gulliver’s travel” and “The Expendables”, I lost the will to watch movies but Tom Hooper single-handedly restored my faith in movies with “The King’s Speech”. For that and that alone- he SHOULD win.
Adapted screenplay
127 Hours - Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network - Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3 - Michael Arndt (screenplay); John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich (story)
True Grit - Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Winter's Bone - Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

This is for “The Social Network”. It’s written all over it. 
Original screenplay
Another Year - Mike Leigh
The Fighter - Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (screenplay); Keith Dorrington, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (story)
Inception - 
Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right - Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
The King's Speech - David Seidler

All great movies rely on a good script.  “The King’s Speech” will win.
Achievement in cinematography
Matthew Libatique (Black Swan)
Wally Pfister (Inception)
Danny Cohen (The King's Speech)
Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network)
Roger Deakins (True Grit)

This is a tough category. My most favorite “127 hours” was not even nominated for cinematography. How ironic? I’m going to go with “The Social Network” because I still really can’t get over the stunning boat racing scene on the river Thames from the movie. Original and a true piece of art.
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (original score)
John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon)
Hans Zimmer (Inception)
Alexandre Desplat (The King's Speech)
AR Rahman (127 Hours)
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network)

This is for “The social network” again. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s dark ambient music adorns the large part of that movie- it’s young, it’s cool, it’s fresh and it complements the movie’s theme. The winner, hands down!!!!!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Britney Spears (Hold it against me) Single & Video Review

Britney Spears’s highly-anticipated music video to her newest number one single “Hold it against me” is finally out. Judging the way it looks, Britney is definitely back and I’m REALLY glad that she’s ready to kick some ass. However, I have some issues. First of all, the song, though catchy and fun, sounds like one of her unfinished tossed-aside, left over tracks that didn’t make the cut to her first album “Baby One More Time”….. FROM THE 90s!!!!!  Yes, I had to SAY it OUT LOUD because if critics and fans are saying this is fresh or the newest sound of Britney, they are SOOOOOOOOO lying. C’mon, there’s nothing inventive or fresh about this track. I’m not saying I expected her to start singing Jazz or play violin but this is sooooo “Been there, done that” even for Britney’s standard. Maybe she’s telling the world, she’s at last gone back to her old sane self, the old school Brit that we all fell in love with. (Well then, that’s good news!).  Second of all, this much-ballyhooed video is nothing to shout about in comparison to her earlier stuff. (“I’m a slave 4 U”, “Toxic”, “Lucky”, anyone??? They were fantastic!!!!) Unflattering choreography (Seriously, Britney, U can do better than that), cheap production (in the studio with SONY products, (possibly the main sponsor of the video!) and there is a bitch fight between the two Britneys towards the end too. And WHY???? What does that have to do with the lyrics “Cause you feel like paradise, And I need a vacation tonight, So if I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me? I JUST don’t get it.  The good thing about “Hold it against me” though is her vocals. The last time we heard her actually sing was… well… on her first two albums. After that, she just whispers, coos and talks through the songs. NOT on this one and for that, well done! I can’t wait to hear the new album “Femme Fatale” in entirety. Here's the video. Check it out!!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Florence in the rain (B&W Photography)

The Fontana del Nettuno in the Piazza della Signoria

Beautiful Florence was heavily hit by the rain on that day of my arrival in September. Even when the rain stopped the dark grey clouds were all over the city making it extra gloomy and sad. It was cold, wet and depressing. To make the matter worse, there were tourists everywhere- Chinese, Americans, Australians as if the whole world had decided to gather in Florence that day. I was very disappointed because I was really looking forward to capturing Florence’s iconic beauty in vivid colors and warm light. Although I had been taking pictures for hours since that morning, none of them turned out great.  This constant rain, such poor light and heaps of tourists everywhere made it very difficult for me to find inspiration. Then something clicked, while we were waiting for the rain to pass under a portico of an old building near the Ponte Vecchio . A light-bulb moment came and I switched my camera to the black & white mode immediately. I started taking pictures of anything and everything that was around me and began to like what I saw through my LCD monitor. (I know. I wish I could say “Through my lens” to make it sound more real-photographer-ish but my point is the images I took via Black& White mode looked amazing on the LCD screen and nothing like the reality I saw through the lens. Thank Heavens for digital cameras and their multiple options!!!) My creative juice started to flow after all and I went from shooting nada to capturing Piazzas.  Florence was no longer miserable and I felt that my black and white shots absolutely seized the melancholy mood on of this famous city on that rainy day. What do you think?

A street performer in Florence


Monday, February 14, 2011

The Grammys 2011 (Review)

The Grammys this year is more about the performances than the awards.  Only ten of the 108 awards were given out during the telecast.  Talking about the performances, this year show has the best line up EVER in the recent Grammy history.  From Barbra Streisand, Mick Jagger to Rihanna, nothing really was more exciting in the world than watching The Grammys on TV at home. (And that’s what I exactly did today for about 4 hours non-stop, including the red-carpet of course!!)

The show’s opener was the biggest  vocal extravaganza (even bigger than the annual Divas Live in my opinion) featuring Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride, Yolanda Adams and “the best new artist” nominee this year, Florence Welch of  the band “Florence and the machine” paying tribute to The Queen of Soul, Aretha Frankin. It was indeed crème de la crème.  With this performance, Christina redeemed herself (Recent national anthem fiasco, anyone?) with the spectacular version of Aretha’s “Ain’t no way”, Jennifer Hudson shined on “Respect”, poor Florence Welch looked out of place struggling to hold her own and even the country singer Martina McBride had a hard time being heard through the storm of big fat notes battle coming from Jennifer, Yolanda and Christina but in the end the winner of that screaming match was obviously the gospel great “Yolanda Adams”.  Can’t nobody mess with Yolanda who delivered the million dollar note towards the end that claimed the crown blowing away all others involved.  Aretha Franklin thanked her well-wishers and fans through a pre-recorded videotape. I wondered what she thought of her tribute which ended up being more of a vocal show-off by the individuals than a heartfelt homage. Nevertheless, I loved it!!!

And then there was GaGa, who avoided the red carpet because she was incubating in an egg, hatched out and performed her new song “Born this way”.   What a rousing performance! Great choreography and I love the line “Don’t be a drag-be a queen”. Classic!!!!  GaGa may not have the voice of Christina A but when she’s on stage, she always brings it! My favorite performance of the entire night and it was appropriately introduced by recently- OUT Ricky Martin (her song is about equality in society and celebration of individualism). It’s amazing what we can do nowadays in the mainstream media. Of course it is not fully-realized but we are gradually getting there. I mean, c’mon, who would have thought ten years ago that an artist can pull off a performance singing the lyrics like “No matter gay, straight or bi, Lesbian, transgendered lifeI'm on the right track, babyI was born to survive” at an event like The Grammys on national TV with millions watching??? A positive song and a great performance.

Also, Justin Bieber and his mentor Usher performed together (on stage together but performing separately) . This kid can sing and dance. It ain’t no joke that he has some talent. C’mon, most of us at his age were blowing spit bubbles sitting in the back of history class annoying the teacher and Bieber is collecting millions-both dollars and adoring fans. This isn’t funny. The best dancer in da house, however, was “Usher” and his style of dancing, so effortless and sexy. Backed by a huge dancing troop, he stole the show with his hit “OMG”.

Is it JUST me or Bob Dylan always sounds like he needs to clear his throat but some higher power is telling him NO, he can’t? No matter what, his performance won him a standing-O. So I wondered, maybe, if you stay long enough in the business and don’t die, you get some solemn respect from your peers regardless. A legend that he is, I wasn’t impressed nor would I call that singing???? It sounded more like gurgling. Horrendous!

One of the hottest performances of the night belonged to Cee lo green who had a monster hit with “Fuck you” (otherwise known as “Forget you”). He spiced up his act by dueting with the Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow on stage with full of puppets performing together. It was indeed a party.  Gwyneth, without missing a beat, provided the theatrical touch to the already dramatic song.  Is there anything else that this woman cannot do? An actress who sings, how fabulous!

Since we are on the same page of “Singing”, I have to say I truly believe that Katy Perry should hire a vocal coach ASAP. If that was some unknown girl, NOT Katy, singing that song, she sure would have collected plenty of tomatoes and rotten eggs. Luckily, it was Katy Performing in a striking glittery gown; therefore, bad singing didn’t matter. The audience simply ate it up. She looked pretty though.
Rihanna, on the other hand, has improved her vocals though and she looked arresting in that beautiful big gown (whoever it is by-I’m guessing “McQueen”). The crowd went wild when Eminem came up on stage and Ri Ri dramatically climbed up the stairs to join him in singing of their hit “Love the way you lie”. It was all good until this lesser known singer Skyler Grey (who, by the way wrote “love the way you lie” among other hits) totally upstaged her with much better vocals. Ouch!

Mick Jagger was there too giving his very first Grammy performance. One wonders why the hell he never performed at the Grammy before after all these years. He nevertheless, and unlike the aging Dylan, brought the house down. What an entrance and what a rock star!!! He appeared on stage and within a nanosecond, he owned it already. The crowd was at his feet. Personally, I don’t like him or his music but I thoroughly enjoyed his presence and performance.

Once Kris Kristopherson appeared on stage, my heart was beating real fast already as I could easily and already guess who he was going to introduce, the one and only Barbra Streisand.  I thought she was going to sing “People” but she did a touching rendition of “Evergreen”. It was a good choice as it was arguably the most celebrated song of her career and a timeless classic. Nearing the 70 years of age, her voice certainly has stood the test of time, still beautiful and quite clear, although this time it showed the signs of wear and tear when going for top notes. It didn’t’ matter because it was her heartfelt delivery and unique phrasing that brought tears to the audience. Eva Longoria, Cyndi Lauper and a bunch of other A-listers were seen wiping their tears. So was I (sniff-sniff). Then something unexpected and inappropriate happened. They sent the presenters, outrageously dressed Nikki Minaj and to the stage to announce the next award which in my opinion, spoiled that precious moment. Everyone was celebrating Ms Streisand’s return to the stage tearing up in applause and all.  Can’t they wait??? What the f*^k indeed!

In terms of the awards, the night’s biggest winner was the country trio “Lady Antebellum” with 5 awards. I agree that their song “Need you know” is a very good song but five awards including both Record and Song of the year??? I mean, Seriously? Gaga, who won three in total,’s acceptance speech was great and she blurted out “oh shit” (the same thing happened with the “Album of the year winner “Arcade Fire” when one of the band members uttered “Holy Shit”) which I’m sure will be cut when it airs again on repeat. The prestigious “Best new artist”, won in the past by Cyndi lauper, Natalie Cole, The Beatles, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera just to name a few, went to relatively unknown, Jazz musician, “Esperanza Spalding”. I honestly have no idea who she is or what her music is like but based on the background music of hers they played when she won, the awards voters must have sided with talent this year not popularity (Hence, Justin Bieber or Drake). And I’m very happy that my girl, Fantasia, won her first Grammy for “Best Female Rn’B vocals”.
I love this year Grammys, it’s just delicious- strong performances, diverse batch of artists, lots of surprises and most of the awards went to the deserving artists.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Born This Way (Lady GaGa) (Single Review)

Every diva with a huge gay following has an inspirational anthem in which they simply sing “believe in yourself”, “No one can bring you down” and “You’re beautiful and the greatest”. Whatever!!!!  Mariah has “Hero”, Whitney has “The greatest love of all”, Christina has “Beautiful” and even Katy Perry has one called “Fireworks”. And guess what??? Finally, Lady GaGa’s got one too. The first single from her eagerly anticipated new album which will be out in March is called “Born this way” and this will please her hard-core fans around the world (BIG TIME) especially those in the GLBTQ community. Along with her signature electro beats, Gaga declares No matter gay, straight or bi, Lesbian, transgendered life, I'm on the right track, baby, I was born to survive

Well done, Gaga! Catchy chorus, universally relatable message (“I'm beautiful in my way, 'Cause God makes no mistakes I'm on the right track, baby. I was born this way) and high energy dance music, this is a winning formula.  “Born this way” certainly will be heating up the dance floors around the world. NO DOUBT! You just can't escape Gaga!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

21 (Adele) (Album Review)

If the divas of yesteryears like Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston are celebrated for their colorful glittery frocks, big long notes that they sing and the larger than life personalities, these diva new breeds such as Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga, Duffy and Adele should be noted for their eccentric style, non-conformist lifestyles, edgy vocals and devil-may-care attitude. One prominent new generation diva, Adele’s second album “21” is a real gem. It is in fact far better than her debut “19”. Here’s the simple reason why you should buy this album, her killer vocals and her brilliant song writing. This two-time Grammy winner possesses the bluesy edge of Etta James and the soulfulness of Aretha Franklin. On this album, she deals with the issues of love mainly about “falling in love” and “losing the love”, co-writing 11 out of the album’s 13 tracks. Of course she sings about LOVE understandably for she is 21. That’s what the 20s are for, no?  From start to finish, the album has cohesion and a nice flow. Her smoky vocals soar on “Set fire to the rain” and she talks about the aftermath of a heartbreak on the soul-bearing “Take it all”, both equally impressive. Most of the tracks are either piano driven or acoustic heavy with influences of country, rock n’ roll and blues music genres.  “Love song” boasts such simple lyrics and it reminds us listeners why less is absolutely more. 
She sings However far away I will always love you 
                However long I stay I will always love you 
                Whatever words I say I will always love you
Her delivery is heartfelt and touching. The first single, the break-up anthem “Rolling in the deep” has an infectious chorus that won’t leave your head for weeks. To be honest I’m humming it right now. I just can’t get it out of my head.
“We could have had it all, 
(You're gonna wish you never had met me), 
Rolling in the deep, 
(Tears are gonna fall, rolling in the deep), 
You had my heart inside of your hands, 
(You're gonna wish you never had met me), 
And you played it to the beat, 
(Tears are gonna fall, rolling in the deep)”
It’s so refreshing to see someone who has a unique quality of voice and is also able to write songs with lyrical depth. Her considerably-improved vocals and her poetic libretto are fully displayed on songs like “Turning Tables”, “Someone like you” and “Don’t you remember”, three of my favorite songs. And I believe “Rumor has it” could do well as a single. It’s upbeat and has this 60’s rock and roll vibe. It’s totally old school without sounding old. This song will surprise music fans and critics around the world just like the way Amy Winehouse’s Rehab did a few years back. This album will and should sell because of one simple reason, GOOD MUSIC. It’s about time we embrace an artist for her talent and craft not for her publicity stunts and commercial mainstream efforts. This album like its title “21” will make you want to become 21 all over again  celebrating the joy of love and the pain of heartbreaks. Brava, Adele!

Cycling Through Ubud

I was not very happy to get up early that morning.  It was 7am and I felt so tired, having had a very late previous night singing Karaoke with friends. I nevertheless pulled myself together, packed my bag and went to my friend’s villa where hot Nespressos lattes were awaiting me. After our small coffee session, 7 of us hopped into the mini-van and took off to Ubud, the cultural heart and soul of Bali. Nearly two hours in the van not only gave us a chance to share laughs and chit-chats also a glimpse of the locals’ day-to-day struggle with the heavy traffic. You really have to be a skilful driver to survive on the mean streets of Bali whether you are on the motorbike, bicycle or car. 

Mount Batur, Bali's famous Volcano

Fortunately, we were welcomed by a cool and lovely weather by the time we reached the famous Mount Batur. We took some group photos with the volcano in the background and headed down to the bike park thereafter.We  picked  up our bikes there and soon afterwards our cycling adventure began. We followed the tour leader as he took us through a small village with lots of trees and temples. At one spot, we paused and looked at the trees with hanging coconuts in which human placentas were buried as part of a Balinese ritual. We also learned that it is the only village in Bali that practices this tradition.

Cycling for me was not very smooth in the beginning as I completely had no idea how to function the gear system plus the roads were bumpy and wild. I ended up being the last biker to arrive at the first resting spot. Of course, the other members of our group teased me constantly and questioned my physical endurance. (But hey, I was never that street kid doing stunts in the neighbourhood with a BMX.)

Balinese Rural Living

Later on, we found ourselves in another small little village. Our tour leader took us to this little Balinese house and showed us, according to him “a lower-class Balinese family house”. His choice of adjective “lower-class”, although I knew he probably meant “modest”, made me very uncomfortable especially when said in front of the family. He went on to give details about the functioning of the house, showing the kitchen in which chickens were roaming around and the part where the married son resides with his family, the family temple that they all have to take care of on daily basis and the place where they buried the placenta of the baby and so on.  

As I became more comfortable on the bicycle, I started to enjoy the ride.  Charming rural setting and friendly people along the way especially the children who never failed to say “Hello” to us while passing through the villages. Those smiles on the faces of Balinese toddlers and young children made the arduous bike ride on the bad roads such a worthwhile experience.
Balinese Children at School

Besides, it was a good cardio exercise but I also knew that I’d have to pay the price the next day. To be honest, I made a mistake by going to the gym and doing the squats the day before and it sure didn’t help my life on the bike that day either. My leg muscles were all aching rhythmically. I however soldiered on till I got to the beautiful vast paddy fields where I was rewarded with a Julia-Roberts- in-Eat- Pray-Love moment. Cycling through a stunningly lush green setting was indeed a memorable one, incredibly movie-like, as a matter of fact. 
Beautiful Bali

Finally, we reached the Bali Elephant Safari where we had lunch while watching Australian families riding on the slow-moving poor elephants. The restaurant was quite clean and the food was decent. It was of course tourist style buffet (which I hate).  I knew there’s usually not so much to expect from meals like this but how can u possibly mess up a simple” fried rice”. (Or am I asking too much?)

After lunch, we changed ourselves into more appropriate water-friendly gear and headed down to the river Ayung for our next adventure, the river rafting. Having gone through this experience in the same river a year ago, I was quite relaxed and looking forward to go through it again. Dressed up and ready-for-action in my most favourite swim wear, a life jacket and a helmet provided by the company, I went down over 600 steps down to the river where the rafts were docked.  Poor, Poor me had to sit down for a while to rest my trembling knees upon arrival. (Gosh, I’m an old soul, Am I really 26???)

Then we hopped onto our rafts and carefully listened to our guide’s instructions. “Forward” means “ paddle forward”, “Backward” means “paddle backward”  (Very Simple!) and the most important “boom boom” means we are about to hit some big rocks. Then we set off and braved through the big boulders and rough water. We were screaming and splashing water using the oars to the other people from other rafts. There were Taiwanese tourists who got totally bullied by our two rafts, dripping wet with cold river water. Good thing, it was not a rough ride at all times. We had lovely breaks simply floating on clam water and therefore we got to enjoy such magnificent natural Balinese landscapes: mini waterfalls, cliff and beautiful resorts that appear along the way.   

A cloudy day but it was so pleasant and cool that during our calm-water moments, I couldn’t help but wonder what it must be like to just float away endlessly with a bottle of champagne while enjoying the beautiful leafy landscape. (The only problem would be getting the refill once that bottle is gone!) 

When rafting was over, we once again climbed up over 300 steps to get to the restaurant where nice cold beers were waiting, thankfully. We sat and watched the video that the camera man, who followed us with his own raft (sometimes ahead of us!) recording journey in the wild all throughout.  I bought a picture of us in the raft with which cost 35000 rupiah which is about 4 USD. Not sure what I’d do with that picture later on but hey, tourists do silly things and buy crap all the time, no?  

The way back home was vague. I did not remember much.  Only that I slept like a baby all the way.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Five things I’m looking forward to at this year Grammy Awards

1.     Barbra Streisand – She will be honored this year as MusiCares person of the year for her influence in music as well as philanthropy. Stevie Wonder, Leann Rimes, Tony Bennet and the cast of Glee will be there to pay tribute to her. Plus, Babs has promised to grace us with a performance. She has been nominated for her latest number one album “Love is the answer” in “The best traditional pop album” category. A little birdie must have told her that she had already won. Knowing her, that’s the only reason (and that tribute of course) I can think of why she agreed to perform.  I think she will sing “People” and I hope she does- ;o)

2.     Aretha Franklin Tribute-  Two of my favorite singers, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Hudson will take the stage to salute the Queen of soul. Jennifer has sung many of Aretha’s hits at many occasions before and she’s a church-going black mama so she’ll be just fine handling Sista Rie’s materials but I’m interested in how Ms Aguilera will churn out the soulful notes of old-school Rn’B tunes without messing up the lyrics. Will she fumble “P.E. R. E.C. T. S” instead of “R.E.S.P.E.C.T”??? (Sorry, Chris, But I love you! LOL)

3.     Lady GaGa-  This year belongs to The ever-fascinating GaGa. She also had monster hits with “Bad Romance”,“Telephone” and “Alejandro”. Although she won two Grammys last year, it’d be nice to see her take home major Grammys in categories like “Album of the year” and “Best Female Pop Vocal” for “Bad romance”. (The other nominees in the category are quite weak anyway). Plus it’d be interesting what and how she will perform. Her new album is out next month so for sure she will bring it!

4.     Glee Cast-  I’m sure Grammy voters will not give them this prestigious award at this early stage. They are up for (Best group vocals) and (Best compilation Soundtrack album). It nevertheless would be so nice to see them WIN and become Grammy winners!!!!!! Go Glee for World Peace!

5.      Charlie and his Grammy predictions- I’m excited to see whether these artists take home their Grammys or not as I predicted. Here they are- the nominee in red will be the winner (according to me!) but in some cases, not necessarily SHOULD win. 

Album Of The Year
The Suburbs
Arcade Fire
Need You Now
Lady Antebellum
The Fame Monster
Lady Gaga
Teenage Dream
Katy Perry

Record Of The Year
Nothin' On You
B.o.B Featuring Bruno Mars
Love The Way You Lie
Eminem Featuring Rihanna
F*** You
Cee Lo Green
Empire State Of Mind
Jay-Z & Alicia Keys
Need You Now
Lady Antebellum

Best Male Pop Vocal Performance
Haven't Met You Yet
Michael Bublé
This Is It
Michael Jackson
Whataya Want From Me (This is my favorite and this should win)
Adam Lambert
Just The Way You Are
Bruno Mars
Half Of My Heart
John Mayer

Best Pop Vocal Album

My World 2.0
Justin Bieber
I Dreamed A Dream
Susan Boyle
The Fame Monster
Lady Gaga
Battle Studies
John Mayer
Teenage Dream
Katy Perry

Best Dance Recording
In For The Kill
La Roux
Dance In The Dark
Lady Gaga
Only Girl (In The World)
Dancing On My Own

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
Crazy Love
Michael Bublé
The Greatest Love Songs Of All Time
Barry Manilow
Let It Be Me: Mathis In Nashville
Johnny Mathis
Fly Me To The Moon…The Great American Songbook: Volume V
Rod Stewart
Love Is The Answer
Barbra Streisand

Best New Artist ( I don't like any of these nominees so I really don't care)

Justin Bieber 


Florence & The Machine

Mumford & Sons

Esperanza Spalding