Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Cafe au Yay and Fostering Play: Old New York and New New Jersey

 Blossom Rainbow Rampage Necklace

Top: Delia's
Skirt: Material Girl, Macy's
Shoes: Not Rated, Journeys
Bag: Fred Flare
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: Michaels

Top: So, Kohl's
Jeans: Candie's, Kohl's
Shoes: Bamboo, DSW
Bag: Apt. 9, Kohl's
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Top: So, Kohl's
Jeans: Mudd, Kohl's
Shoes: Chinese Laundry, DSW
Bag: Etsy, Uniquely Different
Belt: Candie's, Kohl's
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Dress: Rampage, Amazon
Shoes: Worthington, J. C. Penney's
Bag: B&B
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: The Tote Trove

It's no secret that I adore the ornate.  If it's (jewel) encrusted, embroidered, or embellished, then I'm plotting a way to make it myself or at least make it my own.  That said, when I see an old-school movie, one of my favorite things to do is check out the costumes.  It's such fun to slip into a time when people really dressed.  Gowns!  Jewels!  Hats!  Nothing was ever too fancy, and no heroine ever worried that she looked like she was trying too hard.  So, when I saw Cafe Society and Florence Foster Jenkins, I wasn't disappointed (well, not in the clothes, but more on that later).

First, Cafe Society.  It's a typical Woody Allen flick about a misunderstood, wet-behind-the-ears New Yorker yearing to make his mark.  This time the young man in question is Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), and the time is the late 1930s.  Bobby leaves his parents' cramped Bronx apartment for Los Angeles to ask his bigwig agent Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) for a big break in the movies.  Uncle Phil is an unlikable sort, a far cry from the teddy bear in grizzly clothing version we all know and love from "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air."  But ambition seldom comes without romance, and through the course of the movie, Bobby finds himself involved with two women, Vonnie #1 and Vonnie #2.  Sure, I could go with Vonnie and Veronica, as Bobby does for most of the film, but this way is funnier, plus has the added benefit of symbolism.  Vonnie #1 (Kristen Stewart) is Uncle Phil's secretary, a wise-beyond-her-twenty-five-years goddess who's not what she seems.  On the wardrobe front, she favors chic yet girlish skirts and blouses in creamy neutrals topped off by the occasional frilly headband.  By contrast, Bobby is awkward and sweet, and as Vonnie #1 herself says, naive.  (Also, he wears a lot of high-waisted pants.)  After spending what seems like forever in the friend zone, Bobby finally wins Vonnie #1's heart.  The two enjoy a California sunshine-drenched idyll in which they frolic on the beach, a spectacle that manages to be more moving than cheesy.  For Eisenberg and Stewart, it's Adventureland all over again (minus the carnies), as they morph into every nerd boy-cool girl pairing you've ever seen, only better -- and more ironic.  Some people don't like Stewart, but I think she has a kind of soulful depth that matches Eisenberg's earnestness.  (As a side note, Cafe has a six degrees of separation thing going on, what with Blake Lively as Vonnie #2 and husband Ryan Reynolds as Adventureland's villain).  But this is Woody Allen's world, which means that heartbreak is on the horizon.  A difference of opinion tears the young couple apart, sending Bobby packing for Gotham.  There he sheds his Hollywood dreams to manage his shady older brother's (Corey Stoll) nightclub.  It's a role that molds his naivete into near cockiness, a persona that fits the endearingly diffident Eisenberg about as well as Bobby's too-slick suit.  Nevertheless, this is where Cafe's style unfurls in full flower.  Enchanted ensembles float across the dance floor in decadent splendor, more modish and mysterious than those on display in LA.  In keeping with his new playboy image, Bobby tries to bed Vonnie #2 during their first meeting, his shy, romantic younger self long since snuffed out by disappointment and living.  Glamorous and sophisticated, Vonnie #2 is a winsome divorcee who's been hurt.  But even her charms are no match for the chemistry between Bobby and Vonnie #1, which is a pure thing in a sea of pretense.  Their relationship reminds me of Tom and Summer's in 500 Days of Summer.  Timid office drone Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls for charismatic, nonconformist secretary Summer (Zooey Deschanel) who turns out to be - spoiler alert - a conformist after all.  When Summer tells Tom she's done, she means it, and Tom ends up meeting a girl who makes him truly happy, whereas Bobby . . .  Well, never mind.  (Hey, sometimes I can keep a secret.) Suffice it to say that Cafe Society is melancholy, introspective, and spiked with Allen's signature wit, a cocktail as bittersweet and sparkling as the elixirs mixed behind its bar.

As for Florence Foster Jenkins, I just don't know.  It's the 1940s biopic of Jenkins (Meryl Streep), a New York patron of the arts who desperately wants to sing but is terrible at it.  To add to Florence's misfortune, she contracted syphilis decades ago on her wedding night (a condition that forces her to wear a hideous, if era-appropriate, wig) and so is in a second marriage (of convenience) with actor St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), a not unkind guy who juggles a girlfriend and the full-time job of shielding Florence from the painful truth about her pipes.  Yet talented but greener-than-clover accompanist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) finds it more difficult to keep up the subterfuge, revealing his frustration in a series of hilarious facial expressions each time his benefactress unleashes her banshee wail.  As Florence continued to screech her way through a whole hope chest's worth of mother-of-the-bride-like beaded outfits, I couldn't help but hope that something would break for her (and I don't mean glass).  When she's at the height of her humiliation, giving an earsplitting recital at Carnegie Hall for a horde of rowdy servicemen, I thought that maybe she would shift to a comic-on-purpose performance, dramatizing her already bird-like outfit and strangled-crow's voice until she sprouted literal and metaphorical wings in a rom-com-style extravaganza of unlikely and uplifting triumph.  But this is no rom com, and that never happens.  Instead (and you may want to avert your eyes if you still plan to see this) she finds the one newspaper that St. Clair hasn't destroyed, reads a scathing review, and . . . dies.  Hmm.  So much for sticks and stones.

But upward and onward.                 

High points:

A bathtub full of potato salad (who says you can't picnic where you pee?).

The aforementioned comedic stylings of Simon Helberg, who turns out to be a nerd for all seasons.

The reminder that Ms. Streep can play any role, no matter how ridiculous, flawlessly.

That brings us to the end of this post's New York portion.  So long, Empire State, hello Garden (State).  (Not adding that second "State," I feel, would have been disrespectful to Zach Braff.)  No story here, I'm afraid, just the blue skies of Brigantine and the mirage-like (marsh-like?) skyline of  Atlantic City.  Bet there are more than a few suspect songstresses belting it out beneath those chandeliers.

That, and a buffet's-worth of potato salad.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Brigantine Too

 Daisy Kook Necklace

Blouse: Marshalls
Tank: So, Kohl's
Shorts: Marshalls
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Marshalls
Sunglasses: Michaels

Well, two trees grow in Brigantine (at least the two I'm talking about).  Yep, it's the twin palms I blogged about back in April, finally captured on camera in these last days of August.  As mentioned, they bookend the Brigantine welcome sign, which I love from its retro seashell-crested top to its old-fashioned latticework-laced bottom.  But my favorite part is the sweet and jaunty motto "an island you'll love for life" scrawled in dark blue italics.  Now, the husband has recently reported that a new saying, namely, "over the bridge" has begun to take root on local bumper stickers.  No matter.  This hunk of rock's calling card will always be "an island you'll love for life" to me.  And not just because of the alliteration.

Brooklyn has its own fetchingly literal and metaphorical foliage.  At least according to Colm Toibin's novel Brooklyn and the later movie of the same name.  A tender yet unsentimental coming-of-age story set in the 1950s, Brooklyn centers on Aisling (Saoirse Ronan), a young woman who leaves her Irish village to make a better life in the States.  With the help of a kindly priest, she finds board and work in Brooklyn, the former with a group of high-spirited (if catty) girls overseen by a fussy spinster, the latter behind a counter in an upscale department store.  But what Aisling really wants is to become an accountant.  For most of us, this is a dubious dream, but Aisling's pursuit of it in the face of prejudice, pettiness, and crushing homesickness is endearingly admirable, giving it the cachet of a more glam vocation.  Indeed, with each challenge, Aisling gains a sense of sophistication and ease with the world, an evolution symbolized by her increasingly glamorous outfits.  When we first meet her, she's clad in drab dresses and stringy hair.  So, it's all the more satisfying when she emerges in well-cut, vibrant frocks, her fair tresses becomingly coiffed as she navigates the city streets.  Style and spreadsheets aside, the most exciting thing to happen to Aisling is Tony.  An intense Italian plumber (no Super Mario jokes, please) with a boisterous family and a passion for baseball, he quietly but earnestly makes a bid for Aisling's heart.  But just as Aisling is sorting her feelings, a family crisis pulls her back to Ireland.

Although Aisling left her village in obscurity, she returns with an elegance that elevates her social status.  Before long she catches the attention of the local accounting office as well as the eye of the most eligible bachelor.  A cookie-cutter future is hers if she wants it, and she's suddenly forced to ask herself if it's possible to go home again.  Brooklyn is no candy box romance (despite my having maybe made it sound like one).  Actually, I wouldn't consider it a romance at all, because 1) it's written by a man, and 2) that label, however unfairly, is more often than not disparaging.  No, Brooklyn is not genre fiction; it casts a much wider and more ambitious net made all the more powerful by its economical prose.  Although usually a fan of lush language, I found Toibin's spare writing style to be perfectly suited to his simple story.  Not that this tale is easy.  On the contrary, slice of life stories are the hardest to tell because they can't hide behind fancy phrases.  Toibin succeeds in capturing every nuance and tension, painting a more realistic portrait of female social interactions and all that goes left unsaid more masterfully than any writer I've read in years.  It's as if he went to summer camp or joined a book club or went undercover wherever women weave their little worlds, granting and denying admittance with the skill and subtlety of long-reigning monarchs (translation: on Wednesdays, we wear pink: just further proof that all roads lead to Mean Girls.)  

As for me, I like to weave neckwear, the weirder the better.  And this week I've kept the flame burning with Flash Charms.  Because despite the feminine flair of the fabulous 1950s, my closet belongs to the 1980s.

That said, these macaw-print culottes could hold their own on Coney Island.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ruffle Kerfuffle: Of Monsters and Zen, What a Mother

Top: Bisou Bisou, J. C. Penney's
Skirt: Xhilaration, Target
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Betsey Johnson, Macy's
Belt: Apt. 9, Kohl's
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Top: Maison Jules, Macy's
Skirt: Xhilaration, Target
Shoes: Chinese Laundry, DSW
Bag: Apt. 9, Kohl's
Belt: Marshalls
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Top: So, Kohl's
Skirt: Xhilaration, Target
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Nine West, Marshalls
Sunglasses: Brigantine beach shop

Blouse: American Rag, Macy's
Tank: Macy's
Skirt: Xhilaration, Target
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Modcloth
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Every outfit in this post features a swallow-print, ruffle-tiered mini I got from Target, that one-stop trend candy shop.  Part festival, part fairy tale, this skirt is the kind of sassy yet muted not-so-basic staple that Snow White might've worn if the seven dwarfs had ever carted her off to Coachella (now, there was a damsel who could rock crazy colors).

Speaking of which, it's time to talk about some ladies who put the rough and tumble in ruffle, namely the casts of two of summer's biggest blockbusters: Ghostbusters and Bad Moms.  Fun and frothy with a topping of let's-take-on-the-world, both center around fantasies, some supernatural, some suburban.  Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones do battle with poltergeists in New York City while Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn take on the PTA outside of Chicago (the latter is, in my opinion, the more formidable of the two villains; when faced with a bitch or a beast I'll take my chances with Slimer), putting it all on the line in the name of justice, whether it be for the safety of humankind, some much-deserved me-time, or a heady elixir of the two.  Sure, on the surface, these women couldn't be more different.  Ghostbuster McKinnon zings zany one-liners as she builds whoa-Nelly weapons; bad mom Bell daydreams about getting into a (minor) car accident so she can spend a week in the hospital eating Jell-O.  World-class physicist Wiig gets tongue-tied at the mere sight of delicious but dumber-than-dirt secretary Chris Hemsworth; come-hither Hahn flashes married dads in the school drop-off zone.  But at the end of the day, they're all women fighting adversity, whether in the form of phantoms or frenemies.  As such, both casts shine with brave yet vulnerable, laugh-a-minute comediennes.  Ghostbusters was funnier, but I enjoyed the plot of Bad Moms more.  Maybe that's because Bad Moms is a little like Mean Girls: Mommy Edition.  The cliques are the same; just the ages have changed.  And there's not a woman alive who doesn't appreciate a good comic commentary on (as Tina Fey so eloquently put it in Mean Girls) the age-old theme of girl-on-girl crime.  In Moms, the pressure doesn't come from the need to be popular, but the need to be perfect, which is, when you think about it, merely popularity all grown up.  

In Bad Moms, Amy Mitchell (Kunis) is the poster child for mother martyrdom.  Put-upon and stretched-to-the-limit, this marketing maven is an always under-it everywoman who bears the added burdens of dealing with an incompetent fetus of a boss (Clark Duke) and an overgrown frat boy of a husband (David Walton).  So, when Amy ambles into a PTA meeting, late as always, fresh from a horribly hellish day, and resident queen bee and PTA president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) shames her into bake sale police duty (no sugar, no oil, no dairy!), Amy tells her to forget it, makes a grand exit, and plops down on a bar stool at the nearest dive to drown her proverbial sorrows.  There she meets perennially-on-the-prowl single mom (and, may I add, dressed-to-kill) Carla (Hahn) and eager-to-please mother of four Kiki (Bell).  The liquor flows, the ladies vent, and before you can shout "Tequila!", the trio is wreaking havoc at a grocery store, Fruit Loops and inhibitions flying.  What follows is a wicked spin on sugar and spice and everything nice as the fast friends turn the stereotype of the perfect mom on its head, blowing off cooking and cleaning to day drink and cruise guys.  But when Gwendolyn gets Amy's daughter kicked off the soccer team, what began as a game turns into a full-fledged revolt against the powers that be.  Amy launches a campaign to run for PTA president in a brush with the dark side that is faintly reminiscent of Cady Herring's (Lindsey Lohan's) in Mean Girls.  Yet although Amy tries on a new persona and even sometimes stumbles, unlike the callow Cady, she never loses sight of who she is.     

Bad Moms is a sweet satire sprinkled with the surprises that make movies sparkle.  SPOILER ALERT: if you read any further, then this one will be a surprise no longer.  (I'm talking to you, party scene headlined by paragon of perfection Martha Stewart offering up Jell-O shots.)  Although lighthearted, Bad Moms touches upon the complexities of female relationships, intertwined with that old chestnut of a theme: freedom vs. duty.  That having been said, once the chaos has run its course, peace predictably descends upon suburban Chicago, more than restoring the status quo as each mom, mean ones included, embraces a more warts-and-all way of life.  Peace, after all, is the goal of most stories (and, indeed, of that great story life), dressed in the finery of happy endings.  

Yep, peace is pretty important.  As Gavin Rossdale once sang, "everything's zen."  Of course, he followed that up with an angry "I don't think so," and now his ex is doing a duet with Blake Shelton.  

So maybe he needs to try yoga.         

Monday, August 8, 2016

Something from the (Beauty) Bar: Hair of the Haute Dog

Dress: Modcloth
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Betsey Johnson, Macy's
Belt: B Fabulous
Scarf: Wet Seal
Ribbons: Craft box
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Dress: Mocloth
Tank: J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Modcloth
Bag: Call it Spring, J. C. Penney's
Scarf: Gifted
Ribbons: Craft box

Tee: J. C. Penney's
Tank: Boscov's
Skirt: Decree, J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Alloy
Bag: H&M
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's
Scarf: A. C. Moore

 A double agent of utility and fantasy, bars come in a whole bunch of flavors.  Although soap, chocolate, and gold are among the most universal (chocolate being everyone's favorite; for those of you who said gold, you can give up the ghost, and I'll promise not to tell Rumplestiltskin), I've long been entranced by the less basic but bewitching barrette.  When I was a kid, I had one of those books that taught you how to embellish French clips with gumballs, shoelaces, balloons, and all sorts of other everyday items, and I was hooked.  Which is why at the ripe old age of 34 the barrette still spellbinds me.  Delicate, feminine, and undeniably French, its accent murmurs of an inner chicness, establishing it as the polar opposite of its big brother, the barbel.  (Because there's nothing graceful about those old-timey, striped leotard-wearing weightlifters grunting and sweating as they struggle to hoist ever heavier hunks of metal over their heads.)  

Yep, hair ornaments add an extra something to what's otherwise a boring old head of indiscriminate fluff, and as such are the old school bubble lights of the tress tree.  (Note to self: hair trees could be the next big thing in hipster holiday decorations.  Can't you just see a family of faux snow-dusted cardinals dangling from a pair of French braids, or a ring of holly-sprigged wrens nestled in a bun's hollow?).  Ah, bubble lights.  Extreme and exotic yet strangely familiar, like a palm tree in Maine in October or a lady who lunches wearing Love's Baby Soft.  So keyed up am I about coiffure couture that I couldn't help but make a brand new batch of crazy clips and scribble this:   

Put a pair in your hair 
For fierce ultimate flair
With whatever you wear
And just watch how they stare
'Cause you can't be a square
Or sink into despair
When you're singing and striving
And laughing and thriving
In your blingged-out big, bad, bold barrettes.

I feel like this is the sort of thing that should be set to music and piped over the loudspeaker in Claire's Boutique or Micheal's, destined to become an earworm burrowing into the brains of tired moms and jaded teens and other assorted groups of disgruntled women until they're inspired to quash their cares with whimsical, ready-to-wear clips and/or bits of DIY doodads.  Such is the secret, I firmly believe, to subtle but sound world domination.