Blackballed (Perfume Thoughts: Love In Black, Creed)

375x500.4261I was at my brother’s house over the Holidays and had access to his perfume wardrobe (which is pretty good) and it gave me a chance to sample some scents he has but I don’t own.  I zoomed in on ‘Love In Black,’ by Creed because, well, Michelle Obama has been in the news promoting her book and I thought this was her scent – of course when I googled it, I was mistaken – her signature scent is Love in White by Creed, this perfume’s twin-set match. ‘Love In Black’ still has First Lady pedigree, though, as it is inspired by Jacqueline Kennedy.

It’s classic Creed – you can tell it has good quality, and you can also tell it’s expensive because of that. But again with me and Creed, I found it hopelessly boring. It isn’t unique, and its violet-iris accord smelled just like a lot of other things out there. As time wore on, it became a straight-up iris scent for me – the papery, library kind. It’s nice, but my cheaper Atelier Cologne Vanille Insensee does the same thing, and better. So why pay Creed prices?

Jingle Jangle John (Music Thoughts: A Legendary Christmas, John Legend)

71puTP+02tL._SY355_For some reason, I don’t know much about John Legend’s music., except for that massive hit, ‘All Of Me,’ which was the song to sing a couple of years ago. For some reason, his music doesn’t really excite me, and I really was not impressed with his ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ performance. So I go into ‘A Legendary Christmas,’ his new album of Holiday music, with tepid energy.

And after a spin or two, I can say it is a well-crafted album, well-produced, with just the right amount of commercial appeal to make it a hit. And I bet it does, since it hits all the right notes. There’s a funky, soulful feel to it, evidenced in tracks like ‘What Christmas Means To Me,’ (with Stevie Wonder, natch) and ‘Merry Christmas Baby.’ And his originals really aren’t bad – I bet a couple of plays will help them catch on. I like his duet of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ with Esperanza Spaulding, and in some of the more traditional tracks, he sounds just a bit King Cole-ish.

All in all, ti still left me a bit cold. It seems like a product, not something from heart and soul. I am sure I will hear these tracks at Target and enjoy them during those moments, but I doubt if I will pull these tracks out to listen to specifically.

Modern Family (Film Thoughts: Shoplifters)

4154894A lot of times, when we don’t have blood-related family (or when we have problems with them) we build our own families through friends. In Director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ‘Shoplifters,’ he gives he definition of family a very different spin. There are a lot of people in this family, and in the beginning, we think they are all related by blood, and then slowly we see, like an onion being peeled, that there is more layers to how this family become one, even as they add a new member to it. At first, I had a little bit of problem with the film, as I really do not like films that show poverty porn, especially in Asian countries (although, admittedly, they are not many from Japan) Ultimately, this film is much more than what it shows, and it has a big beating heart in the middle of it.  I know this film won the Palm d’Or at Cannes this year, and I do think that this is one of those films that would probably benefit from repeated viewings – it is subtle and there’s skin under its skin. I don’t know, honestly, if I got them all in one viewing, and there are times when I felt it was just a bit more self-indulgent that I could take. But I found myself thinking about the film more as I was walking home from seeing it. I found myself asking, ‘what did I just see,’ and then trying to search for answers.

Not Easy Bring Green (Film Thoughts: Green Book)

gbI know some critics have disparaged ‘Green Book,’ saying the film treats 60s race relations in a Polyanna manner, but I thought it was great, and I can even easily say that it is one of my favorite films of the season (if not the year) I just connected to it, and I found myself crying after seeing it. The most touching aspect about it for me? It shows how some people experience loneliness, and how they find solace to it in the most unexpected places. In this case, an unlikely friendship forms between gifted musician Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Tony,the driver he hires for his concert tour (played by Viggo Mortensen) And sure, I do acknowledge that most of this is formula, and you can see what happens a mile away, and really, you can tell how these characters are going to develop. But there is such strength in the performances that you really don’t care, and you just go along for the ride. I am not going to pretend and say that the race relations part was handled effectively – the film simplifies it – but I think there was such genuine human emotional interaction between the two characters and you felt it on screen that I was able to overlook that. When a film touches me – and nowadays that’s getting more and more rare – I tend to latch on to it. That’s what I got most from the film – this emotional bond that resonated with me. I have felt that loneliness myself, and the emotion I got from here filled a void. I really do like this film, despite its fault, and hope people don’t dismiss it because of them.

The Ingrid Season (Music Thoughts: Song Of the Season, Ingrid Michaelson)

81P8uIW8ArL._SY355_I know New York-based Ingrid Michaelson has enjoyed success as a singer-songwriter on the adult contemporary field, but I don’t know much about her music.  I do love teh cover of her new Holiday-themed album, ‘Songs For The Season,’ and it is what attracted me to listen to it. And I am glad I did, because this is a wonderful class-c-sounding album. She was obviously inspired by the classic arrangements of these songs, and they all sound wonderful here. We hear full orchestra arrangement of these songs (whether they were recorded as such) and it was a very pleasant musical trip. And, I feel like I can listen to this record again and find new things about it. I like her duet with Broadway actor Will Chase on ‘I’ll Be Home  For Christmas,’ and her other duet with Leslie Odom Jr in ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You,’ the Mariah Carey massive Holiday hit. Surprisingly, the song worked in their slowed-down arrangement without sounding gimmicky. She does fine with the rest of the songs, and I must say I even liked her one original, ‘Happy Happy Christmas.’ Above all, her album evokes a mood – not entirely melancholy, but it is very specific.

The Soul Of Broadway (Music Thoughts: Broadway My Way, Heather Headley)

BroadwayMyWay_AlbumArt‘Broadway My Way.’ Heather Headley is the album I have been waiting for, and I knew it would be good as soon as the music started playing.  I have always loved Headley’s voice (she does the best duet of ‘the Prayer’ with Andrea Bocceli, in my opinion) and her Broadway credits have been impressive. And, I just like her way with a song. She was the best thing in the London production of ‘The Bodyguard.’ and her versions of Whitney’s songs give the originals a run for their money. Check out, for example, her soul-crushing version of Brian McKnight’s ‘One Last try,’ for example.

And I love her renditions of these Broadway songs, giving them a soulful depth that in a lot of way completely transform the songs. My favorite? Quite possibly her ‘Look To The Rainbow,’ which is a total reimagining (style-wise) of the song from Finian’s Rainbow. The song never sounded more modern and more personal. A close second is her version of ‘My Home’ from Matilda, a score I normally would pass by. The rest of the album succeeds, like her jazzy take on ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonlight,’ where she peppers that song with jazz flourishes that makes the song less sounding like a Disney product. While her version of ‘For Good’ is still great, I did not really appreciate the rock riffs there, and must she recycle ‘Home,’ which was from her last album? All in all, all these songs are already on my daily listen playlist, and I wish next time she would go deeper with songs from Broadway’s Golden age, instead of the more pop=flavored modern songs. ( I mean ‘True Colors’ from Priscilla is not really a show tune)  Still, I think this is my favorite theater-adjacent album of the year, and will cherish it.

An Emotional Steal (Film Thoughts: Widow)

F2vZraoViola Davis stars in ‘Widows,’ and the great thing about this film is that she anchors it. I think she is one of the best, and it is nice to see a movie built and revolving around her character. And she is great here – three dimensional, and she gets to show multitudes of emotions all at once, always effectively. She is always at the center, even as it is a great ensemble piece.

The film is about a bunch of widows whose husbands were all killed in a botched heist. But of course, there’s more to the story than that. Set in Chicago, director Steve McQueen has made an action-packed thriller that is very moody, and quite emotional. These wives set out to steal, but the actual heist happens in the last eighth of the movie, as if it was an afterthought. It gets built up from the melodrama, which is part grief story, and part story about political underpinnings. Along the way, we get twists and turns that can rival your best Mission Impossible (Gillian Flynne, of ‘Gone Girl,’ wrote the screenplay with McQueen) I thought the balance of these tones are sometimes a little too muddled, but it all pays off in the end. And we get great performances across the board. I loved Elizabeth Debicki’s dumb/vulnerable Alice Gunner and the underused Cynthia Errivo as Belle. In the end, this really isn’t my kind of film (I suspect it won’t end up as one of my favorites from the year) but I can appreciate it from afar.