And All That Jazz (Film Thoughts: Sylvie’s Love/Soul)

I just saw two films back to back that have the same character: jazz. And jazz is always in, it is always in style.

I knew from the first scene in Eugene Ashe’s ‘Sylvie’s Love’ that I would love it: it’s a lush and romantic Christmas Valentine, and it opens with Nancy Wilson singing ‘The Nearness Of You.’ Even better, the main character Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) is waiting outside The Town Hall before a Nancy Wilson concert. The film transports me vividly to my favorite era: mid century New York City, the golden age of Broadway and the Great American songbook, and is an unabashed love story – the kind that make George Sirk used to make, the kind that will make you root for both to get together as they get obstacles upon obstacles.

And the. love here works, thanks mainly to the great romance provided by Thompson (she is luminous here) and Nnamdi Asomugha. They are filmed with the boldest colors, which makes their love affair more cinematic. The storyline is on the thin side, to be honest, but no matter, you will still feel each joy and tear that the characters go through. It’s not easy to find a potent romantic feature nowadays, and this one more than fits the bill.

Jazz also frames teh narrative in Disney/Pixar’s ‘Soul,’ and that is the only thing that attracted me to this film, which I would have otherwise ignored (I have never seen a Pixar film – fun fact about me) Directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Power, the film is about a jazz pianist (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who gets the gig of his dreams, playing for Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) but after he does, falls in a manhole, and gets comatose. He spends the rest of the film trying to get back to Earth.

It’s more than that of course. I enjoyed the scenes depicting human life – New York City is rendered beautifully. But – and this is a totally taste thing – the ‘whimsical’ just did not appeal to me, and that is the whole middle part of the film.

I wish I liked it fully. But I do understand I am not the target audience for this. At least now I can say I have seen a Pixar film.

Quarantine Christmas Soundtrack (Music Thoughts: Comfort & Joy, Liz Callaway)

A new album by Liz Callaway is always a cause for celebration, and much more so if it is a Christmas album, her first one (though she released an EP a couple of years) This is also a duets album, with Peter Caro on guitar, and I can’t think of a voice more suited with a guitar than Liz’s.

And the songs are marvel, and in these solitary complicated times we are living in, much appreciated. You can hear the ache and tenderness in the season in all these tracks – a very hopeful ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ is much too welcome. When she sings ‘We’re apart, that’s true,’ from ‘Merry Christmas Darling, for example,’ the pain is almost unbearable.

And I think she has found herself a new signature tune (much like she kind of owns ‘Meadwlark’ now) with Dolly Parton’s ‘Hard Candy Christmas.’ I have seen her sing this version everywhere, and I haven;t gotten tired of it, and doubt if I will. The whole album is contemplative and perfect for your Christmas quarantine.

The Yuletide Gay (Movie Thoughts: The Christmas Setup/Dashing in December)

Much has been said about the fact that there are LGBTQ Christmas movies this year, and that is probably a good thing. Right? There’s the most popular, Hulu’s ‘The Happiest Season,’ and there are some that are just as significant. Lifetime has been making these types of movies year after year, and guess what? they have included the gays this year round through ‘The Christmas Set Up,’ which stars Fran Drescher no less. She stars as one of those ‘meddling’ moms who tries to set up her son with a nice guy while he is home for Christmas. Real life couple Blake Lee and Ben Lewis star as the young gay couple who are tried to put together. The two of them have great chemistry – you can see in both their eyes the way they affectionately look at each other. In these types of movies, chemistry is everything – and theirs definitely created the sparks needed for the movie.

And sure, the movie is pure Cheez Whiz but they got me line, hook, and sinker. I laughed at every joke, And cried on cue when I was told to. As I always say, even if this movie isn’t Citizen Kane, I was entertained by it more than any other thing this Holiday season and I give it all the thumbs up I could give.

Funny that Paramount’s ‘Dashing In December’ has an almost identical storyline. In this case gay New Yorker Wyatt (Peter Porte) goes home to the ranch where he grew up with the intent of convincing his mom, played by Andie McDowell, to finally settle the property so it can be turned into a race track. Of course, when he gets home, he meets the new ranch hand, Heath (Juan Pablo di Pace) and well, you can kind of guess where this is all headed.

I liked this film less, because it is taking itself as little too seriously. Gay cowboys are almost a cliche now (they are not even shy at naming one of the characters Heath) but if you are still into that kind of thing, this has all the bells and whistles.

The chemistry between the two leads here are more wanting, but I can’t deny that they both look good – apart and together.

Visible Scars (Television Thoughts: A Teaacher S01 E10, Hulu)

I have to say that I really liked the way this series ended. I initially thought everything was just a little too abrupt but as I think about it, perhaps not. On this episode, we see both Eric and Claire ten years later. It’s the High School reunion, and Eric is older (he looks older) but there are things about him that remain the same – you can see how the whole episode has lingered with him. Meanwhile, Claire has (kind of) moved on – she has remarried, found someone who can accept her and her past, and even children with him. A chance encounter at the supermarket triggers everything again for her – she texts wanting to meet. The restaurant meeting is awkward, but kind fo cathartic for both, as he tells her that it has taken years for him to accept the fact that he had no fault in any of this – that she initiated the affair, and he was young and wouldn’t have known better. This made me realize how something like this would make a difference in someone’s life, of someone so impressionable. What Claire did was really awful, and even though she has had a chance to move on, it will never be the same for her, too. (She can’t go to PTA meeting) But the effect for him is worse – it has scarred him forever…

Southern Kim (Movie Thoughts: Yellow Rose)

I was rooting for Diane Paragas’ ‘Yellow Rose’ because it stars two former Kims – Eva Noblezada and Lea Salonga – and you knwo how muich I love Miss Saigon. But I maybe I expected too much from the film. This coming of age Filipino country western drama (in itself a unique combination) tries to tell a genuine story, but takes a lot of short cuts it misses the mark.

But it has a lot of strengths – Noblezada is great as Rose Garcia, an undocumented teen living in Texas who has dreams of becoming a country singer. On stage, she is a luminous actress and singer, and on film she exudes an unmistakable presence even if the screenplay doesn’t help her much. Some ofd the characters are so flimsy – I never got how people just went in and out of her life out of the blue. For example, her character has one conversation with Dale Watson the country singer and before we know it, she is living at his trailer?

Also, as scary as ICE raids are (and probably more prevalent under the cruel Trump administration) it was used a couple fo times just to move the story forward, making for lazy story telling. I am not a big country music fan bit found the music here engaging, probably helped by Noblezada’s singing. She will be back in a better film, hopefully.

Let It Snow (Beauty Thoughts: Snowy Morning Shower Gel, Bath & Body Works)

Since I live now iN Southern California, winter isn’t an ‘issue’ anymore, and there are days that I kinda miss it…but I quickly get over it. I thought of this because I was looking through my stockpile of shower gels and to commemorate the first day of Winter, I decided to use Bath & Body Works’ ‘Snowy Morning.’ Here is how the notes, as per the brand:  (frosted bergamot, mistletoe berry, fresh balsam, snow-kissed lavender).

So they are going all out with the winter thing. I get some lavender, for sure, and it’s a frosty kind. I only get hints of the berry, and almost no bergamot. It definitely feels like a winter smelling scent, and is on the heavy side. I like it, and is very apt for cool winter mornings when I take a shower.

Maybe The Luna (Music Thoughts: Duocracy, Clara Luna & Albert Vila)

It’s always a treat to discover new singers and Clara Luna is new to me. She is based in Barcelona and her new album, ‘Duocracy’ has her singing with Albert Vila, who is a guitarist. This is a duets album, and they blend well together. She has a great eclectic repertoire, from ‘Round Midnight’ to ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ to ‘You Oughta Know.’ I feel like she chooses songs that have meaning to her, and it shows in her interpretation if these songs. This is a very pleasant listen, though the album feels like one big mood at times.

The Old Man (Perfume Thoughts: Tabac Vert, Rogue Perfumery)

In women’s perfume, there is such a notion that something smells old-lady-ish. This is most probably because of aldehydes – a note usually associated with more vintage women’s perfumes. I wonder if there is a similar note for men’s fragrances. I think of that because today I am wearing Rogue Perfumery’s ‘Tabac Vert,’ and saw a comment about it wherein someone said this would be difficult to wear for someone under the age of forty. and I ask…why not?

Tabac Vert is a tobacco perfume. But it is unlike some of the modern takes of tobacco, most notably the popular Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford. Tabac Vert is dry, and mossy – there’s that oakmoss again that Manuel Cross uses for his creations – it’s unmistakable, and it is so revolutionary.

I love the dryness of the tobacco here. While I do like Tobacco Vanille, which reminds me of tobacco-pipe scented rooms, this one feels more old world. The clove and carnation round it out just fine, and what we get is that mossy green chypre. It smells…worldly, like someone who knows his way around the world, who has traveled the world, and is confident with himself. So maybe this scent could be associated with an old man, and I guess that’s just fine.

Best Bottom (Film Thoughts: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)

Viola Davis is a major force in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ She plays Ma Rainey, the legendary Blues singer who just wants respect. She says all they want is her voice so they (white people) can make money off it, so she needs to raise her (metaphorical) voice so she can be hear – she demands some Coca Cola, she wants her nephew to introduce her in the record, she wants to sing the songs her way – using the arrangements she is accustomed to – never mind of the trend is towards a sound where people can move with. Davis bulldozes through all of Ma Rainey effortlessly – you understand her pain, her vulnerability (she has a girlfriend and that’s also fine) and you respect her demands. (I mean, in modern times, these are just the tip of someone’s rider) The performance is such a presence I wished there were more of her – the characters appear twenty minutes into the film.

George C Wolfe has magnificently opened up August Wilson’s play, which is a day in a recording studio. He starts with the musicians – the regulars, and the young upstart, Levee (played by Chadwick Boseman) who tries to push the boundaries of what he can get away with – personally and musically. Boseman is fantastic, too. (I never saw ‘Black Panther’) and I won’t be surprised if he gets nominated for his performance here. I also appreciated the fact that the film is a robust 90 minutes, and not a single frame can be thrown away. He has made the play very cinematic, and it never felt stagey.

Hot Mess in Hot Pursuit (Series Thoughts: The Flight Attendant, S01 E01-E02, HBO Max)

I was not a viewer of ‘Big Bang Theory’ so I did not know Kelly from Cuoco but here I am, watching her new show on HBO Max ‘The Flight Attendant.’ Someone recommended this show to me, saying it was ‘bingeable,’ and I am always up for that. And I have watched the first two episodes.

There’s a lot going on here – it’s certainly a fast paced show. Basically, Cuoco plays Cassie Bowden, a flight attendant. Cassie is a bit of a party girl (read: hot mess) and while on a hook up with a passenger in Bangkok, she wakes up to find him dead. Full of blood. She panics, and escapes.

And of course complications. She gets away from the crime scene, but once she gets back to American soil, she gets interviewed by the FBI (the agents are adorably bumbling) and, well, it probably gets more complicated.

But for me, maybe too frenetic? The action never stops, and I am a little overwhelmed by it, It doesn’t give me time to breathe, and I just get too stressed watching it. And’s Cuoco as an actress is too busy, and I usually veer away from those kinds of performances. But you know what? I will hang on to this, and see where it leads me.