Mixed Songs (Music Thoughts: Lots of Love, Estelle Perrault)

Estelle Perrault is actually Estelle Tiyana Perrault, and has a very interesting background. She is French/Taiwanese, and living in Paris – and she is a jazz singer singing the Great American Songbook. Perrault has a slightly fragile voice, and it is softly appealing as it caresses the wonderful lyrics of these songs. Her album ‘Lots of Love’ has her singing eight well-selected songs. She is wildly swinging in ‘You Hit The Spot,’ and is tender in ‘A Sleeping Bee’ so yo uknow she can handle this music. She is quite young and will only get better. The album title is apt – she shows a lot of love for these songs and it shows.

The Good Quarantine (Movie Thoughts: Locked Down)

Honestly, ‘Locked Down’ sounded like a disaster, and in a lot of ways it is: dated jokes that went stale last summer, claustrophic set up. But the film has two great actors in Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor that it hardly mattered to me afterwards. If I were to quarantine with chosen people, I can think of thousands of worse choices. They made the film a lot more palatable (and enjoyable) than it deserved to be.

Somewhere Down The Road (Film Thoughts: Nomadland)

I have a friend who despises Frances McDormand. I think his beef with her is over a style issue – McDormand doesn’t really come off as the fashionable sort, and when she attends events such as Oscars, he finds her appearance lacking, or in his words, ‘disrespectful.’  Though I admit to agreeing with him on that front, she is also not my favorite when it comes to acting – her style strikes me as overly technical, every tic and word rehearsed. But she has won two Academy Awards so what do I know? She is in almost every frame in Chloe Zhao’s ‘Nomadland,’ and I think here she gives a masterful performance and is the heart and soul of a movie that is chock full of heart and soul.

I didn’t think I would like this film when I first heard about it. I didn’t know if a movie about nomads would hold my interest. But surely the film is much more than that. It’s a meditation on loneliness, of freedom, of what to do when you don’t know what to do next. Fern lost her husband, her home, and everything else she has known and seeks to find meaning in the open road. And the film isn’t really about what she finds – it’s about the acceptance of the choices you make based on the situations you are in. As Fern, McDormand gives an open-eyed weariness and vulnerability that will capture you. She learns more about herself in each interaction she has with people on the road. When she strikes a connection with someone you think will give her stability, the film doesn’t give you tropes, it challenges you in where it takes the story.This film has won the top prize in Venice and Toronto film festivals, and I surmise more forthcoming. It’s the perfect film for the times we live in – it offers insight on all the uncertainties we are experiencing in the world today. It doesn’t give us answers, it gives us a path to a road to it.

Losing You (Film Thoughts: Pieces of a Woman)

Kornel Mundruczo’s ‘Pieces of a Woman’ has a most harrowing opening scene – a home birth gone wrong. Even though I knew the outcome, it was still a stressful experience to watch (Kata Weber based the screenplay on her own experience) and yes, when things go horribly awry, you feel you are torn to shreds. Half an hour in, and after this scene, the opening credits come up, and the movie is jist starting, but you feel like you have gone through so much with these people. Vanessa Kirby and Shia LeBeouf play a husband and wife who have to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy, and their characters will haunt you – I am still shaken.

I know that there have been sexual allegations against LeBeouf of late, and that is a shame, because it distracts you from appreciating his wonderful performance here, as a husband who, with his wife, suffers from their loss. The character is sensitive and gruff at the same time – I saw someone describe it as Marlon Brando-ish. I really still think, sexual abuse case or not, that he is one of our best young actors.

But this is Kirby’s show, of course – it’s a great emotional and physical performance. She is a revelation to me, in the sense that I don’t think I have ever seen her performances before (sadly, I have not caught up with ‘The Crown’) She owns every minute when she is on screen, and you are gutted by her character’s pain. It’s unforgettable.

Ultimately, this film is such a tough watch. I call it the Schindler’s List syndrome – describing films that are such emotional downers to me that I don’t think I ever want to rewatch them.

Opulent Amber (Scent Thoughts: Amber Star, Xerjoff)

I ended last year talking about a star, so I am going to begin the new one with the other half of that star, Xerjoff’s ‘Amber Star.’ First of all, I just want to say that I am a big fan of the amber note. There was a time I couldn’t get enough of it, and loo0king at my wardrobe I know that I have a lot of amber scents. Over the years, I have mellowed on it – living in warmer weathered States made me resist it a little bit.

But right now, coupled with a very brisk (for me) 46 degrees, I am truly enjoying ‘Amber Star.’ It’s a nice rich amber – warm and enveloping, and it is smooth – the benzoin mix makes it smell elegant, without the roughness of, say, Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan. With the floral top note of ylang ylang, it truly is beautiful, in the best possible way.

But again, I ask, is it worth it? If I had all the money in the world and no care about spending it, I can think of a couple more amber scents that I love just as much. I will not deny that this scent is truly special, and is well done, and has superior quality, so in a sense the price can certainly be justified, but still….

Musk You Be A Star (Perfume Thoughts, Star Musk, Xerjoff)

You want fancy? I’ll give you fancy. Xerjoff’s Star Musk is only available as a set with Amber Star, for around $750. For some reason, I found a have a sample of both, so today I am wearing Star Musk. I don’t think I have ever written about a Xerjoff scent here. It’s just too ‘luxury’ for me, to be honest, and the less I know about it, the better for me.

But here I am, at the end of the year and why not? It’s a musk fragrance, too, which I am always drawn to. It is also perfect weather now to wear this, and look at the gorgeous bottle – can you find something more festive?

Oh the scent, you asked ? It’s beautoiful, and right up my alley – the old me anyway. It’s a ‘beautiful musk’ with facets of some spices and florals all blended together. And yes, it feels like a treat to wear this, and right now I feel over dressed with it wafting with my daily wear. The floral notes are exquisite – some orange flower, a bit of carnation, a hint of iris. And the musk is transparent but makes its presence known. Do I like it? I. really do. But can I justify the price? Probably not. There are other musks out there4 just as beautiful, at probably a fraction. But I will enjoy this today, and maybe one day I will be rich enough to want this without guilt.

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.

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.

Model Mother (Movie Thoughts: Baby Done)

Sometimes a film just rubs you the wrong way. In Curtis Vowell’s ‘Baby Done,’ Rose Matafeo plays Zoe, a woman who, in the beginning of the film, finds out she is pregnant. She is of age, and she has a loving partner, but she loves life, and is in denial about the coming baby. So she sabotages everything in her pregnancy, but…wants to have the baby anyway? I know Zoe is supposed to be a fun-loving whimsical character, but she just annoyed the hell out of me throughout the film. The character is just so irresponsible and I couldn’t get past that. My appreciation of the film suffered, and I ended up disliking the movie. I know this film is beloved by a lot of people. but…count me out!

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.