When There Is Hope (Film Thoughts: The Way I See It)

So where were you when the Networks proclaimed Joseph Robinette Biden Jr the 46th President of the United States? I was at home, getting ready to go out, as my friend and I were going to IKEA to buy scented candles there (the Byredo collab) It is, of course, a historic moment for our country, and a bright day after years of darkness.

I thought it was also time for me to finally see Dawn Porter’s documentary ‘The Way I See It,’ which chronicles Pete Souza’s years in the Obama administration as the official photographer for the administration.

I’ve been itching to see it, but wanted a momentous occasion. Or really, if I have to be honest, I want it to supplement the moment when Biden finally won. I wasn’t mistaken – it’s a film that will give you hope. It will give you a window of what’s to come, and what’s to come will be most welcome after this disastrous time we have right now.

Souza was the photographer for part of the Reagan years. Like myself, he wasn’t really a big fan of Reagan’s policy, but of course as a statesman, no one can rival the man’s charisma. In interviews, he outlines the significance of an administration’s official photographer – it captures in moment’s a president’s moments, whether big or small. IN Obama’s case, he ventures to say that he thinks Obama’s biggest moment was a small; one – when he coached his daughter’s basketball team. You will be in years when he talks about the mom ent marriage equality became the law of the land – he says it is one of those rare instances when he asked his wife t drop everything and take a cab to the White House to witness history unfolding.

Maybe I am just being emotional, but this is a real gem of a film.

Drunk Peach (Perfume Thoughts: Bitter Peach, Tom Ford)

All eyes are on Georgia right now because they are all of a sudden a swing state which could determine the elections, and of course, it made me think of what they are most known for – the peach. And I realized I had a sample of Tom Ford’s ‘Bitter Peach,’ so it is as good a time as any to spritz it.

I like the idea of a peach fragrance – juicy, stone-y. And you will definitely get a peach when you first sniff this scent. And yes, I kind of did like that initial burst.

But then, expectations. I admit I was kind of expecting this to be a citrus, but it turned dark right away, with not4s of rum and cognac. This is definitely not a summer scent. The peach note becomes a little plastic-y after – I am reminded of the smell of a plastic doll. Do I like it? I don’t totally dislike it is my answer, and it is definitely weird. I want to get to know it better, to wear it maybe on cold cold nights. But for $300?

Charlie Times Two (Movie Thoughts: Spontaneous/Words on Bathroom Walls)

Charlie Plummer was fantastic in ‘Lean on Pete’ and ‘All The Money In The World’ and ever since then, I made a mental note to follow his work. As it turns out, I saw two films back to back with him in the lead, and I am just impressed, even if the quality of the material doesn’t match his skills.

Brian Duffield’s ‘Spontaneous’ has been garnering great reviews for its timeliness. Shot before the pandemic, its story has parallels to what we are experiencing right now. In a suburban high school, teenagers start exploding -for no apparent reason. It’s a dark comedy that shows how teens deal from losing friends and classmates one by one, as government agencies try to figure out why this is happening. I can appreciate dark humor, but I honestly felt queasy watching this, and exploding people were just a little too much for me to handle. There is a love story in the heart of the film between a young couple, played by Katherine Langford and Plummer, but it felt wanting to me. I think the film, stylistically just isn’t for me, and I do understand why people are connecting with it.

I liked Thor Freudenthal’s ‘Words on Bathroom Walls’ more, also starring Plummer as a young man suffering from schizophrenia. The film is an adaptation of a YA book by Julia Walton. Plummer’s character, Adam, gets thrown out of his school and gets accepted at a Catholic high school where he meets Maya played by Taylor Russell. Those initial scenes between the two of them are fun, and you zip through the first part of the film with a smile.  When we see Adam’s condition worsen, the film loses its bearing for me, and the ending is a bit cringe-worthy, to be honest. But the performances, especially by Plummer and Russell, carry the day, and for that I prefer this over the earlier film. 

Not Only December (Music Thoughts: Christmas Is: December Duets: Mike Renzi and Jim Porcella)

I write about a lot of jazz vocal albums, and while going through this year’s Holiday releases, one jumped at me – a jazz vocal Christmas album that I fell in love with instantly.

It’s ‘Christmas Is: December Duets,’ a ‘duet’ album with pianist Mike Renzi and jazz vocalist Jim Porcella. Renzi is a legend in my world – he has played with some of the best singers (Sinatra, Bennett) and to me he is the star of this album – the piano playing is exquisite here, calm and assured.

Porcella is no slouch either. He is based in new England and sings in a relaxed menial voice with a great way with a lyric. You find yourself listening to how he interprets these words, and you feel like you are hearing these songs in a fresh manner. I love how different a song like ‘Blue Christmas’ sounds for example, where the meaning of melancholy is mined with the arrangement here. And speaking of longing, listen to ‘A Christmas Love Song,’ and marvel at how longing sounds.

Sophia Onscreen (Film Thoughts: La Vita Davanti A Sé/The Life Ahead)

At eighty six years old, Sophia Loren still has formidable screen presence, and that is very evident in ‘La Vita Davanti A Sé,’ (The Life Ahead) which is available to stream on Neflix. The film, directed by her son Eduardo Ponti, is based on the 1978 novel ‘Madame Rosa.’ (There has been an earlier film adaptation of the same novel, but I have never seen it) Loren plays Madam Rosa, and it is a juicy role – she plays a former Holocaust surviver who is also an ex-street walker. In her older age, she takes care of children of other street walkers.

A young Senegalese kid, Momo, is sent to her care, sand played by Ibrahima Gueye, Momo is your typical troubled kid. They first ‘meet’ when the kid steals a bunch of candlesticks from her. But as these things go, they form an unlikely couple, and blah blah blah, you know what happens next. To be honest, the narrative here is reed thin, but the small moments that make up the film somehow make a great platform for Loren (and Gueye) to shine. There are no surprises in how the story unfolds, but you believe it still, and will even be touched by it.

Call Me After The Kiss (Series Thoughts: We Are Who We Are, Right Here Right Now VIII, HBO)

It all ends with a kiss.

And we are instantly confused, or should we be? The last episode of the show gives us only Frasier and Cait, and that makes total sense because they are the show – we have been following their journey of who they are, and we get more questions than answers here, but in my opinion, we also get resolutions.

We see Cait’s family packing – Chicago first and then Okinawa? – and then we have Frasier and Cait going to Bologna to see Blood Orange. They take the train and end up somewhere in the middle of their journey, only to meet kids on their way to the concert. One of the kids is Luca, who we see connecting with Frasier with their mutual love of fashion. You can see in Cait’s eyes how she felt – am I gonna lose him to Luca? This gets exacerbated when they ‘lose’ each other once they got to the concert venue. But then Cait gets her own moment with the bartender. Somehow she ends up backstage meeting Blood Orange, and she gets ‘confronted’  when the bartender asks her ‘You are a trans guy, right?’ This scares her, and she runs away, running back to the train station to go home. Meanwhile, Frasier’s own moment comes when he kisses Luca, and he in turn has his own realization after that when Luca asks him to ‘one of the most beautiful places on earth,’ the arc at San Luca. He runs to the train station looking for Cait. He finds her inside the train and the two of them run back to San Luca. And then they kiss.

So does the show end with both of them ending up as a couple? There is ambiguity in that but I disagree. These are kids who have realizations on the same night, and they both ‘give up;’ what could have been to go back to each other. I think their kiss symbolizes the feeling of affection they have for each other – at that age, it was the only way they could express that overwhelming feeling for each other. We can look at this objectively because maybe we have already gone through our own journeys, but for these two, they are just feeling these feelings for the first time in their lives. There is confusion, but there’s also that euphoria that comes with all that.

I think this is still a bittersweet ending for me. When they get back to the base, they will probably part and who knows when they will see each other again. I started writing this because of parallels to ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and this excursion in Bologna reminds me of Elio and Oliver’s last trip to Bergamo before the train scene. There’s joy in the time they are together, but they both know they will leave each other the next morning.  

And there we are. I have read articles that during the lockdown, Luca Guadigno has made a bible for these characters for a second season. That will be great, but maybe not necessary. The great thing about this show is how it told these character’s story in snapshots. The last kiss is a perfect ending, and maybe it should be left that way.  

Minus Ten (Movie Thoughts: Holidate)

Since I just wrote about a Holiday album, I should follow it up with a Holiday film. Right? Right? Well, I am doing it. From Netflix comes ‘Holidate,’ a promised romantic comedy offering. Sometimes I wonder where some of these Netflix films came from – did the streaming service buy this film already done, I wonder, or were they instrumental in developing it?

Because ‘Holidate’ is bad. Yes, really bad – it’s neither romantic or funny, despite a cast that’s genuinely interested in trying to make something out of this crap.

What is it with modern rom-coms and their quest to always put something very crude in their stories – is this the Judd Apatow influence? Because some of what is in ‘Holidate’ is terrifyingly offensive, devoid of wit and charm. I felt bad for Emma Roberts who as an actress is amiable enough but in here is asked to do a lot of undignified acts. And Kristin Chenoweth, one of my favorite Broadway performers is cast as a witless aunt. All the comedic antics made me squirm. And there was no chemistry between the leads, so I felt no romantic anything in there, too. This film is justr another abomination in the list of 2020 failures.

Francesca For The Holidays (Music Thoughts: This Christmas, Francesca Batistelli)

What the heck, since Halloween is over, we are, whether we like it or not, we are thrust in the Holiday season now. I don’t know how I will celebrate this year, if even i do. Pandemics can change your perspective about things, and for all we know, we may have our most meaningful holidays yet.

But surely I can go about my ‘tradition’ of writing about new holiday music, right? I had never heard of Francesca Batistelli before, and I did a little bit of googling – she ids a multi awarded young Christian and gospel singer. That would normally give me pause (she is probably homophobic) but I went ahead and listened to her album, and it is magnificent. It is soulful, and she really knows how to get into the meat of these songs. It is spiritual, for sure, and she definitely excels on these faith-based songs (Silent Night has never sounded more about the heart) My favorite one is ‘Messiah.’

But, she also was great singing the ‘regular’ songs – the title track is a fun one, and while it is a great cover, it sounds like her own. And speaking of her own songs, she has an original I like – ‘Christmas Valentine’ a fun dittie and romantic new holiday song.

so yes, I really love the album and will listen to it throughout the holidays. I hope she isn’t homophobic.

Which Witch? (Film Thoughts: The Witches)

Since it’s Halloween, I thought I would want to watch something on the ‘scary’ side. To be honest, I probably am not the best person to be writing about these films, as the genre just isn’t for me. It just doesn’t interest me, and as much as there’s a lot of things happening on screen when I watch them, I just get bored.

But I wanted to watch  ‘The Witches’  because of Anne Hathaway, as I am always fascinated by her work. And she is fantastic here in this film. As The Grand High Witch, Hathaway is absolute perfection. She has crafted a real character, with a wardrobe to die for, and an accent that is post Melania Trump. She preens and coos and she is scary, but of course, as great as the character is, it’s all costumes and CGI to me. There real isn’t much humanity in there, but then why am I looking for some?

The plot is pretty standard witch fare. The first half of it worked better for me, as there was actual narrative. Th second half struggled to keep my attention, as it was more of the same – all soaring musical score and special effects. As I said, this is just not for me, and I surprised I was able to hang in that long

The Scent of Letting Go (Perfume Thoughts: Ambre Gris, Balmain)

 I have been on a quest to ‘simplify’ my perfume collection. I have accumulated so much over the years and want to keep just the ones I truly love. I have a lot of bottles I loved when I first bought them, but now feel ambivalent about. I remember when I first bought Ambre Gris by Balmain. I remember there was a big commotion because it was wrongly priced at one of the e-retailers and people were buying it by the bulk. It was such an attractive price that I bought it blind. Balmain is a solid house, and it would be a solid fragrance at the very least.

I am wearing it today – this bottle is about ten years old now – and it is still wonderful, just as I remembered it. I haven’t worn it in a while, but I saw it from my boxes and took it out, wanting to finish it off. The benzoin and cinnamon top notes are perfect for this cold morning, and the amber is nice and dry and powdery. It is a scent that whispers, and it’s beautiful in its subtlety. I read that it has become some sort of collector’s item now, and people have been hoarding it. I will wear it this winter, and I am no longer int hat collector’s mode of trying to preserve this. I will enjoy it, and when it is gone, will gladly let it go.