The Sunday Magazine: Can you put some Humor on my Popcorn?

When I walked out of Thor: Ragnarok last weekend I had a smile on my face. I also remembered that I had the same smile on my face from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider -Man: Homecoming, and Wonder Woman earlier this year. The grin came from the fact that these movies had significant comedic moments added in with the typical heroics. It has been something sorely lacking from some of the bigger popcorn movies of the last few years which embrace a kind of steely-eyed nihilism paired with fatal bon mots.

I prefer a little fun with my popcorn because I am going to the theatre to escape into fantasy for a couple hours. If I want to be emotionally challenged there are any number of art house movies which will speak about serious topics unflinchingly; without a stitch of spandex in sight.

This past year has seen laughter become as big a part of the equation as action. Which was how it was in the beginning of the modern superhero revival begun with 1978’s Superman: The Movie and would continue into the sequel two years later. In fact, the comedic tone of characters like Lex Luthor were the things which were heatedly debated down at the comic shop. I would always be quick to point out that Star Wars was also played mostly for laughs.

When we entered the age of Computer Generated Images (CGI) the ability to bring almost any superhero to the screen became possible which has seen an acceleration of these stories being filmed. There can be a sameness to the “Hero’s Journey” which is the basic plot device a comic book movie generally follows with a few extra bells and whistles to make it stand apart. Humor would be the device but too much humor could also be detrimental. The best example is the series of Batman movies from 1989 through 2012.

Batman made his return to the movie theatre with two films by director Tim Burton in 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns. With Michael Keaton under the cowl Mr. Burton had a natural comedian to deliver his style of sardonic humor to great success. Which would lead to the next two movies directed by Joel Schumacher doubling down on the funny quotient with 1995’s Batman Forever and 1997’s Batman & Robin. There was a clear demarcation between both sets of movies. Mr. Burton found his humor in the inherent comedy of a millionaire playboy playing superhero. Mr. Schumacher found his comedy from slapstick humor which didn’t serve the character at all. By the time Batman & Robin tried to embrace the funny it lost the plot amidst the punchlines.

In a reaction to the declining box office when Batman would return in the series of three movies directed by Christopher Nolan the funny was almost completely squashed. While Mr. Nolan’s trilogy is at the top of the superhero genre in the movies it isn’t funny; ever.

Which leads to the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 with the release of Iron Man. Iron Man would come out a couple months before The Dark Knight would. The powers that be at Marvel decided they wanted to have a sense of humor and in no small part due to the charisma of actor Robert Downey Jr. they found the right balance of humor and superhero earnestness. Even then Iron Man kept the laughs dialed down.

It would take six years for them to find the right vehicle to get primarily funny again. Director James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy defined the modern formula for being funny in a superhero movie. It came naturally out of the characters and the silliness of the situations. That success would lead to even more humor being injected into the Marvel Cinematic Universe which reaches its height with two of their most iconic heroes, Thor and Hulk, in the comic book version of a buddy cop movie. Director Taika Waititi, of Thor: Ragnarok, knowingly winks at the audience from beginning to end as the God of Thunder and the Green Giant save the day.

The DC version of the movie universe finally found its sense of humor with Wonder Woman which again flowed out of the reaction of normal people to the presence of a goddess. Director Patty Jenkins directed with heart and humor in equal quantities. With the involvement of Joss Whedon in the reshoots of the upcoming Justice League I am hopeful for more of this approach than the previous gritty to the core versions we had been presented with because I’ve realized I want some laughs with my saving the world, or universe.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review D.S. & Durga Vio-Volta- Twin Peaks: The Violis

Those of you who read my The Sunday Magazine columns know how much I enjoyed the recent Twin Peaks: The Return. One of the reasons was giving an auteur like David Lynch the freedom to realize exactly the vision he had. It wasn’t for everyone. It was meant to challenge assumptions. It wasn’t ever meant to make you comfortable and there was no happy ending, but it was an earned ending. Mr. Lynch was also responsible for the sound editing and throughout the 18 episodes electricity hummed through high-tension wires, crackled and popped, and provided otherworldly illumination. It was perhaps the most consistent motif within the show.

Within days of the final episode I received my sample of D.S. & Durga Vio-Volta. With everything still swirling in my mind here was a perfume which could have leapt off the screen as David Seth Moltz creates an uncomfortable electric fragrance.

David Seth Moltz

Vio-Volta is the latest in a series of new releases which feel like modern art. This is also an auteur’s vision which means it is not a perfume for everyone. I had people I work with on the days I was wearing it ask me “what the hell are you wearing?”. I also found it to be a bit wearying to wear over a full day. I have spent more time with it in shorter time periods without fatigue. All of that as prelude Vio-Volta is every bit as good as Twin Peaks: The Return was.

Mr. Moltz claims Vio-Volta was him fooling around with new ingredients to evoke something purple. The two ingredients which are the keynotes are Violis which He describes as a “really weird candy rhubarb” and Amber Xtreme.

The opening is that odd version of rhubarb from Violis. There is an oddly metallic vibe which runs throughout the crystalline vegetal rhubarb. It reminded me of chewing on tin foil. Early on it is sort of fun then it begins to hurt. Before the hurt gets to be too much the Amber Xtreme crashes over the top with a woody tsunami. Once the Violis pops back to the surface it is joined by some less artificial ingredients as incense and patchouli become proverbial life preservers to cling to. Over time the violet nature of Violis become more prominent but that crackle of electricity thrums underneath all of it.

Vio-Volta has 24-hour longevity and above average sillage. Besides being confrontational it lasts forever and everyone around you will smell it.

It seems I have been writing this a lot recently but perfume like Vio-Volta is something that can only come from our independent perfume community. You might hate it. you might love it, you might appreciate it, you might admire it; but you should try it.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by D.S. & Durga.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Parfum D’Empire Le Cri de la Lumiere- Defining Light

Light is one of those words I use a lot to describe perfumes. Sometimes I mean the strength of the composition. There are certainly many new releases for whom this applies, especially recently. I use light to often describe those accords and fragrances which feel sunny; citrus, aquatics, or fougeres can all be full of light. Then you encounter a perfume which has as its stated goal to explore light in fragrance and in that experience, realize all those previous ideas of light didn’t tell the whole story; Parfum D’Empire Le Cri de la Lumiere is that one.

Parfum D’Empire is one of the most successful independent perfume brands because of the creative force behind it, Marc-Antoine Corticchiato. M. Corticchiato is not the most prolific perfumers but each of his releases are among the best of the year they are released. Le Cri de la Lumiere qualifies as that for 2017. The name translates roughly into “Cry of Light”. If you look at that you might think the perfume carrying that name would be a full-throated olfactory scream. M. Corticchiato instead works with a minimalist’s efficiency using only four ingredients to create this. It places a burden on those ingredients to not have any rough edges when coming together with the others. In this case, with this perfumer, that is hardly a problem. Each ingredient is chosen such that it provides its own part of the spectrum that become Le Cri de la Lumiere.

Marc-Antoine Corticchiato

The opening moments are dominated by ambrette seeds. These are the most commonly used botanical musk. As a result, they are almost always blended with other notes which tend to cover up the nuances inherent in this ingredient. If you smell ambrette essential oil you will get a definitive vegetal and pear undercurrent. In Le Cri de la Lumiere M. Corticchiato gives the early going exclusively to the ambrette and both of those aspects rise to be noticed. In this form it can focus the musky parts into something less diffuse. In the press materials it is described as “crystalline” but I kept thinking “laser pointer”. There is also a subtle powdery quality which provides the transition to iris in the next phase. You might not think of iris as a “light” note but here it is the powderiness which expands into a bright globe of particles illuminated by the ambrette. Just as it seems this can’t get better Turkish rose appears in a transparent concentration as it colors the pink a deeper shade of red. Once this all comes together it is a lightness I’ve never experienced previously. There is a bit of woods, in the base, but it is this ambrette-iris-rose accord which is the story.

Le Cri de la Lumiere has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Le Cri de la Lumiere is another brilliant creation from M. Corticchiato which has given me new things to think about in my definition of light as it pertains to perfume.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Parfum D’Empire.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Valentino Uomo Noir Absolu- The Exceptional Exception

1

If there is something I feel very sure of is that when a perfume I didn’t care for in its first release reaches its fourth iteration; I am not going to feel any differently. Of course, I wouldn’t be starting with that sentence if I hadn’t found an exception. This exception is particularly noteworthy because the version that was released just a few months before it was particularly wretched. This exceptional exception is Valentino Uomo Noir Absolu.

Valentino began their Uomo collection in 2014 with a particularly pedestrian interpretation of the masculine iris fragrance. Last year was an equally uninspired Uomo Intense. At the beginning of this summer Uomo Acqua was described in the press release as evoking the “fading grandeur” of an Italian palace. This had nothing grandiose about it as it was a harsh mixture of aromachemicals that was repellant. When I received my sample of Uomo Noir Absolu I remember thinking, “It couldn’t be worse.” I was right; it was amazing because they chose to go for a real Oriental instead of the faux attempts which preceded this.

Sophie Labbe

Perfumer Sophie Labbe has been responsible for the Uomo collection after Olivier Polge did the original. Mme Labbe breaks through with Uomo Noir Absolu because she actually goes for a darker opulent style of perfume which is diametrically opposed from any other perfume with Valentino Uomo on the bottle. This works by diving straight away to the essence of an Oriental, the base accord.

A spicy duet is the opening movement as Mme Labbe combines cinnamon and black pepper. They are combined in an accord which has presence while also conveying a simmering heat. Incense swirls through this as it is particularly good with both top notes. I’ve always found the combination of black pepper and incense to work together but the cinnamon is also lifted by the resin as well. The iris, which is the connective tissue within the collection, shows its face here as the rootier less powdery version. It is not a focal point but it is also not a complete background player either. It rests on a rich woody base of sandalwood lightened with guaiac wood.

Valentino Uomo Noir Absolu has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Uomo Noir Absolu is one of the best mainstream fragrances of 2017. It is the ideal perfume for scarves and sweaters as the air turns colder. I should have been able to ignore this collection but Mme Labbe has turned out an exceptional exception of a fragrance.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Valentino.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Montblanc Legend Intense- Second Bite of the Pineapple

On my latest scavenger hunt at the discount store I was surprised to see the subject of this month’s column, Montblanc Legend Intense, on the shelf. I had always seen this perfume as correcting all the flaws I found in the original Montblanc Intense which deservedly has been in the discount bin for years. Most of the times flankers are either cynical seasonal editions or complete re-workings. Montblanc Legend Intense was something different.

Montblanc Intense was released in 2011 by perfumer Olivier Pescheux. It was a wan attempt at a fruity fougere using pineapple and apple. The whole composition felt thin like it was missing something in support. It wasn’t anything I was going to remember until a couple years later while walking through the mall and being handed a strip. As I sniffed I thought this is very good, I asked the sales rep and she showed me the Montblanc Legend Intense bottle. I realized that this was the new and improved version of Legend. Now all the empty spaces were filled in to create something to remember.

Olivier Pescheux

In the original the opening of pineapple was given no help by the addition of coumarin and verbena. For Legend Intense M. Pescheux switches those out for cardamom and Pepperwood. What these notes do is lift up the pineapple into a crispness which was never apparent in the original. For the heart apple is again the keynote. This time M. Pescheux again goes for a crisp effect around the fruit using cedar, and the rose-apple aromachemical Pomarose. Everything about the opening is better it has clear delineated structure around a set of two fruit notes. The base is even better for the changes. This time M. Pescheux goes all in with a mixture of the most powerful woody aromachemicals mixing a potent cocktail of Ambroxan, Karanal, and Okoumal. These combine to form a long-lasting woody foundation.

Legend Intense has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

I always think of Legend Intense as M. Pescheux’s second bite of the pineapple. I certainly believe it is a much better perfume in every way that I can quantify that statement. I had thought it to be a perennial best-seller but perhaps its days at the mall have passed. So much the better because it makes Legend Intense a Discount Diamond.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review By Kilian Woman in Gold- Glittering Klimt

Of the many things I learned working with Michelyn Camen, the EIC of CaFleureBon, was an appreciation of how visual art intersected with olfactory art. Her addition of just the perfect choices of visual cues to match the words of the writers who worked for her has made that one of the signatures of CaFleureBon. One of the things I enjoyed most was when she would give me some deep cuts in artists I thought I knew well. One of those was Gustav Klimt. I knew of the famous “The Kiss” but there were others from his “Golden Phase” which I would learn of. One was a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer which has been called the Austrian Mona Lisa. They are paintings which feel like naturals to be paired with fragrance. Kilian Hennessy also must believe that too as they become the latest inspiration for the newest collection from By Kilian; From Dusk to Dawn. The one called Woman in Gold is the one attached to the painting  of Adele Bloch-Bauer below.

Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt (1907)

M. Hennessy collaborates again with his most frequent perfumed muse Calice Becker. They were looking for “the contrasts between shadow and light”. I would also remark they were looking for the golden glow of Hr. Klimt’s paintings, too.

Kilian Hennessy

Mme Becker opens with a rich bergamot oil to give off a golden sunburst. This is not the typical opening as the bergamot has a shimmery quality which reveals a multi-faceted rose underneath. This is where the shadows reside in Woman in Gold. Geranium pairs with the rose to provide a translucent green lens to observe it through. The whole construct turns warm with vanilla as it infuses the floral heart. Then Mme Becker takes the patchouli bio-isolate Akigalawood to provide a slightly spicy version of patchouli which bridges the rose while contrasting the vanilla. It settles in to a powerful accord of all three in perfect harmony.

Woman in Gold has 12-14 hour longevity and above average siilage. This is one to be cautious in spraying, a little goes a long way.

Calice Becker

This is a cold weather rosy vanilla it reminds me a lot of another rose creation in the brand Rose Oud. In both cases the keynotes are given the room to shine. In the case of Woman in Gold I guess I should say it glitters.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by By Kilian.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mendittorosa Talismans Osang- The Shape of Ashes

A few years ago, I went to the museum to see one of the more macabre exhibitions I have attended. From the moment archeologists began to excavate the city of Pompeii covered under the ash of the volcano Vesuvius’ explosion in 79 AD they discovered the bodies were preserved in a protective shell of ash. If they cautiously poured plaster inside that delicate framework they could create something solid from the ashes. To see the results of this work gathered in exhibition is to see a snapshot of death. Besides that, there was much to discover from these plaster casts which continues to the present day. Just a couple years ago they used 3-D techniques to determine the people of Pompeii were remarkably healthy some of them with “perfect teeth”. I remember having it inhabit my thoughts for days afterward thinking how death becomes an historical document through the shape of ashes. I was reminded of these thoughts by Mendittorosa Talismans Osang.

The creative director Stefania Squeglia grew up in Naples with Vesuvius able to be seen on the horizon. The name Osang comes from the annual San Gennaro festival in the city during which the dried blood of the saint is presented to the public. If it liquifies all will be well but if it stays dried….well Vesuvius is waiting. This is in keeping with the Talismans collection where the perfumes are inspired by artifacts which ward off the bad things in life.

Stefania Squeglia

Sig.ra Squeglia has created a very personal fragrance to the point that she does not reveal the perfumer she worked with on it. Osang is what she promises it to be except instead of it liquefying into the blood of San Gennaro Osang comes closer to representing the ashes portended by the blood staying dried. It leads to some very odd choices of ingredients which successfully accomplish the effect of a sky full of ashes.

The keynote to Osang is a fenugreek extraction being used in overdose. It appears right away and in the first moments it is sort of a watery vegetal effect which strengthens rapidly into a urine-like pungency. That effect is enhanced by using honey which also can feel urinous. The other note in the early going which provides the breath of fire is Szechuan pepper. This ingredient has been used a lot over the last couple of years but the use here comes closest to mimicking the real thing. It imparts a heat while also adding a kind of choking mustiness. This all transitions into a set of resins and balms in the base accord. Benzoin, styrax, incense, and peru balsam combine to form its own sort of ashy burn. Sandalwood seemingly provides some comfort, until oud joins it, charring even that short respite.

Osang has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I admire Sig.ra Squeglia’s dedication to her vision. Osang is an expertly constructed piece of perfumed art which achieves its stated goals. On that level it succeeds. On the level of “do I smell good?” it is more problematic. Because of the nature of the perfume I found it wasn’t comforting but that it put me on edge the days I wore it. Even smelling it on a strip to remind myself of it while writing this I can feel it provoking some of those feelings again. Which leads to a greater question about the art of perfumery. I think Osang is as good as it gets in realizing its artistic ambitions. It is just not something I would want to wear often. It is similar to my visit to the exhibition of the Pompeii plaster casts; the shape of ashes are disturbing but you can’t look away. Osang is great art within a delicate shell of ashes and death.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Medittorosa.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Ladycastle

Every year I attend New York Comic Con it seems like I discover a new comic while standing on line for something else. This year it was author Delilah S. Dawson who was sitting at the Boom! Studios booth. In front of her was a comic named Ladycastle. By the time I had moved away I had the first issue in my bag. I would download the remaining three issues on my bus ride home to finish the series.

I knew of Ms. Dawson through her urban fantasy series on the world of Sang where she fuses steampunk, vampires, and romance together. They were good reads but it isn’t one of my favorite series in the genre. When I asked what Ladycastle was about I was told that the men all rode away on a quest only to be killed leaving only the women behind to defend the castle from the monsters. I am a fan of twists on fairy tale formulas so that was enough to get me to buy the first issue.

Delilah S. Dawson

What greeted me on the pages drawn by artist Ashley A. Woods was better than that description. It is what happens when the women of Mancastle realize they’re in charge; first the name changes. The opening of the comic is Princess Aeve who wakes up and immediately breaks into song. Through her overture we meet the other women in the story while we learn Aeve is only valuable to the kingdom as part of a marriage. Aeve is the prototype princess. When the news is given to the women there is a moment when the new Queen goes up and releases Aeve from her room atop the tower. She asks, “Can I come out now?” when she is told she can there is a moment where she stands in front of a mirror and cuts off her flowing hair signaling the princess is ready to do her part in the defense of Ladycastle.

Ashley A. Woods

Ms. Dawson crafts a fun twist as the women are not all bluster and bludgeon. They find more creative ways to deal with the monsters who show up. It is another in the string of pop culture female empowerment stories which have remembered a message can also be fun. Ms. Woods’ drawing style is assured with a fairy tale palette of colors it is what this story needs to go with the words.

If you like the television show Once Upon a Time or you found the movie Wonder Woman another fun tale of women taking charge I think Ladycastle will be something you’ll enjoy. The four issues of the comic have just been collected in a single trade paperback volume so the entire story is available to read.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review The House of Oud Wonderly- Snow in the Sahara

Nature offers up some wonderful contrasts of extremes. None more surprising and ephemeral than snow in the Sahara Desert. It has happened twice in the town known as “The Gateway to the Desert”. Ain Sefra in Algeria. Once in 1979 and again in December of 2016. For the most recent occurance photographer Karim Bouchetata was there to capture it. When you look at the picture below it almost looks like exotic dessert instead of desert. The perfumer behind The House of Oud was inspired to create perfume based on this called Wonderly.

Snow in the Sahara December 2016 (Photo: Karim Bouchetata)

The House of Oud was founded by perfumer Andrea Casotti and Indonesian oud distiller Mohammed Nashi. They released their debut collection in June of 2016. As you might suspect the expertise of M. Nashi in sourcing oud was displayed throughout. Of those initial releases the most intriguing was a limited edition called Crop 2016 featuring a rare green tinted oud from Kalimantan in Borneo. I had never smelled anything like it and Sig. Casotti surrounded it with a “tea in the Sahara” theme which displayed all the uniqueness of the keynote. When I received my sample of Wonderly I was surprised to find a fragrance intent on capturing the dichotomy of snow upon the dunes.

Andrea Casotti

I imagine if I asked many of you to describe a perfume trying to capture the snow and sand combination fruity floral would not be where you might start. When I first tried it on a strip I was initially thinking if this was the best choice to represent the snow. Then I realized the snow in the Sahara is itself an anomaly and a fragrance should look for something anomalous to portray the event.

The fruity top accord is the tart goji berry combined with apricot and almond flower. The accord comes off as a juicy fruity accord with some nutty facets. For Wonderly, Sig. Casotti uses white flowers as his snow; neroli and jasmine primarily. Then in a clever twist a bit of orris is applied underneath to represent the sand beneath the snow. For a long time, it is just the orris pushing against the “snow”; over time a resinous mixture of myrrh, and incense begin to figuratively provide a thawing effect. Sandalwood, vanilla, and the powdery musk Cosmone add the finish as the desert takes its normal place on top.

Wonderly has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I like Wonderly because Sig. Casotti didn’t bring a selection of chilly notes to represent the snow but instead took a different tack. The result is as layered as snow in the Sahara.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample from The House of Oud.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Avon Prima Noir- A Simple Pirouette

3

One of the great parts of writing about perfume is the wide variety of fragrance which is available. One of the things which particularly pleases me is that even on the lower priced end of the spectrum there are some excellent perfumes being produced. Ever since I started Colognoisseur a friend I’ve known since high school has kept me supplied with the latest offerings from Avon. The brand is undergoing a transformation within their fragrance offerings getting better while following the current trends more closely. When I was sent the new Holiday offering for 2017, Prima Noir, I kept going back to the strip it was sprayed on during the first night as I was comparing to the other samples I had received in the mail. I came to the realization that on this night the best thing in front of me was Prima Noir.

Isabel Lopes

This more forward-thinking approach to perfume has come under the stewardship of Isabel Lopes who has been overseeing this part of Avon since 2014. There has been an obvious uptick in the releases over that time. There has also been a more focused PR campaign which matches some of their department store competitors. Prima Noir is the flanker to 2015’s Prima both are represented by American Ballet Theatre dancer Courtney Lavine. Prima was a rose and patchouli representation of flowing pink silk as it ripples in the air during a grand jete. It was meant to be an everyday perfume. Prima Noir also has Ms. Levine as its face but instead of leaping through the air she is pirouetting in place concentrating the colors of her costume. Prima Noir mixes violet, jasmine, and vanilla in a dynamic rotation.

David Apel

The perfumer behind Prima Noir is David Apel who has worked this style of fragrance for some of his niche clients. I think that shows here because he finds some nice ways of presenting the three ingredients. It starts with the violet as it dances like this perfume’s sugar violet fairy. It dances with the sweeter candied version of the flower inviting you in. The jasmine is one of the expansive synthetic versions scrubbed clean of the obstreperous indoles in place of a contained effect of pure flower power. As the violet inserts itself within the bubble the jasmine provides it is like a petaled snow globe. The depth and the noir part come courtesy of a rich vanilla base note. Mr. Apel tunes this so that it never becomes cloying it instead offers a subtler shading of vanilla. What then happens is the violet, jasmine, and vanilla all combine into a cozy winter accord which lasts for hours.

Prima Noir has 12-14 hours longevity and average sillage.

Courtney Lavine

On the days I wore this I got several compliments from my co-workers. I am used to them asking me, “what are you wearing today?” Most of the time my answer is disappointing due to price or availability. This time the smiles which broke out when I answered, “Avon Prima Noir” told me my local rep was going to get some calls. If you haven’t checked out Avon in years Prima Noir is an excellent example of the changes on the fragrance side of the brand for the better.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Avon.

Mark Behnke