The Sunday Magazine: My Favorite Non-Perfume Things of 2016

As we enter the final week of 2016 it is a time for lists of all kinds. I am no different and my year-end perfume lists will appear towards the end of the week. I’m also going to remember 2016 for some non-perfume things and in this last The Sunday Magazine of the year I thought I’d share those.

Favorite movie: Arrival– There was so much for the geek in me this year; Deadpool, Rogue One, Captain America Civil War, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I had a veritable smorgasbord in front of me of these kinds of movies. The one which has stuck with me since seeing it has been Arrival which is about a couple of scientists trying to communicate with extraterrestrials who have just landed. Themes of how we communicate intertwined with how we fear have stayed with me since leaving the movie theatre. I also said it when I wrote about it but Amy Adams performance is beyond brilliant because there are so many nuances she must communicate wordlessly none more so than her final hug. If she does not get nominated for an Academy Award for this performance I will be very surprised.

Favorite Album: “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it” by The 1975– This is a band and album that snuck up on me. As I’ve mentioned I like looking back at the number of plays on my iTunes list. This was my most played new album of this past year. Ever since I downloaded it in March there has not been a week where I haven’t listened to it. It is a pastiche of so many 1990’s influences that I think that is what draws me to it along with the lyrics. “She Lays Down” is an amazingly insightful song about addiction and depression. Despite the material, I am always moved by this song and I’ve listened to it over 150 times this year. The 1975 exist on the perfect knife edge of indie and pop; I hope they never fall off.

Favorite Single: Cheap Thrills by Sia ft. Sean Paul– My song of the summer of 2016. Sia cuts loose with a song extolling the joy of dancing the night away which is what summer is all about. It is still in heavy rotation because I don’t want to admit the summer is over.

Favorite TV Show: Game of Thrones– This was the same choice as last year but I can say what the producers had to contend with in Season 6 was more difficult. For the first time, they had to forge ahead beyond the written words of George RR Martin. Which was a change for me because over the first five seasons I knew what was coming. In Season 6 Game of Thrones upped the ante with more epic visual storytelling culminating in the final two episodes of the season; “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter”. The former had an epic battle that would have done any major blockbuster proud. The difference for me is there were characters I had invested in over the books and episodes who were in real danger. By the time it was resolved I realized I had leaned forward for most of the final half of the episode. The latter has an opening twenty-minute sequence done with very little dialogue along with an ever-ratcheting increase in tension. The moment of release is cataclysmic in many ways. At this point I am happy to let the TV show take me to the end of the journey Mr. Martin started because they haven’t missed a step yet.

Favorite TV Performer: Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live– This was the year Kate McKinnon’s star went supernova as her impersonation of Hillary Clinton throughout the Presidential election was spot on. Her comedic timing with Alec Baldwin who portrayed Donald Trump was a highlight. She is also a MVP throughout the broadcast as every sketch she is in seems funnier. She is the reason I stay up late on Saturday night.

Favorite Book: Kingfisher by Patricia McKillip– The Hero’s Quest has become so codified the early going of every fantasy book can begin to seem the same. With Kingfisher author Patricia McKillip delights in turning this conceit on its head and shaking hard enough to empty its pockets. Modern technology exists next to traditional fantasy ingredients. It made me laugh while making me realize writers need to send the Hero’s Quest off the rails more often.

Favorite Spirits: Barrel-aged Gin– Gin is usually distilled and bottled fairly quickly. This year I discovered two versions in which the gin was aged in barrels after distillation; Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat and Russell Henry Dark Gin. The basic gin from both companies is unique in its own right but the additional aging in barrels adds off-kilter depth. I’ve enjoyed using these in my favorite gin cocktails like Aviations or Bee’s Knees but they shine best when used in a dry martini as the vermouth seems to interact with the wood spectacularly.

Favorite Wines: South African Walker Bay Chardonnays– I’ve been down on Chardonnay and the cynicism with which they have been made especially by the large American producers for years. Over the summer, I realized that in other parts of the world they were doing it without the cynicism. I tried a trio of South African chardonnays from the Walker Bay region; Ataraxia, Newton Johnson, and Hamilton Russell. They all share a crisp apple quality before heading towards a creamy finish. These are balanced, nuanced chardonnays and I had forgotten how nice that was to drink.

These are what brightened 2016 for me outside of the perfume world.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Arrival

Anyone who knows me understands I love my science-fiction full of epic space battles and starships. Those are sprawling entertainments which are satisfying for the running time of the movie. Then there are the few and far between science-fiction movies where nary a blaster is fired or alien attack fended off. These are the movies where the plot is like its own plasma rifle which embeds itself deep into your thought processes for days afterward. The new movie Arrival is one of those kinds of movies.


Arrival is based on a short story by author Ted Chiang. Mr. Chiang is a science-fiction author who almost exclusively works in the compacter literary forms of short stories or novellas. His stories have always stimulated my thinking. The one on which Arrival is based upon “Story of Your Life” is one ripe for this kind of analysis. When reading Mr. Chiang’s stories I never imagined any of them would be made into a movie. It is not that they were particularly unadaptable but that these are stories of huge ideas and concepts. Not amenable to the typical movie audience. Recent years have shown there is a limited appetite for these kinds of movies but I imagine the studios take a cautious approach to green lighting them.


Director Denis Villeneuve (r.) and Amy Adams on set in Arrival

It helped that director Denis Villeneuve is one of the rising directorial stars in Hollywood. He was casting about for a science-fiction property which also had a significant psychological component. When he saw Mr. Chiang’s short story he knew he had found his vehicle.

The story is told from the perspective of linguistics professor Louise Banks. Her life changes when twelve extraterrestrial monolithic ships set themselves up all over Earth. In the one in the US she is asked to lead up the communication effort with the inhabitants of the ships. Working closely with a theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly they begin the long process to being able to understand each other. The movie ramps up the tension as the countries first cooperate in sharing information then one-by-one begin dropping out of the cooperative. This sets up the equivalent of a long fuse as Louise and Ian feverishly try to confirm their understanding of the visitors’ intentions. The last act is where most of the thought-provoking material is revealed. By the time the final credits rolled it was achieved brilliantly. I have not stopped thinking about the ideas within Arrival in almost 48 hours since seeing it.


Amy Adams as Louise Banks in Arrival

For a movie which is relying on ideas instead of effect it falls disproportionately on the shoulders of the actors to draw the audience in. In this case the performance of Amy Adams as Louise is as good as I’ve seen this entire year. Mr. Villeneuve made an interesting directorial choice to spend a lot of time with Ms. Adams’ face front and center in the frame. There is a saying that great actors can emote with their eyes. In Arrival, there are three key scenes in which the critical information is delivered solely by watching Ms. Adams’ eyes. As much as this is Ms. Adams’ movie Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of Ian provides the necessary grounding for Ms. Adams’ performance to have the right amount of resistance to deliver a great performance. When they hug at the end of the movie it is another moment which delivers an emotional wallop without a word being said.

One word of warning Arrival is a movie which requires a modicum of attention by the moviegoer. Mr. Villeneuve does not explain things twice and there is much here to understand. If you are looking for a thoughtful science-fiction film you cannot go wrong with Arrival. If you do see the movie and want some supplemental homework; in conjunction with the movie release there is a collection of Mr. Chiang’s short stories also out. It contains my favorite story by him “Division by Zero”.

Arrival is one of those two-for-one opportunities. It will introduce Mr.Chiang’s stories to a much broader audience which I hope will mean a few others will make it on screen. It also makes me look forward to Mr. Villeneuve’s next project even more eagerly. That next project is Blade Runner 2049 the sequel to one of the greatest science-fiction movies which also required your mind to be as engaged as your eyes. Everyone involved with Arrival is working near the top of their respective games.

Mark Behnke