The Sunday Magazine: My Favorite Non-Perfume Things of 2019

For those of you looking for my top 25 new perfumes of 2019 it will be posted tomorrow. Today I take a break and list some of my favorite non-perfume things of 2019. There is a small devoted following to this column which has always made me happy which is why I like to have a year-end list for them, too. There is more to life than perfume here are some of the things which make it better for me.

Favorite Movie: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”- I am an unabashed fanboy of director/writer Quentin Tarantino. I think this might be the best movie he has made. It is his version of 1969 Hollywood part reality, part fantasy. It has been an interesting aspect of the recent films by Mr. Tarantino in that he likes to imagine some “what-ifs” then plays them out within his films. This movie captures the moment where the lines between movie stars and tv stars started to blur. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are fantastic as an action movie star and his stunt double. They are the core of the movie. What elevated the entire movie was the performance of Margot Robbie as actress Sharon Tate. When she goes to a movie theatre to see her own performance, with an audience, she exudes the joy of seeing herself on screen. Mr. Tarantino has always worn his love for movies and moviemaking on his sleeve. This movie was a big valentine to all of it.

Favorite TV Show: “Watchmen”- Oh boy did I expect to find a god-awful mess in this update to the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Damon Lindelof, who oversaw this, is a creative mind who sometimes finds a way to sabotage his own good work with endings that don’t hold together. None of that happened here. Mr. Lindelof honored the source material while spinning it in an entirely different direction. It gave new perspective on the original while telling its own new story. This time the ending was perfect with a final shot I have been thinking about since the screen faded to credits.

Favorite TV Episode: Season 3 Episode 10 of GLOW “A Very GLOW Christmas”- Before Watchmen appeared GLOW season 3 was going to be my favorite show of the year. There are times when a series finds everything that makes a show special and wraps it up into a gift to its fans. That was the way this season finale played out. With the framing device of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling putting on a version of “A Christmas Carol” in the ring. The characters are each given moments to find their truths. The final one coming on an airplane jetway between the main female protagonists was brilliantly done because of the acting of Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin saying the words of Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. The show premiered in August, but I re-watched this just before Christmas and it was even better.

Favorite Album: Vampire Weekend “Father of the Bride”- It had been six years since the band released anything new. I have enjoyed the previous releases because they have felt like an extension of early bands like The English Beat. In this latest album the continuing evolution of that sound surprised me with its poignancy. The music still makes me want to move but the lyrics keep my feet on the ground.

Favorite single: “Hallelujah” by Haim– It has been a fun year to be a fan of the sisters Haim. They didn’t release a new album. Instead we got new releases via YouTube drops out of the blue. The last one of the year, came just before Thanksgiving. “Hallelujah” was inspired by the loss of Alana Haim’s best friend to a car accident when she was 20. The song builds to her verse as each sister finds the thankfulness for their bond before Alana closes with words to her friend. “Hallelujah” has become the new song added to my Holiday playlist even though at first glance it might not seem to be one. For me it is this time of year when we do remember to say Hallelujah for our friends and family.

Favorite Book: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James– This is the best introduction to an epic fantasy series in years. Marlon James tells a story from the perspective of a character who might be an unreliable narrator. There are all the accoutrements of classic fantasy. The difference is this ability of the reader to know whether they are being given the whole truth. My understanding is the remaining two books of the trilogy are going to be the same events narrated by a different character in each book. Mr. James has hit upon a fascinating way to tell a story. I can’t wait for the other two books to complete the story.

Favorite Comic Book: House of X/Powers of X– I’ve lost count of how many times they have rebooted The X-Men over the last twenty years. For the first time writer Jonathan Hickman has made me interested enough to become a consistent reader of the X-books again.

To all the readers of this column thank you for reading throughout the year. Happy New Year to all of you.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

There are many people who will flip to the last page of a book and read it. I don’t do that. I like having a book get me to the destination on its own pace. The new book Black Leopard, Red Wolf by author Marlon James has the protagonist tell you the ending in the very first line of this first volume of an epic fantasy trilogy.

Mr. James has chosen to follow up his 2014 Man-Booker award winning “A Brief History of Seven Killings” with Black Leopard, Red Wolf. The narrative flow of that book carries over to this one. The space moves from Jamaica to a fantasy version of Africa. This is the second epic fantasy series which has taken Africa as a seed upon which to grow a fantasy landscape. It allows Mr. James to employ much less known cultural fantasy tropes. Which means for a Caucasian reader it has surprises which spring from my lack of knowledge. Unlike when there are fantasy realms based on European foundations.

Marlon James

The story is told by Tracker who at the beginning of the story tells the reader that “The child is dead. There is nothing left to know.” That child is who Tracker is asked to find. Tracker also warns you he is maybe an unreliable narrator, or one who moves between worlds, when he tells the story of how he left his family and name behind to become Tracker. There are two different versions. That is the narrative quirk which keeps a reader guessing exactly what is going on as Tracker circles around different narrative beats. Mr. James delights in telling this fractured narrative similar to the way a Tarantino movie unspools.

Another similarity to Tarantino is the quantity of the violence. The battles are bloody and bone-crunching. The sex is also unflinchingly portrayed. Mr. James seems to have a fascination with the scents of sex. You can be sure all of that was interesting to me. He writes it so vividly I knew I could add a smell-track if I wanted to from my box of essential oils.

Tracker is joined on his task by a typical coterie of epic fantasy characters. Witches, giants, werecreatures, and almost anything else you can think of is here. Mr. James uses the African legends in place of the European ones.

This is the first volume and we are left with many questions. I have read the succeeding books will tell the same events from one of the other characters points of view. Considering how uncertain I am of the truth of Tracker’s narration if another book gave a different perspective, I think that would be a fun way to fill in the blanks. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is only the beginning.

Mark Behnke