The Sunday Magazine: State of Star Wars 2019

In the final weeks of 2019 the Star Wars franchise ended and began. The end came with the release of Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. The beginning came with the release of the Disney+ streaming series The Mandalorian. Unlike last week’s overview of the Watchmen series I liked both for different reasons.

When The Rise of Skywalker hit movie screens I was where I have been for the last forty-two years; seeing the first showing on the first night of release. There is a segment of Star Wars fans who are unsatisfied with this closing trilogy. I am not among them. I realized one reason this is so is I participated in a survey leading up to the release and I was asked to name my three favorite Star Wars characters. I typed Obi-Wan Kenobi, Rey, and Han Solo. I really like the story of Rey through these three movies. It comes to a satisfying ending where it all began. One reason I think I am less critical of the saga as a whole is because I came to them as an adult right from the beginning. I never viewed them through a child’s eyes. So when people criticize with words like it isn’t as magical it is because when you first encountered Star Wars, as a child, you probably believed in magic. It is much harder to keep that positivity when you become older. JJ Abrams brought Star Wars back from the dead I will always be thankful to him for allowing the magic I see in the movies to be there for the rest of my life.

What that means is I want them to stop making theatrical movies. It is a fraught enterprise with conflicting ideas of what it should be. The future of Star Wars is someplace else. On out flatscreen tvs at home on streaming service Disney +.

Another writer/director who understands genre material is Jon Favreau. He is responsible for creating the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man. The Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, is creating something new for this galaxy far, far away.

Mr. Favreau teamed up with Dave Filoni to oversee The Mandalorian. Mr. Filoni has been the creative mind behind the animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels. Together they brought their passion for Star Wars and found a new place for it to grow.

The Mandalorian tells the story of the titular bounty hunter. Always hidden behind his armor his code never allows him to take it off while anyone is around. Prior to the premiere it was advertised as a grittier Star Wars out on the fringes. For almost the entire first episode that is what we get. Heavily inspired by the classic Sergio Leone/ Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns the first episode carries that promised quality. Only to have it given a fabulous twist right at the end. That twist is totally Star Wars. It was kept completely secret while also letting us know this was not going to be that gritty Star Wars. It was going to be Star Wars full of A New Hope. It is so much fun to see the callbacks to Star Wars lore and classic western movie tropes. It ends, in the final episode, with a shot which brings the live action and animated series closer together.

What that means is I want more Star Wars on Disney+ not at the theatre. The Mandalorian could never have succeeded as a movie. I am excited for the new season of the animated The Clone Wars coming soon. I am even more excited for the next live-action streaming series based on Obi-Wan.

I think the movies time to carry the Star Wars torch has ended. They have provided the contours of a wide canvas with plenty of blank space to be filled in by creative authors who want to. If I never saw another new Star Wars movie in a theatre again, I would be fine with that. I am happy to spend some time relaxing on the sofa with the series opportunities from Disney+.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: State of Watchmen 2019

The end of 2019 saw the completion of two things I care about; Watchmen and Star Wars. The end of 2019 also showed the future of two things I care about; Watchman and Star Wars. I am going to comment on each of them over the next two weeks in this column. I will start with Watchmen.

Watchmen is the greatest graphic novel ever produced. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wrote the perfect novel about superheroes and how they would influence society. From the way the comic was laid out through the way the story was told in comic panels plus text it continues to stand alone over thirty years since its publication.

Because of that there have been too many people who have chosen to try and take their turn at using the world created in Watchmen as the canvas for their own imagination. 2019 saw two versions of sequels come to life. One in comic form called “Doomsday Clock” along with one in visual form on HBO called “Watchmen”. The comic version was authored by Geoff Johns. The HBO version by Damon Lindelof. Both men are people I respect but I was unhappy they were going to take on Watchmen. I felt their previous proclivities would lead to unsatisfying endings. In one case I was right. In the other I was completely wrong.

Doomsday Clock is the failure. Mainly because it wants to squeeze in Batman and Superman among
Doctor Manhattan, Rorschach, and Ozymandias. It falls apart because it never seems like anything other than a dopey team-up series. Look Batman and Rorchach meet to compare vigilante cred. Lex Luthor and Ozymandias meet to see who the smartest person in the world is really. Superman and Doctor Manhattan meet to see who the uber-mensch is. It reads like the fan service it is. I found it degenerated into the typical multi-dimensional brawl which ends up changing nothing. This is exactly what I expected from the HBO version.

HBO’s Watchmen was so much smarter. Mr. Lindelof looked for the modern-day version of the Cold War which drove so much of the plot of the original. He settled on race as the equivalent divide. It works brilliantly. In the same way that the original comic veered back and forth in history while telling the individual stories of its protagonists the tv series does the same. There are episodes which are about specific characters and there are episodes that are not. Mr. Lindelof captured all of that. He used four original characters from the comic. Three of them you would expect. The fourth is the origin of the original Watchman, Hooded Justice, which sold me. In episode 6 Mr. Lindelof makes a significant extrapolation to the Watchmen universe by telling that story. It left me with my jaw slack throughout the episode. Until two episodes later in “A God Walks into Abar” he does it again with Dr. Manhattan. Mr. Lindelof decided to take big swings paying homage while also making brave changes to the original. It ends with the perfect final shot. He also found a way to use the text add-ons in a way to add to the tv series by having a website which was updated by one of the FBI agents in the show. It gave the viewer more depth to what was happening on screen. It also answered one last question from the series after it aired.

To be honest I don’t want anyone to go further. Doomsday Clock was a step above fan fiction. There is no reason to think they could do anything better with it. The final shot of Watchmen is equivalent to the final shot of the movie “Inception”. The ideal piece of ambiguity to conclude with. If they do more on HBO I will watch because they have earned my good will, but I would love to think they know they got it right the first time.

If you love the original, I highly recommend the HBO series. I think you will be rewarded for the time spent watching it.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Jackson Year 3

I would like to believe that my readership has grown over the nearly six years I’ve been writing Colognoisseur because of my way of communicating about perfume. That is true for many of you. One thing I am sure there are a lot of readers who visit because of Jackson.

Jackson is our standard poodle we adopted three years ago on January 2. I’ve given a yearly update on him and it has become one of the most read things on the site. Along with the number of people I get communication from who ask about him along with perfume. Jackson is definitely one of the most popular things here. Time to give you the update for year three.

The biggest change in his life was the loss of his older poodle pack mate Henry in November. For most of the time Jackson has been with us it has been Henry who passed along the rules of Poodlesville. He taught him to bark at the twilight deer who walk through our front yard. He also showed him that all squirrels belonged in the trees in our fenced back yard. He also showed him how to butt his head under an arm for attention. Jackson has gotten very good at that one.

Mrs. C has been very wise in how we deal with the passing of a poodle in our house. We have always taken the survivor with us to the vet on the day. After the vet had administered the shots and Henry was gone, we let Jackson walk over to him. It allowed Jackson to register, however dogs do that, Henry was gone. It kept Jackson from looking for Henry. I wish it would’ve kept me from looking for Henry in all his familiar places right after.

It has been interesting watching Jackson get used to be an only poodle. When there was another dog Jackson would scarf up his food immediately. Now eating is a leisurely all-day affair. When Henry was here the order on our sofa was Henry, Jackson, Me, and Mrs. C. Now it has changed to Me, Jackson, and Mrs. C. It seems like he is doing okay without a wingman.

The other ongoing project is getting him to be less scared of the world outside of Poodlesville. That is accomplished by my taking him for walks where he runs right into the new sensations in his world. He still perceives anything new as a threat running to put me in between him and the new scary thing.

What has been very gratifying to see is his interaction with a family I play Pokemon Go with. They have a young daughter who has become the only other human being Jackson willingly goes to. Whenever Jackson sees her his tail wags while he cranes his head forward for the ear scratching she gives him. He likes her Mom and Dad, too. He doesn’t shy away from them if we run into them without their daughter. This is tremendous progress for a poodle who viewed every other person as something to be frightened of. When he slowly wags his tail while getting scratched by his little girl, I smile all over.

For all of you who have asked; Jackson is doing very well. He might not have another poodle to snuggle with, but I feel he knows he has a lot of fans out there. Thanks to all of you who care about him, too.

Mark Behnke

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: It’s A Wonderful Life

Every year as I share my odd Holiday traditions in this column, I inevitably receive an e-mail which asks if I do anything classic. I generally answer there are a lot of things happening in Poodlesville that are going on in other homes. I just like writing about my peculiar choices because I enjoy sharing them. As we get closer to the actual day, I have a set of traditions that are similar to many. One is on the final Saturday shopping day of the season I sit down to watch the 1946 movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”.

“It’s A Wonderful Life” is the movie counterpart to Charles Dickens’ novel “A Christmas Carol”. Both show the main protagonist what their life could be had they made different choices. In the case of “It’s A Wonderful Life” it shows the difference one selfless man makes. That man is George Bailey of Bedford Falls. He has become so despondent he considers suicide. Then an angel named Clarence arrives and shows George how different things would be if he had not been around.

Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey and it his performance that sells the entire movie. It is especially amazing as Clarence is briefed before he goes down. We are shown George’s life. How he has always sacrificed his ambition for the greater good. When Clarence finds George at the bridge ready to jump Mr. Stewart sells the man who feels he has lost everything. There is a moment when director Frank Capra closes on Mr. Stewart’s face; without a word the anguish and despair is conveyed through facial movements. It is what sets an actor apart from one who recites lines.

As Clarence arrives, he shows George what life would have been like if he had never been. This part of the movie is as dark as any movie you will see. That Mr. Capra would take a Holiday movie, especially of that era, down this dark path is remarkable. The eventual epiphany followed by the happy ending is pure Holiday gold.

“It’s A Wonderful Life” is also a movie which has had an outsized influence. There are countless episodes of tv series which show the difference one character makes. It usually carries a title with a riff on the movie like sitcom “Married With Children’s” episode “It’s a Bundyful Life”.

By the time you read this I’ll have watched “It’s A Wonderful Life” for this year. It always reminds me, even when we think we are only a small piece of the universe, we are all important.

To those who only show up once-a-week to read these columns; Happy Holidays!

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Edward Scissorhands

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Those of you who read this column in previous Holiday seasons know I have a different idea at what makes a Holiday movie. I love the classics, but I also have a group of misfit toys which are odd stories that strike the right tone for the Season. One of those on my list is 1990’s Edward Scissorhands.

Edward Scissorhands was released in the Holiday season of 1990. Director Tim Burton was able to make this weird little story because of his success with the first “Batman” movie a year earlier. It falls in line with most of Mr. Burton’s eerie oeuvre. I watch it every year because it is a story of acceptance in the face of oddity.

Mr. Burton was able to fend off the studio wanting a bigger name actor to play the title role. He had already decided he wanted Johnny Depp. Mr. Depp was still in the part of his career where he was a regular on the TV show “21 Jump Street”. He was seen more as a pretty face not a serious actor. Mr. Burton had seen something others had not. He had to stand firm to keep his first choice. Thankfully he did. I can’t imagine any of the other actors; Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, or Gary Oldman, doing this role. There are many creative teams which get each other. It is true in filmmaking as it is in perfume. a shared vision leads to something special. That was the case with Mr. Burton and Mr. Depp.

The plot is pure Grimm’s Fairy Tale; the old unabridged kind. Edward Scissorhands is a creation of a scientist who dies before giving him hands. It leaves him with automaton hands of sharp objects. He is discovered by a young woman, Kim played by Winona Ryder, who rescues him from his solitary life; bringing him into her neighborhood. As Edward sees this world there are some savage digs at the cookie cutter nature of housing subdivisions. Mrs. C and I have called these kind of developments “Edwards Scissorhands Land” anytime we run into one. There is begrudging acceptance as Edward shows his skill with his bladed hands. He makes topiaries which serve to differentiate the identical homes. He uses his hands for other things which gather more fame to him engendering jealousy in others. Of course as in any fairy tale there is tragedy. By the end Edward is left to live the same solitary experience we found him in at the beginning. The difference is what he experienced gives him a new perspective. Now he makes ice sculptures with his hands. There is a beautiful bittersweet ending.

I love it because it is a story of finding the man within the outward monster with a wintry theme. If you want to join my goofy Holiday Movie Club queue up Edward Scissorhands.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Do They Know It’s Christmas? by Band Aid

I remember the Holiday season of 1984 for many reasons. It was the first Holiday where I had a job. I was able to have a giant Christmas tree because my townhouse had a cathedral ceiling. The other thing I remember was hearing on the radio that something had happened over in England on Thanksgiving weekend that was unheard of musically. That thing has been the foundation for much of the giving back to society that popular music has been responsible for since.

I remember being out getting that giant Christmas tree. On my way back I heard on the radio that some of the most popular English musicians were getting together to do a song. Pushed by Bob Geldof, the lead singer of the band Boomtown Rats, it was something to generate funds to battle famine in Ethiopia. Mr. Geldof used his clout, at the time, to enlist every famous musician in the country to join his group Band Aid. One of his criteria for asking someone to participate was the level of their fame. He wanted this to be a huge event of the most popular musicians of the day. One of the great stories is to get Boy George of Culture Club they had to fly him, via Concorde, back to the UK because the band was on a US tour.

It came together very quickly as Mr. Geldof only had the use of the recording studio for 24 hours. He had already written the lyrics and Midge Ure of Ultravox had added the music while also producing. Over the course of November 25 the studio filled with the A-list musicians. It was reported on the network news here, an ocean away. The song was then released as a single on December 3, 1984. I made my friend in NYC wait as I stood in line at the Astor Place Tower Records to purchase a copy.

The song itself, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” has become a Holiday staple on the radio. It has a permanent place on my Holiday playlist on iTunes. It is a simple song yet when they hit the final all-star choir singing “Feed the World/ Let them know it’s Christmas time again” I’m as happy to sing that as I am to bellow “Jingle Bells”.

It was a turning point in the concept of philanthropic musical efforts. In the thirty-five years since, music has found its standing as a societal influence much more surely. Every Holiday season I am reminded that back in 1984 the idea of making a song in a day to feed starving children is exactly what the Season should be about.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: CBS’ Evil

If you have been reading this column for awhile you have probably surmised; I like entertainment which scares me. I like all of it. I don’t have a favorite. I just like that moment when a chill runs down my spine in a good version. I do admire those who can scare me without resorting to tricks. If you can do it with smart writing that is something even better. There is a new example of this type on broadcast television in CBS’ show “Evil”.

Over the last four or five years the horror genre has migrated to the streaming services or premium cable. It is because they can get away with more than over the air. When “Evil” was announced I was interested enough because of the writers; spouses, Robert & Michelle King. I have enjoyed the King’s writing style ever since I discovered their earlier series “The Good Wife”. They were as much the reason I picked up the CBS All Access service so I could watch “The Good Fight”. Three years ago they tried to make an experimental show work on broadcast TV with “BrainDead”. That show pushed in too many directions at once. I think that has helped them refine their approach when it came to “Evil”. They are still pushing but mostly in one direction; the scary kind.

The premise of Evil is a man who is training to be a priest David Acosta is partnered with a psychologist Dr. Kristen Bouchard. They are employed by the Catholic church to confirm or debunk the supernatural. When you read that you might think “X-Files” and there is a similarity starting with the give and take between believer and skeptic. Actors Mike Colter and Katja Herbers play David and Kristen with that dynamic in front. Each week the show has a “case of the week” along with the way these investigations impact the two detectives in their private life.

The cases have been well-executed twists on classic themes. Including a nod to the poster of The Exorcist. Except in the movie ad it was the priest being silhouetted in the streetlight. Here it is a psychologist arriving to stop the ritual.

There is an overarching plot which ties the cases together and that has become more obvious in these later episodes. The villain is played by Michael Emerson who provides many of the tension-filled moments. He is back to his creepy best as it was when he was on “Lost”.

All together this has turned into an hour of television which has provided those chills I look forward to at least a couple times every episode. There are a couple of very brave writing choices which makes “Evil” the darkest show on broadcast television. At some point there will be a great story on how the Kings convinced CBS to stick with their vision.

If you like scary stories and thought they couldn’t do that over the air anymore try watching the first four episodes of “Evil”. I think you will be surprised at what can still be done to scare you in the dark.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Turnstiles by Billy Joel

I have had satellite radio in my car for over ten years. One of the things I particularly enjoy about SiriusXM is when they have an artist specific channel for a month or two. Recently I’ve been listening to the one dedicated to Billy Joel. What attracts me to it is they usually edit in interview clips about songs as well as a show called “BJ the DJ” where Mr. Joel will talk about the artists that influenced his music. It can be really entertaining when he shows you the similarity in tempo change between the Beatles “Day in the Life” and his own “Goodnight Saigon”. Listening over the past few weeks I have come to appreciate again the album which I think I like the most, “Turnstiles”.

“Turnstiles” was released in 1976 as his third album. It was just before his star would really ascend with the release of “The Stranger” a year later. One of the things I have realized re-listening to Mr. Joel talk about it and to the music is how this album defines the breadth of the material to come. “Turnstiles” was recorded after Mr. Joel decided to return to New York after his time in LA.

That is represented in the first song “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” where he bids a lyrical farewell to a city he never really liked. His affection for his home would come in three songs inspired by New York; “Summer, Highland Falls”, “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go out on Broadway)”, and “New York State of Mind”. That last song has become one of Mr. Joel’s signature songs as well as a musical representative of New York City. Re-recorded by many who also love NYC. I like it better than the other NYC song “New York, New York”.

Another interesting aspect of listening to the Billy Joel Channel is he talks about his playing techniques. I remember seeing him playing “Angry Young Man” in concert. It stars with him using his thumb and forefinger pressed together to attack the piano keyboard in a ferocious staccato. It is one of my favorite intros. In one of the recorded bits it was inspired by the drum solo from the song “Wipe Out” by The Surfaris. Once I heard him say that while both songs were played back-to-back it was impossible not to see it. There is another technique I enjoyed that seemed to especially show up in many of Mr. Joel’s early songs. He had a way of rolling his fingers into a glissando effect on “Turnstiles” you hear it on “Summer, Highland Falls”. He calls it “banjo fingers” because he is trying to emulate the strumming of a banjo on the piano.

If you have access to satellite radio and enjoy Mr. Joel take some time to switch over and listen to one of the great rock musicians talk about his music. It made me go back and spend time outside of the car with it; especially “Turnstiles”.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Best Wine for Thanksgiving

Because I’m a wine snob my friends always ask me one question every year, “What wine should I serve for Thanksgiving?” Of all the things I get asked this is close to the easiest answer I give, “American Zinfandels”. They are the ideal partner to a stuffed turkey dinner.

For all that we know of the more popular grape varieties out of California, zinfandel were the first grapes to produce wine in the early part of the 20th century. It was almost the entirety of the grape crop prior to Prohibition. Once temperance became law almost all the vineyards uprooted their vines and switched to other crops. There were a few stubborn outliers who were able to make a living off selling wine to churches. For sacramental purposes only, of course. For the most part when you see the phrase “old vines” on a California Zinfandel it is one of these obstinate winery owner’s crops you’re drinking.

One of the reasons zinfandel was popular from a grower’s perspective is it is a sturdy grape. Not as affected by the whims of too much sun or too little rain and vice versa. That is one of its best selling points as a wine I recommend a lot. There are years which are better than others but there have been hardly any terrible years. I can just tell you to go find a zinfandel from California, Washington, or Oregon with assurance it will be a good bottle of wine.

What makes it the right wine for Holiday turkey dinners is it falls right in between the lighter pinot noirs and the heavier cabernet sauvignons. The former tends to get bulldozed by the spices in a typical Thanksgiving dinner. The latter do the bulldozing with their strong tannic profile overwhelming the food. Zinfandels fit right in providing a nice complement to the typical fall spices, even pumpkin spice. It also provides a rich counterbalance to the turkey whether you like white or dark meat.

The final piece to the equation is most zinfandels sit in the magic price zone of $10-20 per bottle. You can spend a touch more and if you are a regular wine drinker appreciate the added nuance you get. For most those zinfandels which sit in the more moderate price range will perform at the large family dinner just as well.

If you want a wine for Thanksgiving go find a nice zinfandel. Its as easy as that.

Mark Behnke