Flashback Friday-The Jazz Singer (1980)

We all have dreams. But what happens when our dreams clash with the ideals of our loved ones?

In the 1980 film, The Jazz Singer, Yussel Rabinovitch (Neil Diamond) is the son of a cantor from New York City. His father, Cantor Rabinovitch (Laurence Olivier) has his heart set on seeing his son follow in his footsteps. But Yussel has other plans. He wants to sing pop music. Leaving his father, his wife, Rivka (Catlin Adams) and his whole world behind, Yussel changes his name to Jess Robin. His career takes off with the help of manager Molly Bell (Lucie Arnaz). But as he begins to see his dreams become reality, Yussel/Jess must also face his past and make some decisions about his life.

A reboot of the Al Jolson film from 1927, this film is to my mind the perfect portrait of what happens when dreams actually come true and the questions we must ask to live as our most authentic selves.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Poldark Character Review: Francis Poldark

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Poldark, both the books and the television series. Read at your own risk.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using Winston Graham’s series of novels, Poldark and the subsequent television series to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

In the previous two posts, I wrote about the title character, Ross Poldark and his wife, Demelza. This post will be focusing on Francis Poldark, Ross’s cousin.

Francis and Ross grew up as brothers. In England at that time, the law of primogeniture ruled. Primogeniture basically means that the first-born son inherits the lion-share of the family assets. Francis is the first-born son of the first born son. He is born into a life of privilege and wealth. But money does not always buy happiness.

At the beginning of the series, we meet Francis when both the audience and Ross learn that he is engaged to Ross’s first love, Elizabeth (to be discussed next week). With Ross home, Francis begins to question if Elizabeth still wants to go on with marriage.  Even after they Francis and Elizabeth marry and bring their son into the world, he is still consumed by jealousy and low self-esteem. He becomes good friends with George Warleggan even though he is aware of the bad blood between George and Ross.

By the time we reach book 4 and series 2, Francis has become a new man. His relationship with Ross has mended, his marriage is flourishing, he has broken with George and he has developed a healthy self-esteem.

Then he is killed in mining accident.

Some people are not meant to live to see old age. Some people unfortunately, find themselves and then die before they can truly live. These are the characters that truly break the reader’s heart and remind them of the fragility of life.

To sum it up: Francis is the type of character that unfortunately meets a tragic and unexpected ending. He grapples with so many issues for so long and when he finally decides to be happy and grab life by the balls, he is gone.  Francis’s death not only breaks the heart of the characters and the readers, but also forces the fate of those around him into unforeseen territory.

When a writer creates a character like Francis, they are challenging the audience. They are challenging the audience to not only appreciate life, but to also look at the character as a whole, not just his or her problems.



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RIP John Glenn

Today, we lost one of the greats of American history, John Glenn.

On February 20th 1962, he made history when he became the first American to orbit the Earth. His trip into space became legendary overnight, his name became synonymous with not only the space race of the 1960’s, but of the hope of America at that time. After leaving NASA, John Glenn served became a senator for his home state of Ohio. Known for his humility, he married his high school sweetheart in 1943 and raised two children.

For many, John Glenn was a hero. Not just because he was the first American to leave Earth, but also for representing dreams and how powerful they can be. Before 1962, leaving the boundaries of Earth was a dream. John Glenn proved that dreams do come true and barriers can be overcome.

John Glenn was 95.


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Hairspray Live Review

In 1988, filmmaker John Waters introduced audiences to a new film and a new heroine. Hairspray is the story of far from modelesque 1960’s teenager Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) whose dream is to dance on the local teenage dance show. What starts out as one girl’s innocuous dream represents a larger goal of diversity, respect for others who are different and self-love.

From there, the movie became a hit Broadway musical with Marissa Jaret Winokur, and a movie musical starring Nikky Blonsky. Last night, Hairspray evolved again to become Hairspray Live on NBC. Stepping into Tracy’s buffont hair was newcomer Maddie Baillio.

I have mixed feelings on this production. What keeps this piece relevant and will continue to keep this piece relevant are the issues that lie just below the surface of the narrative. The problem was that it felt like a high production or a community theater production with a much larger budget and a cast of actors that many of us know and love. While the casting was perfect, especially with Harvey Fierstein once again stepping into the shoes of Edna Turnblad after doing it on Broadway, something was just off for me. There was something missing that I get from live theater that I did not get from this production.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Throwback Thursday-Chaplin (1992)

Charlie Chaplin is one of the icons of the silver screens and one of the original movie stars.

In 1992, his life was made into a film, Chaplin.

Directed by legendary director Richard Attenborough, Robert Downey Jr. stars in the title role. The film follows the life of Charlie Chaplin, from his early years in East London, to his film career, through the scandals the plagued him and finally, late in his life, when his contributions were finally recognized.

If there was blueprint for filmmakers to follow when it comes to biopics, this film is it. A good biopic fully represents its lead character and the person who the film is based on, warts and all. While Charlie Chaplin was not perfect (but who is), he was fully developed human being whose received a proper biopic.

I recommend it.

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December 7,1941-75 Years Later

Today we remember and mourn the lives lost during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was the day that pushed America into World War II. It was the day that not only forever changed that generation, but also changed America as we know it to be today.

My grandfathers were young men in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Members of the greatest generation, they fought for liberty and their country. They were the lucky ones, they came home in one piece. 2,403 young men died at Pearl Harbor and 1,178 came home with battle scars.

Pearl Harbor was a turning point in American history. It forced Americans to come together as one nation and take a stand against tyranny and oppression. Just as Americans came together after 9/11 60 years later, we were forced to see our sameness instead our differences.

In Judaism, when someone dies, we say “may their memory be a blessing”. May the memories of those who died at Pearl Harbor be a blessing to those who knew and loved them.

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Happy Birthday Kirk Douglas

May you live to be 120.

It is a blessing in Judaism that all of us should live to see old age.

Kirk Douglas will reach an age on Friday that few of us will ever see. He will be 100.

He was given the name of  Issur Danielovitch at birth. The son of poor Jewish immigrants,  he fought for his country in World War II. After the war, the changed his name to Kirk Douglas and become one of the icons of the golden age of Hollywood.

Known as a man’s man, Kirk Douglas is remembered for playing masculine characters who the epitome of strength and courage.

His most famous role is the Roman sword and sandal epic Spartacus.

Though he moved away from Judaism decades ago, Kirk Douglas re-embraced his faith and was re-barmitzvahed in 1999 at the age of 83.

For any number reasons, some people are destined to die young. Kirk Douglas is not one of those people. We should all be so lucky to see our 100th birthday.

Happy Birthday Kirk Douglas. May you actually live to see your 120th birthday.

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Christmas, As Only Dyker Heights Can

For 11 months out of the year, Dyker Heights is a quiet, unassuming, almost suburban neighborhood in South Brooklyn. The residents go to school, work and go about their daily life as anyone normally would.

Then comes December and Christmas.

This normally unassuming neighborhood becomes a destination for both locals and tourists. A living testament to the color and creativity that is decorating for Christmas, the homeowners go way beyond a tree with simple lights and a few ornaments. The entire neighborhood lights up in a way that one would not expect a neighborhood in Brooklyn to light up for Christmas.

A must see for both tourists and locals alike, it is a reminder of the joys of the season.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

A prequel or a sequel to a beloved series has to be done right. While exploring new territory with new characters and new narratives, it must also weave in the narrative and characters that fans know and adore.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a prequel to the Harry Potter series. Set in 1926 New York, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is carrying what appears to be an ordinary suitcase. But it is far from ordinary. When the creatures inside the suitcase escape and nearly destroy New York City, Newt must work with sisters Tina and Queenie Goldstein (Katherine Waterstone and Alison Sudol) and no-mag (i.e. muggle) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to get them back.

Before I go any farther I must say that I have not yet read the book, so this review is based solely on the movie. The thing that I enjoy and appreciate, both as an audience member and a writer is that J.K. Rowling understands how to write for movie audiences. The reason her books are so well-beloved and the movies are equally beloved is that the characters and the narrative come first, before any special effects. Of course, they are eye-popping, but she knows how to write a good story first and foremost. That is the key to this movie’s success.

I recommend it.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
is presently in theaters.

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Reasons To See Fiddler On The Roof (If You Have Not Seen It Already)

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing Fiddler On The Roof for the second time.

Based on the stories by Sholem Aleichem, Fiddler On The Roof is the tale of Tevye (played in the current production by Danny Burstein), his family, his world and how both are changing.

Here are my reasons to see Fiddler On The Roof, if you have not seen it already.

  1. You don’t have to be Jewish to get the story. Tevye is a husband and father just trying to get by and do right by his family. We can all relate to that.
  2. It is the story of clinging to traditions in the face of adversity and change. In our increasing secular and technology driven world, it becomes harder to keep to the traditions of our family and our culture.
  3. There is a strong element of feminism running through Fiddler. Tevye has no sons and five daughters. In that community and that time, young people did not marry for love. They married because the town matchmaker chose their spouse and the father agreed to the match. His three eldest daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava choose their own husbands. If feminism is defined as a woman choosing to live life on her terms and if her only choice is marriage, then choosing of one’s spouse based on affection and mutual interests (as opposed to social status or income) is a feminist act.
  4. This is the story of refugees. At the end of the musical, the Jewish citizens of Anatevka are forced out of their homes and out of the shtetl they have called home for generations. The addition of the red parka worn by Burstein at the beginning and the end of the piece highlight how relevant this story still is. Nearly every day, we open the newspaper or turn on the evening news and hear about stories of refugees leaving heir homes due to persecution or war.
  5. Fiddler On The Roof is the penultimate act for a world that ceased to exist 70 years ago. A generation after Fiddler ends, communities like Anatevka will be decimated and her Jews slaughtered by the Nazis.
  6. Chava’s marriage to Fyedka. In some parts of the world, a mixed marriage is still considered controversial.
  7. For audience members who, like myself who are Jewish and can trace their ancestry to Eastern Europe, it is a snapshot of the world our ancestors knew.
  8. Sunrise, Sunset. There is no more universal song from Fiddler than Sunrise, Sunset. When we are parents, as much as we want to do for our children, we have to recognize that they must grow up and live life on their own terms.

This production is wonderful. I highly recommend it and I also recommend that anyone interested in seeing Fiddler On The Roof should get tickets immediately as the show closes on Dec 31.

Fiddler On The Roof is at The Broadway Theater, 1681 Broadway, NY NY 10019. 

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