Throwback Thursday: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

The question of our fate is one that is open ended and based upon the beliefs of the individual. Is it in our hands or is it preset even before it has begun?

The 2011 movie, The Adjustment Bureau (based on a short story, Adjustment Team, by Phillip K. Dick), is a science fiction inspired love story that is not supposed to happen. According to the powers that be, politician David Norris (Matt Damon) and contemporary dance Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) are supposed to live separate lives in New York City. But when he sees a flash of his future with Elise, David goes against those are keeping them apart, The Adjustment Bureau, to be with her. David and Elise have two choices in front of them: accept that their relationship is not meant to be or fight for it.

This movie is so good. It asks existential questions in a way that both speaks to the audience and keeps within the boundaries of the genre. Blunt and Damon have fantastic chemistry and the narrative is perfect taught with tension and suspense.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement Book Review

Some people are born to change the world. Others change the world by a twist of fate, forcing them to step into the spotlight and speak for those who for any number of reasons, cannot do so themselves.

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement, by #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, was published last month. Born in the Bronx, Burke was sexually assaulted as a girl. Believing that she was at fault, she let the shame settle into her emotional bones and change her. She thought it could be simply hidden away and life would simply go on. But the experiences would force her to not just confront her own past, but how other women have lived with similar traumatic experiences. She specifically explores how those responsible for such heinous acts are often given a free pass. At the same time, their victims must live with the scarlet letter that is forced upon them for something they were not responsible for.

This book should be on every must-read list of 2021. In telling her own story, Burke speaks for the millions of women across the world, past, and present, who were called all sorts of names simply because some man thought they were there for his sexual pleasure. By calling out those who would shelter sexual predators and supporting those who have suffered, she is challenging all of us to break the status quo and make assault/rape the criminal act it should have been all along.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Home Sweet Home Review

The best way to learn about someone who is different from us is to spend a day in their shoes. Though the outcome is not 100% guaranteed, the hope is that we see that person behind the stereotypes and the labels.

NBC‘s new reality show, Home Sweet Home premiered last Friday. Created by writer/producer Ava Duvernay, it is a sort of gentler version of Wife Swap. Each episode follows two families who switch lives and homes for four days. While in the other’s house, they live as that family does and meet their loved ones. At the the end of that period, they meet for a meal and get to know those who they have temporarily shared their lives with.

The participants in the first episode are a heteronormative Caucasian Greek Orthodox couple and an African-American LGBTQ couple.

Though the show could border on schmaltzy or the typical overly dramatic reality television formula, it doesn’t. It has a nice balance of tension and the predictable narrative that the audience has come to expect for the genre. What I found appealing was that it spoke to the humanity in all of us. The connection between the two families was the thing that drew me in. Despite their differences, they not only got along, but they became friends. The hook that will keep me watching was a statement by the father. He realized that it is possible to raise children that are happy and successful without forcing the traditional cis gender two parent structure down our throats.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Home Sweet Home airs on NBC on Friday night at 8PM.

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Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood Book Review

Antisemitism is on the rise. It is a fact that is sadly indisputable. When innocent congregants were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27th, 2018, it was a wake up call.

Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood, by Mark Oppenheimer (co-host of the Unorthodox podcast), was published earlier this month. In the book, Opppenheimer focuses on the community, both past and present. It starts with the history of both the city and the neighborhood and ends with how it has bounced back since that day. What makes Squirrel Hill unique is that it is both diverse and has retained it’s Jewish neshama (soul). While in other parts of the country, there is an obvious demographic, cultural and religious shift over the decades, this district has maintained its identity.

When the gunman (who the author does not mention by name and shall be referred to in the same manner in this review) entered the synagogue, it was an event that can only be described as knowing the rose colored glasses off of our collective faces. With a journalist’s eye and the heart of an ordinary human being, Oppenheimer speaks to survivors, the victim’s family members, local residents, historians, and others to tell the story of a moment in time that will forever be preserved in a moment of hate, fear, and heartbreak.

I loved this book. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on multiple lists of the top books of 2021. If the author’s approach would have been to wallow in grief and anger while telling this story, he would have had every right to. But he treats the subject with sensitivity and the understanding that not everyone involved is ready or able to talk about that day and its aftermath.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World Book Review

When we think of rituals, we often think of them attached to a specific religion or religious experience. But rituals can be more than that. They give us structure and allow us to deal with challenges and occurances that life can throw our way.

For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, by Sasha Sagan, was published earlier this month. Sagan is the daughter of the late scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan and writer/producer Ann Druyan, was raised as a secular Jew. A secular Jew is one who is part of the faith by virtue of being born to Jewish parents. They identify as Jewish, but limit how, when, and where they practice. As a child, she was taught nature, science, and space can tell us more about life and it’s various stages more than any tale created by humans.

When Sagan’s daughter was born, she started to examine how the concepts she learned as a youngster influence how we approach life events. Her goal was to create new rituals that emphasize the moment without relying on a specific religious perspective.

This book is very interesting. Her approach is to study multiple religions and cultures to compare and contrast how each views and approaches life and its various changes. Talking about life, death, and everything in between, Sagan is both respectful and curious, introducing the reader to people and beliefs they may or may not have heard of.

If nothing else, we learn that for all of our outward differences, human beings are all the same. The names, procedures, and details differ. But once we get past that, the similarities are remarkable.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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How is Judge Donna Scott Davenport Still in Power?

We all know that our laws, like those who make and enforce said laws are imperfect. That being said, we can only hope that it is yielded for good and not to advance one’s personal perspective.

In Rutherford County, Tennessee, Donna Scott Davenport is the sole Juvenile judge. She has been accused of jailing children as a young as elementary school age for reasons are extremely questionable or non-existent. Adding insult to injury, she allowed the jail staff to determine how long the children would be locked up for instead of following legal precedent. Of course, it goes without saying that Judge Scott Davenport is Caucasian and most of the children “accused” of crimes are not Caucasian.

I’m not an expert in the law, but this is perversion of justice in every sense of the word. If this is Judge Scott Davenport’s attempt to scare the children from committing any crimes in the future, it the wrong way to go about it. I can only imagine the psychological trauma that these poor kids are living with.

Hopefully, come the next election, the voters in the county will hire someone who will do their job and not twist it to fit their view of the world.

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Much Ado About Nothing Character Review: Leonato

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the William Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing. Read at your own risk if you have not seen the movie. 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 of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. The only thing any good parent wants for their child is to be happy and satisfied. The curve in the road comes when said parent has archaic ideas about their offspring does not followed the preferred path.

In Much Ado About Nothing, Leonato, a wealthy landowner has one child, Hero. She is his heir and his whole world. He loves her and cares for her as any father should. Leonato has also in his care, his niece Beatrice. Unlike her cousin, Beatrice is not as pliant and more than willing to share her opinions.

When Hero gets engaged to Claudio, it seems that nothing will stand in the way of their happiness. But the wedding day does not go as planned. Accused of cheating on her fiancé at the altar, Hero faints and is assumed to be dead. When she wakes up, Leonato believes what has heard and gives her a verbal tongue lashing that is laced with disappointment and anger. He calms down when he is convinced that the accusations are nothing but lies.

Pretending that his child is dead, Leonato goes to Claudio and tells him that forgiveness will only come if he marries Beatrice. Claudio agrees, not knowing that his beloved is alive. The play ends with Hero “returning” to life and marrying Claudio, to the delight of Leonato and the rest of the characters.

To sum it up: In 2021, some would say that Leonato is has old fashioned ideas about men and women. Though it is obvious that he is a good father, he is part of a patriarchal society in which virginity is an unmarried woman’s most valuable asset. Even the hint of his daughter having sexual intercourse before saying “I do” is going to create all sorts of trouble. Though by the end of the play, all seems to be forgotten, this writer has to question why the men who condemned based Hero did not ask for forgiveness to the person they hurt the most.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

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Rita Moreno & Mental Health: A Revelation That Needs to be Heard

Rita Moreno is more than an icon. She is a trailblazer who opened the door for non-POC performers to not only have a career, but to play roles than were more than the servant or the background character. She also dealt with mental illness and lived to tell the tale.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It premiered a couple of weeks ago on the PBS series American Masters. The documentary follows her life and career from her early days playing “ethnic” characters to her current status as one of the most respected performers in Hollywood. Best known for her role as Anita in 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story, it was one of the first (if not the first) fully fleshed out Latino characters on the big screen. Up until that point, Latinx performers either had to hide who they were (a la Rita Hayworth) or play a stereotypical characters ( e.g. Carmen Miranda).

While I was not surprised that she was sexually assaulted. Then, as now, women are still seen as sex objects to be used and thrown away when our usefulness outside of the bedroom has vanished. What I was surprised is that she has lived with mental health problems for decades and survived a suicide attempt. I found her honesty to be refreshing and comforting. It was as if she was saying “I did it, you can too”.

If I could, I would send an invite to watch this film to anyone whose life is complicated by mental illness. If it provides one person at least a brief respite from the mess in our heads and the push to ask for help, I would be satisfied.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is available for streaming on the PBS website.

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Flashback Friday: Chrisley Knows Best (2014-Present)

There is something curious about reality television. We know that the term “reality” is a misnomer. For all it claims of being true to life, it is just as scripted as any fictional program. But yet, we leave our skepticism at the door, expecting everything that occurs on screen to be released to the public as it was filmed.

Chrisley Knows Best has been on the air since 2014. The series follows wealthy businessman Todd Chrisley and his family as they go about their business. If his wife, his children, and his mother were to ask about his worse qualities, they would say that he is controlling, quick to get upset, and unwilling to see another’s perspective.

A play off of the 1950’s sitcom, Father Knows Best, this show is best described as a low rent version of The Osbournes. Within the parameters of “reality shows“, this program is the worst of the worst. It is brainless, foolish, and I personally find that there is nothing entertaining about this family. It has been on the air for quite a few years, so obviously, there is an audience for it. But I am not part of that audience.

Do I recommend it? No.

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Throwback Thursday: Howards End (1992)

The appeal of adapting a beloved novel for the stage or the screen is never easy. It has to be as true as possible to the original text. However, there may be the necessity of some changes, which may not or may not please those who love the story in its original form.

The 1992 film, Howards End, is based on the book by E.M. Forster. It is the story of three different families from three different social strata in early 20th century England. The Wilcox family is firmly entombed within the upper class. The Schlagels are middle class and believe in helping others who are not so fortunate. The Basts are at the bottom of the barrel and doing their best to survive. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, and Helena Bonham Carter, it is a story of class, breaking boundaries, and getting to know someone beyond where they are in the social hierarchy.

This movie is amazing. Not only is this BPD adaption loyal to the book, but it is well written, well acted, and thoroughly engaging. It immediately hooks the audience, taking them on a ride that is unexpected and not forgotten anytime soon.

Do I reccommend it? Yes.

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