Monthly Archives: December 2019

My Favorite Movies of 2019

Going to the movies is sometimes akin to stepping onto a roller coaster. Sometimes you love the film your seeking. Sometimes you hate it.

My favorite movies of 2019 are as follows:

  1. The Farewell: The Farewell is my favorite movie of the year because it is heartfelt, genuine and thoroughly human. In the lead role, Awkwafina proves that she can play much more than the comic relief.
  2. Avengers: Endgame: If there was a perfect way to end a film series, this film is it. Balancing both action and narrative, this thrill ride is pure perfection.
  3. Judy: Renee Zellweger is an absolute shoe-in for the Oscars as the late film icon Judy Garland. Disappearing in the role, she tells the true story of the final years of Garland’s life.
  4. Downton Abbey: Transferring a popular television show to the big screen is often easier said than done. The Downton Abbey movie is the perfect film bookend to this beloved television program.
  5. Harriet: This biopic of Harriet Tubman is nothing short of tremendous. In the lead role, Cynthia Erivo is Harriet Tubman.
  6. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: This final entry in the Skywalker saga is not perfect, but it ends with both a nod to the past and an open door to the future.
  7. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The late Fred Rogers was more than a milquetoast children’s TV host. He taught generations of children in ways that go beyond the classroom. Inhabiting the role of Mister Rogers is Tom Hanks, who reminds viewers why we loved him.
  8. Joker: In this re imagined world from that Batman universe, Joaquin Phoenix adds new layers to this iconic character while talking frankly about mental illness.
  9. The Song of Names: Based on the book of the same name, the film follows a man who is trying to discover the secrets of a missing childhood friend.
  10. Frozen II: This sequel to the mega-hit Frozen was well worth the six year wait. Instead of doing a slap-dash direct to video type sequel, the filmmakers expanded this world in new ways, making the story even more relevant.

This will be my last post for 2019. Wherever you are, thank you for reading this year. May 2020 be bright and hopeful.

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Filed under Books, Downton Abbey, Feminism, History, Mental Health, Movie Review, Movies, Star Wars, Television

Best Books of 2019

To say that I am a bookworm is an understatement. As you might expect, I’ve read quite a few books this year.

Without further adieu, my list of the best books of 2019 is below.

  1. The Women of the 116th Congress: Portraits of Power: This book is #1 because it represents how far American women have come and how far we need to go before we are truly equal. In celebrating the success of these female politicians, the authors are paving the way for the next generation of women to represent their country.
  2. The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught In Between: This compelling and true story of one small town and it’s Jewish residents during World War II is as compelling as any fiction novel of the Holocaust.
  3. Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II: Telling the story of Audrey Hepburn‘s childhood during World War II, this book is a must-read for both movie junkies and history nerds alike.
  4. Summer of ’69: History is not just facts in a book. It the lives and experiences of those who lived through that period. In telling the story of one specific family, the summer of 1969 comes alive.
  5. Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators: The revelation of Harvey Weinstein’s actions two years ago was appalling and world-changing. In bringing his actions to the light, the authors are giving his victims what should have been theirs in the first place.
  6. Unmarriageable: A Novel: This adaptation of Pride & Prejudice set in Pakistan proves why Austen’s novels are universally loved and rebooted time and again.
  7. The Mother of the Brontes: When Maria met Patrick: The previously untold story of Maria Bronte (nee Branwell) is a fascinating story of the women who would bring Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte into the world.
  8. Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman: It takes guts to be yourself. It takes even more guts when being yourself means that you are no longer part of the community you grew up in.
  9. She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement: The reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein scandal knew what they were up against. They also knew how important it was for the public to know the truth.
  10. The Winemaker’s Wife: Love and betrayal are enough to handle. Add in war and you have this marvelous novel set in France during World War II.

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Filed under Anne Bronte, Book Review, Books, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Feminism, History, Jane Austen, Movies, Pride and Prejudice

Thoughts on the End of a Decade and the End of the Year

New Year’s Eve is more than the end of the holidays or a reason to get together with loved ones. It is a time of reflection and contemplation.

As 2019 and the 2010’s come to a close, perspective comes into play.

When the decade started, I was in my late twenties. Ten years later, I am nearly forty. One of the things I now realize that my twenties were about molding my adult self. My thirties are about becoming that adult that was made in my twenties.

2019 has been a year of highs, lows, and growth in ways that are unexpected. Growth comes from change, learning and admitting to your mistakes. This year, a major change came from a change in employment. Looking for a job is never easy and learning a new job has its fair share of pitfalls. But, there is something to be said when you have weathered both experiences and have become a slightly better person/employee because of said experiences.

I also earned my second-degree black belt in Muy Thai Kickboxing. It took an incredible amount of work and effort, especially after a long day of work. Earning the belt and wearing it to class is merely a symbol of the effort it took. I look back at the effort I have put in over the years and I can see the results of the effort it took. If there is one thing in my life that I can say I am proud of accomplishing, it is having that belt to my name.

Happy New Year!

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The Song of Names Movie Review

Music has a unique way of reaching all of us.

In the new movie, The Song of Names (based on the book of the same name by Norman Lebrecht), Martin (Tim Roth) and Dovidl (Clive Owen) were as close as brothers when they were boys. But Dovidl’s past and his secrets have torn their relationship apart.

Their first meeting comes as World War II is on the horizon. As a young boy, Dovidl (Luke Doyle) is a wunderkind on the violin. But he is a Jew living in Warsaw. His talent takes him to England and a shared bedroom with Martin (Misha Handley). After the war is over, the boys are now young men (now played by Jonah Hauer-King and Gerran Howell) and are as close as ever. But as Dovidl becomes known as a music prodigy, he must also grapple with his faith and the fate of the family he left behind in Poland.

Decades later, Martin is searching for his friend, who has all but vanished. Can he find Dovidl and discover the secrets that he carries with him?

I loved this movie. I loved it because at its heart is a story of friendship that starts during a tumultuous time in history. As the years pass and the reality of their world is exposed, both Martin and Dovidl must grapple with their experiences. I also loved the ending. It was not a happy ending as Hollywood would see fit, but it worked for the movie.

I recommend it.

The Song of Names is currently in theaters.

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Filed under Books, History, Movie Review, Movies

The Women of the 116th Congress: Portraits of Power Book Review

Progress does not come out of mere wishing and praying. It requires us to step up, take a risk and do something that probably scares the sh*t out of us.

The Women of the 116th Congress was published back in October. With a forward by Roxane Gay, and photographs by Elizabeth D. Herman and Celeste Sloman, the book is nothing short of history making. To be fair, the 2018 midterm elections was history making in itself. Between the House of Representatives and the Senate, 131 women were sworn in. It is the largest number of women in the halls of power in American history. Each woman is photographed and given a brief opportunity to speak directly to reader.

If I had to sum up this book, it would be via a quote from the late Martha Wright Griffths.

“All I want to be is human and American and have the same rights and I will shut up.”

I loved this book. It was a reminder of how far American women have come, but also how far we have to go. This generation of American women stand on the shoulders of women who paved the way for us to succeed. If our daughters and granddaughters are to do the same, it is now up to us to pave the way for their future success.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, Politics

Just This Once, a Good Person With a Gun Stopped a Bad Person With a Gun

Gun control is one of those issues with the potential to tear this country apart. Among the many arguments against gun control is the following: “a good person with a gun can stop a bad person with a gun”.

On Sunday, at a small church in Texas, a man walked in and started firing. It could have been a massacre. But it was stopped by members of the church security team, two of whom gave their lives to save the lives of their fellow parishioners.

In this case, the fact that the security team was armed saved lives. That much is true and not up for debate. However, I still believe that this country needs common sense gun laws. It does not take a genius to understand to put two and two together. Lax and varied gun laws lead to mass shootings. A national gun law that mandates universal background checks is absolutely necessary.

Too many in this country have been lost to mass shootings. Until we take action, we will continue mourn for those who were taken by gun violence.

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Mental Illness is No Excuse For Hate

It’s been two days since the attack against the Orthodox Jews in Monsey.

Since then, it has been revealed that the accused perpetrator suffers from mental illness. It was also revealed that investigators found evidence of previous antisemitic ideas and research he did on the internet with an antisemitic bent.

The problem with claiming that mental illness is responsible for such acts has become an easy way out. Granted, like many who live with mental illness, I know all too well the unwanted extra it adds to your life. However, that does not excuse what he did.

As disturbed as I am that some are claiming that mental illness is responsible for his actions, I am equally disturbed by the fervent antisemitism. When we talk about antisemitism and the Holocaust, the first thought is of the Jews. But the Jews were not the only targets. People of African descent were as high on the Nazi hit list as the Jews were.

I wish there was a better way to end 2019. I wish that we, as a culture, had grown a little and become better than we were at the beginning of the year. It is obvious to me that we are still in the same place that we were back on January 1st.

Maybe we will be better in 2020.

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Thanks to the New Bail Reform Law, the Antisemitic Perpetrators are Free

It’s obvious to anyone who has read a newspaper that criminal justice reform and bail reform is necessary.

But there has to be limits to this reform.

As of January 1st, 2020, there will be changes to the bail system in New York.

In the last couple of weeks, the news has been filled with numerous acts of antisemitism against the Jewish community of New York City. According to news reports, the accused have been set free because of bail reform.

I’m fully cognizant that I am far from an expert on this subject. However, logic (at least my from my perspective) states that there has to be some boundaries. If the accused is not a danger to themselves or their community, then they should not be bogged down by bail and be trusted to return to court on their own.

But, if the accused will be a danger to themselves and their community, they should have that bail hanging around their necks. In the case of the woman who verbally and physically attacked three Jewish women, the message that she and others who think like her receive is that what they did was harmless. They will receive a slap on the wrist at best and will be back on the street before they know it.

I wish that there was an easy answer to this problem. But there is no easy answer. I can only hope that each case is judged individually and each defendant when it comes to bail, is given the appropriate amount.

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A Hidden Life Movie Review

It’s easier to follow the crowd. It’s harder to follow your gut and go against the grain, even if that means putting your freedom and your life at stake.

The new film, A Hidden Life, tells the true story of Franz Jägerstätter. Franz (August Diehl) and his wife, Fani (Valerie Pachner) are farmers. Living in rural Austria during World War II, they have three children. Then Franz is called to serve his country.

But there is a catch. Every man who serves must swear loyalty to the Nazi Fuhrer. Franz’s conscious tells him that he cannot make such a statement. This refusal sends Franz to prison and potentially, to his death.

Written and directed by Terrence Malick, this film is as much a message on respecting your instinct as it is to honor the memory of its subject.

The problem with this movie is that is far too long. It is 180 minutes from opening credits to closing credits. As much as I understood where Mr. Malick was going as a writer and a director, he could have cut it down by an hour and it would have been fine as is.

Though the visuals were stunning and the narrative format was interesting, it cannot overcome more screentime than was necessary.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

A Hidden Life is presently in theaters.

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Filed under History, Movie Review, Movies

Thoughts On the Monsey Stabbing

The holiday season, (regardless of which holiday you celebrate), is about family, coming together and taking the time to appreciate the good things in your life.

It is not a time to hate and kill.

Last night was the 7th night of Chanukah. It was also the sight of hatred and bloodshed. In Monsey, a stranger entered Rabbi Rottenburg’s shul and started stabbing members of the congregation who were in attendance. Five were stabbed, two of those injured in the attack were the Rabbi’s young children.

This is hate, nothing more. This is Orthodox Jews being attacked because they are Orthodox Jews.

If the purpose of the attack was to make all Jews nervous, regardless of how religious they are, the perpetrator won. Though his specific target was Orthodox Jews are who obviously Jewish, his general target was the American Jewish community.

In the Holocaust, six million Jews were slaughtered because they were Jews. It did not matter if they were ultra-orthodox, Jewish in name only or somewhere in between. They were still murdered.

If his goal was to make me nervous, to hide who I am, he failed. I am proud of my faith and proud of my culture. I will always be a Jew, nothing and no one will ever change that.

I pray for the speedy recovery of the victims and the harshest punishment possible for the perpetrator.

Happy Sunday.

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