Monthly Archives: December 2021

Best Movies of 2021

  1. Quo Vadis, Aida?: This harrowing tale of one woman’s choice to save her family or save as many people as she can during the Bosnian War is as powerful as a film can get.
  2. Mass: Two sets of parents meet after one of their sons has killed the other in a school shooting to figure what happened. Along the way, they are forced to answer questions that are painful and difficult.
  3. Spencer: This fictional take on Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) and what might have occured during Christmas in the early 1990’s is a unique take on the myth of the late royal.
  4. Belfast: A young boy is growing up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 1960’s. As he starts to transition from a child to a young adult, he begins to realize that nothing is ever a simple as it seems to be.
  5. Black Widow: After ten years, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) finally gets the movie she should have gotten. Trying to atone for her past while living in the present, she must face reality and make up for mistakes.
  6. Framing Britney Spears: This Hulu documentary took viewers in the life and career of Britney Spears and how it has changed since her father took control over both.
  7. West Side Story: Steven Spielberg’s adapation of this beloved musical takes it into the 21st century while retaing its message about prejudice and lack of opportunity.
  8. The Eyes of Tammy Faye: Jessica Chastain not only brings Tammy Faye Bakker back to life, she reveals the real person behind the punchline.
  9. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: This latest addition to the MCU is more than just the first all Asian cast. It is the story of a complicated father/son relationship and a young man who cannot run from his fate.
  10. Moxie: A shy teenage girl stands up to the sexist bullshit at school and empowers her fellow female students in the process.
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This will be my last post of 2021. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing tonight, have a safe and happy New Year. See you in 2022.

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Best Books of 2021

  1. The Four Winds: Kristen Hannah has done it again. Her Cinderella-esque tale of a woman who resecues herself from a live of drugery, poverty, and low self esteem is one to be read again and again.
  2. Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People: Ben M. Freeman‘s treatise on Jews, and Jewish history is a must read for anyone who for once and for all wants to defeat antisemitism and all forms of hate.
  3. Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol: Mallory O’Meara‘s non fiction book explores how inspite of a certain image, women have been creating and drinking all forms of alcohol for centuries.
  4. I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J Trumps Catastrophic Final Year: The subject of you know who will be on the lips of writers and political historians for years to come. Authors Carol Leonning and Philip Rucker examine how the former President believed that he did not need help in running the country.
  5. Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood: Writer and podcaster Mark Oppenheimer tells the story of how a single neighborhood was affected by the murders of eleven Jewish residents in 2018.
  6. Peril: Bob Woodward and Robert Costa take a deep dive into how close the American democracy got close to destruction.
  7. The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh: This JAFF by Molly Greeley gives the spotlight to Anne de Bourgh, a minor Pride and Prejudice character who has yet to be fully seen or appreciated.
  8. Three Ordinary Girls: The Remarkable of Three Dutch Teenagers Who Become Spies, Saboteurs, Nazi Assasins-and WWII Heroes: This fascinating and powerful tale of three young ladies who led an underground war against the Nazis during World War II.
  9. Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers: Written by the Bonnet at Dawn podcast hosts, this book examines the life and works of the women writers we have loved and respected for generations.
  10. The Matzah Ball: A Novel: Jean Meltzer’s Chanukah themed rom-com about two people who are secretly in love, but cannot speak the words due to the current and past trauma.

Here’s to the books we loved in 2021 and the books we will love in 2022.

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The Matrix Resurrections Review

When The Matrix premiered in 1999, it was more than the standard science fiction good vs. evil movie with computer-generated effects and stunts. The narrative question was existential in nature. Both the special effects and the fight scenes were (and still are) awe-inspiring.

The 4th movie in the series, The Matrix Revolutions, premiered last week. Neo (Keanu Reeves) is torn between the world he sees and the world that is just beyond his consciousness. He is the creator of the best-selling video game of all time called The Matrix. He is also seeing a therapist, known as The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris).

He begins to question his reality when Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, replacing Laurence Fishburne) comes back into his life. When he finally breaks from the world he has known, Neo can only save the day once more with the help of Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). But like Neo, she first has to see the truth.

I wanted to like this film, I really did. It tries to build on the legacy of its predecessors while adding new layers to the story. After nearly two decades. both Moss and Reeves still have the same chemistry. The addition of new cast members builds on this idea of fighting for our individuality instead of just going along with the rest of the crowd. Among the newbies, Harris stands out. I haven’t followed his career closely, but this character from what I know is not one that he normally plays.

The problem is that it just stretches on. It only perks up when Trinity wakes up, which is at about the 60% mark.

Do I recommend it? I would lean toward yes, but only if you have seen the three previous movies.

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The Book of Boba Fett Review

From the outside looking in, it may appear that the Star Wars franchise begins and ends with the Skywalkers. But, as any fan knows, that is only the beginning of the story.

The Book of Boba Fett premiered Wednesday on DisneyPlus.

When we last saw Boba Fett (Temeura Morrison), he had been swallowed by the Sarlacc in Return of the Jedi. The opening shot of the series reveals that Boba is still alive. After fighting to get to the surface and to civilization, he takes the throne and the power from the deceased warlord Jabba the Hutt. Unlike Jabba, Boba does not want to rule via fear, he wants to rule via respect from the local communities. Beside him is his second in command, Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen). Though it appears that he and Fennec are welcomed by the locals, there are some who would prefer to eradicate them.

Like any first episode of any new series, there are more questions than answers. But so far, the questions are more than enough to keep me coming back for me. It proves, in my mind at least, that the number of narratives that exist within this universe is endless.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Book of Boba Fett is available for streaming on DisneyPlus.

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Flashback Friday: Air Bud (1997)

Stories about a child and their pet are a staple of the fictional world.

In the 1997 Air Bud, Josh Framm (Kevin Zegers) is a young man who loves basketball. He would like to join the school basketball team. His obstacles are threefold: he is the new kid in town, he is mourning the loss of his father, and he lacks the confidence to try out. All of that changes when he meets Buddy, a golden retriever who matches Josh’s love of the game and his skill level.

With his beloved dog by his side, Josh not only makes the team, but they both become stars of the show. Their bubble bursts when Buddy’s abusive former owner, Norm Snively (Michael Jeter) demands a piece of the action. Will this boy and his dog stay together or be forced apart?

Air Bud is one of the mildly appealing 1990’s films that I suppose is entertaining. But it depends on the audience. If you’re a preteen child, I can see how you might enjoy it. But as an adult, I would rather watch something else.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People Book Review

Throughout human history, Jews have been at best tolerated, and a worst forced to convert or submit to the sword. But even with all of that pressure, we have not only survived, but thrived.

Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People, by Ben M. Freeman, was published at the beginning of the year. Influenced by coming out and living as a gay man, Freeman examines both Jewish history and contemporary Jewish culture. He talks about antisemitism, the image of Judaism that is imposed on us, and the choice we have to either remain true to ourselves or change to be accepted by the non-Jewish world.

I truly enjoyed this book. It is both a middle finger to those who hate us and a challenge. To the Jewish reader, Freeman is asking us if the cost of assimilation is worth it. To the non-Jewish reader, he is not asking for friendship and acceptance, he is asking them to examine their own prejudices and ideas about our faith and those who practice it.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Throwback Thursday: Dangerous Beauty (1998)

For most of humanity, women have been limited to the roles of being wives and mothers. Their education, if they received any, was minimal, and their ability to have the same experiences as their male counterparts was virtually non-existent. There was only one exception to this rule, which can only be classified as the oldest profession in the world.

In the 1998 film, Dangerous Beauty, Veronica Franco (Catherine McCormack) is a young woman in 16th century Venice. Though she comes from an aristocratic family, she has no money. When her lover, Marco Venier (Rufus Sewell) is forced to marry another, Veronica has two choices: join the Church or become a courtesan. Her decision is to become a courtesan. Unlike other women in her culture, Veronica has freedoms and opportunities that wives do not have.

Problems erupt when the Inquisition comes calling. She has become too popular and respected among the male elite and of course, because of that, Veronica has a target on her back. Her only way to survive is to rely on Marco, but that does not mean that he will automatically stand by her.

I really liked this movie. It speaks to the double standard that women still have to deal with. It also points out the hypocrisy of male leaders, who both use us for their sexual needs, but are quick to condemn us when push comes to shove.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Last Czars Review

Hindsight is 20/20. It can also change the course of history if we are unwilling or unable to make changes while the door is still open.

The Last Czars (2019) is a six-part Netflix miniseries that tells the story of the end of the Romanov family and dynasty. Combining interviews with historians and filmed footage, it is a slow downhill ride towards a fate that could have easily been avoided. Starring Robert Jack as Czar Nicholas II of Russia, Susanna Herbert as Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna, and Oliver Dimsdale as their children’s tutor, it opens with the question of the woman who claims to be Anastasia, youngest of the Grand Duchesses.

I liked this series. It has a nice balance of a fictional narrative based on documented events and experts adding extra layers of historical truth. It is engaging, entertaining, and a reminder that sometimes being hard-headed is not always a wise decision.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Last Czars is available for streaming on Netflix.

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Carrie Fisher, 5 Years Gone

Carrie Fisher died five years ago today. Known for her role as Princess/General Leia Organa in the Stars Wars film franchise (among other roles), she was a respected writer and a mental health warrior. Dogged by mental illness and drug addiction for most of her life, it would have been easy to let both diseases get the best of her.

Though her death was and still is tragic, the fact that she was able to find a way to survive both for as long as she did will forever be a huge inspiration to me.

I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.

May her memory forever be a blessing. Z”l.

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West Side Story Movie Review

Regardless of whether or not one is a fan of Broadway musicals, they are likely to at least know of West Side Story. To make a long story short, it is Romeo and Juliet taken from Italy in the 16th century and put down in New York City in the late 1950s.

The reimagining opens as San Juan Hill, a neighborhood in Manhattan, is being torn down to become what we know today as Lincoln Center. Not surprisingly, the residents of this neighborhood are people of color, immigrants, and low-income Caucasians.

The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring gangs of young men, fighting to retain unofficial control of what is left of their neck of the woods. Riff (Mike Faist) is the leader of the Jets, who are all White. Bernardo (David Alvarez) is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. Though he has a career as a boxer, he is equally concerned with protecting his family and his fellow Puerto Ricans.

Their fates are changed when Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) meet at a dance. Maria is Bernardo’s younger sister. Newly arrived in NYC, she is both idealistic and stubborn. Without their parents, the only maternal influence she has is Anita (Ariana DeBose), Bernardo’s girlfriend. Anita is spicy, whip-smart, and is eager to take advantage of the opportunities that lay before her. Tony is Riff’s best friend and his former second in command. After spending a year in prison, he wants more from life than being a hoodlum.

As the two fall in love and envision a life together, their relationship is tested by the violence around them. If they could get those closest to them to find a way to get along, Maria and Tony could have a chance at a future. But as lovely as that idea is, it will take a miracle to make it happen.

Kudos go to director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner. They took a chance on remaking a classic and succeeded. What makes it stand out from its 1961 predecessor is both the casting of Latinx actors and the understanding that socio-economic issues, politics, and racial strife is the backbone of this narrative.

The deliberate decision of seeking out and hiring performers who are from Latin America or of Latin American descent adds a feeling of authenticity that is missing from the original film. Even Rita Moreno, who is also Puerto Rican (Anita in the 1961 movie and Valentina, the co-owner of the pharmacy and widow of the late pharmacist in this adaptation) had her skin darkened.

If there is one performer who stands out, it is Rachel Zegler. In her first on-screen role ever, she shines as Maria. Her voice is absolutely stunning. Most young actors start out as background players or in small roles, slowly building up their resume. To come out of the gate in the lead role in a major movie and blow everyone away shows that she has nothing but a bright future ahead of her.

This narrative is as timely and powerful as it was sixty years ago. The problems have not changed, they just have different names and different faces. If nothing else, it reminds the audience that we have two choices. We can continue to figuratively shoot ourselves in the literal foot, or find a way to work tother.

Though it clocks in at a little over two hours, it is worth sitting through.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

West Side Story is presently in theaters.

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