- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Eyes of Tammy Faye: Jessica Chastain not only brings Tammy Faye Bakker back to life, she reveals the real person behind the punchline.
- 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.
- Moxie: A shy teenage girl stands up to the sexist bullshit at school and empowers her fellow female students in the process.
Category Archives: Music
History is more than a series of dry events written in a book. If we are able to understand what our predecessors have gone through, then perhaps we will finally learn from their actions.
Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah.
One of the things that strikes me this year is that it feels more relevant than ever. With antisemitism on the rise, it’s not difficult to see the parallels between what we are going through in 2021 and the Maccabee’s fight for religious freedom. As the United States is potentially stumbling into autocracy and away from democracy and religious pluralism, this story is more than important than ever.
If you celebrate, wherever you are, have a Happy Hanukkah.
There are some artists that are so iconic that even if one is not a fan, they know the music.
On Friday night, Billy Joel returned to Madison Square Garden and his residency/monthly concert. Stepping onto the stage after a near two-year absence due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a feeling of giddiness that permeated the sold-out arena.
Playing both well-known hits and songs that only the dedicated fanbase would know, Joel delved into his musical past while honoring the places he came from. The audience, which was made up of both longtime fans and casual listeners who have known his music for most, if not all of their lives, responded with an energy that can only be described as electric. For his part, Joel played and sang with the energy of a performer many years his junior. Spending most of the concert at the keys, he stood for the last few songs, performing beloved hits such as “Uptown Girl” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire“.
The highlight of the evening was “New York State of Mind” and “Piano Man“. Revealing that the fireman’s helmet sitting on the piano belonged to Neil Skow, a firefighter who was on the ground during 9/11, a cheer rose from the crowd. It was as if it represented, both physically and literally, the strength that has gotten many of us through the past 20 months. Taking out the harmonica to play his best-known song, the first few notes elicited a reaction from fans that was pure joy.
It was a night to remember for all involved and from my perspective, one of the best concerts I have ever been to.
Art has a way of changing the world as few things can. But that does not mean that the final product is approved of by everyone in the audience.
When the musical Jagged Little Pill (based on the Alanis Morissette album of the same name) hit Broadway opened at the end of 2019, it was met with rave reviews. The story of the Healy family and their struggles spoke to the shit we all go through everyday. With the show re-opening at the end of the month, there has been some issues with the character of Jo, played by Lauren Patten.
One of the topics that has come up with this controversy is representation. I completely agree that representation these days is super important. Though there has been a vast improvement in both the image and numbers of non cis-gender heterosexual Caucasian men in the media, the truth is that we have a long way to go in truly reflecting the audience.
Speaking as a writer, one of the aspects of this conversation that is missing is how Jo evolved from the first draft until the premiere. In the process of writing, both characters and narrative change over the course of the creation of the work. What also may have happened is tryouts and previews, she was tweaked by both the actor, the writer(s), and the director until everyone was satisfied with the final product.
I have two concerns with everything that is whirling around Jagged Little Pill. The first concern is that it will ultimately force the show to close. When a scandal erupts over an IP, one of two things happen. The first is that it arouses interest and brings in audiences who otherwise would have passed it by. The second is that the scandal become so overconsuming that the executive team has no choice but to call it quits.
The second concern is that producers will look the scandal and if they see a script that is similar to JLP, it will go into the “no pile”. Not because of the quality of the work, but because of the possibility of negative press.
Only time will tell if JLP survives or closes. My hope and my prayer is that it survives because it proves that there is room for creativity and new concepts on Broadway.
P.S. Lauren won the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical last weekend. It is an honor that is well deserved.
If there is one thing we all take for granted, it is life itself. Then we are reminded how quickly we can go.
One of the most important prayers is called U’Netaneh Tokef. One of the passages in the prayer is as follows:
On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.
Yesterday, death came close to home. To say that I am grieving and shocked is an understatement. A friend passed away. I haven’t seen her since before the pandemic and have only spoken to her once since last Spring. Now I wish I had stayed in touch. We need to tell the ones we love how we feel when they are here, not when they are gone.
Z”L my friend. RIP.
To everyone fasting, have an easy fast and may you be written into the book of life for another year.
There are two ways to lose our innocence. The first is the slow and gradual growth to maturity when old ideas begin to be replaced with new ideas. The second is when a single event forever changes the way we see the world.
Today is the 20th anniversary of September 11th. It was an ordinary day. The sky was blue and bright, a perfect early fall day. Offices, schools, and stores opened as normal. Then the first place hit the Twin Towers and everything changed.
I was in college back then, part of the younger generation. It’s amazing how fast two decades can go. Though it seems like it will take forever for the time to pass, it goes in the blink of an eye. Those of us who were young then are now adults with adult responsibilities. Some of the the kids who were too young to know what was going on or not yet born are now on the verge of adulthood themselves.
On Thursday, The Brian Lehrer Show asked listeners what the term “never forget” meant to them. What I remember is that for a brief time, the divisions that normally kept us apart disappeared. We were all Americans and we were all grieving. It was a communal loss that knew no boundaries or labels.
Last month, I visited the 9/11 Museum with a couple of friends. It was my second visit. Walking into the building is akin to a ten pound weight being thrust on your shoulders. There is an energy that is emotional, heavy, and sometimes difficult to bear. The energy of the day and the souls of the innocent people whose lives were taken that day are all around you, a solemn reminder of what was lost on that beautiful September day.
It was if nothing else, a potent reminder of how important it is to not only live while you can, but tell the ones you love how you feel before it is too late.
May the memories of the nearly 3000 people who were taken us from forever be a blessing. Z”L.
The question of nature vs. nurture is a tempting one to ask. Does our upbringing dictate who we are and what we believe? Or is it our perception of ourselves and the world around us?
Cruella was released yesterday on DisneyPlus. Estella/Cruella De Vil (played by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as a child and Emma Stone as an adult) has been a rebel and an outcast since she was young. Raised by her single mother, she is left parentless at 12. Arriving in London with only her dog as a companion, she finds family in the form of thieves Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry). Ten years later, they have become a trio.
But Estella wants more out of life than petty thievery. She wants to be a fashion designer. Fate sends her the opportunity she is praying via the Baroness (Emma Thompson). The Baroness is the queen of the English fashion scene. She is also self centered and selfish. What starts out as a door opening to the job of her dreams turns Estella/Cruella into a version of the person she wants to destroy. The question is, can our heroine keep up with the image she has created while being true to herself or will she sell her soul in the process?
Cruella is one of the best films of 2021. It is so much fun to watch. The music (classic 1960’s and 1970’s tunes) is perfectly chosen. Both leading ladies are at the top of their game. The introduction to Thompson’s character is only bested by Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) in The Devil Wears Prada.
What I loved is that this movie it proves that a female led movie does not require a romantic narrative to be successful. There are male characters who have a significant role in the narrative, but their relationships with the Baroness and Estella/Cruella are of a professional and/or plutonic nature.
Among the Disney prequels that have come out as of late, this is the best one. Though there is the argument of an easy cash grab, there are more than enough Easter eggs to keep fans of the original film happy. Expanded beyond the original narrative, it is a loving homage to its predecessor while standing on its own two feet.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
Cruella is available for streaming on DisneyPlus.
When we experience trauma, the emotional scars have a tendency to last long after the event that created the trauma is over. When it resurfaces and starts to take control, there are two options. The first is to look it in the eye and stop running from it. The other is to let it take the wheel.
The new Aretha Franklin biopic, Respect, premiered last weekend. It tells the story of the late and iconic performer in two sections: her early years and the late 1950’s to the early 1970’s, when her career was just taking off. Born and raised in Detroit, Aretha’s parents, C.L. and Barbara Franklin (Forest Whittaker and Audra McDonald) divorced when she was young. C.L. knew that his daughter was a musical child prodigy (played as a child by Skye Dakota Turner) and was more than willing to promote her gift to anyone who would listen. He was also controlling and unwilling to let her make her own decisions when it came to music.
In 1959, the adult Aretha (Jennifer Hudson) is eager to see her dream of becoming a professional musician turn into reality. But after multiple albums, she is at a crossroads. Aretha can either let her father dictate her career or take a chance on going her own way, musically speaking and letting her husband, Ted White (Marlon Wayans) manage her. But the marriage is not all sunshine and roses. While she is on the path to becoming a global superstar, the fight for Civil Rights continues on with Aretha on the forefront.
This movie is amazing. Hudson was born to play this role. She does not merely play the part, she embodies Franklin. There points in which I had to wonder if I was watching a documentary or a fictionalized adaptation of her biography. If this film and Hudson specifically does not walk away with an Oscar, something is wrong with the voting. Though some scenes could have been cut down a little, it is a wonderful film that reminds us of the power of overcoming what holds us back.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
Respect is currently in theaters.
There is no doubt that Britney Spears is an icon. She is one of those few performers whose name and work is instantly recognizable. It doesn’t take much to conjure up her image or one of her songs.
Since 2008, Spears has been under a conservatorship led by her father. At the time, it made sense. Given her the public mental health breakdown, it was obvious that someone needed to step in. To sit back and do nothing would have irresponsible. It was supposed to be temporary, until she was able to function as an adult. But somewhere along the way, it became more about using her a cash cow while treating her as a child incapable of taking care of herself.
It’s time for the conservatorship to end. If not wholly, reduced down so that she has some say in her personal and professional life. I also have to wonder if she were a man, would the treatment been different? I think so. There have been a quite a few male celebrities who also live with mental illness and have been open about it. They were not legally and personally shackled down as Spears has been.
*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.
*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series The Nanny. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. 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 general on screen image of a grandmother is that of a loving, openhearted woman whose focus is her family. On The Nanny, Fran Fine‘s (Fran Drescher) grandmother, Yetta Rosenberg (the late Ann Morgan Guilbert) is not one of these women.
As a young girl, Yetta immigrated to the United States, where she was supposed to marry the man chosen for her. Though she fell in love with another man, she decided to marry her husband when the man her heart was set on disappeared. Later in life, she would travel between Europe and America, experiencing quite a few major historical events of the first half of the 20th century.
When we meet Yetta as a woman in her sunset years, her mind has started to slip. She is known to frequently smoke, in spite of her ailing health. Unaware that Fran is working for Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy), she believes that he is her grandson-in-law and that his children are her great-grandchildren. But if the viewer knows nothing else about Yetta, she loves her granddaughter intensely. When Fran eventually marries Max and brings their children into the world, she is there as a only proud grandmother can be. Yetta also re-marries before Fran walks down the aisle, creating a running joke. Her new husband is Sammy, played by the late Ray Charles.
To sum it up: Though Yetta is far from the grandmotherly character type we expect to see, she feels like she could be anyone’s grandmother. Her love of her grandchildren is obvious, her mind is not what it was, and she still has conflicts with her children.
Which is why she is a memorable character.
This will be my last character review post for the The Nanny. Come back next week to find out which group of characters I will be reviewing next.