Category Archives: New York City

Michelle Go Should Be Alive

If there is one thing New York City is known for, it is our subway system. It is the lifeblood of not just the city itself, but of the region. Without it, NYC would not be what it is.

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Last weekend, Michelle Go was shoved toward a subway car by a homeless man as it barreled into the Times Square station. She did not survive. The accused, who will not be named on this blog, has a history of previous arrests and emotionally disturbing encounters with riders.

There are two theories as to why Ms. Go was targeted. The first is that the accused has severe mental health problems and should not have been on the streets. The problem with this accusation is that it casts a shadow on everyone who lives with a mental illness. The truth is that most of us who live with it are just trying to get by. If such an act happens, we are more likely to be the victim, not the perpetrator.

The second theory is that she was targeted because of her ethnicity. It is sadly not the first time this has happened and will not be the last time. Back in November, Bew Jirajariyawetch was chocked one station south of where Ms. Go was killed. Ms. Jirajariyawetch is a model originally from Thailand.

My feeling is that both played a role in Ms. Go’s death. Which as a rider of the NYC transit system scares the shit out of me. I should not be afraid to get on the bus or train. But until the city does what they need to do to protect straphangers, I am forced to be more vigilant than I have been before.

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Filed under Mental Health, New York City

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The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring gangs of young men, fighting to retain unofficial control of what is left of their neck of the woods.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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Filed under History, Movie Review, Movies, New York City, Politics, William Shakespeare

Maybe in Another Life: A Novel Book Review

We make choices every day. It could be as simple as the coffee we drink in the morning or as complicated as the person we want to spend our lives with.

Maybe in Another Life: A Novel, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, was published in 2015. Hannah Martin has just returned to her native Los Angeles. Needing a fresh start after her life in New York City has crashed and burned in spectacular fashion, she is temporarily living with her best friend Gabby and Gabby’s husband Mark.

During an informal reunion at a local bar, Hannah runs into Ethan, her high school boyfriend. When the clock strikes midnight, Gabby is ready to call it a day. But Ethan is not ready to go home and offers to give Hannah a ride home if she is willing to stay a while longer. Hannah could leave with Gabby or hang out with Ethan. This one decision may have the power to change the course of her life.

From there, the narrative takes off into two parallel storylines with different consequences and endings. The question that Hannah has to ask herself is not only where does she want to her life to go, but who will be by her side?

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I enjoyed this book. The author does a good job of creating a dual storyline, which is not as easy as it appears to be. I was hooked immediately, eager to dig into Hannah’s story. The only problem is that in some sections, my editor’s brain turned on. I wanted to read this book for pleasure, not use the imaginary red pen to point out what needed fixing.

Do I recommend it? I would say yes.

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The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Review

There are some artists whose work is so unique that they continue to stand out generation after generation.

Vincent van Gogh is one of these artists.

The Immersive van Gogh exhibit in New York City opened last month. Taking Van Gogh’s painting from the canvas to the screen, the visitor is surrounded by his work using animation, music, and three large rooms with plenty of space to take it all in.

I’m not a huge fan of traditional painting or any painting for that matter. Most art museums frankly bore me. I certainly appreciate the multimedia aspect of this exhibition. It brought his work to life in a way that at least made me stop and really take it in.

My problem was that I found it underwhelming. After sitting down for about an hour, I found that I was bored. There was only so much one could ooh and ah over. It is also a bit of sensory overload that could overwhelm some people. It was not long before I was ready to call it a day.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit will be at 299 South Street in New York City until January 2, 2022.

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Between the Lines: Stories from the Underground Book Review

The choice of book speaks volumes about the reader. It’s one of those things that tells us something about that person even before they open their mouth.

Between the Lines: Stories from the Underground, Uli Beutter Cohen, was published last month. In the book, the author interviewers 170 New Yorkers from different backgrounds about the books they are reading while riding the subway. The interviewees are both boldfaced names and ordinary people just going about their business. In doing so, she is not just telling the story of the city as it is today, but of the people who call it home.

I loved this book. As both a bookworm and a native of NYC, it spoke to me. It spoke to my love of this city, books, and how, at the end of the day, this medium has a way of both teaching us and uniting us.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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The Matzah Ball: A Novel Book Review

The beauty of a romantic comedy is the nearly endless narrative possibilities. The reader/audience can only hope that the writer(s) chooses to color outside of the lines instead of sticking to the same story we have all seen far too often.

The Matzah Ball: A Novel, by Jean Meltzer, was published in September. Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is living a double life. To her readers, she is the best-selling writer of Christmas romance novels. In real life, she is the daughter of a respected Rabbi and Doctor who has been living with a debilitating illness for years. When her publisher requests a tale based around Chanukah, Rachel is at a loss.

Enter Jacob Greenberg, her preteen camp crush/nemesis. Returning to New York after his mother’s death, he has a successful career as a party planner. His sole intent is to host the Matzah Ball, a party celebrating Jewish music on the last night of the holiday. He has every intention of returning to Paris the night after the event. What he does not know is that Rachel will come back into his life, needing a way into the festivities.

Their initial meet-cute after nearly twenty years of separation does not go well. But as they spend more time with each other, the hurt and questions from their mutual summer together may turn into something else completely.

I loved this book. It has a perfect Pride and Prejudice undertone with layers of complexity, characters who are thoroughly human, and a holiday chronicle that is utterly charming, My only problem is that I found the character of Mickey, despite his background, to be a little too cookie-cutter. The role of the GBF (gay best friend), is usually nothing more than a stereotype and a sounding board for the female lead. It would have been nice if the author had stepped out of the box a little and not relied on the 2D trope that has been done too many times.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Jane Austen, Judaism, New York City, Pride and Prejudice

Flashback Friday: Mob Wives (2011-2016)

There has been a fascination with the mafia since the beginning of the modern entertainment industry. The danger, the violence, and the potential for financial and material profit have a certain appeal. But there is also the chance that the ones you love most will not be immune from your decisions.

Mob Wives was on the air via VH1 from 2011-2016. This Real Housewives-esque series followed the lives of women whose relations were in jail due to mafia-related activities. Shot in the New York City borough of Staten Island, this reality show delves into the day-to-day lives of the wives and daughters of prominent members of the American Mafia. While they are trying to support the men they love, they are doing their best to provide for their children and live as normally as possible.

When the series initially premiered ten years ago, the argument that it was based on Italian-American stereotypes was not one that went unnoticed. Like all reality television, it can be mildly entertaining. But, the catch is that the reader knows that it can be as fully scripted as programs that are completely fictional.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Filed under Flashback Friday, New York City, Television, TV Review

Throwback Thursday: Black Swan (2010)

Reaching the mountain top of our careers requires hard work, drive, and sacrifice. But the question begs, how much sacrifice is needed to get to that peak?

In the 2010 film, Black Swan, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a ballet dancer living and working in New York City. Dance is everything to her, she has no life outside of it. After her company’s former prima ballerina Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) is pushed out of the company, the door opens for Nina to play the title role in The Black Swan. Pushed by her former ballet dancer mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), and her artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) to succeed, Nina pushes herself to breaking point. Adding to the pressure is competition from the newest member of the company, Lily (Mila Kunis). Will Nina get to play the part and if she does, what will it cost her?

This film is absolutely fantastic. The performances are compelling and powerful. The duress that Nina is under radiates from the screen. I felt the urge to pull Nina out of the film, hug her, and tell her that everything will be fine, regardless of the outcome. The screenplay has a delicious Alfred Hitchcock undertone, grabbing the audience by the throat and refusing to let go until the screen go black.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under Movie Review, Movies, New York City, Throwback Thursday

Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family Book Review

The Passover story and the Exodus of the Hebrews from slavery to freedom is a potent one. In one way or another, we can all relate to the idea of breaking free from whatever is holding us back.

Laura Arnold Leibman‘s new book, Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family was published back in August. The book traces the ancestry of Blanche Moses. Moses, whose Jewish-American ancestry goes back to the Revolutionary War, tells the story of her biracial ancestors. Both Jewish (mostly Sephardic with a handful of Ashkenazi) and black, her ancestors had to navigate a world in which they could be doubly ostracized while passing as Caucasian. Living in such different places as New York City, London, and the West Indies, it was akin to a game of chess, in which every move must be calculated before proceeding.

I wanted to like this book. The subject is one that is certainly of interest to me. The problem is that it is slow to read and void of the excitement that I should have had while answering the question that the book asks. While I appreciated this deep dive into a part of Jewish history that is not always in the spotlight, the promises laid out by the author are not met.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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Passing Movie Review

When one is part of a minority group, there are two obvious choices. The first one is to be who you are, regardless of what is being said about you. The second is to pretend to be someone else and fit in, otherwise known as passing.

Passing is the title of the new Netflix film. Based on a book written by Nella Larsen, it is set in New York City in the 1920s. Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga) were friends in high school. Both are biracial and have not seen each other for many years. Irene has embraced her identity as a woman of color while Clare is passing as Caucasian. Upon meeting Clare’s very white and very prejudiced husband John (Alexander Skarsgard), Irene is both curious and disgusted by her old pal’s life preference. For her part, Clare is drawn into Irene’s circle of mostly African-American friends (including Irene’s husband, Brian, played by Andre Holland). Unlike Clare, they have openly and proudly embraced their identities. She is forced to grapple with the self-applied mask of passing she has put on.

Written and directed by Rebecca Hall (who has been speaking to the press about her own biracial identity), this is a powerhouse of a film. Though both the book and the movie tell the story of two women who are both partially of African-American descent, I felt like understood them. I’ve often spoken on this blog about my own Jewish faith and identity. I could, if I wanted to, pass as someone of another faith or no faith at all. I’ve been asked quite a few times if I am of Irish ancestry due to my red hair.

At the end of the day, it is this decision we make that defines our lives. Do we not give a fuck and just be ourselves or do we submerge who we are to be accepted by others? It is a question that each of us must ask ourselves, knowing the outcome has to potential to have life-altering consequences.

Do I recommend it? absolutely.

Passing is available for streaming on Netflix.

P.S. I would not be surprised if Passing did well come award season.

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Filed under Books, History, Netflix, New York City