Flashback Friday: Only the Strong (1993)

When we are young, there is nothing like an adult who believes in us. That experience has the potential to positively affect the rest of our lives.

In the 1993 film Only the Strong, Louis Stevens (Mark Dacascos) has been out of the country for the last few years, serving in the military. When he returns to his former Florida high school, he discovers that it has become a hotbed of drugs and violence.

Using the Brazilian martial art of capoeira, Louis is determined to help the worst of the worst of the student body turn their lives around. While the students regain a sense of self and purpose, the local druglord Silverio (Paco Christian Prieto) is not pleased with this change. He will do anything to take back what Louis took away from him.

And of course, there is the romantic relationship that Louis has with Dianna (Stacey Travis).

On Rotten Tomatoes, the reviewer’s score is 8%. It’s a fair score.

Though it has a similar narrative to Lean on Me (1989), it lacks to the originality and force of the movie. The story is almost too predictable. There is nothing wrong with a predictable tale, but a littl originality goes a long way. Though adding the element of capoeira does help, it does little to make it stand out.

What gets me is that there is only one female, and as is expected, she is the love interest. She has nothing else to do other than being the one who walks off into the sunset with the hero at the end. Adding insult to injury, Dianna isn’t even given a last name.

Do I recommend it? No.

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Throwback Thursday: Bring It On: All or Nothing (2006)

Moving, especially as a teenager, is never fun or easy.

Bring It On: All or Nothing (2006) is the third movie in the Bring It On film franchise. Britney (Hayden Panettiere) is a high school senior who is at the top of the social food chain. She is both the captain of the cheerleading team and dating the star quarterback. Everything changes when her family moves to the “rougher” side of town.

Britney would love to join the cheerleading team at her new school. But she has two problems. The first is the captain of the team (Solange). If she does again put on the uniform, she is going to compete against her friends and former classmates.

Though it tries to bring back some of the equity and racial issues of the first film, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. Though it is direct to video and rises slightly above Bring It On Again (2004), the narrative is still just a little too paint-by-numbers for my taste.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

My Two Elaines: Learning Coping and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver Book Review

To say that it is difficult to lose a loved one to Alzheimer’s is an understatement. The slow destruction of their mind is painful beyond words. It is an experience that I know all too well.

The new memoir, My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver, by Martin J. Schreiber and Cathy Breitenbucher, was published in June. Schreiber was Governor of Wisconsin in the late 1970s. He was also the caregiver of his late wife, Elaine. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the early 2000s, he spent the last 18 years taking care of her.

The book tells the story of her disease and their life together. Meeting in high school, they married young and had four children. Martin would eventually get into politics while Elaine took on the traditional roles of wife and mother. She was also his biggest cheerleader and actively campaigned for him.

When it became apparent that something was off, Martin did everything he could to support her.

The best way to describe the book is part love story, part memoir, and part advice column. In between the story of their life together is guidance and information on how to deal with slow and painful mental decline.

What made the narrative stick for me were two distinct elements. The first is reading Elaine’s own words. The second is Martin’s perspective as the male caregiver. Normally, this role is fulfilled by a female, whether she is his wife, family member, or an aide who has been hired out from an agency.

The most important part for me (as a family member of someone who has the illness), is how important mental health is for the person who is taking care of their loved one. Taking time for themselves provides a much needed break from the stress that comes with this experience.

In providing his perspective, he shows that this experience is universal, regardless of gender. It also shows how powerful love can be, even during challenging times.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver is available wherever books are sold.

We Send Our Kids to School to Learn, Not to Die

When I was younger and in school, the purpose of the experience was to receive an education. It was not to be target practice for someone who had no business having access to firearms.

On Tuesday, a young man walked into a high school in St. Louis and started shooting. Two lives were lost, a teacher and a fifteen-year-old student. The shooter was killed by police.

The family of this boy claims that they did everything when it came to his mental health problems.

The point, as I see it, has once more been proven. Did this boy have a mental illness? The evidence, as we have it so far, points to yes. However, that does not preclude the fact that this tragedy and others of its ilk are and were preventable.

I would love to know why a civilian needs access to an AR-15. This is why we need common-sense gun control laws. If this child has not been able to get his hands on that weapon, then both of his victims would still be alive.

May their memories be a blessing. Z”L.

P.S. The girl who was killed was less than a month away from her 16th birthday. For anyone who thinks that we do not need to legislate against gun violence should consider this fact before stating that there is no need for measures of this kind.

Never Change Book Review

Not everyone is meant to have a happily ever after. While some may mourn the lack of a spouse and children, others accept their fate.

Never Change, by Elizabeth Berg, was published in August. Romance was never in the cards for Myra Lipinski. As a child, she did not socialize with her peers. Now, as a middle-aged adult, she limits her social life to the patients she works with as a visiting nurse.

Her newest assignment is Chip Reardon. Back in the day, Chip was BMOC. Every girl in her high school had a crush on him, Myra included. But he never gave her the time of day. After being given the diagnosis of incurable brain cancer that will take his life, she becomes more than his nurse. They start off as friends and slowly drift into something more.

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To say that I was disappointed with this book is an understatement. I connected with Myra from the first page. I understood who she was and why she made the choices she did.

I had two issues: the first was that the proverbial editor’s pen kept appearing in my mind. I hate when I am reading a book and I feel the need to play editor. That is relatively minor compared to the second issue. Whatever romantic chemistry that should exist between Myra and Chip was non-existent. I did not feel it at all. I wanted to, but I couldnt.

Do I recommend it? No.

Never Change is available wherever books are sold.

Once a Girl, Always a Boy: A Family Memoir of a Transgender Journey Book Review

Coming out is not as simple as stating your truth. For many, it takes years, if not decades to gather the courage to reveal who they really are. Built-in, (which goes without saying) is the fear of rejection from family and friends.

Once a Girl, Always a Boy: A Family Memoir of a Transgender Journey, by Jo Ivester, was published in 2020. It is the story of her transgender son, Jeremy, and his journey to becoming his true self. Given the name Emily at birth, he never felt right in his body as a child. As soon as he hit puberty and junior high/high school, the issues became magnified due to the natural difficulties of the age.

As he grew into an adult, he slowly began to accept who he was and go through physical changes (medical procedures included) to match his outsides to his insides. The narrative is told from multiple perspectives: Jeremy, Jo, his father, and his siblings. It is more than the fight for his identity, it is his right to be respected as he is by society and the law.

This book is fantastic and different from other memoirs about this subject. What makes it unusual is the multiple perspectives. It gives the reader a 180 view of what it is like to come out as a transgender person and the multiple ripples this revelation creates.

I also very much appreciate the political action Jo took. She became an advocate not just for her son, but for the millions of LGBTQ Americans who are being discriminated against simply because of who they are.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Once a Girl, Always a Boy: A Family Memoir of a Transgender Journey is available wherever books are sold.

Zack to the Future Podcast Review (2020 to 2021)

Every era and every age group has its own archetypal character that sort of sums up the creative ideas of the time.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this character was Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar)  on Saved by the Bell. Zack was an overconfident, smooth-talking kid with a slightly used salesman con artist veneer. He had a good heart, but it wasn’t always on the surface.

Zack to the Future (2020 to 2021) is a rewatch podcast in which Gosselaar sits down with co-host Dashiell Driscoll to watch the program with adult eyes. Having never watched the show, it is an opportunity for the cast, crew, and fans to reminisce about the gang at Bayside High.

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I looked forward to this podcast every week. Gosselaar’s insight provides a unique perspective on his time playing one of television’s most well-known teenage characters. Unfortunately, it has since been canceled. But like its small screen predecessor, there are always returns.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir Book Review

America has been built on the back of immigrants for over two hundred years. But in every generation, there are those who forget this and try to limit who can enter this country.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir, by Jane the Virgin writer by Rafael Agustin, was published this month. Born in Ecuador, Agustin entered the United States with his parents as a young boy. He believed himself to be as American as any other child. That belief is shattered when he tried to get his driver’s license in high school and is unable to do. When he gets home, Rafael is told that they entered the country illegally and have been undocumented ever since.

Though the truth is out, the question of Rafael’s future is now unknown.

I loved this memoir. His voice is so clear that you can easily see the world as he knew it to be then. The narrative speaks to the American dream and why so many have walked on that same path.

If nothing else, it reminded me of why my own relations immigrated more than a century ago. Their dreams of their future and their children’s future were the same as Agustin’s parents, even in a different time and place.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir is available wherever books are sold.

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Is CRT Really About the Kids or is it About Politics?

Every era is marked by its own political agenda and bold-faced names. But there is one issue that unfortunately, stills holds sway over us: racism.

These days we know it by another name: critical race theory (CRT).

CRT was the subject of last Sunday’s episode of CNN’s United Shades of America. Host W. Kamau Bell interviewed experts and ordinary citizens to get a grasp on what is actually known about the subject and what has been twisted to fit one’s political perspective.

The last group of interviewees was a handful of high school kids. The message I got is that CRT (especially if you are on the right) is not about the students. It is about political gain and maintaining the chokehold that white supremacy has on this country. If anything, it hurts our children. If we do not teach them the complete history of the United States (warts and all), we are willfully condemning them to repeat the mistakes our forebears made. It is also used as a tactic to denigrate and marginalize young people who are different from their peers due to factors such as race, religion, gender, etc.

The only way to face our past is to look it in the eye and understand what amends must be made. But this cannot be done until every one of us is ready, willing, and able to do so.

United Shades of America airs on CNN on Sunday night at 10PM.

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Throwback Thursday: Hang Time (1995-2000)

Everyone has that one thing in high school that defines those years and that experience. It could be sports, music, art, etc.

Hang Time aired on NBC from 1995-2000. This high school sitcom followed the lives of seven members of a high school basketball team at fictional Deering High School.

In short, this show was Saved by the Bell on the basketball court. Other than the sports angle, the only thing that made this show stand out was that the team consisted of both male and female players. I can recall watching an episode or two, but I was not a regular viewer. Obviously, there was enough of an audience to keep the series on the air for five years. I was not among them.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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