The Lunar New Year Starts With a Mass Shooting

The new year, regardless of whether is secular, religious, or cultural, is supposed to represent the opportunity to turn the figurative page. Our future is supposed to be bright and filled with possibilities.

Over the past few weeks, millions of people celebrated the Lunar New Year. On Sunday, at least 10 people were killed and many others were injured when a gunman fired into a dance studio in a Los Angeles suburb. As of this writing, his motives are a mystery.

Yesterday, another 7 people were murdered and one gravely injured in another part of California.

So far, we are 24 days into 2023. There have been 38 mass shootings since January 1st. I would love for someone to explain why we don’t need gun control laws given that there have been nearly twice as many mass murders in less than a month?

May their memories be a blessing? Z”l.

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Kindred Mini-Series Review

Family history, as lovely as it is, can be complicated. This complication gets worse when it comes to America’s past and the sin of slavery.

The new Hulu miniseries, Kindred, is based on the book by Octavia E. Butler. Dana James (Mallori James) is a twenty-something writer who has recently moved from New York City to Los Angeles. After getting settled, she starts a friend-with-benefits relationship with Kevin Franklin (Micah Stock).

Somehow, she keeps getting pulled back to the past and 19th-century plantation. After saving Rufus Weylin (David Alexander Kaplan), Dana’s involvement in the lives of her slave ancestors and their masters becomes more entangled. When Kevin starts traveling back with her, the level of danger rises.

Dana is determined to figure out the connections between the past and the present, but at what cost to her and Kevin?

I remember reading the novel years ago and being blown away by it. It was one of those narratives that after all of the years, is powerful and relevant. Combining science fiction with history and our problematic past is an impossible to ignore literary melting pot.

Obviously, the series has been updated to our time. Though the first episodes kept me hooked, the story lagged toward the end. By the time the final credit rolled, I was underwhelmed. I wanted more, but something more was missing.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Kindred is available for streaming on Hulu.

Throwback Thursday: Hot in Cleveland (2010-2015)

According to our cultural beliefs, women of a certain age are disposable. They are no longer young, are past (or nearly past) childbearing age, and can be replaced with a newer model.

The TV Land sitcom, Hot in Cleveland, aired from 2010 to 2015. Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli), Joy (Jane Leeves), and Victoria (Wendie Malick) are three forty-something women who are flying from Los Angeles to Paris. When their plane makes an unexpected stop in Cleveland, they decide to stay and take advantage of the social and romantic opportunities that are not available in California.

Moving in with Elka (the late Betty White), the women are introduced to everything (and everyone) the city has to offer.

I didn’t regularly watch Hot in Cleveland, but when I did, I found myself laughing. It was funny, entertaining, and proved once more that women over 40 are just as vibrant and full of life as their younger counterparts.

If I had to pick a favorite aspect of the show, it was Betty White. Still sharp as a tack, she never failed to make the audience laugh.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Throwback Thursday: La La Land (2016)

Movie musicals appear, from afar, to be a thing of the past. While they were popular during the younger years of the baby boom era, audiences seem to have other tastes these days.

The 2016 movie, La La Land, is a modern movie musical set in Los Angeles. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) both have dreams that are not set in their reality. He is a pianist and she is an actress. As they have their meet cute, fall in love, and try to stay together, their careers start to come to fruition. At a certain point, they have to make a decision about their future and whether it is worth fighting for.

I’m not a huge fan of the genre. But I appreciate this film because the filmmakers did a good job of remaining in the present while honoring the classics. This is the third film that these two actors have made together (the other two are Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) and Gangster Squad (2013).

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Gosling and Stone have become one of those iconic movie couples whose on-screen chemistry works, regardless of genre or narratve. It is a sweet, romantic story that hits all of the right notes and has an ending that feels just right.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Look Both Ways Movie Review

We never know how our decisions will impact the path we take in life. The only thing we can do is make lemonade with the lemons we have been given.

The new Netflix movie, Look Both Ways, follows Natalie (Lilli Reinhart). On the eve of her college graduation, Natalie sleeps with her friend Gabe (Danny Ramirez). At a party a few days later, she takes several pregnancy tests. The narrative then diverges into two separate stories: one in which she is pregnant, and another in which she is not pregnant.

In the scenario in which Natalie is pregnant, she stays in Texas. Co-parenting with Gabe, she does the best she can to raise their daughter and gives up her dreams in the process. In the scenario in which she is not pregnant, Natalie moves to Los Angeles with her best Cara (Aisha Dee). Working at her ideal job under Lucy (Nia Long), she starts dating Jake (David Corenswet).

This film is a sweet romantic comedy about accepting yourself and what life has thrown at you. Natalie is certainly a character that is relatable on multiple levels. She knows what she wants, but she also knows that she has to live in the real world.

What made it stand out is that Natalie lives in the real world, not some rom-com fantasy that is so fantastic that it is impossible to believe that it’s real.

Do I recommend it? Yes

Look Both Ways is available for streaming on Netflix.

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings Book Review

“Normal” is relative. What is every day to one person is out completely out of the ordinary for another.

To say that Chrysta Bilton‘s childhood was anything but ordinary is an understatement. Raised in and around Los Angeles, her story is told in the new memoir, Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings. It was published earlier this month.

In the early 1980s, her mother, Debra was out of the closet and wanted to be a mother. Other than getting married to a man and making a baby the old-fashioned way, her options were limited. She would have to go to a sperm bank. While getting her hair done one day, Debra met Jeffrey Harrison. He was everything she wanted the father of her children to be.

Through Debra tried to create a traditional family structure for both Chrysta and her younger sister, it was anything but. She had a series of partners, addiction issues, and tried to support her daughters via get-rich-quick schemes.

When Chrysta finally discovered the truth about her parentage and her many half-siblings, she was forced to face a reality that would force her to shift her worldview.

This book is amazing. Bilton’s story is complicated, emotional, difficult at times, and shows the truth about what it is to have a family. What I found inspiring is that Bilton somehow came out of this extraordinary childhood with a resolve and a strength that some might not have developed at all.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings is available wherever books are sold.

Out of the Corner: A Memoir Book Review

From an audience perspective, it would appear that both starring in a blockbuster movie and coming from a respected performing family guarantees success in Hollywood. Anyone who knows the truth would say otherwise.

Out of the Corner: A Memoir, by Dirty Dancing actress Jennifer Grey, was published last month. Grey is Jewish acting royalty. Her paternal grandfather, Mickey Katz was one of the most famous comedians and musicians of his day. Her parents, Joel Grey (of Cabaret fame)and Jo Wilder followed in her grandfather’s footsteps. Raised in both New York City and Los Angeles, she rose to fame in Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and other 1980s classics.

The reader is taken on an emotional journey through her early years, the ups and downs of her personal and private life, and finally, her finding peace with her identity.

This book is amazing. Grey’s tale is emotional, human, honest, and goes straight to the heart. She leaves no stone unturned, revealing her flaws, her mistakes, and the various heartaches that came her way. Within the narrative, there were two stories that stood out. The first was her father publicly coming out almost a decade ago after spending a lifetime in the closet. The second is her wish to speak to co-star Patrick Swayze one last time. It is a heartfelt wish that I think that anyone who has lost a loved one will understand.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on a “best of” list come the end of the year. It is one of my favorite books of 2022.

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If the Shoe Fits (Meant to Be Series) Book Review

At its heart, Cinderella is the story of finding the good in life and rising about the shit that fate has sent our way.

If the Shoe Fits (Meant to Be Series), by Julie Murphy, was published last year. Cindy Woods is a plus-sized recent college graduate. After spending the last four years in New York City, her career path is stuck in first gear. With no other options, she returns to Los Angeles and her childhood home. She is welcomed with open arms by her stepmother, Erica Tremaine, and her stepsisters.

Cindy is a fashion fanatic. Due to her size, finding the latest and greatest clothing that fits her has always been a problem. When Erica’s Cinderella‘s themed reality dating show, Before Midnight (a la The Bachelor), is down a contestant, Cindy agrees to step in. It was supposed to be a way of getting her designs noticed. It also doesn’t hurt that the guy at the center of the program is good-looking.

Instead of quietly staying in the background, Cindy becomes a fan favorite. She also starts to fall for the guy. She will have to take a jump into the unknown, not knowing if it will end in heartbreak or a happy ending.

I loved this book. Murphy pays homage to the 1950 animated Disney film while writing her own story. In another narrative, Cindy would either have to lose weight to achieve her goals or be forced into the fat and funny sister/best friend role. The cherry on top for me is that Cindy is not looking for a man, her priority is her professional future.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Bel-Air Review

Reboots of 1990’s IPs have become the rage these days. The difficulty is, as I see it, taking what made a particular movie or television show special while making it feel current.

The latest in this long line of re-imagining is Bel-Air. Airing on the Peacock network, it is a revival of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the narrative of the pilot follows the story of its predecessor. Will Smith (Jabari Banks) is a young man living in Philadelphia with his mother. His future seems to be all set with a basketball scholarship in his sights. That all changes when a fight breaks out and he is thrown in jail.

Upon release, Will is immediately put on a plane to Los Angeles. He is to live with his Aunt and Uncle in Bel-Air. To say that he is a stranger in a strange land is an understatement. This world of wealth, power, and access is far from the city life he is used to. But underneath the shine are rough edges that when revealed, could have dangerous consequences.

I’ve only seen the first episode. I really enjoyed it. There was enough of a skeleton of its predecessor combined with a boost of modern reality to keep me engaged. What I really liked was delving into the larger cultural problems that led to Will’s abrupt change of fate.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Bel-Air is available for streaming on the Peacock network.

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Throwback Thursday: George Lopez (2002-2007)

The framework of the generic family sitcom has been around for seventy years. After almost a century of watching these programs, there has to be a way to both color within the lines and not create an exact copy of what has been on the air previously.

George Lopez was on the air from 2002-2007. The show stars the eponymous comedian George Lopez as a husband, father, and employee of a Los Angeles manufacturing plant. Married to Angie (Constance Marie) for many years, they are doing the always classic and never easy work/life balance dance. George’s mother Benny (Belita Moreno) is a constant presence in their home, which is problematic due to her self-centered nature.

I’ve watched a couple of episodes and it’s your basic paint-by-numbers family sitcom. The only difference is that the main characters are all Latinx and that their son has autism. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important that the America we see on the streets is reflected on both the big and small screens. There was obviously enough of an audience to keep it on the schedule for five seasons. But I found this show to be nothing special.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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