All posts by amorganresearch

About amorganresearch

My family calls me The Judge. And to be fair, I have opinions. So I have decided to embrace the moniker and share my thoughts on books, movies, shows and the occasional awards show.

2018 Oscars Recap: Ho Hum

tiffany and maya

The Upshot

For some reason I was bored by this year’s Oscars almost before they started.  Following last year’s gonzo trainwreck of an ending, and this year’s empowering Golden Globes, fatigue may have set in.  Times Up?  Or is it Me Too?  Or Me Next?  All these causes effectively canceled each other out leaving… an award show.  And this year’s award show was, I thought, lackluster.  Jimmy Kimmel’s hosting was ok.  Not great, but not terrible.  The few bits that stood out are noted below.

The Jet Ski

OK so I am a sucker for “The Price is Right.”  I have fond childhood memories of staying home from school pretending to be sick, watching Bob Barker and his bevy of models.  My husband and I still apply “The Price Is Right Rules” when if you go over a price estimate, you lose.  So the idea to award a jet ski to the person with the shortest speech was genius.  The theme music, Helen Mirren serving as the model, the ridiculousness of the prize, the whole thing was a great, great idea.  Loved the Jet Ski.

Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph

I don’t even want to write about what they said, because I won’t do it justice.  Watch the clip.  They were, truly, hilarious.   Give these women an award show to host.

This Year’s Version of “Stars – They’re Just Like Us”

Involved various celebrities going to a nearby movie theater and handing out hot dogs and candy to moviegoers enjoying an advance screening of A Wrinkle in Time.  The whole thing had a merry zaniness to it, perhaps because of the night vision camera.  It was a good idea to thank the people who really matter most – the movie-going public.

Frances McDormand

She is a beacon of steely resolve and a force for good in the world.  She hijacked her own speech by asking all the women nominated across all the categories to stand up.  Then she made a direct plea to studio executives to meet with these women and finance their projects.  She cut straight to the heart of the matter – it’s about the money.

The Rest

The winners were fairly predictable, and it was good to see that the awards were distributed across many films.  Loved that Get Out! won for original screenplay.  Dunkirk definitely deserved the technical awards it won.  Most of the speeches were snoozeville, but a few – hello Kobe Bryant! –   were articulate and interesting.  I get that The Shape of Water was an incredibly polarizing film, having seen it with my sister-in-law who hated it, but I absolutely loved it and am glad it won.

The Movies

And I loved that this year’s crop of nominated films had more diversity than the usual.  Sure there were the historical films – Dunkirk, The Post, and The Darkest Hour, all of which are worth seeing.  But Get Out! and Ladybird were pioneering films.  My two cents on all the nominated films is below, ranked from least preferred to most preferred.  One important caveat is that one of my favorite movies of the year wasn’t nominated.  If you haven’t already, go see The Florida Project.  It is tremendous.

9. The Phantom Thread – strangely icky and precious at the same time. But I loved Lesley Manville’s performance (the sister).

8. Dunkirk – a chronological mess. Well filmed, but confusing and completely lacking in character development. All the soldiers really did look the same.

7. Call Me By Your Name – beautiful, but glacial. Way too many shots of the ripening fruit on the apricot tree. We get it.

6. The Post – enjoyable, if a bit plodding.

5. The Darkest Hour – Gary Oldman can do no wrong. Scene on the Tube is worth the price of admission.

4. Get Out! – see it, if you haven’t.

3. Three Billboards – not as brutal as I would have thought given the topic. Frances McDormand always kills it, but Sam Rockwell does as well (for those who haven’t seen it, check out The Way Way Back).

2. Ladybird – beautiful writing, beautiful acting, and funny!

1. The Shape of Water – as noted earlier this movie is not for everybody but I adored the art direction, crazy plot and genre-mashup.


You Go Girlfriend


Art and Bias

All critics are biased.  How someone reacts to a piece of art is inextricably linked to what they find funny, or sad, or poignant.  To their values.  To what makes them tick.  Systemic unconscious bias is what has resulted in an entertainment industry run by and for men, in which (mostly) male critics commend movies and TV shows directed by men and acted by men.  This is why “The Sopranos” was considered a seminal work of art while “Sex and the City” was dismissed as fluff.  When the reviews came out for “Big Little Lies,” several critics dismissed the show, which is phenomenal, as a “domestic” (code for insignificant) piece not worth of our attention.

But not last night.

My Bias

I thought about criticism and my own personal point of view and as I watched last night’s Golden Globe Awards.  For this ceremony was hands-down my favorite Awards Show of all time.  This Awards Show had me at Hello.  This Awards Show put feminism front and center in a rousing, empowering and positive way.  The night’s unabashed theme was You Go Girlfriend.  Anyone not on this playbook – Gary Oldman’s perfectly conventional acceptance speech comes to mind – was kinda tone deaf.

The Host
Seth Meyers understood from the get-go that a white, straight, male host might not have been the best choice for host this year.  His monolog was sharp, sensitive, and on-point.  And then he got out of the way.  Well done.

The Winners

Were almost all about female empowerment.  “The Handmaids Tale,” “Big Little Lies,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and “Ladybird,” all unabashedly feminist works, won handily.

The Speeches

When Oprah Winfrey received the Cecille B. DeMille lifetime achievement award, I cried during the entire speech and when she brought the crowd to its feet, cheering wildly.  And during Frances McDormand’s speech.  And when Allison Janney mentioned that Tonya Harding – a victim of class discrimination if there ever was one – was in the room.  And during Greta Gerwig’s speech.  And when Reese Witherspoon encouraged women to be brave, to speak out.

The Takeaway

Hollywood has been roiled.  To everyone’s complete surprise, behavior that was discreetly tolerated in the past has brought down powerful men.  Not so much in the White House, but that’s another story.

The Bigger Picture

And at least this year many people in Hollywood – Oprah in particular, but others as well – understand and called out that most women who are sexually harassed and assaulted are not movie stars.  That most women suffer without the resources to fight back.  And that, together, we have the power to effect change.  A long time devotee of Awards Shows, I have never seen a show with such a unified and empowering message.  Until last night.

2017 Oscars Recap: Pandemonium



The End.  Let’s start there, as it was the most surprising and screwed-up conclusion in Oscar history.  (For those living in a cave, here is a brief recap.)  Prior to this point, the night contains no surprises.  Virtually all the favorites win.  We arrive at Best Picture. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway present, great to see Faye Dunaway.  They announce La La Land, as expected.  The La La Land people march up there, smiles all around.  And then… it is announced that a mistake was made and Moonlight had won. No one knows how to handle it.  A moment of Oscar pandemonium ensues.  And then the Moonlight people march up there, the La La people get out of the way, and an awkward, confused acceptance speech ensues.  The end.

The Verdict.  Well this certainly upstaged virtually every other moment of the Oscars, which were, in my view, ok.  And sometimes ok is good enough.  The ceremony lacked the traditional homage to movies opening number.  Instead we got Justin Timberlake singing “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”  And, come to think of it, don’t we all love Justin Timberlake?  And don’t we all want to feel good?   Given these troubled times, isn’t it ok to have a night of froth and frippery?

The Host.  For the most part, Jimmy Kimmel set an amiable tone.  Other than the Oscars, I am never up late enough to watch late-night talk show hosts.  So this was my first experience seeing him in action.  I thought he was good.  Not great, but not terrible.  He had a nice air of confidence and appreciation that he had the gig.  And he had the grace to apologize for the Best Picture debacle.

The Good.  My favorite was the visual of candy and cookies parachuting down to the stars.  Short clips in which actors talked about their favorite movies (Charlize Theron and The Apartment, Seth Rogan and Back to the Future) and then presented with the actor from the movie (Shirley MacLaine and Michael J. Fox) were good, if a little long.  This year’s versions of Stars – They’re Just Like Us (started when Ellen DeGeneres took a selfie with the stars and ordered pizza) brought in a tour bus of tourists to hobknob with Meryl, Denzel, etc.  It, too, dragged a bit but was kinda fun.

The Bad.  Tweeting the President – can’t we just forget about the elephant in the White House?  Stars reading mean tweets about themselves.  Picking on Matt Damon the whole night long (I, for one, loved his performance in We Bought a Zoo).  I get that it was a joke, I just didn’t like the joke.

The Speeches.  I honestly don’t remember any of them other than Viola Davis who, as Jimmy Kimmel joked, should win an Emmy for her Oscar speech.  We’ll forgive her sanctimonious nod to actors:  “we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”  Nobody’s perfect.

The Movies.  This year I saw every Best Picture nominee except Hacksaw Ridge (too violent for me).  And I honestly thought all of them were worth seeing.  Glad Moonlight won over La La Land, thought the camera work and story were exceptional, loved that a quiet low budget movie about a gay kid from the slums of Miami made it to the top of the heap. Loved the production design and imagination of La La Land, what a fun film.  Loved Hidden Figures, a well-executed, well acted feel good movie about an important and neglected topic.  Arrival is fantastic – great score, great concept, a thinking person’s Sci Fi movie. Manchester by the Sea is wonderful.  Lion has some pacing problems in the second half but the subject matter and treatment of memory stuck with me more than any of the other films.  Fences is well acted, if a little long and talky – this is usually the case when movies are made from plays.  I had never heard of Hell or High Water until I saw it last week.  It is amazing.  Great script, slow build, fantastic editing and scenery, and above all a great topic – the bank robbers vs. the robber banks.

The Upshot.  This was a tough year for the Oscars.  It was a tough year, period.  Our country is divided.  People are worried.  Last year’s #oscarsowhite controversy (which as I pointed out last year is more the fault of the studios than the Oscars themselves) seems almost quaint given today’s headlines.  And the good news about the trainwreck ending of this  year’s ceremony is that – for one night – we were distracted from more pressing concerns.  Can’t stop the feeling, indeed.

2016 Oscars Recap: Chris Rocked


He nailed it. As I say every year, hosting the Oscars is a thankless job. Not only did Chris Rock triumph, delivering one of the best opening monologues in Oscar History, but he did so with a topic which – let’s face it – is tough. Taking on the topic of racism in Hollywood in a way that’s funny, makes the point, yet doesn’t completely alienate the audience? The man virtually split the atom.

chris rock oscarsShow-And-Tell
As usual, the Oscars were long. The tickertape of names at the bottom didn’t help. The text callouts describing the hosts didn’t help either. The biggest improvement from last year was a conscious and mostly effective effort to explain the category being presented. Example 1: Cate Blanchett walking among costumes. Example 2: playing sound from the movies when introducing the sound categories – great idea! Example 3 (my fave): showing Andy Serkis recording his iconic parts in Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes – prior to his introducing the Visual Effects category.

Memorable Moments
Louis CK’s introduction to the Documentary Short Subject category was hilarious. Lady Gaga performed a moving tribute alongside survivors of sexual abuse. My favorite part was when Ennio Morricone won Original Score for “The Hateful Eight.” The legendary composer of the iconic Sergio Leone scores finally won. What a wonderful capstone.

The Oscars were less predictable than usual, yay. Mark Rylance scored an upset for Supporting Actor for Bridge of Spies. Mad Max won 6 Oscars which was unexpected and enjoyable. Best of all, I loved that Spotlight – a quiet, extraordinary film – won Best Picture. The showy, art-housey Revenant-like pictures almost always win. Not this year!

Back to Chris
Most of his bits worked. Loved the “Black History Month” homage to – Jack Black! Girl Scouts selling cookies to the glitterati? Sure. Favorite part other than the monolog was the “man on the street” interviews with African Americans outside the Multiplex about the fact that – guess what? – no one had heard of let alone seen most of the nominated films.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?
Which brings me to a short treatise on the State of the Industry and this whole lack of diversity brouhaha. Why is it that the movies biz remain mostly all white and largely all male? That no African-Americans were nominated this year isn’t surprising given that most movies are marketed squarely at young white males. So why is there so much diversity in the world of music and TV? I think it’s All About Distribution. 400 scripted TV shows were released last year, according to the New York Times. There are an ever-growing number of distribution venues, from network TV, to cable, to Amazon. When it comes to music, anyone can upload to YouTube. Movies, in contrast, are released at the (corporate-owned) multiplex, with usually no more than 20 playing at any one time. They are financed by a handful of deeply risk-averse (corporate-owned) studios. And because of this, movies are not diverse. Many of them are also not very good. I’m not an expert in the economics of making and distributing movies, but something’s gotta give. Movie-lovers – in all our fabulous, glorious, diversity – deserve better.

Oscars 2015: Snoozefest

oscar opening

The Ceremony

It is not Neal Patrick Harris’ fault that the Oscars were terrible. He tried. It is an impossible job. Here are the problems with this year’s Oscars:

  1. Few people had seen the movies. When big budget pictures (Lord of the Rings, The Blind Side) are in the mix, there is more interest.
  2. Everything was overproduced. The production numbers extended an already dull broadcast (see point 1). Example: every year, famous movie people who have passed away over the past year are honored. Meryl Streep provided a moving intro, followed by the customary photo montage.  All good. But then, the tribute was extended when Jennifer Hudson sang a post-tribute-tribute. They lost me for good when Lady Gaga performed a The Sound of Music Although to her credit Lady Gaga did a nice job, it’s hard to imagine two more incongruous singers than Lady Gaga and Julie Andrews, who gamely appeared to awkwardly thank Lady Gaga.  The Lego Movie song “Everything is Awesome” should have been performed by, well, Legos. It started off this way, then live people got involved and the whole thing jumped the shark.
  3. Incongruous songs (“The Look of Love,” “Endless Love,” “Moon River”) were played each time presenters appeared. I kept thinking, what does this song have to do with these presenters? Then I figured it out – nothing. The producers were again trying to musicalize the Oscars, to bizarre effect.

Here is what I liked about this year’s Oscar ceremony:

  1. The opening production number.  Bravo.
  2. The riff about Octavia Spencer guarding Neal Patrick Harris’ predictions, which I initially thought was awkward and pointless, was fun in the end when the predictions commented on the (relatively) interesting points in the ceremony (i.e. Terrence Howard was strangely emotional, John Travolta touched Idina Menzel’s face).
  3. The guy who accepted for Ida (foreign language film) kept at it, doggedly finishing his lengthy speech even as the orchestra tried to play him off. That this was a high point indicates a snoozefest of a ceremony.

The Movies

Were good, not great.  The Grand Budapest Hotel was my favorite film of those nominated but I am a Wes Anderson fan and I get that he is not everybody’s cup of tea. The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything were similar movies, historically based films that were good, if somewhat plodding at times. Boyhood was really cool but let’s face it – it had no plot. And the fact that Birdman won Best Picture is the epitome of Hollywood naval gazing – let’s give an Oscar to a movie about actors! The movie had fantastic camera work and good performances, particularly by Edward Norton. But it made no sense.   I can’t wait to see Whiplash, which was made in a month for a song and has great buzz.   Still Alice is a Hallmark movie but Julianne Moore’s performance is incredible. Gone Girl should have been nominated for Best Picture, as it was very well done, but the Academy doesn’t view thrillers as award-worthy.

Why I am No Longer Going to Write About the Clothes

I have decided to hang up my hat on this topic. The Internet has enough haters. I am all over the campaign #askhermore, which is all about asking actresses about their work, and not their clothes. Actresses have legions of fashion and beauty professionals on hand to make sure they look fantastic, and for the most part succeed. Let’s stop carping about how they look. As Emily Nussbaum points out in her fantastic piece on Joan Rivers, Joan was a trailblazer, true, but a key part of her schtick involved tearing down other women. In 2012-2013 (the latest years for which this information is available) about 30% of all-on screen speaking characters in the top 100 films were women.   And when it comes to directors, the story is much worse. Woman directors are a rarity in Hollywood despite some female studio heads. Read New York Times movie critic Manohla Dargis’ excellent 3 part series on the topic.

As Neal Patrick Harris noted in the beginning of the ceremony, “moving pictures shape who we are.” And what they currently show is that it’s a man’s world. Think about movies like Django Unchained, in which there is a slew of great roles for men, and then there’s Kerry Washington, who’s stuck playing The Girl. Let’s work to change that by focusing on actresses’ work, instead of their looks.

The Oscars: Better Safe Than Sorry


The Big Picture

Hosting the Oscars is a thankless job.  This year the Academy Awards Powers That Be concluded that benign is better than belligerent.  So they asked Ellen to host.  I think they made the right call.   Here’s why.

The Host

Ellen is amiable, good-natured, and universally beloved.  She turned the Academy Awards into a giant version of her talk show by mixing with the A-listers in the front row, most of whom gamely played along.   It was a bit forced, (Handing out pizzas!  Tweeting selfies!) but it was also sort of fun, certainly better than listening to Seth MacFarlane sing “We Saw Your Boobs.”

The Speeches

Although it is obnoxious to “play out” overly long speeches, it is also obnoxious to force the audience to listen to, well, overly long speeches.  I kept thinking the ceremony should have been shorter.  There was no opening production number, the introductions to the Academy Award nominees for Best Pictures were done in batches, and there wasn’t even a lifetime achievement montage.  Despite this, the ceremony dragged and ended at midnight ET, as usual.  All the actors who won had prepared speeches, thank goodness.  Cate Blanchett’s rocked – good for her for taking on the studios’ “earth is flat” belief that women-driven films don’t make money.  Catching Fire was the top-grossing movie of the year, people!  (Hooray for J-Law!)  And Darlene Love of 20 Feet From Stardom brought down the house when she sang – hooray for backup singers!   Lupita Nyong’o looked amazing, and her speech was perfect.  Really.  See for yourself.

The Production Numbers

Speaking of singing, the production numbers were surprisingly good.  Loved “Happy” – a joyous, fun, well choreographed number that made me happy by just watching it.  The Wizard of Oz tribute in which Pink sang “Over the Rainbow” was beautifully done.  And Idina Menzel’s performance of “Let it Go” was stirring and strong.

The Clothes

Every year, Charlize Theron kills it.  Although she would look good wearing a paper bag, her dress was no paper bag.  She gets my vote for best dressed.  Nearly all the dresses were good.  Sandra Bullock, Naomi Watts, Cate Blanchett, Amy Adams and Kate Hudson looked great.   Although Anna Kendrick’s see-through red and mesh waist panel didn’t work, points to her for taking a risk.  Nowadays dresses are safe and stylist-approved.

How To Improve the Ceremony

There are many ways to improve the Oscars, but I will focus on two.  The first is to shorten the ceremony by paring the number of categories given out during the telecast.  Given that technical people comprise a considerable chunk of the Academy’s 6,000 voters, that is not going to happen.  The biggest problem with the Academy Awards is that there are no surprises anymore.  I correctly predicted 20 out of 24 nominations.  I am not an insider, just your basic movie fan who reads Entertainment Weekly.   The Oscars are easy to handicap because they air after all the other awards shows.  Want to spice up the Oscars?  Televise them in January, before the Golden Globes, SAGs, et. al.  Be the leader, not the laggard.   I don’t think this will happen anytime soon since the Academy and the movie industry in general is notoriously risk-averse.

So How Were the Oscars This Year?

With a likeable host, stylist-approved fashions, and predictable winners, the Oscars were, in a word, safe.  We saw a couple of moments of genuine emotion amidst the long slog to Best Picture.  There was nothing risky, nothing edgy; it was pleasant, albeit all very careful.  Over and out, until next year!

I’ll Take Diane

As my friends and family know, I am hard to beat in an Oscar poll.  The reason for this is after years and years of watching Oscar-nominated films, I’ve learned a thing or two.  Mostly that the films that get honored are big, splashy, historical dramas.  OK Lincoln didn’t win this year.  But it should have.  Mental illness is also popular.

Comedies get short shrift.  If you look at Oscar winners for Best Picture (here is the list: you have to go back to 1977 to find a comedy that won.  There were films that had elements of comedy (Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, and The Artist) but straight comedy?  The last Best Picture Winner was Annie Hall.  Which, in a somewhat circuitous fashion, brings me to the topic of this post, Diane Keaton.

Comedy Don’t Get No Respect.  What gets respect is drama.  Meryl Streep is amazing, for sure, but which performance was better – Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give, or Meryl in “It’s Complicated?”  I’ll take Diane.  Herewith, I’d like to pat Diane Keaton on the back for 30+ years of great comedic performances.

Diane Keaton is a gifted comic.  She is an adorable, vulnerable, loveable klutz.  She is beautiful, relateable, and (along with Meryl) one of the few older actresses that have eschewed plastic surgery and facial fillers.  I should note here that unlike Meryl who is deft in both comedy and drama, Diane’s dramatic performances are, to be kind, a mixed bag.  Here is an example of Diane’s terrible acting from Godfather 2:

Diane Keaton started working in 1970 and has amassed 62 acting credits and counting.  She’s hilarious.  She’s prolific.  She’s a gem.  Below, my five favorite Diane Keaton movies:


  1. Something’s Gotta Give:  Diane has had a long and fruitful relationship with Nancy Myers.  Something’s Gotta Give is a completely enjoyable, satisfying romantic comedy.  We have Diane, plus Jack Nicholson, plus a surprisingly hot Keanu Reeves.  There’s also house porn.  What’s not to love?                                                   Image
  2. The First Wives Club.  Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler are delightful in this comedy about spurned wives seeking revenge on their ex-husbands.  A movie that proved that an audience will pay to see Actresses of a Certain Age.  Although this has been demonstrated again and again, Hollywood studio executives always seem to forget this and greenlight big budget action movies instead.  Wait, that’s another blog post.  Image
  3. Baby Boom.  In Diane Keaton’s first pairing with Nancy Myers, she plays “Tiger Lady” JC Wiatt, a workaholic who, after inheriting a baby after a distant relative dies, buys an old farmhouse in Vermont and starts an organic babyfood company.  Sam Shepherd is adorable as her love interest, a vet.Image
  4. Annie Hall.  I saw this movie with my friend Donna several months ago in the magnificent Michigan Theater.  Little known fact – the movie was initially supposed to be about Alvy (the Woody Allen comic character) but the film editor encouraged Woody Allen to recut it and make the movie about Annie.  He did, and a classic was born.                                                                          Image
  5. Sleeper. Early Woody Allen.  Diane is a ditzy self-absorbed poet from the future who finds herself on the run with Woody Allen.  Slapstick, silly, ridiculous, laugh-out-loud funny.

So thank you Diane, for your contribution to film.  You are loved.

Blue Jasmine


Class Dismissed

Cate Blanchett is a great actress.  But Blue Jasmine is not a great movie.  In my humble opinion, it’s not even a good one.

This is an unpopular view.  Blue Jasmine received great reviews, and is considered one of the best Woody Allen movies in years.  Having recently seen Annie Hall (more on that topic on a separate blog post) nothing compares to old Woody Allen films.  Even the middle period has some gems (I am a particular fan of Bullets Over Broadway, in which Chazz Palminteri kills Jennifer Tilly for being a bad actress).  Some of Woodoy’s recent movies, including Midnight in Paris, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona), are fun and worth seeing.

And the funny thing about Blue Jasmine was I couldn’t figure out what I didn’t like about it.  (I’d never make it as a real critic, don’t quit your day job Alice).  Cate Blanchett’s performance is wonderful. Even the way she clutches yet caresses her Birkin handbag is somehow Oscar-worthy. Alec Baldwin is great as Jasmine’s Shyster husband.

My brother Richard figured it out.  He said, “Woody Allen can’t write working class characters.”  And that is the problem.  The story is about a  Madoff–like wife who has lost her husband as well as tremendous wealth due to Ponzi fraud.  She is forced to move in with her sister, a working class woman in San Francisco.  All the working class characters (Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, and even much-loved Louis C.K.) are stilted.  They’re not funny, they’re not believable. and their scenes drag.  And without giving away the story, the arc of the movie is frustrating.

Woody Allen shines depicting educated, affluent, neurotic New Yorkers.  In the past several years, his movies have featured these kinds of characters located in European cities for budgetary reasons.   When Woody writes what he knows, it works.  Blue Jasmine falters when Woody Allen steps out of his comfort zone.

Rating:  ** (out of ****)

Far From the Tree


Read This Book

Reader Be Warned.  I am a fast reader.  This book took me six months to read.  Far from the Tree is, in the words of my friend Kathleen, a weighty tome.  It is so weighty, in fact, that I read it on my Kindle because it was too heavy to comfortably sit in my lap.  It’s well over 1000 pages (although several hundred of the pages are end notes).

Andrew Solomon is the author.  He gave an amazing talk at the University of Michigan this past April promoting his book which I attended.  He autographed my book (not the Kindle version, the physical book which I also bought) and patiently and respectfully listened while I babbled on and on about how much I loved his book and how it spoke to me.

To quote the press release, “Far from the Tree weaves together a richly detailed narrative about families with children affected by a range of cognitive, physical, or psychological characteristics that make them distinctly different from their parents.”  The first chapter sets forth the analytical framework, explaining how vertical identities and horizontal identities differ.  Vertical identities are identities in which children are like their parents – think ethnicity, socio-economic status, or religion.  A horizontal identity is a condition/characteristic in which a child differs from his or her parents in a fairly significant way.  Although many horizontal identities have a genetic base, others do not.  The book is also about how parents and siblings react to having a child who is profoundly different from them and who, in many cases, requires considerable care and attention. Each chapter is a deep dive into a particular horizontal identity, a combination of extensive case studies and current thinking/science/moral dilemmas concerning the topic.   Solomon clearly made the decision that if a family was going to take the time to talk to him, they would be included in the book.  So there are many, many case studies (I think he worked on the book for 10 years).  And the various horizontal identities profiled are fascinating.  Dwarf.  Deaf.  Autism.  Schizophrenia.  Transgender.  Criminal.

The book is informative and thought-provoking.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book which has caused such introspection and contemplation about  parenthood, difference, and disability.

I realize that I sound completely brainwashed when I talk about this book.  I am not alone.  I was so glad to see Curtis Sittenfeld (author of Prep) rant – albeit more articulately than I do – about how amazing the book is.  You can read her rave here. (Scroll down to the question “What book has had the greatest impact on you?”)

Far From the Tree rocked my world.  Read it.

Rating: ***** (out of ****)

Being Barbra


The Guilt Trip

OK so it isn’t one of her best.  It’s still Barbra.  And even at 71 (!), Barbra has still got it.  I’m kind of surprised that Barbra agreed to star in The Guilt Trip given its so-so script, but she did, and I have to admit I enjoyed the movie.

Be warned:  It’s not a great film, or even a good one.  The Guilt Trip is about an overprotective widow and her oppressive relationship with her son (Seth Rogan, looking mildly put upon throughout the whole movie).  They drive across the country together.  The movie, like the road trip itself, starts out badly but improves. The Guilt Trip is watchable, several scenes are downright enjoyable, and the end is poignant.

One thing that often goes unacknowledged when it comes to Barbra Streisand is that she is a good actress.  The character she plays in this movie is not just the stereotypical Jewish mother – there’s some of that, sure, but Joyce is a little frail, sometimes scared, yet excited to try new things.  I think Barbra’s actually better when she isn’t directing herself.  In The Prince of Tides, for example, her character was always perfectly lit, dressed impeccably, perfectly manicured, etc. etc.  Lowenstein was a little much.  One of my favorite Barbra movies is What’s Up Doc (if you haven’t seen this movie, rent it immediately).  The dinner gets my vote for Funniest Movie Scene Of All Time.


There’s apparently a great play out in New York about a fan’s love of Barbra, which I would love to see (Jonathan Tolins’s “Buyer and Cellar).  We are a strange bunch, Barbra fans.   When we think of Barbra, we usually think of That Voice.  A gift to be sure – but so are many of her films.

The Guilt Trip ** (out of ****)

What’s Up Doc **** (out of ****)