Revisiting My New Year’s Resolutions

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Me, looking back on a time when a time when I did not know the phrase “social-distancing.”

When I wrote my New Year’s resolutions in January, I told myself I would revisit them midway through the year to see if I had stuck to them. But January Hannah didn’t know about Covid-19, so returning to this list is less about assessing my progress and more about rethinking my goals — and asking if specific goals are even possible at this time, when I don’t have any childcare and so much is still uncertain. (As I write this, my son is doing a “maker class” over Zoom and my daughter is zoned out in front of Daniel Tiger.)

Anyway, we’re officially halfway through the year, so here’s a look at the resolutions I posted on January 1, 2020 . . .

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When Will You Go Back to the Movies?

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I miss going to the movies.  But I didn’t think seriously about returning to theaters until last week when I watched Da 5 Bloods at home. It was the first movie I’ve seen since quarantine started that seemed to be crying out for the big screen.

It was also a movie that I watched over the course of two evenings because I got tired halfway through. I wish that hadn’t been option and I would have been forced to sit through the whole thing, despite my sleepiness. More than that, I wish I’d had to leave the house and to view it at a particular time, rather than firing up Netflix after the kids were in bed and the kitchen was cleaned up and the toys were picked up off of the living room carpet.

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Review: Bully. Coward. Victim. The Roy Cohn Story

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Bully. Coward. Victim. The Roy Cohn Story (2020) ★★★
Director: Ivy Meeropol
Streaming on HBO

The first time I heard of Roy Cohn was when I read Angels in America. He’s the play’s villain, lifted from real life, a ruthless fixer and corrupt lawyer who denies that he is gay but then uses his influence to obtain experimental treatments for HIV in order to prolong his life. Abusing power was Cohn’s thing: he started his career by tampering with evidence so that the Ethel and Julius Rosenberg would be sent to the electric chair for espionage. After the Rosenberg were executed, their children were adopted by the Meeropol family. Director Ivy Meeropol is the granddaughter of the Rosenbergs, and she is understandably interested in Cohn, this person who destroyed her family in order to show the world that he was tough on communism — and to gain personal notoriety.

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Review: Babyteeth

BABYTEETH+Still+3Babyteeth (2020) ★★★1/2
Director: Shannon Murphy
Writer: Rita Kalnejais

It’s hard to know, at first, what is amiss in the well-to-do Australian household at the center of Babyteeth. We first meet the daughter, Milla (Eliza Scanlen), standing on a train platform in her private school uniform, waiting with her friends at the end of the school day. When a feral-looking young man in grubby clothing jostles her, it seems at first that she’ll be scared, or at least irritated. Instead, she’s enthralled, and brings him home to her parents. It’s clear that he’s too old for her, and possibly a drug dealer, but Milla’s mother (Essie Davis) has taken so much anti-anxiety medication that she can’t focus on her daughter’s unusual guest. The father (Ben Mendelsohn), a psychiatrist, is equally distracted — he’s secretly dosing himself with morphine and nursing a crush on a pregnant neighbor in her third trimester. She’s the movie’s clock. But what are we counting down to? What bomb is about to go off?

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Three Great TV Shows Written and Directed by Women

sharonAfter a few years of cutting back on TV so that I would have more time for movies and books, I’ve been watching more of it. Blame quarantine. But one thing I really like about television is that there are a lot more female writers and directors. Women seem to be given more free rein in television, I guess because it’s seen as a less risky financial investment, or maybe because there is such a need for streaming content that networks are willing to take a chance on women. Who knows. In any case, my many of my favorite shows over the past few years have been helmed by female showrunners — shows like Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Catastrophe, Transparent, and of course Fleabag.

I realized the other day that my current favorite shows are also written and directed by women, so I thought I’d write about them here . . .

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Review: The Short History of the Long Road

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The Short History of the Long Road (2020) ★★ 1/2
Writer & Director: Ani Simon-Kennedy

This gentle indie about a father and a daughter who live on the road had a lot of warmth and many likable performances, but ultimately felt too pat as it shied away from the more painful aspects of its story. The ending, in particular, felt like more of an Instagram moment than a resolution. Still, I enjoyed the journey with its glimpses into the lives of people who exist on the edges of mainstream society.

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Review: Lance

lanceLance (2020) ★★★ 1/2
Director: Marina Zenovich
Streaming on ESPN

I think I miss sports. I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d have this reaction to quarantine life, because I never deliberately watched sports or followed any particular team. But I guess I picked up on the ambient noise of sports, the dramas unfolding in the background. Armstrong’s story, for example, was one I knew, even though I don’t think I ever read an article about him or followed the Tour de France. In fact, I don’t think I understood how grueling an endurance event the Tour de France is until I watched this documentary. Now I’m in the weird position of feeling newly in awe of Armstrong’s athletic abilities while also understanding the full extent of his doping, lying, and bullying.

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Review: Becoming

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Becoming (2020) ★★★
Director: Nadia Hallgren
Streaming on Netflix 

Last year, along with ten million other people, I read Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. I picked it up expecting to get the inside story on what it’s like to live in the White House as First Lady, but Mrs. Obama doesn’t spend a lot of time on her years in Washington. Instead, she focuses on what grounds her: her family, her upbringing on the south side of Chicago, her education, and the early years of her marriage before Barack Obama was elected president. This turns out to be much more interesting and illuminating than anything she could have written about living in the White House.

One of the refreshing things about Becoming (both the memoir and documentary) is how open Michelle Obama is about the challenges she faced in her career and marriage, as well as on the campaign trail. It’s not only that she talks about her struggles, it’s that she describes what she did to address each difficulty. She gets specific about the little, day-to-day things, like how she found time to go to the gym or feed her children healthy meals. The truth, she explains, is that she often had help, and she gives a lot of credit to her mother, as well as her staff and assistants. The book had a self-help aspect that felt generous to her reader, a way of saying: look, it took a lot of work to become the person I am today, I’m not naturally this calm, cool, and collected.

Still, it’s clear that Michelle Obama has a lot more discipline and grit than most mortals.

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Revisiting Whose Streets?

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Whose Streets? (2017)
Directors: Sabaah Folyan and Damon Davis
Streaming on Hulu

I’ve spent a lot of time this week talking with my seven-year-old son about the protests  that are happening across the country. We’ve discussed racism before, and he has studied the Black Lives Matter movement in school, so he has some context, but it’s still hard to talk with a child about police violence against Black people. Last night we watched the KidLit Rally For Black Lives  sponsored by The Brown Bookshelf, where prominent children’s authors talked directly to kids about what’s going on. The authors read poetry, sang, and taught kids about the history of racism. My son was riveted; these authors know their audience and can break things down in a way that kids will understand–and also feel loved and protected. We watched it live, but they said they will be posting a video at some point. It was the most powerful thing I’ve seen all week.

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R.I.P. Lynn Shelton

SAGIndie Brunch At Cafe Terigo - Park City 2013

Director Lynn Shelton died on Saturday and it hit home for me, for a lot of reasons. First: I really liked her movies, and reviewed two of them on this blog: Sword of Trust and Outside In. They were mellow, lived-in, gentle, kind, and deeply humane. Her characters felt real and her stories always had an interesting shape. She also directed a lot of TV shows I watched, including GLOW, Love, The Good Place, The Mindy Project, New Girl — to name just a few. She came to directing late in life, at age 39, but then she was prolific, directing eight feature films and numerous television shows. She was one of those directors I watched out for; I felt like her best work was ahead of her. I can’t believe she’s dead. She was only 54.

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