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Crime + Punishment + Lobster Tails

Tonight I attended a screening of “Crime + Punishment,” Stephen Maing’s Sundance-winning doc about the NYPD’s illegal quotas system, under which officers are retaliated against if they don’t meet a certain number of summonses and arrests per month. I’ll be honest. The Tree of Life shootings already had me so down that I didn’t know if I’d make it through the night; as a Jew, a queer, a woman, and a fan of humanity-at-large, I’ve never felt more scared and sad about living under the shadow of a hate-speechifying president who proudly calls himself a nationalist. But something happened that I didn’t expect: I started to feel hope.

This film about a NYC-wide economy dependent on institutionalized racism focuses on the brave efforts of the NYPD12, a group of police whistleblowers who’ve filed a related class-action lawsuit; on the many NYC males of color, aged 14-21, who are targeted and brutalized by quotas; and on the families, activists, lawyers, and criminal investigators who support them. That these brave men and women still have the audacity to battle corruption when everything seems so relentlessly uphill reminds us that there always have been fucked-up power hierarchies, and we have no business giving up until they’re gone. In a profoundly moving Q&A at the Crosby Street Hotel screening attended by many of the doc’s key players, police sergeant Edwin Raymond spoke about how the struggles of the ancestors embolden him to fight today. “This is my turn,” he said calmly before going on to describe how he is being targeted within his department for speaking out on behalf of his community. In the face of evil, we all must serve as clear-hearted, clear-headed officers of love. Thank you, cousins from other mothers, for your example. And thank you, brilliant investigator and former cop Manuel Gomez, for providing us not only with your brilliant proposed legislative reform–go to his website for the details!–but for your delicious “lobster tail” pastries. Sweets to counter the bitterness is not just the Jewish way. It’s the way forward for us all.

Crime + Punishment is now streaming on Hulu.

Weather Fail, Feminist Film Fail (Oceans 8)

I ducked upstate this weekend to avoid the three-digit temps of NYC, not to mention the Mars retrograde kerfuffle (and, boy, do I have some stories for a later date). But even here in Hudson the weather’s been too swampy to do anything but cower in air-conditioning. Yesterday I fetched things from greenmarkets and farmstands: beets, tarragon, mint, cilantro, green cabbage, rainbow carrots, boston lettuce, cherries, blueberries. I thrifted: two dresses, one skort, one vintage slip, three milkglass candle holders, one pyrex pitcher, all for 20 bucks! I assembled meals: chopped greens and herbs and roasted chicken and beets, all dressed with plain yogurt and tarragon and mint and cilantro and lemon.

Twas an embarrassment of simple pleasures.

Today was too hot for that level of activity, though. So I decided to put my money where the women were: Oceans 8 at the local cineplex. The screening was well-attended, I’m happy to report, not only by my fellow retirees (lately I’ve been taking dowager chic a little too seriously) but, surprisingly, by a handful of fathers with their young sons and daughters. I’m less happy to report that the lady-packed sequel felt like another H-Wood sloppy second: boy director, boy co-writer, boysboysboys behind the camera. Every one of these brilliant female actors-Rihanna, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, Sandy Bullock, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway– were reined in by electric dog collars, the plot points and joke setups languishing on mobile fainting couches. I’m guessing this was meant to read as what my colleague Odie Henderson calls “ratpack laissez-faire.” Really it read as thorazine shambles.

It’s high time we female-identified people ran more shows from top to bottom.

Still, twas a much-needed visual model in feminine competence and solidarity, if one not nearly as funny as its individual performers. Cate and Sandy were searingly hot with sexual chemistry galore and a distinctly grownup swagger. Elliot Gould in a fur coat and Swifty Lazar glasses waddled through a much-welcome cameo. And the air conditioning? Killah.

‘En El Séptimo Día,’ In Plain Sight

What follows is a transcript of a talk I gave about En el Séptimo Día for the Westchester Film Club, where I often deliver lectures on new independent and foreign film releases.

This may sound odd, but I am very grateful to have watched this film with you fine people. As a critic I embrace any film that does its job well, regardless of the genre. But I admit I most embrace films that shed greater light on the human condition. En el Séptimo Día achieves this and then some by providing a window into the everyday challenges of an immigrant existence that is too often ignored in cinema.

It is, as David may have told you, the first feature in 15 years from much-revered Brooklyn independent director Jim McKay. A few weeks ago when we were discussing the biopic Mary Shelly, I said that a gifted and empathic person could tell any story regardless of race, gender or any other identity marker. This is very true of McKay, who made his mark with two no-budget movies, Girls Town (1996) and Our Song (2000), which both depicted female high-school students of color. It’s safe to say McKay’s approach to filmmaking is classic neorealism, which I consider to be the opposite of reality TV. By this I mean that that through careful research, scripting, and casting he labors to achieve an accurate glimpse of woefully underrepresented subcultures. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy