Weekend Movies: Two Good Choices, One Not-So


If a Black Friday shopping frenzy has you wanting to get off your feet for a couple hours in a darkened movie theater, here are some of your choices.

The Holdovers
This comedy-drama, directed by Alexander Payne, is head and shoulders above recent formulaic comedies I’ve seen (trailer). It’s the story of the students—actually one student—left behind at a New England prep school’s holiday break, so has the added benefit of seasonality. A disliked classics teacher is assigned to supervise, and a Black kitchen supervisor is there to make sure the two eat.

The performances of Paul Giamatti as the teacher, newcomer Dominic Sessa as the student, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as the most sensible of the trio animate David Hemingson’s script. Scenes with the other students are adolescent boyhood on full display. But mostly, it’s the three of them. You can just relax and enjoy it.

Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating: 96%; audiences 92%.

One of those feel-good sports biopics that leaves you in awe (trailer). Diana Nyad became famous in her early career for her long-distance swimming accomplishments, but what has haunted her for decades is the event where she failed: Cuba to Florida, 110 miles. Director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s adept movie shows how Nyad at age 60 decides to train and pick up that challenge again.

Annette Bening prepared for the role by swimming four to five hours a day for a year and does most of the swimming in the film. You might think watching someone swim, day and night, might not be that riveting, but in the movie the actual swimming is interspersed with scenes from her close friendship with her coach, played by Jodie Foster, and the crew of her boat, captained by its irascible captain, played by Rhys Ifans. And there are plenty of dangers in this endeavor, physical and emotional.

I thought the film was great, and the showing at my local theater was followed by a q-and-a with the director. She said that uppermost in their minds making the film was to convey Nyad’s complexity as a person, and Bening and Foster help them do that every step of the way. Oh, and two words you never want to hear linked together again: Box Jellyfish.

Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating: 85%; audiences 82%.

Joan Baez: I Am a Noise

What a disappointment! Joan Baez’s parents kept all her early tapes, her interviews, her journals and artwork, family photos, etc., etc., in a storage unit, and Baez made it available to filmmakers Miri Navasky, Karen O’Connor, and Maeve O’Boyle (trailer). Of all the interesting things they might have conveyed about this amazing artist, what did they cherry-pick out of these riches? Tapes of her with a creepy-sounding therapist, her anxiety and depression as revealed in her letters, her drawings done under hypnosis (maybe, not clear) or through guided imagery that make her think she has a multiple personality disorder, excerpts from her baffled mother’s letters, and the vaguest possible hints she might have been an abuse victim. While these factors are no doubt important in her personal history, they dominate the film.

Baez is not only a remarkable singer, she is a compassionate and interesting person who has done important work. Prepared to be uplifted, when this movie ended, I was exhausted and depressed. I don’t understand the raves. She deserved So Much Better! (It’s also streaming.)

Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating: 98%; audiences: 85%

Expanding Crime Fiction Awards

Like the Mystery Writers of America and other US groups, the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association issues annual awards for the “best” books in various categories. The awards, called Daggers are numerous, but unlike most award programs divide into the form of the submission—paperback original, debut, nonfiction, etc.—this program has separate awards for espionage (plus, oddly, psychological and adventure thrillers) and historical. It makes sense to carve out certain topics because, really, how do you compare books across a field with such diverse tropes and traditions? An excellent police procedural—I’m thinking Harry Bosch— or gritty thriller can’t easily be compared to a cozy mystery, where there isn’t much blood, the murders occur off-stage, and the protagonist runs a cupcake shop.

Next year, the UK Association’s boffins are bowing to market pressure and adding two new categories to its list of awards: the Twisted Dagger for psychological thrillers—think Gone Girl and Ruth Ware—and the Whodunnit Dagger for cozy (or as the Brits have it, cosy) crime. The latter became almost inevitable when Richard Osman’s novel, The Last Devil to Die, part of his series that began with The Thursday Murder Club, became the fastest-selling hardcover novel by a British author in UK history.

Readers of the UK Website CrimeFictionLover.com (for which I write book reviews) currently may vote on their favorite books of the last year, nominated by other readers. This is the third year for these readers’ choice awards, and voting ends 4 December. This award program has a separate category for “Indie” publication, by which they mean smaller publishers and self-published.

Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar awards categories for novels take into account the different ways books are published today and age group of intended audience, but don’t distinguish among content subgenres. However, US authors of cozy mysteries can compete against works more generally in that category through the Agatha Awards, a project of the Malice Domestic conference. And for private-eye novels, there are the Shamus Awards. And the . . .

The plethora of awards may seem a bit confusing (and it is), but the difference in tastes reflected by these different approaches to recognizing excellence helps authors and their books more easily find their niche and their audience.

Given that I read about 90 books a year, I’m frequently dismayed at how few of the winners I’ve actually read! But when I’m looking for a great audio book, the lists of finalists are where I start.

Killers of the Flower Moon

You think three hours and 26 minutes makes for an awfully long movie? You’re right. Yet, Martin Scorsese’s true-crime epic, Killers of the Flower Moon, completely held my attention throughout (trailer). Even though I knew the story, because I’d read the fascinating book by David Grann that the movie is based on, still there were no saggy lulls. It is time well spent.

The New York Times calls it “An Unsettling Masterpiece,” which recounts the terrible outcomes of white men’s unrelenting, murderous greed when oil is quite unexpectedly discovered on the Oklahoma lands that had been considered so worthless they might as well be given to the Osage tribe.

If I had a complaint, it would be that there was too much attention to Robert DeNiro as the “King of the Osage Hills,” cattleman William Hale. (Hale even asks people to call him “King.”) He gives an excellent performance, but, unlike the other characters, he doesn’t change; he’s the same throughout—a malicious, manipulative, avaricious local operator—and you understand him from the beginning.

Leonardo DiCaprio sets aside any vanity and is neither handsome nor savvy in playing Ernest Burkhart, Hale’s nephew. Because the tribe members are deemed incompetent to manage their assets, they are required to have white guardians. A quick way for a white man to become a guardian is to marry an Osage woman, just as Burkhart marries Mollie Kyle, memorably played by Lily Gladstone. Then if the wife dies . . . you can guess the rest.

Thanks to the oil, in the early 1920s, Osage members were the per capita richest people in the world. Much too tempting a target for undereducated, unprincipled roughnecks. Believe me, you’re grateful when Jesse Pelmons as Tom White, an agent of J.Edgar Hoover’s nascent FBI, appears on the scene.

The movie was filmed on a grand scale in Oklahoma, though there are plenty of intimate, emotion-packed moments in which Mollie and Ernest demonstrate real love for each other. Her penetrating gaze recognizes Hale and Burkhart’s schemes, but loves her husband anyway.

The film is dedicated to Robbie Robertson, whose last project was composing its music.

At the beginning, there is what seems an unnecessary statement by Scorsese about why he made this movie. That opening fits when he gives its closing words as well, bookending the film during a creative approach to telling “what happened next.”

The ill-treatment of indigenous people was one of America’s two greatest original sins and, in the arc of history, this sorry episode was not so very long ago.

Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating: 93%; audiences: 85%.

Another Halloween Story

pumpkin, book art

Lois Wehre and her tuxedo cat Frankie lived in Grovers’ Mill, New Jersey, where Orson Welles set his Halloween radio broadcast about Martians landing, and where, to this day, Halloween is a big deal. Her house is Ground Zero for tourists, thanks to local teens who once attached a lighted “flying saucer” to her garage roof. Lois grew up in Missouri. Her father was a mean drunk who lorded it over Lois and her weak-willed mother, and worse. They made Lois’s life miserable. When the house burned down one night as her mother and father slept, Lois took her inheritance and moved across country. Some adult children just shouldn’t live with their parents.

  • * * *

The wind-whipped whiff of smoke in the air, the flame-colored leaves, the shrieks of the children. Lois forgot to smile at the diminutive superheroes and frothy pink princesses who greedily plunged their hands deep into the candy bowl. “One piece,” she said, unheeded.

The night thickened, and the older kids would start arriving soon. They’d gather outside, trapping her in the house. Not this year. She turned off the lights and, clad head-to-toe in black, a dark scarf hooding her face, slipped out the back door. When she stood motionless at the inky corner of the hedge, she could watch over her house, invisible.

Soon a clutch of twelve-year-old boys walked up to the front porch and pounded on the door.

“Nobody home.”

“That old bitch,” one said in a voice that hadn’t changed yet.


They slipped around the side of the house. Giggling and mock-shoving, they gathered in a tight circle, blocking the wind. A match flared, and the tip of a cigarette glowed as a boy sucked on it, then passed it to his friend. The match, dropped absent-mindedly, fell in an arcing pinpoint of yellow light.

“You sure she’s not home?”

“Danny, she’s not. Dare you to go inside.”

“No way.”

“Chicken.” The boy giggled and took a drag on the joint.

“I will if you will,” another said.

“Let’s go.”

As the jostling boys sneaked into the back yard, a cache of dry leaves hidden under the rhododendrons began to flame.

“Wait,” Lois called, her warning carried away by a gust. She shot out of her hiding place as flames touched the base of the wooden porch. “Frankie!” she shrieked and ran toward the house.

Two older teenagers, football players by the intimidating heft of them, stepped in front of her. They were dressed all in black, too. She hadn’t seen them. The taller one wore sunglasses that made his eyes as fathomless as those of the pseudo-aliens decorating her neighbors’ lawns.

“Where you going?” he asked.

“The house is on fire! My cat!”

“What’s your hurry? It’s just a few dead leaves.”

She tried to dodge around them, but with one side-step they easily blocked someone her size. She shoved. They stood immobile, menacing.

“Please let me by. I have to—hurry!—” Her heart pounded. They didn’t understand how fast fire could move. One end of the porch was burning, and before long, the flames would reach the front door.

“Cats have nine lives.” The shorter teen snickered.

Lois tried again to shove her way between them, but they stood solidly shoulder-to-shoulder, teasing her. “Let me by!” She panted her words. “My neighbors will have seen the fire by now. You’d better get out of here.”

“Plenty of time. Hear anything?” the tall one asked. The other shook his head and grinned.

And, indeed, it was eerily quiet, except for the crackling flames. The rose trellis at the end of the porch sparkled with raining cinders. Shrieks of hilarity came from inside the darkened house.

“Those boys, they have to get out!” She gestured violently. “They’ll die in there.”

The teenagers glanced over their shoulders. “Hey, assholes!” the tall one yelled. “Get out of there. What’re you doing?”

The only answer was more high-pitched laughter.

“I think your little brother’s with them,” the other said. They turned and in long strides reached the porch, the flames licking toward them. They shoved open the front door. “You kids get the hell out. The house is on fire, you morons. Danny, if you’re in there, I’m going to—”

Lois ducked past them, but the tall one grabbed her arm. A column holding up one end of the porch roof collapsed, and the corner of the roof followed in sagging slow motion. Inside, the kids screamed and raced past her, nearly knocking her down. The teenager let go of her arm.

“Danny? Danny! Where is he?” he yelled at the boys.

The children glanced at each other. “He was with us a minute ago.”

“In the kitchen,” said another.

“No, he wasn’t!”

Lois ran to the back of the house and almost tripped on a still form. She turned on the overhead light. The boy was unconscious beneath an open cabinet door. “Must of cracked his head,” she muttered. She picked him up—heavy for her—and called, “Frankie! Frankie!”

A child where he wasn’t supposed to be, just like her daughter Kaye, where she wasn’t supposed to be, the night of that other fire. Kaye had a sleepover, but the girls quarreled after dinner, and Kaye came home while Lois was in the back yard, putting out water for the chickens. She never knew Kaye was there until the firemen carried out the third body.

Danny’s weight caused her to stagger a little. Frankie dashed between her legs, nearly tripping her as she reached the open back door. Being allowed outside at night was a rare treat, and Frankie wouldn’t miss this chance. He flew off the steps.

The teenagers arrived at the bottom of the stoop just as she did, and she handed them Danny like a gift. Then they heard the sirens.

A Man for All Seasons

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s production of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, directed by Paul Mullins, opened October 21 and runs through November 5, 2023. The story of Sir Thomas More, a man who not only has principles but sticks to them, seems a timely offering for our more elastic era. Of course, you may conclude that, in his case, that virtue went too far. Here a strong cast and excellent production provide much to consider.

Hewing closely to history, More (played by Thomas Michael Hammond) has become the Chancellor of England during the reign of Henry VIII (Roger Clark). Henry is determined to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon. He has several reasons for this, but the most powerful may be that she has failed to produce a male heir. (Centuries later, science would prove that a child’s sex is determined by the father. Henry should have been looking in the mirror.) The Catholic Church, of course, opposes the divorce, and Spanish officialdom, represented by its emissary Sigñor Chapuys (Edward Furst), regularly pleads Catherine’s cause. More’s conscience won’t let him support the King’s plans, despite the loyalty he demonstrates by various other actions. Nor does he speak out against them.

The principal cast includes several additional notable characters, which the cast plays with great skill and gusto: the always a bit dodgy Duke of Norfolk (Anthony Marble), More’s devoted wife Alice (Mary Stillwaggon Stewart), his daughter Margaret (Brianna Martinez) and her fiancé William Roper (Ty Lane), whose political views shift with every wind. Also, rising politician Richard Rich (Aaron McDaniel) demonstrates his convincing slipperiness, Thomas Cromwell is less admirable here than in Wolf Hall (James McMenamin), and “The Common Man,” (Kevin Isola). Isola makes the most of the array of often-comic characters he plays—More’s servant Matthew, a boatman, a publican, a juror, a jailer. His every appearance is welcome. Additional cast and production credits in my review at TheFrontRowCenter.

In general, a readiness to compromise or to achieve the King’s desired ends by whatever argument necessary characterizes Rich, Norfolk, and Cromwell, in direct contrast to More. The play challenges you to think about the role of a counselor. Is it solely to follow the leader’s dicta or is it to help a leader onto a more conciliatory and constructive path? For all his staunch refusals to speak out on the era’s great questions—the divorce and the establishment of the Church of England with the King at its head—More does have opinions about these matters. He simply believes his silence will protect him from accusations of treason. In my view, he’s splitting legal hairs too.

STNJ productions are hosted at Drew University in Madison, N.J. (easily reachable from NYC by train). For tickets, call the box office at 973-408-5600 or visit the Box Office online.

“A Question of Identity”

tiger, mask

At Manhattan’s KGB Bar last week, members of the New York chapter of Mystery Writers of America read from their works suitable (grim, gory, ghostly) for the spooky season. I read the last section of my short story, “A Question of Identity,” published at Halloween a few years ago by King’s River Life. There’s a summary paragraph to get you into it, then the conclusion.

“A Question of Identity” is about two nine-year-old girls—neighbors and best friends—who receive mysterious packages containing Halloween costumes. Tamika Greene, is Black. Hers is a fox costume. Blonde, blue-eyed Jen Nielsen receives a tiger costume. Done trick-or-treating, they have the bright idea to exchange costumes, go to each other’s houses, and see how long it takes their families to notice they’re the wrong girl. Trouble is, they never do. We start at Tamika’s family’s dinner table.

Mr. Greene was famous for quizzing his children over dinner, and he started right in. “What do you know for sure?” he asked his older son, who responded with the details of a recent football player-trade.

Asked the same question, the younger brother said, “The Forty-Niners are going to the Super Bowl this year for sure!”

“Now, see,” Mr. Greene explained, “you’ve drifted away from the solid land of facts into the swamp of opinion and wishful thinking. You don’t know for sure about the Forty-Niners. Can you help your brother out with a for-sure fact, Tamika?”

“Uh, a football field is a hundred yards long,” Jen said, “not counting the end zones?”

The young man rolled his eyes, but Mr. Greene said, “It may not be a new fact, but it is definitely a fact. Good job. Now, Tamika, what do you know for sure?”

Thinking back to Tamika’s nature book and the pictures of the Big Cats, Jen said, “Tigers can’t purr. They chuff, like this” She demonstrated. “The only Big Cats that can purr are cheetahs and mountain lions. Pumas.”

“How interesting. Why is that?”

And she explained, sort of.

Two houses away, Tamika was presented with a plate of so many aromatically spiced vegetables that she barely realized there was no meat. After the dishes were done, Jen’s sister Gail invited her to her room to draw fashions. Tamika, having only a pair of rowdy brothers, had never spent an evening this way and was delighted.

“Your drawing has really improved,” Gail told her. “Have you been practicing?”

Tamika smiled slyly.
Over the weekend, Tamika’s brothers took Jen to a football game, and when some of the boys asked who she was, she heard them say “my sister,” and nobody blinked. Maybe the increasing number of blended families made this plausible, even to kids. Or, especially to kids. When Mrs. Nielsen saw Tamika in Jen’s best new dress, she nodded and said, “Very pretty.”

It was fun having a whole new wardrobe. The girls read each other’s books and, like budding anthropologists, observed how the other family lived. And yet . . . and yet . . . it wasn’t home. The Greene and Nielsen families had different rhythms, their houses didn’t smell the same (maybe because the Nielsens were vegetarian, Tamika thought), the night noises were unfamiliar. Even the touch of the other mother’s hugs wasn’t quite right.
Monday morning, the girls met at the bus stop and exchanged lunches. “I’ve been thinking,” Tamika said. “We have to visit Mrs. Lachlan.”

“When she was our teacher, you always said she was a witch.”

“Yeah. I hope I was right.”

After school, the girls slipped down the block and around the corner to Mrs. Lachlan’s house.

They told their former teacher the whole story. At the end, Jen started to cry. “Make it stop. I don’t know who I am anymore.”

“Are those your costumes in the bag?” Mrs. Lachlan pointed at the folded-over shopping bag between them.

“Yes. We thought maybe there’s something . . . wrong with them,” Tamika said.

Mrs. Lachlan gave Tamika a look. “Enchantment? Not likely.” She laid the costumes over a chair. “It’s true they’re special.” She examined the masks and pinched her lower lip. “Now this is what we’ll do.”
Tamika trotted home in full fox display, and Jen stealthily walked to her front door dressed in her tiger bodysuit, wearing her tiger mask, and swishing her tiger tail. Her key worked—finally—and she walked inside.

“Just in time.” Mrs. Nielsen peered around the kitchen doorway to look at her. “Dinner’s in the oven. Set the table?” Jen bounded up the stairs to her room, took off the costume, and returned in jeans and t-shirt.

At the Greenes’ house, Tamika was glad to be back in her own room. One of her brothers, standing in the doorway, blocked the light from the hall.

“Hey, little sis. How you doin?” He looked her up and down. “Halloween’s over.”

“Maybe for you.” Her tail twitched. When he walked away, she took off the costume and mask. She twirled and twirled and laughed and laughed. Her bed, her closet, her desk, the view of the sky from her window. All these familiar things whizzed by.

At the dinner table, passing a platter of roast beef, one of the brothers asked, “What the heck was that noise before we came down? Sounded like dog with a cough being strangled.”

“It didn’t sound like a dog to me,” his brother said. “More like a, I dunno, a fox or something.”

Tamika tore into a slice of roast.

“Knife and fork, please, Tamika. What’s gotten into you?” her mother asked.

Mr. Greene frowned, as if overtaken by the uneasy feeling some facts were slipping out of his sturdy grasp.
Down the block, Jen leaned on the kitchen counter, watching her mother peel about a hundred carrots. Remembering the Greenes’ meaty dinners, she chuffed with pleasure.

Gail breezed through, grabbing a water bottle from the fridge. Mrs. Nielsen stopped her, saying, “Before you go up, would you please put more corn in the squirrel feeder?”

“Mom,” Gail complained, “nobody feeds squirrels. In colonial times, people got a bounty for squirrel scalps.”

“That’s disgusting,” her mother said. “It’s uncivilized.”

“Right here in Pennsylvania,” Gail said. Pushing her luck, she added, “And they ate the squirrels too.”

Grrr, Jen breathed.

Their mother said, “Well, Gail, if you don’t want to do the corn . . . You know they love it. They come right to you.”

I’ll do it,” Jen said. Her fingers stretched wide and the tips curled in. And her nails . . . how they’d grown.

The Pianist

The world premiere of Emily Mann’s theatrical adaptation of Wladyslaw Szpilman’s memoir, The Pianist, opened at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick last weekend and will run through October 22. Directed by Mann, the show has an original score by Iris Hond.

The Pianist is Szpilman’s recounting of the annihilation of the Jews of Warsaw, and how he—a leading young Polish pianist and composer—survived. He had many dark days, but his music both consoled him and inspired him to keep living.

Why now? You may recall that Tony Award-winning Mann’s career has emphasized social justice, through such works as Having Our Say and Gloria: A Life. Szpilman’s story is, of course, a cautionary tale, and taking it on now is a timely move, as surveys show the Holocaust receding in public memory and as anti-semitic rhetoric and attacks are on the rise. It’s dangerous to ignore those past lessons, when around the world extremist leaders grow increasingly prominent. Who might their net targets be?

A terrific cast has been assembled for this production, including Russian-born actor Daniel Donskoy, who makes his American stage debut as Szpilman, bringing both passion and intelligence to the role. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. In Szpilman’s nuclear family are his father (played by Austin Pendleton), mother (Claire Beckman), sisters Regina (Arielle Goldman) and Halina (Georgia Warner), and brother Henryk (Paul Spera).

Henryk can’t stop warning his family about fascism’s deadly implications, as the dark cloud descends on Warsaw. The parents don’t want to hear—or believe—it. Much like Szpilman, his father loses himself in music, almost obsessively playing his violin, but bit by bit, the ability to maintain the illusion of normalcy or that it can ever be regained, disappears along with the city’s food supply.

Several other actors—Charlotte Ewing, Jordan Lage, Robert David Grant, and Tina Benko—take on multiple roles as resistance fighters, people who try to help Szpilman or not, and Nazis. The play’s short scenes build and deepen Szpilman’s despair, as the whole is knitted together by the piano score of Iris Hond, which combines her original music, classical pieces, and Szpilman’s own work.

Anyone who needs evidence of the significance of this production need only read the biographical sketch for actor Claire Beckman, which concludes with her gratitude to Emily Mann for including her in this work of art “and by extension my great grandmother Anna Frankova Pickova, murdered in Terezin in 1943.”

The Pianist is on stage at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center. Tickets available here or by calling 732-246-7717.

Reaching across the Black-White Divide

Two Virginia women—one Black, one White—working on their family histories made a serendipitous discovery and the connection that developed between them was much stronger than this 21st century mutual interest. Betty Kilby Baldwin’s ancestors were enslaved by the Kilby family, and Phoebe Kilby’s ancestors were the enslavers. How they met, how they came to terms with the past, and even more important, how they have become a model of racial reconciliation is an inspiring story. They told it in the book they wrote together, Cousins, subject of a discussion sponsored by the Library of Virginia earlier this week.

The power of their story arises in part from what remarkable individuals they are. Together, they’re even more so. Betty grew up outside Front Royal, Virginia. In 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court mandated school integration in Brown vs. Board of Education, little changed at the schools in Warren County. The local school for Black children ended after the seventh grade. After that, they could attend a regional high school established for Blacks that was an hour away. Betty’s older brother was sent there and boarded during the week. After a year of that commute, her father found a closer school—only a half-hour away—for his two oldest sons, but the dilapidated bus the district provided meant service was erratic.

All the while, of course, there was a White high school in the county. Betty and her family made history, along with the families of more than twenty other Black eighth graders by insisting their children be allowed to attend the local Warren County High School. Betty became the lead plaintiff in a court case. Next came bureaucratic foot-dragging, then threats. But they persevered.

The commonwealth of Virginia retaliated against their efforts, in Warren County and elsewhere, with the Massive Resistance Laws and began closing schools rather than integrating them. As a result, 12,700 Virginia children, Black and White, were locked out of a public education. Eventually, of course, Virginia had to comply with federal law. Betty got her education, became a business executive, wrote an autobiography, and received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Shenandoah University.

Phoebe’s journey was quite different. Growing up in a White Baltimore neighborhood with professional parents, she had a career as a consultant on urban and environmental planning. After 9/11, she began to question the wisdom of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Waiting for business meeting with an official of Eastern Mennonite University, she learned the school offered courses in Peacebuilding, Conflict Transformation, and Restorative Justice. Maybe these courses could teach her to be a more effective advocate for peace. This educational process took Phoebe on a long and meaningful journey. When it came to understanding her family’s slave-owning past, she had skills in reconciliation.

Because of their experiences and education and their compassionate approach to the difficult issue of enslavement, after Betty and Phoebe met, they gradually developed a close bond. They work together in the Coming to the Table project, a nationwide initiative with many local affiliates attempting to create a more just and truthful society.

As Betty said, “We’re about the future, not the past.” Pretending slavery didn’t exist isn’t the answer; it only papers over a wound that, without light and air, cannot heal. As Betty wrote in Cousins, “We can’t change the past. All we can do is learn from it and make sure the mistakes of the past aren’t repeated.”

In need of an inspiring story? This is one.

It Ain’t Over

The background sound to my childhood was my mom listening to baseball games on a scratchy AM radio. The Yankees were the greatest, though our sentimental favorites were the home team, the Detroit Tigers. If you’re at all a fan of baseball or even of people whose larger-than-life character sparkles like a jewel, you won’t want to miss the new documentary about Yankee superstar Yogi Berra, It Ain’t Over (trailer). Not in a theater near you? Get it here.

Conceived and narrated by Yogi’s granddaughter Lindsay, the documentary’s seed was a 2015 All-Star Game tribute to “the four greatest living baseball players.” No question, the four selected in a popular poll should have been there—Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Johnny Bench, and Willie Mays. As the names were announced, Lindsay turned to Yogi and said, “What are you, dead?”

The documentary makes it abundantly clear that Berra should have been the fifth man on the field that day. He was an 18-time All Star. He had more MVPs than any of those others. More World Series rings than the four combined. Why wasn’t he there?

This documentary tries to answer that question. You see some of Yogi’s great plays. You hear sports broadcasters, other players, and friends—like Billy Crystal—weigh in. (It’s worth the price of admission just to bask in Derek Jeter’s smile.) And you’re reminded of Yogi’s famous sayings: “Nobody goes to that restaurant any more. It’s too crowded.” “When you get to a fork in the road, take it.” “You can observe a lot by watching.” “It ain’t over til it’s over,” and my favorite, “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.” On the surface, they may sound good for a laugh, but when you really think about it . . .

The commenters believe people got distracted by Yogi’s colorful speech, unathletic appearance, and outsized personality, all of which obscured what a fantastic ballplayer he was. Then, after his playing years, he was a successful coach. And all the while, he was a devoted family man, married 65 years to Carmen Short.

Yogi died later in 2015 at age 90. See it! You’ll feel good afterward.

Rotten Tomatoes critics rating: 98%; audiences: 96%.