“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” 

I think we can all agree that Rita Moreno was born to be a star. She has the “it” factor and you can’t help but look at her, and smile while you do. From her Academy Award winning role in West Side Story (the first Latina to win an Oscar) to her famous Scream (“Hey you guys!”) in the Electric Company, to her current Role as a Cuban Grandmother in the remake of “One Day at a Time,” and the hundreds of roles in between. Rita is a genuine Latina superstar, and one of only 16 people ever to be an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) winner! Therefore, when I was asked to review “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” I immediately said yes!

“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” illuminates the humor and the grace of Moreno, as well as lesser-known struggles faced on her path to stardom, including pernicious Hollywood sexism and abuse, a toxic relationship with Marlon Brando, and serious depression a year before she emerged an Oscar winner. Moreno’s talent and resilience triumphed over adversity, as she broke barriers, fought for representation and forged the path for new generations of artists.

This Documentary goes back with current interviews of Rita (made up to look gorgeous, but she is not afraid to show herself in the morning going to the studio with no make-up), and some of her celebrity friends including Morgan Freeman, Eva Longoria, Terrence McNally, Hector Elizondo, Gloria Estefan, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Justina Machado, and showing clips from old Hollywood.

The movie is very well paced and shows the struggles of a talented Latina Woman who decided not to take no for an answer, and “Go For It” will be released by Roadside Attractions on June 18.

Shephard: The Story of a Jewish Dog

Growing up I was shown a lot of movies and documentaries about Nazi Germany and how the Nazis (not the Germans, as there are lots of good Germans) treated Jewish people and many other minorities. Millions of people were sent to concentration camps and murdered in gas chambers and other horrific ways. The “lucky” ones that survived had to carry the terror and the physical branding for the rest of their lives. These movies were always horrible to watch, but even as a child I knew it had to be seen as to never forget the injustice that Hitler caused on the world.

Whereas Shepherd: The Story Of A Jewish Dog is about the timeless, unbreakable bond between a boy and his faithful dog it is also about seeing Nazi Germany through a child’s eyes. When the Nuremberg Laws are passed forbidding Jews to own pets, Kaleb, a German Shepherd, is separated from his Jewish family and his beloved 10-year-old master, Joshua. Kaleb becomes a street dog, is captured and eventually adopted by an SS dog trainer at a Nazi work camp where Kaleb has now been trained to help round up and terrorize Jewish prisoners. One day when a new trainload of prisoners arrives at the camp, Joshua steps out of that train and a miraculous reunion takes place as Kaleb rediscovers his unwavering loyalty to his young master Joshua. Together the pair attempt to escape the camp and begin the perilous journey to freedom.

Shepherd: The Story Of A Jewish Dog is a powerful movie with a powerful message. Its 94 minutes long, is unrated, and hits theaters June 11.

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way 

I remember it very clearly in June of 2016, when Julia Scotti was performing her first performance on America’s Got Talent and made me stand up off my couch to give her a standing ovation as the entire audience did. This Italian looking grandmother who looked so sweet had a secret…. she had a dirty sense of humor and had perfect delivery. We didn’t find out until after the judges praised her that she was a Trans Woman.

In this Documentary we are taken on a roller coaster of a ride that shows us how Rick Scotti was a headliner across the country in the 1980’s, however, he always felt nothing felt right. It wasn’t until he was 47, that Rick realized why he was s o unhappy and a year of hormones, surgeries and then the first appearance of Julia. Unfortunately, his support system turned away and she was shut out from contact with her children.

The documentary utilizes archival footage, and interviews with Julia, as well as with family members, and comments from co-workers. Having said all this, Julia is a star, and is incredible brave to tell her story.

Shot over a period of five years, Julia Scotti: Funny That Way tracks Julia’s triumphant comeback, the rough life on the road, and the complex process of reuniting with her children, as comedy becomes the shared language of identity, healing, and joy.

The runtime is 73 minutes and is currently available on VOD on various digital platforms in the US.

In The Heights

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s name is synonymous with Hamilton, and he has now become a Bona fide Hollywood star, but his first big show was In The Heights (2008). In The Heights is one of the few shows I did not have the pleasure of seeing, so when I found out the movie was coming out, I could not wait to see it. Not only because I heard how amazing the cast was, but also because I am from New York and went to Elementary and High School in Washington Heights.

Washington Heights is a multi-generational, mostly Latino, world very much on its own, but universal in its experience, where the streets are made of music and little dreams become big! The scent of a Cafecito caliente hangs in the air just outside of the181st Street subway stop, where a kaleidoscope of dreams rallies this vibrant and tight-knit community.  At the intersection of it all is the likeable, magnetic bodega owner Usnavi, who saves every penny from his daily grind as he hopes, imagines and sings about a better life.

The opening number introduces us to the neighborhood as they head out to start their day.  There are many other dance scenes, but two to watch out for are the dance scene in the nightclub (I’m sweating just thinking about it) and the “Carnaval del Barrio,” an exuberant block-party number.

In its core “In the Heights” is a love story, not only for other people, but for the neighborhood they call their family!

In The Heights, which is rated PG-13, will be in theaters and on HBO Max for 30 days on June 11. This is such a moving, fun film, I can promise you that you will leave the film feeling joyful!