Ze Frank’s ‘True Facts’ are full of wit and wonder

Pamela Hill NettletonArticles, Essays, U.S. CatholicLeave a Comment

Ze Frank makes good stuff that reminds people how good they are too. “True Facts,” little bitty animal movies, are treasures of bug and bird and bat lore. They are laugh-out-loud delightful, thanks to Ze Frank, their witty creator. These 3- or 4- or 10-minute minidocumentaries use gorgeous and remarkable research footage from scientists accompanied by irreverent and clever narration by Frank, a onetime media executive at BuzzFeed Motion Pictures and a longtime internet content creator. There are “True Facts” about ostriches, dragonflies, batfishes, ducks, giraffes, shrimp, octopi, owls, ants, star-nosed moles (gird your loins for that one), and tardigrades. What’s a tardigrade? You probably know it by one of its alternate monikers: the moss piglet or water bear. No? … Read More

In ‘All Creatures Great and Small,’ humanity steals the show

Pamela Hill NettletonArticles, Essays, U.S. CatholicLeave a Comment

A new PBS series about a country vet shows the power of human decency. It’s so nice to visit England. It’s even more delightful to time travel back to the years before the Second World War, remembered nostalgically through the eyes of beloved author and veterinarian James Herriot, a pen name used by James Alfred Wight. His bestselling books include All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, and The Lord God Made Them All. A classic BBC television series, All Creatures Great and Small, ran for 90 episodes through the late 1970s and 1980s. Now there’s a new adaptation of the same title, and it is glorious. The first six episodes debuted in the United States on PBS Masterpiece in January, … Read More

Pixar’s ‘Soul’ says a lot about life, not just what’s after

Pamela Hill NettletonArticles, Essays, U.S. CatholicLeave a Comment

‘Soul’ shows us not only what we might be missing about the point of living, but also what we are missing right now. Parents with more than one child know this already: Babies show up with personalities, differences, and strong attitudes toward broccoli, music, and siblings. There’s nature, there’s nurture, and then there’s just what you get—and who the heck knows where that stuff comes from? In Pixar’s Soul, now streaming on Disney+, director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc. and Inside Out) attempts to answer that question along with defining the meaning of life and identifying a soul’s central purpose. These are hefty tasks to pack into a full-length animated feature and still hope it appeals to the entire family. Well, it doesn’t, but … Read More

‘Expecting Amy’ and ‘Schitt’s Creek’ get families right

Pamela Hill NettletonArticles, Essays, U.S. CatholicLeave a Comment

Both series offer compelling, transformative views into what family means. An HBO Max three-part docuseries, Expecting Amy, and the final season of the award-winning and oft-Emmy-nominated Schitt’s Creek (a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation sitcom on Netflix in the United States) deliver plenty of laughs—and compelling, transformative views into what family means. They are brilliant. Expecting Amy is a behind-the-scenes docuseries of comedian (and actress, producer, writer, and director—she seems able to do everything) Amy Schumer’s life on the road as she develops new material for her 2019 Netflix special, Growing. While she rehearses, shuttles to and from hotels and venues, and cuts deals on her cell phone, she also struggles with a truly crummy pregnancy. Suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum—near-constant nausea—she carries on interviews while holding a … Read More

A new documentary asks: Who killed Bishop Juan Gerardi?

Pamela Hill NettletonArticles, Essays, U.S. CatholicLeave a Comment

‘The Art of Political Murder,’ produced by George Clooney, is now streaming on HBO. There is a lot of blood. Blood on the concrete next to the car. Blood on the chunk of concrete used to bludgeon his head. Blood on the cloth covering his body. And then there’s the blood on the hands of the people who murdered bishop and parish priest Juan José Gerardi Conedera. In Guatemala in the 1960s and ’70s, Gerardi was bishop of Verapaz and Quiché. He became auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Guatemala in 1984. He was an outspoken human rights activist working for official acceptance of indigenous languages and the improved status of Mayan peoples. He openly criticized the military’s violence against … Read More

Netflix’s ‘Hollywood’ asks if media could have changed the status quo

Pamela Hill NettletonArticles, Essays, U.S. CatholicLeave a Comment

Would the world really look different with better media representation? What if way back in 1947 Hollywood had produced films by Black screenwriters featuring gay actors for studios run by women? Would the world look different today? The Netflix series Hollywood (2020) positions itself to address this question then doesn’t quite get around to confronting it. Regardless, it’s intriguing ground to cover, however incompletely, and if the thought-provoking discussion doesn’t happen on screen, it might still happen in living rooms after the credits roll. The series weaves imagined stories of celebrities such as Rock Hudson, Anna May Wong, and Hattie McDaniel into an alternative, fantasy history that suggests racism, sexism, and homophobia might have been neatly sidestepped had the film industry just … Read More

The Christmas Card From Strangers

Pamela Hill NettletonArticles, EssaysLeave a Comment

This December week, I received precisely one dozen Christmas cards. They’ve been collecting day by day in the garage, slowly shedding their potential viral load  out there next to the band saw.  I have a large family, and the holiday letters and annual summaries typically numbered many more times that. But this is the social media age, and one of the treasures of that technology is that I do not see my cousins once a year on a flat Kodak card but weekly in Facebook and Instagram. I watch their children and grandchildren grow in increments rather than suffer the shock that yearly photos from afar can deliver of seeing a child I remember as a toddler suddenly appear six … Read More

‘Spinning Out’ unmasks the lived experience of mental illness

Pamela Hill NettletonArticles, Essays, U.S. CatholicLeave a Comment

This Netflix drama sparks meaningful conversations about family life. Behind the scenes in competitive ice skating, all is not sequins and sweetness in Netflix’s one-season wonder, Spinning Out. The series is compelling for unexpected reasons, and it takes uncommon risks in tackling a verboten topic. Spinning Out sidesteps the glamour of the Winter Olympics fan-favorite competitions and fixes its gaze on the fact that these girls and young women are accomplished, elite athletes—and they didn’t get there by humming “Swan Lake” and wearing cute leotards. There are sweaty workouts and demanding drills from coaches, crack-of-dawn ice times in chilly arenas, and backstabbing mothers gossiping in the bleachers. Skaters fret about injuring tendons, bruising bones, and recovering from terrifying falls. The … Read More

A new PBS documentary gives us a rare look inside the Vatican

Pamela Hill NettletonArticles, Essays, U.S. CatholicLeave a Comment

‘Inside the Vatican’ premieres Tuesday, April 28 on PBS Next week, PBS releases a new documentary of the Vatican offering tantalizing peeks into spaces no tourist can access and revealing the everyday work life for some of the 2,600 people working in the independent city-state. Filmed during Pope Francis’s fifth year, “Inside the Vatican” is loosely structured around the church calendar and important events: Easter, a papal visit to Ireland, installing new cardinals, preparing for Christmas. It feels a bit like three documentaries: one of workers and who make the Vatican run, one of the clerical leadership, and a closing—and hopeful— section on the sex scandals inside the church. It’s an espresso-tinged steep in Italian culture (The sculptures! The paintings! … Read More

Writing on the table

Pamela Hill NettletonArticles, Essays, Milwaukee WeddingsLeave a Comment

Come the holidays, I feed a lot of people. I have five sisters, they went out and got five husbands, the begatting began, those kiddos grew up and brought home new people, and soon we needed a valet to park the cars for a family dinner.  I order two birds and a breast, set up a turkey roaster on the mudroom bench, and buy so many pounds of potatoes that the grocery bagger helps me schlep them to the car. I move the buffet out of the dining room, tie up the chandelier so it doesn’t bonk people on the head, and scour the house for every available chair. My grandmother’s table takes five leaves and seats 12 if I … Read More