Thursday, December 18, 2014

The movie industry has two problems.

The movie industry has a problem. Well, its problems are legion but specifically, two problems rose to the surface yesterday, one of which dominated the news cycle and the other has been a steady factor for the past three years.

Problem One.
Yesterday, in a studio conference room where I'm sure all electronic communication of any kind was prohibited, studio execs decided to take the upcoming James Franco/Seth Rogen movie "The Interview" off the release schedule, due to threats from the Sony hackers. Personally, I think most every James Franco and/or Seth Rogen movie should be shelved, but this is different. This is a group of executives who were, ultimately, scared that more of their private info was going to be released and they buckled under an anonymous threat. No matter what is in that stupid movie, I guarantee worse has been said about and done to North Korea on "Family Guy" or "Robot Chicken" - both of which seem to be playing at all hours of the day. When "Team America" was released, no one saw it as a threat. (I will, however, argue that "Team America" had its farce was built into the characters, literally. No one expects any semblance of reality when watch puppets fight one another, no matter who they look like.) I'm sure there's much we don't know about the situation and I'm sure the FBI is very much involved - but as it stands, it reads as "freedom of speech is fallible and farce isn't allowed if someone doesn't like the joke you're telling."

Problem Two.
The other problem Hollywood had this year was an unnecessary problem.
One of the year's would-be biggest films was "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," and although it made $700M globally, it did not fare anywhere near where the studio would have liked. The root of that issue is that it wasn't great. In my opinion, it wasn't even good. But mostly, it was unnecessary. As was the first outing Andrew Garfield made with the Spidey suit. Unnecessary. It's hadn't even been ten years since the last film but the drive to reboot was apparently so all-consuming, Sony was unable to ignore it.
There have been plenty of unnecessary films this year. "Dumb and Dumber To," "The Expendables 3," "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,"/"Transformers," (basically anything Michael Bay had a hand in) - but the most glaring example of uneccesary filmmaking in 2014 (and 2013 and 2012 for that matter) remains "The Hobbit" franchise.
I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I couldn't wait for each film to open, then I couldn't wait to get the DVDs to re-watch it and explore all I'd missed. The announcement of "The Hobbit" coming to the big screen was unsurprising, but when it was announced by Peter Jackson that the planned two-part story was going to expand to a three-part version, I knew this didn't actually mean good things. Jackson is one of the most accomplished filmmakers working today, but he also seems to have an inability to say no in both the writing and editing rooms. The Lord of the Rings films were long and inflated, but because the public is such a fan of the source material, they let it slide. It didn't hurt that the films were all but spotless renderings on screen, a feast for the eyes, ears, and emotions. "The Hobbit" however, didn't have nearly the volume of source material to work with and the added filler stories left fans scratching their heads. Nothing can be exact when it comes to the translation from book-to-screen but this seemed to be a bit much. (The same could be said for stage-to-screen for that matter. This year's "Into the Woods" has garnered raves from musical theatre fans who have seen it to be a faithful telling of their beloved stage show, but when "The Producers" was released as a film that was basically a shot-for-shot reproduction of the stage production, it was maligned.)
I sat through all three of the films that made up "The Hobbit" and I did enjoy each of them. They felt different than the previous trilogy in Middle Earth, but that didn't really bother me. But at the end of what I'm calling, "The Hobbit: The (Incredibly long) Battle of the Five (four and a half really) Armies," I was left with the fact that this story could have been told in two volumes, not three. The first words out of my mouth were "It was good, but it didn't need to be three films." It was unnecessary to expand it in the way they did. Fleshing a story out makes sense, but this was so fleshed out, it was gluttonous and served the interest of a money-grab, not storytelling.

Hollywood has a problem. I fear there's no way to stop the unnecessary filmmaking and those films will usually find a way to saturate the conversation. But the way Sony just bent over and let the hackers have their way is unsettling. Perhaps time will tell the rest of the story, but for now, it seems freedom of speech lost a silly, yet very real, battle.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"[name not found] It's Cold Outside"

I realized something very odd recently. I am ever the single-man when it comes to Christmastime.

The last time I had a reason to sing "Baby It's Cold Outside" was when I was a freshman in high school and I had a girlfriend named Amanda. I don't remember what exactly I got her, but I remember she got me something with Marvin the Martian on it. Perhaps it was a big plush version of him? Either way, that's what I remember. Not exactly the fodder for a Nicholas Sparks screenplay.

Not that I'm one of those people who is perpetually in a relationship, but the times when I have been, those relationships have met their demise before the holiday season has begun to materialize on storefronts and TV commercials. It's just how the cosmic timing of my life has panned out.

I don't suppose it's entirely upsetting. Beyond the fact that it makes having a "Love Actually" moment in real life momentarily impossible, it just means I hadn't found/been found by the right one yet. I think for some people, that upsets them. Some want to be in a relationship so desperately that the thought of flying solo at Christmas keeps them double-fisting the eggnog through all of December. I don't really feel that way. One day, that will be great. Til then, I've got a whole crew of folks to be merry with, I don't have to worry about where to spend Christmas, and I can still have all the eggnog I want without inciting stories of woe-is-me as I'm put into a cab. Though when the time does come, I plan on showing up outside with signs.

This whole "being single at New Years" thing usually parlays into being single for Valentines Day, something I'm completely comfortable with. I can enjoy the chocolate without having to share. Plus, Hallmark and Duane Reade have put such a weight of expectation on Valentines Day that it's really not fun or exciting. It's expected. And to me, expected is the enemy of romance. The best things in my life haven't come from being calculated or trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit just so. The best things in my life have been unexpected.

So while I won't be singing any rendition of the drunk, slutty and moderately misogynistic Christmas classic, "Baby It's Cold Outside," this year, I may look for that Marvin the Martian thing, to see if that still exists in the back of my old closet at my parents' house. And who knows, maybe this time next year, I'll be writing about using signs at Christmas and how I "feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes." I won't expect it, but it'd be nice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A song that lingered

This week, I attended a showcase for new composers and lyricists of musical theatre and one of the songs that was performed was from a show in development called The Boy Who Danced On Air by Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser. The song I heard, "A Boy of my Own" was a beautiful ode from two young men that is ultimately about their desire for their future sons' lives to be better than their own.

Guiseppe Bausilio & Jamen Nanthakumar  


The song stayed with me, long after the singing ended, and I found the documentary that inspired the musical on YouTube.

In 2010, "The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan" aired on PBS. It chronicled the lives of men involved with bacha bazi, a form of sexual slavery and child prostitution in which prepubescent and adolescent boys are sold to wealthy and powerful men for entertainment and sexual activities. They are taught to sing, play music and dance like women in order to perform for these rich men.  This ancient practice has all but disappeared in the world, except where it's thriving in Afghanistan. Many men there keep dancing boys as status symbols, even though it's illegal under Afghan law.

Beyond the apparent backwards mentality of both slavery and child prostitution, what I found so cripplingly painful was the fact that these boys are being raped and taken advantage of by rich men, in the name of entertainment. As someone who has first-hand experience of male-on-male rape culture, I didn't have to try very hard to put myself in these young boys' shoes. It's the type of pain that takes a very long time to move past and, that's if you have a support system that allows you to grow past it. If you are young and alone, as a piece of property, I can't imagine what that does to them.

The documentary states that the police treat this like just another taboo subject and they pay little attention to it, which has enabled it to spread. There are organizations like Hope for Justice who are working to end human trafficking, but this just shows how much more there is to do.

Watching the documentary, I couldn't help but feel glad that there's a team of theatre writers who are working to bring this story to the stage. In a culture that seems to only champion the film-turned-musical genre, having a new work written about something topical and timely is more important than ever. In the way The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is illuminating a human story on stage, I hope this will as well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Conundrum.

Last night, I found myself with a bit of a conundrum.


co·nun·drum
ˈnəndrəm/
noun
noun: conundrum; plural noun: conundrums
a confusing and difficult problem or question.
 
Dating can be confusing. When I was younger, I over-thought everything. We all do that. But as I've gotten older, it's become easier to just let it roll off my back and realize, it may work out or it may not. There's no reason to over-think the things we can't control.

Having made that very rational statement...last night, I began over-thinking again like a junior high kid who just had his first kiss on the dance floor as "I Swear" plays. It wasn't my first kiss. It wasn't even our first kiss. But it made my brain spin.

Why does this happen to us? Why do we find ourselves with butterflies in our stomachs, no matter what our age is? I think it's probably healthy to feel that way. Being jaded isn't attractive on anyone, so having a moment of pre-romantic-nervousness is a great way to ground us again. It reminds us we're human and that we aren't invincible. We're all just mush underneath, no matter how tough our exteriors may seem.

So a kiss left me feeling like mush, and I think that's fine. I prefer to be very much in control of what happens, but facing this conundrum of not being able to control things, I'm just gonna have to roll with it. And yes, think about it some more.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Wanna be on top...

I feel like most of America forgot that "America's Next Top Model" was still on TV. The ratings have dwindled and the impact on pop culture is all but invisible - but this show has somehow survived the network chopping block and has been, apparently, trying to reinvent itself. 
I say apparently because I haven't been watching. The most of my Top Model watching occurred when I was in college when we would watch the all-day Saturday and Sunday marathons of previous seasons. I don't know that I've ever committed to watching the show when it originally aired. 

But this week, I felt oddly compelled to watch this season. Actually, the reason I felt compelled to watch was because I read an interview with the person who won this season. Oh - that's something else that has changed since the last time I watched - now, there are both guys and girls in the competition, which is fun, and a bit odd.

Today, I've spent hours reconnecting with the current incarnation of the show I use to binge-watch and it's been an oddly enlightening experience. Enlightening primarily because I wasn't able to reconnect with it at all. It's not that I haven't been enjoying it, I happen to really enjoy competition shows, but this wasn't the show I used to love. This was a completely different monster. Sure, there are a few similarities to what it used to be, but it's a different show. Not a bad show. Just different.

I recently had a similar experience with an old friend. We hadn't connected in such a long time and when our paths finally crossed again and we were able to have a real conversation, it was very apparent that the connection we once had was palpably different. We didn't have a bad time, but it wasn't what I used to know.

That happens. It's not the first time and it won't be the last. We're all works in progress who continue to grow and change. Sometimes we grow and change with people, sometimes we don't. I don't know when my friend and I are going to get together again, only time will tell. But I'm going to finish this season of ANTM. Mostly because I like photoshoots and pretty people. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Avalanched

I have a really emotional response to today. I'll be the first to admit that I'm overly emotional on a regular basis. I feel deeply, things affect me deeply, I want things for myself and for others in a deep and almost tangible way. But today came out of nowhere but I should have expected it. 
It happened at the convergence of stress and joy. Those two emotions don't plug into each other. One always overtakes the other and while we hope that joy is the victor, sometimes it's the other way around. But today, they collided into each other in my far-too-cluttered brainspace and the effect was this sort of avalanche of feelings and thoughts gone awry. 
This isn't making much sense. 
Let me rephrase.
You know in James Bond movies when they are trying to out-ski the avalanche on the side of the mountain, and they just so happen to have a jacket on that inflates to being a bubble around them, keeping them unharmed? Okay, now imagine Peter Griffin and the chicken fighting each other within that inflated bubble jacket. There. That was what it felt like. 
Great things, less-than-great things, petty things, important things - they all mixed together like the ingredients in a sauce Rachel Ray would make while shouting at her audience about the wonders of unripe tomatoes. And the great things overtook the less-than-great things and what I was left with was a really call feeling that things are actually going pretty well. 
Yeah, some big things went wrong over the past week, but some even bigger things went right. For some reason, my disappointment over the things that went wrong was disproportionate to what the situation warranted. Guess that's just another time when hindsight is 20/20. 
As jumbled as all of this sounds, we've all had those overwhelming moments where we can't process what we're feeling and aren't sure how to articulate it. But I tried to articulate it and it came out sounding like the above. There's no moral to the story or any real rhyme to why I had to write this. I just had to get it out. I had to try to process the thoughts into something I could grapple with. 
And now I kinda want chicken for dinner.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In Crush.

I fell in love. 
Okay no, I haven't found my perfect match. I'm still very single. But I did fall in love. At first sight even. 
Okay it's not real love. It's not even real love adjacent. But it's an all-consuming, can't stop thinking about you, mentally-crippling crush that, to a junior high kid, would feel like a love that would never fade away. 
It's not even falling in lust. It's just a crush. (cue Jennifer Paige song) But it hit me in the face like a backpack full of grad school books and I've been dizzy ever since. I'm "in crush."

I'm 31 years old. Are crushes like this supposed to happen to people my age? Are our hearts still supposed to flutter at the mention of a name or at the remembrance of making eye contact? Whatever the answer is, I'm fluttering. Which is flustering. 

I prefer to be in charge. I like to lead things. I like to be in control. In so many aspects of life, that comes so naturally, but when it comes to a wandering heart that meanders its way wherever it so pleases, why do I feel completely helpless? I get a crush and my brain turns to Jello; it's functional as a solid but when you shake it around, it waivers and collapses like goo. 

I think the funny thing about crushes is that you are the one that ends up feeling crushed. I'm the one that can't stop thinking about it. They are blissfully moving on with their life...or are they? Maybe it's reciprocated? Maybe we can be "in crush" together? Maybe it's meant to be? Maybe I've found the love of my life?!

And then that happens. I hate this. 

But truthfully, I also love that I can still feel the flutter. It's a nice reminder that my single heart that's sat in time-out for a while still has a desire to come out and play. 

So if you need me, I'm going about my life: working, taking the train, walking here or there. And while my Jello brain is enabling all of those things to happen in a functional capacity, all it takes is one thought and I'm goo again. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The land of Insta-condemnation


I don’t believe in message boards. I think they are places where the lowest forms of life exist to not only bring down whatever the topic is but bring down anyone else who may be foolish enough to comment about said topic.

Having said that, I sometimes will make the haphazard decision to read what is in front of me, specifically if I’m looking at a Facebook post or an Instagram photo. The comments are right there on the screen and sometimes I’ll glance at them. There’s no harm in the glance, but when you start scrolling through…

A friend retweeted an Instagram photo of a very well known Christian music singer’s engagement photo. They’re on a beach, they’re elated, it’s wonderful. I was looking through some other photos on the singer’s page and there was one of Justin Timberlake mid-concert. Fun, I wish I could go see his show too. Then I made the mistake. I looked to the right and at the comments.

A debate had ensued in the comments left on the photo. A group of mostly women began an argument about the “spiritual repercussions” of the singer’s actions in the photo. Please bear in mind that her action was to go see Justin Timberlake sing and dance about a suit and a tie.

One woman said “I don't judge her! However - it's such a thin line to cross just because she's becoming more and more known around the world, so it requires being a little more careful with these things. Secular music is not bad, but someone with her shoes, this wasn't such a bright idea to post...especially to new believers who are coming to Christ. That's the only thing I see in this...”

Okay…

Then another woman agreed with her! “I totally agree with you! Such a bad move. Being a worship leader, she should set an example to those new believers. Such a shame.”

I fail to see the shame in going to a Justin Timberlake concert. I have a friend who saw him this weekend actually and loved the show. I also fail to see where it’s any of these people’s business to comment on the decisions this singer is making.

Sure, I know that we post things for people to see and comments come with that. Everyone has something to say and these women are allowed to be as loudly ignorant as they want to be. What concerns me is that their loud intolerance for decisions made by others is being thrust out into the world and people like me are stumbling on it, even if we don’t follow the singer on Instagram.

At what point will Christians understand that they have to function in a real world, where not everyone believes exactly what they believe, makes the same decisions they make or acts like they do? This insta-condemnation that is so readily accessible in much of Christian culture is the heavy hand that swats away people who don’t believe as they do. How do you expect someone to listen to your message with an open ear if you continue to slap them away at even the slightest hint of disagreement?

An old friend of mine posted an article from a VERY conservative site about the pastor of Hillsong church in New York City and about his approach to what he does. He then went on a rant about how wrong this man’s approach and doctrine is and that this is the problem with Christianity today. Now, I’ve been to said church and I know that things there don’t happen as they would in a small church on the buckle of the Bible Belt, but in no way did I feel like the teaching became a watered-down free-for-all.  I stated my opinion in the comments section, (there I go again, that damn comments section) and was ultimately told I still wasn’t correct in my thinking.

Christianity today doesn’t look like it did a decade ago. Why? The world doesn’t look the same as it did a decade ago. Just as pastors have to take the words written thousands of years ago and make them applicable to today’s living, we have to continue to do that over the course of our lives. The context when we were children isn’t the context we exist in as adults. There are so many people from where I’m from (Bible Belt) who are so afraid of the changes within churches like Hillsong who are welcoming to all people, approachable in their context and God isn’t portrayed as an angry being ready to strip us of our salvation at any given moment. Do crazy-overzealous-Christians go to Hillsong? Yes. Are there gay people at Hillsong? Yes. Do they sing in the choir? Yes. Are they open about their lifestyle? Yes. Does Justin Beiber attend when he’s in town? Yes. Is he the most obnoxious person in music? Yes. But all are welcome.

I personally don’t believe Jesus would be thrilled with the way Christians treat others, especially the way they treat their own. I think He’d be pretty saddened by it. I also don’t think He’d be all that pissed that this singer went to a Justin Timberlake concert. He would probably want to hear N’Sync songs just like the rest of us.  

My favorite comment though was by someone who had a least a modicum of sense. “You all obviously recognize him so you’ve listened to his music too. So you all need to sit down.” 

The power of a reboot

Nothing went right this morning. From the moment my feet hit the floor, it has been a sitcom-style-series of unfortunate events.
It took longer than expected to get ready because I couldn't find my pants because they were wadded up in the corner of my apartment for some reason.
Then I just missed the train but another was right behind it. A momentary break of luck. Too bad that two stops after boarding the train, it went out of service and hundreds of irritated New Yorkers got to wait on the platform for another train to show up. Which it did, minus the air conditioning the first train had.
The train took its sweet time getting downtown, all the while I'm beginning to sweat, which isn't a cute look when you're en route to the office.
I missed another connecting train before I finally got to where I was going, only to have little rain droplets begin to ping off my head.
This calls for an iced coffee. That fixes all things right? Except, I wanted some coffee with my sugar and creamer and apparently they missed that part of the order. So I have my coffee-laced sugar water and I finally made it to the office.

Time to reboot.

It's amazing really. No matter how strange our day has been, we have the ability to reboot just like we would a computer that's acting up. Some people haven't figured this out yet and if they "get up on the wrong side of the bed" in the morning, their entire day is somehow ruined. But there's such value in being able to put a mental stop to the bad moments to make way for the good.

So as I sat down at my desk, I rebooted along with my computer. There's no use hanging on to what happened this morning and letting it affect the rest of my day. That'd be a wasted day. Waste not, want not. And don't worry, I've got my coffee-laced sugar water to keep me alert.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thank you Lisa

I first became aware of Lisa Ling when I was in junior high and watched "Channel One" every day. The next time I heard from her was when she joined "The View." Leaving the daytime gab-fest may not have looked like a wise decision from someone so early in her career, but Ling knew she was meant to do more than have conversations around the table with celebrities. She was meant to talk to real people.

The first episode of "Our America" I saw was "Pray the Gay Away." Having had quite a bit of those same conversations in my own life, it was astonishing to see it play out on national television. There it was, being told out in the open. She also recognized that the story didn't end when the cameras stopped rolling and she revisited the subject. Not only was she a witness to the change, but her coverage also became a catalyst for the change. Exodus Ministries, the largest of the ex-gay movement ministries, shuttered and through "Our America," men who had been profoundly hurt and scarred were given the opportunity to confront the man behind the ministry. Some of the men found closure and maybe even forgiveness.

My personal favorite episode was actually about present day nuns. I tell people about it all the time. More than being an informative and enlightening hour of television, it was a masterclass in journalistic storytelling. Every angle was covered, every woman's story was told fully and with such care. The decisions of these women were honored by Ling in a way that made each of their stories important and meaningful. The amount of care shown left an impression on me that I haven't forgotten.

I'm going to miss "Our America." Ling has a way of telling the whole story, all sides and facets, and remaining as objective as a person can be while remaining present in the moment. Whether it was a gay christian, a man wrongfully convicted, a transgender person, a drug user or teenage mother, Ling allowed the stories of Americans to become thought-provoking and teachable moments. I know that her career doesn't end with "Our America," it continues to rise as she moves to CNN to continue her work, but I will miss this show. In an age where television channels are full of nonsense "reality" TV, "Our America" was TV that mattered and had the power to change lives.

Thank you Lisa.