Monday, December 29, 2014

Goodbye 2014. Go away.

2014 is coming to a close and all I can say is THANK GOD.
This year, while it's had some great moments and some fun experiences, has not been awesome. I've just felt stagnant from the moment it started to the moment it's ending.

While I was in Dallas for Christmas, I attended church with my parents. While the church is in the same building it was in when I was growing up, it is, in no way, the same church. Here's some background:

I grew up in Dallas, the buckle of the Bible belt. I grew up attending a Pentecostal church and from the day I was born, I was at church every Sunday and Wednesday. My family is Methodist on my mom's side and Pentecostal on my dad's side. I sang in the children's musicals (I had the lead, thank you very much), I sang in the youth choir, and when I graduated from high school, I continued to lead the drama dept for the youth group. As much as I didn't want to fit into anyone's mold, I fit in that "church kid" mold perfectly. Everyone had the same opinion on most things and we were unified in that.
But as I got older, I began to question things that I wasn't really supposed to question. Namely: Just because it's been done one certain way for so long, why does that mean we have to keep doing it that way? Replace "it" with whatever is the hot topic of the moment. 
I wasn't alone by any stretch of the imagination. I feel like I was among a generation of church-going young people who all began to ask questions at the same time. I had friends who were in school to become pastors and many of the professors would get upset with them because they didn't want to run their congregations with the same legalism and rigidity that so many churches functioned in. 
At 21, I left the church I grew up in, and began attending a Baptist mega-church down the street where I attended until I transferred to a college further away.

I say all of that to say that this church was almost a second home. I was there all the time. I remember when the building was being built and we toured it, I remember when we were building the youth center and we canceled drama practice so we could go play in the rain inside the steel shell that would become that building. Most all of my teenage memories are tied to that place and the people inside of it.

But being inside there on Sunday, I was left with a hollow feeling of loss. It's nothing like it was. The people are different people, it's a different staff, it's even been remodeled somewhat so it's physically different. There's no remnant of what was previously so vibrant in my life. I sat through the service, trying to pay attention, but my thoughts were continually stolen away by looking around and seeing that nothing was the same.

I left there knowing I won't be returning. I care far too much about those memories to allow them to be diminished by whatever this new/other things is.  It's mildly appropriate that it happened at the end of the year. I'm so ready for a new year to begin. Usually, the fall is when I reboot, and that's true, but there's just something about this new years that feels so right.

I'm ready to close the door on 2014 and focus purely on what's ahead. There's nothing I hate more than being stagnant and I'm going to do whatever I have to do to get out of that state of mind.

So thank God. Here's to 2015.

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.