Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I've thought extensively about what I'm personally thankful for in my life. Obviously, my family, friends, and health deserve my primary gratitude, but with all that the world has to offer, it seems foolish not to be thankful for so much more.

This Universe is filled with all kinds of people. Big, small, tall, short, dark, light, old, young - each distinguished with a unique look and personality. Neighborhoods are filled with an array of diverse characters waiting to be written in the pages of their own book. Therefore, as I walk these sidewalks and pass by complete strangers, I can't help but appreciate the subtle nuances they have to offer. Their smiles. Their laughs. Their walks. Their stances. Their frustrations. Their tears. Each embodying the tiniest of details that are too distinct to be written -- if not imagined.

So, yes, I'm thankful for strangers. Complete strangers. Unknown men and women that haven't directly entered my life, but have ultimately entered my thoughts.

The following video was created by Crush & Lovely, a group of filmmakers who asked one question, and elicited a multitude of responses -- not to mention some of those subtle personality traits I've grown so fond of....

Friday, November 21, 2008

Back to Reality

For most people in this recession-filled world, the movie theatre is regarded as a far-off retreat created to distract the mind (and the pocketbook). A sanctuary where people flock towards when the horrors of this economy and frustrations of primetime television become exceedingly overwhelming. Therefore, it took me by surprise when my latest venture to the movies turned out to be anything but an escape from reality.

Last Sunday, I arrived at the Academy building bright and early where I was eager to catch a screening of Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road. I didn't really have any expectations for the film, despite the rekindling of my childhood infatuations - Jack and Rose (i.e. my earliest inclination for a bonafide threesome...). Anyways, the movie itself was lackluster. Meaning, it lacked any real depth since Mendes, being the theatre director he is, puts everything out on the table for everyone to see. It lacked subtly - a directing trait that's definitely not one of his strengths. And although Kate and Leo did a commendable job and will undoubtedly get nominated for an Oscar (more so Kate, than Leo...), they lacked any real humility. I felt they yelled through the whole thing. Come on people, why not just get a freakin' divorce?!

Sorry, I got distracted. This wasn't meant to be a review. Back to the story. As the movie reached its final 10 minutes, the audience was pulled from their cinematic trance due to a sudden wheezing. At first I thought the tension from this movie proved too much for an emotional viewer. As I peered back from my seat, I noticed someone had rendered themselves completely unconscious.

Suddenly, the lights flickered on, the film turned off, and everyone centered their attention around this person. It appeared she was experiencing a seizure. Coincidentally, nobody had their cell phones on them because they're prohibited from the screening room. Thankfully, some disobedient woman pulled her blackberry from her purse and called an ambulance.

Once the immediate shock wore off, the woman was treated by paramedics and taken to a nearby hospital (and according to sources, she's made a full recovery). That being said, you must put yourselves in our shoes. Revolutionary Road isn't a movie for the light hearted. It's a depressing film. Hell, it makes American Beauty look like a romantic comedy. This real-life incident only elevated the intensity and melodrama of the story. Like I said... de-press-ing.

In the end, however, the Academy thanked us for our cooperation and allowed us to finish the film. Now, mind you, before the unfortunate incident, we had just finished the saddest part in the entire movie. Therefore, according to them, it made perfectly good sense to rewind it five minutes prior so we can relive that moment once again. Joy...!

Once the emotional dust cleared, I was left with a foul taste in my mouth . Revolutionary Road wasn't the cup of tea I had expected, but I believe that's because of the unintentional fusion of reality and "fantasy". It was tainted. But now that a few days have passed and I'm able to absorb the film in its entirety, perhaps I should re-evaluate my initial reaction. Or, dare I say, see the movie again?

Maybe I will -- this time I'll just be sure to have extra Kleenex, a paper bag, and a sedative handy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Doubt Review

This past Sunday, while most Americans received their familiar football fix, I was fortunate to be treated to a double dosage of movie magic. Sunday morning, I braved the morning dew to attend an Academy screening of Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road (more to come). However, my weekend didn't really begin until that evening when I experienced John Patrick Shanley's wonderfully adapted Doubt. In fact, the studio even set up a panel of the crew consisting of director/writer Shanley, cinematographer Roger Deakins, editor Dylan Tichenor, production designer David Gropman, costume designer Ann Roth, and composer rock star Howard Shore.

For those not completely familiar with the stage-to-screen storyline, Doubt centers on Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) who becomes increasingly suspicious of Father Flynn's relationship with the school's first black student. While I admit to not having seen the stage version (shameful, I know), I must confess that I was instantly drawn to Shanley's impeccable writing style. Just a tiny reminder, this is the man who wrote Joe Versus the Volcano... I'm just sayin'. With precision, humility, and an intentionally interwoven wit, he made this screenplay seem almost effortless. It's no wonder why he racked up all the theatre awards three years back.

Anyways, when asked what compelled him to transfer the play into a film, Shanley quipped "When they asked me to make it". And thank God they did! If they hadn't, he wouldn't have been able to compile a cast of actors that made this dialogue seem as fluid as my Uncle Richard's drunken slurs. According to Shanley, "I hired Meryl Streep because I wanted to see what she would do". He added, "I then hired Phillip Seymour Hoffman because I knew he'd make [Streep] work like a dog". And boy did he ever! I wouldn't be surprised if Hoffman, Streep, and the talented Viola Davis heard their names announced nomination morning.

Speaking of Streep... it was inevitable she was going to provide a powerhouse performance. That was obvious. However, it wasn't clear how much conviction and sincere detail she would devote to Sister Aloysius. According to Roth, Streep was so invested in this character, she and an on-set seamstress had a contest to see who could finish knitting a shawl first. As a result, the winner's design would eventually be used in the film (Wow, that's so Project Runway!). To nobody's surprise, Streep was in and the seamstress was out. What can I say? Meryl's a master at creating the most meaty character traits and her subtext is undeniably second nature. Once the film rolled its last credit, I waved dismissively and declared, "just give her the Oscar now".

All in all, this film ultimately dives into the tension between unbending principle and the call for compassion and human understanding. It reaches far beyond 1964, and can be thematically related to the current changing times of today.

That being said, I'm optimistic critics will latch on to this film, and even more assured audiences will as well. In fact, afterwards I was asked if I thought this film had a chance at a Best Picture nomination, and without any hesitation I adamantly replied... "I have no doubt".

I guess we'll have to wait and see....

Friday, November 14, 2008

New York City: Day 5

I'm not much of a traveler.  In fact, I can probably count the places I've visited on one hand.   I'm embarrassed to admit I've never even traveled internationally.... I don't even own a passport!  Therefore, New York was more than just a mere vacation.  It was actually a life experience.   Although I've visited the Big Apple before,  I can honestly say I never grow tired of its culture.  The people, history, and architecture are awe-inspiring and I can definitely guarantee residency in the future.  

Anyways, the last day of New York Vacay 2008 ended as memorable as it began.  After visiting tourist must-sees like the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, and Little Italy (The food there was fantastic... thanks to our new friend Tony "Soprano"), we dressed to the nines, threw caution to the wind, and painted the town red.  

We grabbed dinner at an ultra-touristy restaurant where the food was expensive and the waiters busted out in song.  At first, the performances were  entertaining (it was homo-palooza in there).  However, after a failed attempt of Defying Gravity, I had just about enough.  We stuffed the $20 veggie burgers in our mouths, threw down our "hard earned" cash, and booked it to see the amazingly brilliant musical In the Heights.

It goes without saying that this experience was undeniably memorable.  The itinerary was filled with surreal opportunities, spectacular sites, and also a drink or two...  However, what really made this vacation great were the people I spent it with.  Monica, Lisa, Jessi, and Sarah have always been fantastic amigos (and even better accessories).  They're continuously there for me when the times get tough, they never cease to make me laugh, and to be able to have this opportunity to share such a spectacular city with them... well, that was just fabulous. 

That being said, I have one final message for my estranged lover named New York... we shared a beautiful week together and you did not disappoint me.  You made me feel complete (and, at times, confused)  But, alas, I must bid you farewell.  Adieu my love.  I take comfort that this isn't a permanent goodbye, but a brief 'until later'.  I promise you.... you have not seen the last of me! :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New York City: Day 4

It goes without saying that day four of my New York Vacay 2008 consisted of several glasses of water, a handful of Tylenol, and a coffee the size of my head. After several nights of drinking, dancing, and gallivanting, our minds and bodies were thoroughly exhausted. Some R & R was definitely in order. Not to mention it was Sunday... God's day... The day of rest! It was crucial we found a sanctuary that wasn't only spiritual, but accepted us... despite our aforementioned hangover and inevitable dark circles.

However, instead of finding a church to worship in, we had to settle for a hole-in-the-wall drag diner in Greenwich Village. So in place of a Priest, we were treated to Baby Honeychild's lip-syncing sermon. And communion consisted of unlimited Mimosas.... What? I can't have a Mimosa at breakfast? I'm on vacation! (Dear Madonna - Bless us with good health, a happy future, and killer footwear. And deliver us from male pattern baldness. Gaymen.)

Afterwards, we decided to hit the tourist circuit visiting key locations like Rockefeller Center, NBC Studio, Central Park, and Times Square. Also, to add a little more excitement to our already jam-packed day, we decided to try our luck on a Broadway show lottery. Yes, drinking and gambling on a Sunday.... We waited outside the Avenue Q theatre, held our breath with sheer hopefulness, and watched as they drew various names from a bucket. As you could probably guess, Monica's name was selected from the damn bunch. (What's with this chick? How lucky can one person be?!)

Anyways, Avenue Q was phenomenal! The Tony Award winning musical consisted of furry puppets, lavish sets, and unbelievably peppy songs. Hmmm, how can I further explain it to you... Do you remember the first time you really understood the meaning and significance behind Sesame Street? When Big Bird, Elmo, and Snuffleupagus taught us about morals, ethics, and kindness. Yeah, this show was nothing like that. In fact, it was quite the opposite. With songs like "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist", "It Sucks to be Me", and "You Can be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Making Love)", the show teetered on the line of social decency. That being said... it was awesome. We were even fortunate to meet the cast!

Afterwards, we decided to end the night early. No bar. No alcohol. No run-in with the cops. It just didn't really seem appropriate. After all, we had a moderately calm and enjoyable day... we figured our livers were entitled to the same luxury...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New York City: Day 3

High school -- It's an inevitable right of passage in everybody's life. Some graduate with intentions of never looking back. Others leave with an inner turmoil and yearn for longer days. I was neither here nor there. My time in High School was fine. I was in the symphony orchestra, historian of the National Honors Society, Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper, and anything lower than an 'A' was unheard of. I had great friends (and even greater acquaintances) and ultimately enjoyed every moment of my Dobson High days. Though, like most of my classmates, I've moved well beyond those memories.

Therefore, when Lisa suggested attending Awesome 80's Prom - an interactive show where actors pose as High School stereotypes - I took it with the proverbial grain of salt. I've been through the prom scene before. I've voted for prom royalties, befriended the foreign exchange student, and been ignored by the head cheerleader. Why would I want to return?

Perhaps I feared returning back to the "High School Eli".... The closeted, shy, never-really-took-any-chances Eli. Fortunately, I had New York on my side. With my friends nearby, we sported our costumes for one more night, clutched arms, and took the Awesome 80's Prom by storm.

It only seemed appropriate to immerse ourselves into the environment. Naturally, we all took interest in a certain cast member. Lisa was drawn to the "bad-boy" rebel while Sarah flirted with the captain of the football team. Jessi befriended the student body president and Monica re-enacted the Romy and Michelle dance with the foreign exchange student. Me? I was naturally ignored by the head cheerleader... but true to self, I eventually slow danced with the highly stereotyped "nerd". Remember that girl? The one who barely was noticed in the classroom and was severely talked about behind her back. I know this was purely fiction, but it was definitely drawn from reality.

Anyways, after hours of dancing, the costume contest began. My posse and I walked across the stage to be judged by the jury (Judgement? In high school? Weird...). Though, after a short deliberation, we couldn't pull off the win. That went to the scary-ass villain from Saw. Yet, on a positive note, we did take home second place!! Which was accompanied by t-shirts and New Kids on the Block tickets (We were definitely on a winning streak!).

So as you can see, all in all it was an excellent third day in New York City. Albeit, I may have referred back to my own High School experience a little too often. However, I prefer to think of that as an homage to my youth. Everything I learned in school has made me the person I am today. I'm no longer shy. I take chances. And I've never been more comfortable in my own skin. In all actuality, I appreciate the people who were less-than-kind to me. As Christina Aguilera would say, "Thanks for making me a fighter". All I can do now is cherish the moments, be thankful for what I learned, and move forward to an even better tomorrow.

Now if you don't mind, I better get back to my English report.... It's, like, totally late.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New York City: Day 2

For most people in this day and age, Halloween eve consists of piles of candy, a myriad of pricey costume possibilities, and overly-congested bars filled with inebriated slutty cats. For me, however, Halloween this year was so much more than that. On day two of my New York Vacay 2008, my posse and I hit the streets of Manhattan decked out in our festive garb. Let me preface this post by admitting that I'm not much of a Halloween fiend. In fact, I'd much prefer a quiet night at home with roasted popcorn seeds and Hocus Pocus.

Anyways, bright and early, Monica and I braved the morning subway in full costume to attend the Halloween taping of Regis and Kelly. Let me just tell you... apart from having to hike through New York City dressed as a scarecrow (so embarrassing), the turn-out was incredible! The block surrounding the Regis and Kelly studio was utter mayhem. Seriously, it looked as though Halloween threw up... People went hog-wild with their costumes. It made my sad, little scarecrow costume look like a hand-me-down from Goodwill.

Upon entering the studio, I noticed how compressed everything was. Television sure does wonders for size (that's what she said). Despite the fact that the entire show was pre-taped (except for two segments with the co-hosts), the show was quite entertaining. I mostly credit Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra for the laughs (no offense Regis....) Anyway, to nobody's surprise, the ladies dressed as a freakin' roller coaster won first place. However, I'm certain I actually won the bigger prize... Kelly Rippa turned to me and said, "you look fierce". If that isn't the ultimate compliment, I don't know what is...

The night, on the other hand, was total debauchery. Without any hesitation, The Wizard of OZ gang attempted to walk the Greenwich Village Halloween parade. Mind you, this wasn't merely a simple gathering of people. This parade consisted of thousands and thousands of costume wearing whores and their "better halves". Including everything from Joe the Plumber to about three-hundred Jokers (I'm sure Heath Ledger's looking down thinking, "Seriously people? Be a little bit more fucking creative.") Anyways, if it weren't for my costume accessories -- vodka and tequila -- I'd have gone completely insane.

The rest of the night is still kind of a blur. I assure you, good times were had. Though, it's still difficult to pinpoint whether we got kicked out of the bar before or after Jessi dropped a bottle of Perrier and continued to drink from it...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

New York City: Day 1

It's a relatively known fact that the busiest and most popular cities in the United States can be easily distinguished on an American map. Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, and Phoenix are simply a few of those over-populated, bustling locations (new plague, anyone?). So what does someone do to escape the chaos and frustrations of Los Angeles? He visits New York City of course...

This past week I put my vacation days to good use, booked my Frontier Airline flight, and headed to the Big BIG Apple (otherwise known as my other home). My roommates, Jessi and Sarah, felt it necessary to visit our dear friends before the distant memories of our college days began to fade. Fortunately, Lisa and Monica were kind enough to house us for five days. A hospitality offer I, myself, would have reconsidered....

If I were to relay the entire trip in this one blog entry, I assure you it would go on for days. Instead, I'll ease you in by simply breaking down the entries. Starting with the first full day of my New York Vacay 2008!

As most of my amigos know, I'm an enormous fan of Sex and the City. In fact, my earlier college entries are obviously reminiscent of Carrie Bradshaw's column (embarrassing? Yes. Ashamed.... kinda). Fortunately, my friends are just as obsessed. We decided to take the ever-popular Sex and the City Tour. We traveled all over Manhattan visiting key film locations.

1) First Stop: The Pleasure Chest. Remember the Rabbit? For those of who aren't in the "know", the girls visit a sex shop filled with erotic goodies - including an array of dildos. I'm talkin' the works! Acrylic dildos, glass dildos, silicone double-sided rubber dildos, jelly vibrating dildos, mahogany dildos, three-strap harness... with dildo, strap-on dildo with vibrator and remote control...... shall I go on? As you can see from my picture above, I'm completely appalled.... and slightly intrigued.

2) Second Stop: The Bookshop. Remember the guy Miranda met who liked to have sex in public places? In the midst of the busy streets of Manhattan, Monica and I decided to recreate the scene. "I'll have to check that out after I finish FDR: The New York Years". I'll have you know, we recreated many scenes on that tour -- an act almost unbearable to think back on.

3) Third Stop: Carrie's Stoop: Incidentally, the one location completely taboo to visit. Apparently, after years of bus tours, the current apartment owner forbids anyone from visiting. The tour guide wouldn't even tell us where the stoop was located! However, my SATC knowledge reaches far beyond the average fan. Knowing that her fictitious apartment was located on Perry street, my friends and I trespassed the chained entry and snapped a photo. We discovered later that security cameras surrounded the stoop.... whoops!

4) Fourth Stop: Scout: Or more formally known as Steve Brady's bar. Like your average alcoholic, we decided to buy Cosmopolitans at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. To make matters worse, we brought a flask of vodka to give these beverages a stronger kick. Do you judge me?

5) The Final Stop: Actually, it wasn't a stop at all. The tour guide ended the day with trivia questions from the series. As if this bitch could really stump us? Between the five of us, we answered about 95% of the questions. We won two Magnolia Bakery cupcakes and Chicago tickets. I'm not sure if that makes us winners.... or losers.

6) F.A.O. Schwartz: I've never been fortunate enough to visit this mega toy store. So needless to say, I was in complete shock and awe! I was literally 7-years-old again wandering around my dream haven. The entire store was filled with puppets, doll houses, train sets, barbies, and micro-machines. These Harry Potter characters were actually created from Legos! The re-enactment, however, was all us.

7) F.A.O. Schwartz - Big Style: Yes. Your eyes aren't deceiving you. Jessi and I actually played "Heart and Soul" on the gigazmo piano. And yes, an audience of customers surrounded us and observed our duet. And yes, we were also accompanied by a 3-year-old boy. I never said we were cool.

8) Adam Pascal: Our first day ended with two dear friends. Adam Pascal - original cast member of Rent. And tequila - original cast member of See You Tomorrow. Earlier that week, we made reservations at the Chatterbox theatre - a small piano bar that primarily covers musicals. To our surprise, Adam (a.k.a Roger) decided to drop by for an interview. He also graced us with a song ("Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera). I believe I was coherent when I talked to him. Jessi on the other hand....

All in all, the first day was filled with surprises, chaos, and downright fun. Little did we know the following four days were going to be just as eventful....

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The 44th President of the United States

"With a spirit of service, sacrifice, responsibility, and patriotism: together with humility and determination." - President Barack Obama

Do you remember the first time you heard Martin Luther King Jr's 'I Have a Dream' speech? Which class were you in when you studied Rosa Parks or Harriet Tubman? History is made up of certain instances where moments are so preciously imprinted in the corner of our minds and hearts, we can recount the exact place where the moment unfolded. The feeling and emotion attached to that specific moment rushes through our veins -- it's like a historical high. Last night was no exception.

This election has undoubtedly sparked a completely new chapter in my life. A chapter where America has finally found the progressing road to a promising future of acceptance and equality. Sure, there are still some road bumps along the way (i.e. the passing of Proposition 8 - fuck you half of California), but this path is eventually destined for an amazing outcome. Barack Obama is merely the navigator whose perseverance and inspiration will lead us to a better tomorrow.

Okay, enough with the political hodge podge - back to my experience. Last night, as I channel surfed through CNN, NBC, ABC, C-SPAN and even BBC -- I hovered around the television set like a political addict. Anderson Cooper was my dealer and this election was my drug of choice. Without any hesitation, I soaked in the Obama electoral votes like it was heroin. Nothing could bring me down from this political high.

Then, as I began to calm my internal fix, the words appeared on the screen: Barack Obama Elected President. Almost immediately, I nearly overdosed. I lost control of myself and began reacting in involuntary fits of excitement. "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God". I literally had to pinch myself.... "Can this really be happening?" Albeit, I acted a tad over-dramatic. But History is only made once, right?

My roommates and I popped open a bottle of bubbly, raised our glasses, and cheered to change and a stronger future. It's only a matter of time until the nation is united and President Obama can make good of what he promised. After all, MLK Jr sure did.... and that flame has never stopped burning.

We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.
- Martin Luther King Jr.