Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Visit With My Second Family

Visiting with a large group of New Life friends truly is like coming home for me. Nobody but my family makes me feel so loved and safe to be myself. No matter how introverted I may be in general, I still marvel at how the loudness of the group makes me feel enveloped in a warm blanket rather than overwhelmed by noise, and their careful (for me) hugs are comforting instead of pushy.

Right now as I ride home, I have ALL the feelings, but I want to share a few of my favorite memories from the weekend as a whole.

- The joyous enthusiasm with which everyone embraced karaoke. As we all sang along and cheered and clapped and dramatically acted out song lyrics, I knew that this would be the only group where I could possibly feel comfortable enough to karaoke along. I didn't end up singing anything, but as the night went on I remembered more and more who I was with and realized that if I wanted to, I COULD.

- That quiet interval when most of the team was swimming and Jacob and I just hung out in the living room while Zach played his new songs for us, which I loved as always.

- The incredibly welcoming nature of Christian and Ashley especially. Both are always willing to ask questions for those of us who aren't convinced anyone wants to listen, and they're always willing to explain or include you in the inside jokes.

- Tim offering free hugs and getting so happy when I, who am notoriously not touchy, took him up on it. The dude gives good hugs.

- Talking even just a little bit with Jessie, who always makes me feel like she's genuinely happy I'm there. Plus she gives some of the best words of affirmation.

- How Josh always starts off his guitar-playing looking almost nonchalant, as if he's like, "Oh, this old thing? I just picked it up and started strumming," only for him to suddenly have such passion and deep sincerity when he starts to sing.

- Hearing Sarah quietly harmonizing along whenever people play songs she knows on their guitars.

- Plotting with Jacob, Jonathan and Jackie to take down Christian when we played Betrayed at House on the Hill together.
- The hours-long reminiscing session that interrupted that game, which I really didn't even mind because drama company people have the best stories. Everyone jumping in clamoring to tell their favorite music mishap story or their favorite hell tour story or their favorite Steve Pippin story (EVERYONE had one of those!)

- Introducing Jacob to everybody (though he kinda knew a lot of them anyway) and watching them embrace him as one of us.    

- Watching the sweet, funny, generous Brittany marry the man she loves. That was for sure a highlight. :-)

- Slipping into drama company lingo without even noticing it.

- Seeing people I hadn't seen since I left the drama company seven years ago and instantly connecting with them even after all those years.

- Sarah's loud, distinctive laugh from the other room whenever someone said something that cracked her up.

- Sharing a vague story about there being only one person who I'm pretty sure actively hates me, and getting a slightly shocked response of, "How does anyone hate Hannah Megill?" from Clay.

- Getting invited to participate in things. It was always clear that people wanted me to hang out and do stuff with them, but there was also zero pressure, and if I said, "Nah, I'm going to stay here for awhile," it would have also been perfectly OK.

Every time I leave a group of New Lifers, I leave feeling better about myself and who I am. It's kind of amazing, the unique and beautiful bond we formed there among such a large group. Being in the presence of so many people who love and care about me and instantly accept me as one of their own... it starts to change the way you see yourself. You start to think of yourself as being someone actually worthy of that love. And when you go back and let yourself experience that again, you realize just how much of yourself had started to reject your own worth again, and you hadn't even noticed it was happening until this roomful of loud, crazy, incredible people helped to bring it back to you.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Surprise Blog! And It's a Movie Guessing Game

Last Halloween I had you guys guess mangled horror movie synopses, but the last time I went through my Flickchart 100 at a time and pulled out those movies was over a year ago. And I watched a LOT of movies since then, thanks to the Movie Challenge of Madness, and my chart has shifted all over, so they'll all be different than they were at that point.

I'll be running the plot synopses through Bad Translator and then posting the results here. I will even tell you the general genre or style of the movie to help you out a little. Guess in the comments what you think they are, and... at some point, not sure when due to my wacky schedule, I will come back and update with the answers!

#100. (Musical) It is embarrassing accident of Benjamin Mr. [title of the movie] that led to a hair salon in London was one of the most important crimes of the general assembly of Friends of the man, woman, woman. On the basis of popular music.

#200. (Comedy) Unemployed steel workers built nudity, striptease, remember that this woman is completely nude.

#300 - (Romantic Comedy) Two women in this field, or name to find the location of local points.

#400 - (Animation) When the mass begins in the writing of the attack in the world, the immortal guardians are willing to protect the innocent boys and girls in all parts of the world.

#500. (Comedy/Drama) Shortly after the divorce, well, that you can go to the house in the small town of Ribera fijiswitzerland. ). I would like to revive the romance of an old friend of mine, who is already married and has a child.
(It should be noted that this plot is in no way connected to Fiji or Switzerland and I don't know what happened there.)

#600. (Comedy/Drama) The poor woman's daughter makes the head work, family, back to Mexico, a lot of people in the United States, where it began.

#700. (Sci-Fi) Mental capacity, The user will get 100% with the help of a mysterious drug that can be taken to the author of the financial genius of this new world, where all types of risks.

#800. (Drama) The use of the closed return type, you're my friend, and the changes in your life.
(Yeah, good luck with this one.)

#900. (Fantasy) Eustace from childhood to the age of Villeneuve and the so-called irreversible. Double bed king-x-i lost my son, the prince, the lion, the Lillian said to know each other.

#1000. (Musical) The hotel is only open on holidays, a singer, a dancer, a rival in love, beautiful, passionate, artistic people.

#1100. (Musical) Anthropology Professor and Secretary of the Marion learning with young people's sexual behaviour. Windsurfing to young people, not for sex, but the song of war, the slogan of the rat and mouse, dance, dick Dale and the color.

#1200. (Thriller) The poor Director of the bureau of advertising, an error, a representative of the government, the group of foreign spies, and is against the law for the entire country, and could not find a way to survive.

#1300. (Drama) France, again, I say that they are religious, but the unfortunate Queen [title of the movie]. And the wedding Louis 15-Queen, 19, of power and finally the Queen and ultimately the fall of the Tower of the fortress.

#1400. (Animation) Young, shy groom's vows, in the presence of random program, when a dead woman in her grave, if he wakes up because he is married.

#1500. (Thriller) Cory is a strong woman, ex-con and her lover violet, the development of a plan to steal millions of people saving money, wine, red line, Gaius Caesar.

#1600. (Comedy) The two got a chance to find comfort in alcohol and other drugs. I think the quiet life, go to the northern part of this area, depending on the value, like [part of the movie title]'s uncle in the bathroom.

#1700. (Animation) Young asparagus, Laura carrot start spreading rumors, which spread Bumblyburg like the grass of the risk covering the entire city. Larry, the man said that God wants to tell stories that affect people.

#1800. (Drama) Desmond Doyle lost his wife or his family the day after Christmas, in the Ireland of the court. Children go to church and shelter. [title of the movie] batteries Desmond apply to the Court to take the kids.

#1900. (Thriller) The competition tough women, a young mother began to prepare for the competition.
(There is no competition in this movie.)

#2000. (Drama) After a blurred trauma in the summer, Melinda, the possibility of the school, near the school, arguments with friends and family, conversation, dark history, it is an experience, so she decided to ask me again.

#2100. (Animation) Three young the neighbor's house is really full of life, we know it's a new monster.

#2200. (Romance) Paris before the First world War, the run(Austrian) And [part of the movie title] (France), the two friends falling in love), Catherine, but the love and the marriage, Katherine, [part of the movie title]. Once again, after the war, Germany Catherine love.

#2300. (Musical) The territory of Oklahoma, in the twentieth century, two young peasants and shepherds, cow boys, street vendors, the heart of a woman to fight against the devil.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Some Blog Business... Because My Life Just Got Way More Exciting

For anyone who didn't see this on my personal Facebook yesterday, I was offered a job this week. I'll be working with a Bay Area-based theater company that sends teachers out to local schools for classes, workshops, extracurricular drama programs, and more.

The whole process went extremely quickly. I sent an email about the job two weeks ago, got an interview two days later, was offered the job last Tuesday, officially accepted on Wednesday, and now have to pull all my stuff together to move out there by this time next week. Jacob will be joining me once I find an apartment for us -- in the meantime, I'll be living in summer staff housing as I direct a youth production for the group's summer camp.

This whirlwind of action has brought with it a huge variety of emotions. I'm relieved that I'm finally connected to a job in my field. Focused on getting everything taken care of this week that I need to. Worry that I won't be able to find housing within our budget (though the woman I've been speaking with about the job is optimistic and has offered to help me out with apartment-hunting). Sad about having to live away from Jacob for a month or two. Anxious that I won't get my health care sorted out in time and that I'll end up with some arthritic thanks to a medication gap.

But with all this, mostly I am excited. I'll be living in a new state and finally escaping the Midwest, I'll be working with a wide variety of kids and doing some really fulfilling work that I think will suit me even more than a traditional high school teaching job, I'll be starting new adventures and making a new path for my life. And there's no doubt that the sped-up schedule of this whole process has given me a shot of adrenaline!

When I interviewed for the position, I spent the six days or so before I heard back praying and asking God to guide me one way or the other if I was offered the job. I was vacillating wildly between exhilaration at the prospect of a new adventure and terror at the thought of venturing so far away with so little time to think about it. The more I prayed, though, the wilder emotions began to settle down into more of a quiet peace, and when I was offered the job, the woman I spoke with spent a lot of time explaining some of the challenges I'd face and some tips on our (fairly major) relocation... and I just felt that, yes, this made sense. This makes sense for me. So of course I'm going to say yes.

I also could not be more grateful for the encouragement and support of my awesome husband. He's lived his whole life in various locations within a few hours of each other along the Indiana/Ohio border, and here I am saying, "Hey, can we move to California next month?" But he is as excited about this as I am, and I cannot think of anyone I'd rather see the redwoods with, go to the San Francisco Zoo with, or try In-N-Out burgers with for the first time. (All things we've added to our "WHEE WE'RE MOVING TO SAN FRANCISCO" bucket list.)

Anyway, this all means that my blog is getting pushed to the back burner for, well, at least the next week. I'm rushing around trying to do everything this week, and I don't know what to expect in terms of workload for my job yet. I'll be working with camp this summer and I start working with schools in the fall, but no sense yet of how much time I'll actually have. My goal is to update the blog at least once a week because writing is good for me, but it may just be a "when I can" situation for a little while.

So that's where my life is: busy and crazy and exciting. Here's to heading off into the unknown and doing new and awesome and scary things!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Musical Spotlight: Parade

It's musical spotlight time! Sometimes I have trouble thinking of what to include, but for whatever reason, this time I had the sudden thought, "Obviously I should write about Parade," and then it just seemed like the obvious choice, so here I am.

Parade was the first Jason Robert Brown musical I ever fell in love with, though my friend Sarah had tried in vain to get me into The Last 5 Years. I was on a cast recording kick. I'd listened to everything our local library had to offer (lots of Andrew Lloyd Webber) and wanted to branch out, so I borrowed albums one at a time through interlibrary loan. I'd look up the show synopsis if it wasn't printed in the liner notes and follow along with the songs to get a sense of how they fit into the context of the show. I discovered quite a few of my favorites this way.

This musical is a dark dramatization of the true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager living in Georgia in 1913. He was convicted of raping and murdering a 13-year-old girl who worked in his factory and was given the death penalty. The trial was a media sensation and served to strengthen antisemitic feelings in the state. After the trial closed, the governor of Georgia reviewed all the testimony from the trial and changed Frank's sentence to life in prison, only for Frank to be kidnapped and hanged by a lynching party who feel justice was not served.

This was JRB's second major musical and his Broadway debut, which won the Tony Award for Best Score but, like way too many of his shows, it closed pretty quickly, after only two months. It's since gained a lot of respect in the theater community. Its most recent major showing was a one-night Lincoln Center concert starring Jeremy Jordan and Laura Benanti as the Franks.

Here are my five favorite songs from the show, in order of appearance! All come from the original Broadway cast recording, which you should immediately purchase if you like these.

1. The Old Red Hills of Home

This song opens the show and gives us a strong sense of location. It begins with a young Georgia soldier about to go fight in the American Civil War, and then flashes forward to 1913, when that same soldier is now a one-legged veteran participating in the Confederate Memorial Day parade. The song is full of love for the state and passionate defense of it. While at the beginning it is powerful and inspirational, as the show goes on, we begin to see that the rush to defend Georgia at all costs is fueling some of the antisemitic views throughout.

2. How Can I Call This Home?

Shortly after that passionate song about life in Georgia, we get this song, introducing us to Leo Frank. He's married a Georgia girl and moved here from Brooklyn, but he just isn't comfortable here and he knows he never will be. While this song encompasses a lot of different reasons Leo feels he can't make this his home, I've always found a connection to it through being an introvert living among extroverts at various points in my life. As a whole, the song is a mournful, frustrated tune about feeling constantly like an outcast and wishing you could be somewhere where you wouldn't feel like that.

3. It Don't Make Sense

After 13-year-old Mary Phagan is found dead, this heartbreaking song is sung at her funeral. With a dark, ominous version of "There Is a Fountain" playing in the background, Mary's friends sing about their memories of their friend, and Mary's sometime-boyfriend ends his tribute with a furious diatribe against whoever did this to her. The song is haunting and sad in capturing the senselessness of such a horrible act and how it impacts all the people Mary knew.

4. Come Up to My Office

This song is not part of the linear plot, but a dark fantasy sequence taken from the testimony of the factory girls who falsely testify that Leo looked at Mary "funny." As they give their testimony, Leo "becomes the lecherous seducer of their testimony" (as the Wikipedia summary puts it), singing an ominous, creepy song seducing the girls up to his office with food and "things [she] might like to see." It's an eerie look into how the people now perceive Leo, and as the music builds, you can almost hear the townspeople's fear building as well.

5. All the Wasted Time

One of Brown's all-time best love songs (and he's done some quite good ones), this one focuses on the relationship between Leo and his wife Lucille. Throughout the show, they are strange and distant toward each other, but as Leo finds himself in dire need, the two end up falling in love all over again. In this scene, they lament that it took this long for the two of them to truly discover each other. It's a lovely song, performed here by the original stars Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello.

Those are my favorite songs from Parade! Share your own favorites, add your thoughts on the songs I shared here, or suggest the next Musical Spotlight blog I should write!

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Top 100: Schindler's List

It wasn't all that many years ago that I watched Schindler's List for the first time. Sitting down to rewatch it for this challenge (it originally sat at #93 on my chart), I really didn't remember that much about it other than that I liked it. But I also was skeptical that it would manage to remain in the Top 100. I had the sense that I'd ranked it that high out of respect and assumed obligation rather than because I actually liked it that much. Though there wasn't going to be any way of knowing until I watched it, though, so I got a copy and sat down to watch it.

Schindler's List, for any who do not know, is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German business owner whose factory safely employed over a thousand Jews during World War II, keeping them alive throughout the duration of the war. The 1993 movie was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Liam Neeson as Schindler, Ben Kingsley as his Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern, and Ralph Fiennes as the sadistic camp commander Amon Goeth. The movie was nominated for 12 Oscars and won seven of them, including Best Picture and Best Director. Neeson and Fiennes were both nominated for their roles but neither won.

I have to admit, I did not watch this under ideal circumstances. The movie is three hours long, which I had forgotten when I sat down to watch it, and I ended up unfortunately having to break it up into a couple chunks, due to unforeseen circumstances like falling asleep in the middle of it. So I didn't get as complete a rewatch as I would have if I had managed to just watch the whole thing straight through, but I'm often able to reimmerse myself in a story very quickly, so I don't think I missed out on too much.

Here were my live-blogged thoughts as I watched.

  • Oh gosh. I forgot Schindler's List was 3+ hours long. Good thing I've carved out a whole afternoon to watch it!
  • I know it's premature to say this, but I just don't anticipate this staying in my top 100. I feel it's there obligatorily.
  • I am kind of fascinated by all the shots of items rather than people.
  • Nicely done on this scene where the rich people move out and Schindler moves in. Very interesting contrast.
  • I'm sad that Liam Neeson just does macho action flicks now. He's so interesting in this.
  • Knowing how it ends, it's really interesting to see Oskar's disregard for people at the beginning.
  • Oh, man. The scene with Goeth and the engineer woman is chilling. I forgot how good Fiennes is in this.
  • "By this evening, those six centuries [of Jewish Krakow] are a rumor." Yikes.
  • The score during the girl in the red dress' appearance is wonderful. Really gives the scene power.
  • Oskar's expression when the woman says, "They say you are good." He doesn't want to be good, he wants to be successful.
  • "Do you know who I am? I'm Schindler."
  • There are moments where the camera looks at Goeth and he just seems so young. So full of hatred and so young.
  • Goeth's brief foray into pardoning people is a fascinating section of the story, as is the moment when he decides he's done.
  • The scene where the little boy tries to find a hiding place - sad and scary.
  • The requiem is...astonishingly sad.
  • "The list is an absolute good."
  • There's something very moving about the scene where Schindler's workers confirm they're on the list.
  • The "one more person" scene totally works for me. That he did so much & wasn't busy congratulating himself is important.

I think one of the things that is interesting about this movie is that while it portrays itself as being some sort of big epic movie about the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust, it really keeps its story arc fairly narrow: on one man who tried to do the right thing. Because of that, the movie has gotten a lot of criticism for making the Jewish people's suffering serve as someone else's plot device -- and understandably so. While there are long scenes of people running through the streets, being herded into cars, and crying in over-crowded barracks, very few of these have identifiable characters in them, much less characters that have any kind of development during the story, and as a result, it does seem a little sensationalized. If Spielberg had trimmed some of those scenes, what remained could have had a stronger impact, and he could truly have focused on fleshing out Schindler's character, which is a little lacking here -- but, oh, how I wanted it to be interesting, because what little is there is very good.

First-half-of-the-movie Schindler is a calculating businessman who hires Jews because they are cheaper than Poles, and is furious when his accountant hires people based on their need rather than their skills. Second-half-of-the-movie Schindler works tirelessly to save as many people as he can from death in the camps. Both these characters are fascinating, enigmatic, and intriguing. What's lacking is the transition.

There is a moment or two where Schindler is faced with the humanity of those being sent to their deaths, but we never really see, either in Neeson's performance or in the script, how or why that change takes place, so when he suddenly begins to fight for his Jewish workers, it's a little abrupt and took me by surprise. Perhaps it takes Schindler himself by surprise too, but that's never addressed. The movie is three hours long, and they couldn't fit in a line or two of transitional dialogue?

I've now spoken mostly of the film's shortcomings, so let me say some of the things I do love about it: The film is shot marvelously. The black-and-white images are haunting -- some hauntingly beautiful, others hauntingly ugly. Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth has some of the most interesting moments in the whole movie, as you sense that he's not just a purely evil stereotype, and you're constantly leaning in to his performance to catch the nuances. (He lost the Oscar to Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, which is just silly as far as I'm concerned.)

As I said in my live blogging section, I really like Schindler's ending as well, though it gets a lot of flak as well. I like that as he's receiving the gratitude of so many people, he doesn't feel like a savior. He feels deeply unworthy and far from pleased with himself, because, perhaps for the first time, the magnitude of what they have all just live through. I like that Spielberg resisted the urge to let him give himself a congratulatory pat on the back and say, "Yes, why, that was good of me."

And, frankly, I like Schindler himself by the end. There's something inspiring to me about a prosperous businessman who loses everything he's earned to do the right thing. He leaves broke, wanted by the authorities, and feeling guilty that he couldn't leave with less money. Because sometimes doing the right thing takes everything you have, and you don't get your happy ending (an ending caption informs us that Schindler's marriage failed after the war, as did his future business attempts) but it's still worth doing the right thing.

So is it Top 100 material? No, definitely not. This was a case of me elevating the movie to a higher status than it deserved because it was prestigious and about Important Things, but it's pretty messy in places and certainly isn't the amazing movie I expect all my Top 100s to be. But let's see where it actually lands on my chart if I rerank it.

vs. A Star Is Born (1954) - That's another movie I really need to rewatch, because it's extremely hazy in my memory. In the meantime, Schindler's List wins this matchup. It may not belong in the Top 100, but it certainly belongs in the top half of my chart, probably in the top quarter.

vs. Argo (2012) - Argo is fun and interesting, but despite the flaws in Schindler's List, its best moments are better than Argo's best moments. It wins.

vs. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) - A lot of people HATE this movie, but I love it a lot. Unrealistic, unbelievable, and contrived? Absolutely, but that main kid character is a real, wonderful character and he makes the whole movie worth it. I think for now it's going to take the win over Schindler, though that might not stand up if I rewatched ELAIC.

vs. Nativity! (2009) - Oh, man, this is a tougher choice than it probably should be. Nativity! is a silly, but perfect-for-me little British movie about Martin Freeman putting together a ridiculous nativity play for a school, and it's delightful and insane. I think I want to vote for it, but I'm not sure that I should. But you know what? I've spent several years having Schindler's List too high because I felt it "should" be. If I overcompensate and it lands too low for a little while, then that'll just even things out. Nativity! wins.

vs. Billy Elliot the Musical Live (2014) - A good, but not a great, musical based on a great movie. If this was the original film this would be a different question altogether, but Schindler's is going to win here.

vs. The Basketball Diaries (1995) - I remember a single scene from The Basketball Diaries, and it's when Leo is begging his mom for money. That scene alone was enough to catapult the movie up into the top third of my chart, but that one scene can't beat all of Schindler's List.

vs. Hawking (2004) - This film is much too high, and I'm pretty sure it's because when I ranked it I was still hardcore crushing on Benedict Cumberbatch. That is less the case now. Schindler's List takes the win here.

vs. The Goodbye Girl (2004) - I do so like The Goodbye Girl. Both this TV version and the original 1970s version. It's such a great script. However, it's the Neil Simon script itself that is special more than this particular version, so let's give a nod to the more artistically done film: Schindler.

vs. The Bicycle Thief (1948) - This feels almost exactly on par with Schindler for me, actually, so this choice may be made somewhat arbitrarily. I think I'm going to go with Schindler for now because of the cinematography. The Bicycle Thief has an equally moving story (though on a much smaller scale), but Schindler is just stunning to look at sometimes.

vs. Bernie (2011) - My love for Linklater has pushed this a bit further up the charts than I think it deserves as well. It's a good movie, but Schindler's List is the clear winner.

vs. Kiss Me, Stupid! (1964) - I really enjoy this movie, but I find the second half pretty uneven. Plus, I really like the idea of Schindler's List being sandwiched between two ridiculous comedies whose names end in exclamation points. So Schindler's wins here.

After reranking, Schindler's List went from #93 to #443, which is a huge drop -- the furthest a movie's moved on this challenge thus far -- but it feels much more accurate to me. Now I'll just have to remember to evaluate it fairly on future rankings and not just automatically click for it to win over most movies.

Looking ahead, the next movie I will be watching is my #6: Beauty and the Beast (1991), which I will watch and blog about no earlier than June 15th, so you can all go ahead and watch/rewatch it with me!

In the meantime, leave your thoughts about Schindler's List in the comments section below.