Little Wanderer: I Went to the Desert

Recently a friend messaged me saying, “I didn’t know you were Jewish.” It’s not that uncommon, my last name is Rivera and usually it only comes up when people ask, “Where’s your family from?” and I tell them that my dad is Puerto Rican and my mom is Jewish.

But this time I just said, “Yes I am.” I didn’t correct her and say, “half Jewish” or “yeah, I am because my mom is Jewish” I simply said, “yes.”

Being Jewish is a new concept for me. It’s not because I just discovered that I am Jewish, I have always been Jewish, but for the first time in my life I feel Jewish in a way that doesn’t make me want to justify myself to other people. Or to myself.

This newfound identity has all to do with my recent travels. At the end of June, I went to Israel on birthright through a company called Israel Outdoors. For those who don’t know, birthright is a 10 day, free trip to Israel for Jews ages 18-26. It is funded by generous donors from around the world and the Israeli state itself. During the trip you visit many cities and historical sites throughout the country as well as interact with Israeli soldiers and students and take part religious services and discussions about the history of the country and its conflicts.  

But that hardly captures what this trip really was.

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Those 10 days changed my life.

Going to Israel was an amazing experience. Yes it was partly because I was in another country (for the first time) and got to experience everything it had to offer from the Western Wall to the old town of Tzfat to the waterfalls of Ein Gedi to the city life of Tel Aviv. I rode a camel. I star gazed in the desert. I floated in the Dead Sea. But what made Israel for me was the people.

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Throughout the trip we were asked the question, “What does your Jewish identity mean to you?” It’s something we talked about and something I thought about a lot through my time in Israel and since coming home. For me, being Jewish is about having a community. I loved meeting so many new people and forming deep bonds over our shared experience. I loved our bus rides with our talks about everything from Hamilton to the Holocaust and debating Jewish culture vs Jewish religion at 2 am. I loved sharing meals and hearing stories about what it means to be Jewish in America today, especially when the stories were vastly different from my Jew filled New York upbringing. I even loved being hot and tired and dirty and hungry all the time. 

Actually being in Israel is an experience I can hardly describe. It was strange being in a place I had heard so much about on the news and feeling safe (or as safe as I do in the U.S. with violence our country is facing lately). It reminded me so much of home because of the varying terrains and the amount of people who speak English and was foreign all at the same time with the food and the culture and the way the everything shuts down on Friday nights for Shabbat. It made me reevaluate how I thought of the world and the country and where I came from. The whole trip was more of a learning experience than a vacation and challenged me in ways I never thought possible.

If you are eligible go on birthright, go. I can’t tell you enough. Go go go go go. I was hesitant at first, I didn’t feel Jewish enough, I didn’t think I would like anybody, I was afraid and had so many excuses, but now I can say that it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Even though I still don’t know Hebrew or the songs or dances or most of the prayers, I still left Israel with something valuable. A feeling. A feeling of love and fondness and connection to a place halfway around the world. Is it perfect? What country is? Certainly not ours, but it is a place that helped me discover more about myself and for that I will always be grateful.

A Little More Personal: Hello Goodbye

I am getting really good at saying goodbye. TWO YEARS ago today I arrived in California after leaving the only home I’ve ever known in New York. I said goodbye to my parents and my sister and my post college life of uncertainty and moved 3,000 miles across the country. It doesn’t feel like that was two years ago. It feels like two lifetimes ago. So much has changed in those two years; I have a different roommate than the one I moved out here with and a new apartment and have had at least 20 new jobs. That’s what happens when you work freelance. You say yes to everything everything, you say hello for a little while, and then you say goodbye. It happens, you get used to it, you move on.

Except this August I broke the rules. Like a whore who falls in love I took a job that wasn’t a one day gig or an award show with an end in sight. I started working on a talk show. Now, talk shows can be, for some, the holy grail of freelancing . For the most part the subject matter is light and fun, they are usually off in the summer which allows for freedom and ability to travel, and they can last for years which means stable work. Unless your show gets canceled. Or in my show’s case, not renewed for a second season. Then that’s a whole other story. This story.

Now, my show wasn’t canceled right away. It was canceled at a date in the future and we had to continue working on it until then #BecauseTelevision. It’s basically like being a lame duck president, you know that nothing you do can change the inevitable end, but you’re not just going to sit there. So you continue to make awesome TV and have crazy ideas and be inspired by the badass people around you because (almost) everyone is going down with the show like the band on the Titanic.

So now my show has ended. I made it through to the very end. I am so proud that I got to be a part of it and the work I got to do. This is the reason I moved to California two years ago: to make television, to work at a studio. For the first time in my career I wasn’t driving to a new set everyday and trying to remember everyone’s name, I was seeing the same familiar faces everyday and driving onto a lot with a stage and a desk. My desk.

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And I wasn’t just emptying trashes or refilling the refrigerator with diet cokes (although that’s arguably one of the most important jobs on any set), I was casting and doing research and updating budgets and ordering props and attending meetings and rehearsals and learning from everyone around me. For a person like me (I’m really starting to think I’m a Ravenclaw, but that’s a post for another day), a job where I can use my brain and have actual responsibilities is the dream. I love the feeling of accomplishment and that the work I did actually contributed to the show in some way.

And then I had to say goodbye. This goodbye was tough because it wasn’t, “That was a hard day, we’ll call you if we need you next week” kind of goodbye. It was a, “We’ve celebrated birthdays and Christmas and firings and the ratings roller coaster and now it’s all over” kind of goodbye. It’s goodbye to my longest and most fulfilling job thus far with some of the hardest working, coolest people I have met.

But again, I’m getting used to goodbyes. Yes, I cried and yes I am sad and yes have NO idea what I’m doing next, but what else is new. No show lasts forever. Not even Oprah. Every show I have worked on has been an experience, a step towards where I want to be, a lesson in saying goodbye. And I am thankful.

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Oh since I usually end these posts with a song, here’s one thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton.

Fangirl Friday: The Cursed Child AKA Shut Up and Take My Money

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As the world already knows, The Cursed Child, a play WRITTEN BY J.K. Rowling and taking place 19 YEARS AFTER HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS FUNCTIONING BASICALLY AS 8TH BOOK is coming to the stage in London. THIS SUMMER.awesome animated GIF But that’s the problem. That one small word. London. I live in California. Which is even further from London then when I lived in New York. But if you think I am missing this play you must not know me that well.

Harry Potter was the first fandom I ever loved. Before Marvel (there was a time before Marvel??) and Doctor Who and Game of Thrones there was a boy in a cupboard. And he changed my life.

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He gave me friends (shout out to 3N who are the biggest bunch of Potterheads I’ve ever met).

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He made my love of reading that much more fervent. He brought us midnight movies. He taught me about sacrifice and adventure and family and friendship and being different and doing what is right even when it is hard. And when the 7th book came out and all the movies ended I thought I had to move on. BUT I DON’T.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is all well and good and I can’t wait to see it, but it’s not Harry’s story. The Cursed Child is. It’s about Harry and Ginny’s son, Albus Severus. It’s about the burden of being the youngest (and worst named) son of a legend. And it’s going to be a new format which (more than likely) means new actors playing the Potters later in life. I am mostly excited by this because I’m sorry, but Bonnie Wright was not Ginny. Book Ginny is one of my favorite female heroines of ALL TIME for being a smart, beautiful, brave, Quidditch pitch ruling badass boss. She would have NEVER tied Harry’s shoes for him (UGH). So along with everything else we get to see new takes on our favorite characters.

But I digress. We are back to the original problem of London aka the constant problem of being American. Luckily this summer I am planning (if the stars align and everything works out) on going to Israel on birthright. Which in my mind puts me closer to London/at least on the same side of the globe AT THE SAME TIME THE PLAY COMES OUT/STARTS PREVIEWS. Ever since I found out The Cursed Child was coming out this summer I have been plotting on taking a side trip to London after my other trip. I still don’t know if this will work out. I have no idea of how much a ticket from Israel to London will be. I have never even traveled outside the US.

But without any set plans or even a plane ticket, I am planning on buying a play ticket when they go onsale next week. I have to try. I know if I don’t I’ll regret it. (And magically the tickets themselves are fairly reasonably priced.) So I will wake up before 4 am (tickets go onsale at 11 am GMT aka 4 am PST). I will guesstimate a date that I will be in London. I will buy a ticket. I will be nervous the entire time because if you thought buying a ticket for The Force Awakens made sites crash you have NO IDEA what Harry Potter fans can l do. And I will hope things work out. That is what I will do. Because the boy who lived is back. And I’m not ready to say goodbye yet.

Guess Who’s Back, Back Again?

Remember me? I’m the girl that used to post on this blog. If you don’t know me IRL or follow me on Twitter you probably assumed I died of a fangirl heart attack at Comic Con.

I’m still here, with little excuse as to my absence. Mostly it’s just been a huge case of writer’s block combined with a lack of time. But some of it did have to do with the fact that occasionally I lose faith in my blogging abilities. Researching for Comic Con lead me to find some Really Great Blogs run by People Who Blog for a Living. I love pop culture, but when there are SO MANY other blogs out there sometimes it’s hard to find a reason to write. Why does my opinion matter when there are so many others out there? What do I have to say that’s so important?

However, recently I started writing for The Marvel Report, a site run by and for Marvel fans with all the latest movie, TV show, and comic news. (Shameless plug.)  Getting asked to write for such an incredible site and being surrounded by so many talented people has inspired me to bring back my own blog. I’ve missed it. I enjoy writing. And I *do* have something to say (I am nothing if not opinionated). That’s why I write. Sometimes I just need reminding.

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One change that will be coming to my blog is less reviews. Inevitably there will still be a few, but I don’t want that to be a focus any longer. Working in the entertainment industry can sometimes make loving/analyzing TV and movies difficult. I have often censored myself (usually on Twitter), from saying something because being freelance means I could end up working ANYWHERE tomorrow. I don’t want to limit my opportunities because of something I’ve said. That’s not to say I will no longer be critical, just more thoughtful. I’m lucky to work in an industry I care so much about.

So I’m back. How much writing I’ll really be doing is contingent as always on my schedule. But I just wanted to let everyone to know that I’m still here. And writing.

Comic Con: Great Expectations

I am going to San Diego Comic Con.

I AM GOING TO SAN DIEGO INTERNATIONAL COMIC CON

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I just had to say it more than once to prove that it is real because I can’t believe it. My whole geek life has been preparing me for this moment. For years I have sat at home on the east coast following the events of SDCC via twitter, tumblr, and television. And now I will be there, in the thick of it, waiting in lines and running into celebrities and getting more swag than I can carry and watching exclusive clips from some of the biggest and best films and television shows.

I can hardly contain my excitement.

But I’m also a little worried. Comic Con is a HUGE event. I’ve spent the entire month of June doing research and still I don’t feel ready. There is just so much to see and do and plan. I never really knew what a huge undertaking just going Comic Con would be, even basic things like parking and eating seem complicated.

Tv The Big Bang Theory animated GIFThank goodness for the internet. I have studied for Comic Con more than I ever did for the SATs. There are posts on what to pack and which after parties to go to and how to survive Hall H lines. Which is perfect for me. I am not a go with the flow type of person. I am the person who makes a ride schedule for a family trip to Disneyworld. I write packing lists for overnight trips. I believe in color coding. I have read countless blogs and harassed twitter friends and still I worry about packing and panels and lines and FOMO (probably my biggest concern).

For me the most important thing will be relaxing and taking it all in. I tend to get so caught up with worrying and planning that I forget to actually enjoy myself. Going to San Diego Comic Con is a dream come true for me; yet another item that I can cross off my bucket list this year. I still cannot believe how lucky I have been, even as I type this.

My plan for Comic Con is this: have fun. (It’s not my only plan, I am making a schedule and there are things I definitely want to do, but it is my main goal.) I am going to enjoy every moment, even those spent waiting in line. I am going to meet my twitter friends and  (hopefully) make some new ones. I am going to spend time people watching. I am going to remain calm when I have to make impossible decisions like whether to see the Game of Thrones or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D/Agent Carter panel. I am going to take too many pictures and wear all of the geeky shirts I own. I am going to enjoy this experience.

And what an experience it’s going to be. Here are some of my predictions of what I think is going to happen at SDCC:

  • I will plan on blogging every night, but I will only make it to Friday because I will be too tired/excited.
  • I will cry 3 times. (Once upon arriving, once out of hunger, and once out of happiness during a panel.)
  • I will be convinced to start watching at least 2 new shows.
  •  I’m going to ask myself, “Do you really need that?” before buying anything. And more than likely the answer will be, “Yes of course…oh wait is that the price?”
  • I will fall in love with (at least one) cosplayer I spy across the crowded convention floor.
  • I will use the words “omg”, “fangirling”, and “dead” way too often in my tweets. Also, 98% of my tweets will be in all caps.

Wish me luck! And if you see me in San Diego, say hello. I’ll be the one in the Agent Carter shirt with the huge smile on my face.

Final Thoughts

  • For some reason I decided it would be a good idea to go home to New York the week before Comic Con and arrive back in Los Angeles the day before I plan on leaving. I am already planning on being exhausted/jet lagged (but if people come from all over the world, I can come from across the country).
  • My first plan is to run straight to the Marvel booth Thursday because I WANT THAT AGENT CARTER POSTER LIKE NO OTHER.
  • My go to sites for Comic Con info have been the Official Comic Con Toucan Blog, Crazy 4 Comic Con, and The Nerdy Girlie. LIFE SAVERS I TELL YOU.

True Life: I am a ‘Game of Thrones Fan’

*Warning: this post contains spoilers*

Dear George R.R. Martin, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Game of Thrones fans everywhere,

I would like to issue a formal apology.

I was wrong.

Four years ago, when Game of Thrones first premiered, I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Why was everyone was obsessed with this fantasy show that seemed like its target audience should be people who play Dungeons and Dragons? I thought the fans were annoying and obsessive, the storylines convoluted, and the deaths of the most beloved characters as only another excuse not to watch the show.

The thing is, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was watching Game of Thrones. I would sit in the room while my friends watched it in college and with my roommate once I moved to California. My dad constantly has the show on at home, as soon as he finishes the last season he starts over again from the beginning, and I would find myself getting caught up in a few scenes. I would go out of my way to read the spoilers online just so I could keep up with what was going on. But still I insisted I wasn’t a fan.

I think it was the billboards that changed my mind. Living in Los Angeles I’ve seen more advertisements for television shows than I have anywhere else (duh). Around the end of February when I was working on the Oscars at the Dolby Theater, I would pass a billboard every single day. The image is now familiar: Tyrion, on a boat shrouded in mist looking up at a dragon approaching in the sky. Without even really knowing that much about the show, that image excited me. I wanted to know more. I wanted to watch the show. I wanted to be able to truly call myself a fan.

As soon as the Oscars ended and I had a fews days off in between shows, my marathon began. I thought I had seen most of the episodes and that I just needed to watch them in order to get the lay of the land. I thought I knew everything; all the major story arcs and characters. I thought that I would just watch it and become a little bit more than a casual fan.

I am never a casual fan of anything. I became attached to Game of Thrones the way I become attached to everything else: obsessively. I knew about Ned, my dad had called me after the Red Wedding, and I had actually watched “The Watchers on the Wall” (4.9), but it didn’t matter. None of that stopped me from getting invested in the Stark family or falling in love with characters I knew would die (Drogo. Renly. Robb. Grenn.) or worrying about characters who I knew would survive (Dany. Jorah. Tyrion.)

I became one of those fans I had mocked.

This season I watched the show every Sunday night with my friends. I read every review come Monday morning (and called my dad to discuss each episode). I sobbed for Shireen. I cursed Ramsey. I screamed bloody murder at the finale. I watched the Red Nose Day “Game of Thrones: The Musical” to the point where I can sing along. I am planning on going to any and all Game of Thrones related things at San Diego Comic Con and even want to buy a shirt to wear for the occasion. I am currently reading A Clash of Kings. 

The main lesson I learned from my experience with Game of Thrones (besides “Do not get attached to any character”) is to not be a Pop Culture Hipster. I didn’t want to like the show because everyone else did. But everyone liked it for a reason. It’s an amazing show. From a production standpoint it is one of the most impressive on television. It has amazing scope, scale, visuals, costumes, and cast members. The story is intriguing and intelligent and the dialogue sharp and oftentimes funny. It is part of pop culture I am happy I am now getting to experience, no matter how late in the ahem…game.

(But really, this experience sucks! What do I do with my life now that there are no more new episodes to watch? Is this how you all felt for this last four years? I don’t know how you all survived. How long do we have to wait to see what happens next? If R + L=J, he’s going to be fine, right? Right??)

Final Thoughts

  • I almost hope GRRM doesn’t finish The Winds of Winter before the next season comes out. Or if he does I hope I’m caught up by then, I’m sick of getting things spoiled by the book fans. Their smugness and willingness to ruin things for non readers was one of the main reasons I stayed away for so long.
  • It is a lot harder to figure out which Game of Thrones house you are in than which Harry Potter house (Puff Pride!). I can’t decide whether I am a Tyrell or a Baratheon.

#WesterosBestDressed

Hold Onto Your Butts: ‘Jurassic World’ Review

Seeing Jurassic World is like going to Disneyland as an adult. First you are afraid it won’t live up to you expectations. Then once you arrive you realize how expensive everything is and that the rides are all just made of metal and wood. But the magic is still there.

The original Jurassic Park is one of my favorite films of all time. (It is also my time machine movie.) I went into Jurassic World with my usual Marvel level combination of excitement and fear. This was a film I had been waiting to see for a very long time and I was scared my expectations would not be met. 124 minutes later I left the film with a face that hurt from smiling so hard. Jurassic World is not perfect, but it combines a potent mix of nostalgia, dinosaurs, and action which makes for a fun viewing experience.

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I was hooked from the very beginning. As the camera panned over the island of Isla Nubar, I was transported back to my very first time in Jurassic Park. There were kids digging for fossils in the sand and a helicopter flying over the ocean to the lush tropical island and sweeping views of dinosaurs running (in herds!) through fields. It felt like coming home, just with everything a bit flashier, a bit brighter and newer. But the feelings remained. Director Colin Trevorrow gives the audience the sense that this theme park could easily exist outside the film (crazy genetics aside). There are beautiful exotic creatures in their “natural” glory, but there are also petting zoos and Sea World style shows. We see the T-Rex for the first time behind a glass window crowded with people taking pictures on cell phones. The website for the film looks like a page belonging to an actual theme park with animal info pages and ride wait time updates.There is a Starbucks and a Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville, and an IMAX Theater. The rides have sponsors!  Jurassic World is a completely immersive experience, one that “spares no expense” in order to put the viewer into the world of the film.

This world also plays an incredible homage to the first film. There is a John Hammond memorial statue, a Mr. DNA cameo, Bryce Dallas Howard says, “Welcome to Jurassic World”. The best tribute to the first film is Michael Giacchino’s score which combines new pieces alongside John Williams’ iconic original theme. There is one particularly wonderful scene that references the first film in a way that gave me goosebumps (but I won’t spoil it for the 5 people who haven’t seen the film yet).

The experience of just looking at the screen and absorbing everything is so engaging that it was not until the end of the film that I realized I didn’t care about any of the characters. Sure I wanted the boys (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) to live. And I did really liked Irrfan Khan as Simon Masrani, John Hammond 2.0. But the only reason I liked Owen was because he was played by Chris Pratt. Chris Pratt is a likable person/actor and therefore I have to like him in a movie where he is friends with a velociraptor. But his character lacked development besides the fact that he is the Hero who must be laid back while still getting the job done.

I am usually not a Bryce Dallas Howard fan, but in Jurassic World she did a good job running and yelling and generally looking scared. It was just that her character wasn’t written very well either. She is The Business Woman; she doesn’t have kids or care about animals and worst of all she makes plans for dates! Her romance with Owen was unnecessary and unbelievable. There is also a vague sense at the end of the film of Claire’s character needing a male/children in order to be happy/fulfilled.

The best characters in the film were the dinosaurs. They had personalities. The camera spends a lot of time on close ups of the dinos’ eyes where you can really see the (awesome CGI) emotion shine through. These are creatures with feelings and intelligence. They are loyal. They form bonds. We grow attached to these dinosaurs and are rewarded at the end of the film with one of the most satisfying fight scenes in recent memory. Maybe it is because there were no robots or cities getting destroyed that I enjoyed it so much, but by the end of the film I was cheering along with the rest of the theater.

While Jurassic World has average characters and a sometimes silly story, it makes up for all that with the engaging, well crafted world full of action, adventure, and just the right amount of product placement.

RATING:

Needs Milk

Final Thoughts

  • I really hope it was extra who made his own decision to run back for those two frozen margaritas while the pteranodons were attacking.
  • Dinosaurs as soldiers/weapons? Okay plot.
  • The songs on the soundtrack have some great titles including, “Love in the Time of Pterosauria.”
  • If you haven’t seen Colin Trevorrow’s first film Safety Not GuaranteedI highly recommend it.