As I rode through the scenic streets of Roslindale, I thought about what it would be like to see Santiago Paniagua for the first time in years. The Paniagua family have been close friends with my family for many years, ever since Santi and my sister attended preschool together. Filled with anticipation, I walked up the small set of steps leading up to the house he grew up in and rang the bell. 
He looked older, more mature than I remembered, more sure of himself. I greeted the rest of the family who were happy to see me but exhausted because they had just gotten off a flight from their vacation in Mexico. We sat in the dining room, which was cluttered with random objects, and talked in hushed tones so as not to wake up the rest of the family who were still jet-lagged.
Twenty years ago, Paniagua was born in Boston to two immigrant parents. His dad immigrated from Spain to Mexico, then came to the United States to continue his education. His mom came from Colombia as an adult to pursue higher education. 
By the age of nine, Paniagua began what would eventually be his career: dancing ballet. He decided he wanted to pursue it professionally when he was 12-years-old. Encouraged by his family, he joined the Boston Ballet and began practicing in the evening after school. “They were very supportive, like, throughout the whole time. And there was never a point where I felt like they wanted me to do something else, or they wanted me to stop” he recalls.
In addition to dancing ballet, Paniagua has a number of interesting hobbies. He was quite a talented baseball player, with the potential to get even better if he had more time to practice. He also has a YouTube channel that entirely encapsulates his personality. He's a funny and easy-going guy who lights up any conversation he's involved in. When I asked him about his channel he let out a contagious laugh and fondly remembers the home videos he posted online for the world to see. His videos consist of a collection of funny skits, challenge videos and clips of him performing ballet.
Although he loves ballet, Paniagua has made several sacrifices because of it. “Ballet was taking up my whole after school life, it was every day, Monday through Saturday. I feel like I missed out on hanging out with people from high school and live that sort of life,” he said.
On top of taking up all of his free time, ballet also hurt his education. He attended Boston Latin Academy each day exhausted from training the day before. Paniagua dropped out of BLA during his junior year and finished his education at Boston Ballet. Despite the hardships, his love for ballet kept him motivated. “It was always kind of a push. And sometimes it really did feel like you hated it, but like, I don't know, something kept you going,” he said.
For the second year in a row, Paniagua will be working with PA Ballet in Philadelphia. When the season starts he will perform in “Don Quixote” and several other shows in the coming months. Before I took off he left me with a piece of advice for aspiring dancers: “Pay attention to how possible it is that you will be able to make it.” 
Read more…
Shocked doesn’t begin to describe what I felt while watching the first episode of “The Promised Neverland.” Better than any thriller movie I’ve ever seen, this anime series gave me chills the second it started playing. The first episode of “The Promised Neverland” features a group of 38 kids who live in an orphanage with their “mom.” At first glance, nothing looks out of the ordinary, but in the back of my mind, there’s this feeling that made my skin crawl.
The anime is about an orphanage of children who aren’t allowed to go beyond the gate and high walls surrounding their home. One night, Emma, a joyful and bright 11-year-old, follows after her younger sister, Conny, who got adopted and left her favorite toy bunny behind. On her way to return the bunny to Conny, with her best friend, Norman, they witness a horrifying scene. Gray and lifeless, they see their little sister’s dead body sprawled in the back of a truck, impaled with a rose. As they hide, they witness terrifying demon creatures holding back their urge to get a taste of her body. The “food” is not for demon creatures, but for their higher-ups. Collecting nutrients, the long-fingered demons expose the reality of the orphanage: a farm that raises and harvests children for their “delicious” flavor. Stunned with fear, the children realize they must come up with a plan to escape their deaths before they turn 12, the perfect age for harvest. 
Right off the bat, the anime starts with an ominous scene featuring the three main characters, Emma, Norman and Ray, peering into the other side of the gate that connects to the outside. This scene, although chilling, gives an inside look of what’s to come, referencing how they aren’t allowed to go outside, and showing the dangers that lie beyond the gate. Not only that, but they never shake off the feeling of suspense, even when there are kids playing tag, laughing and having fun. 
Although the first episode shows innocent scenes, the anime does an amazing job with foreshadowing. For example, they show Conny’s name on a calendar, find the gate while playing tag, and one of the children notices that they don’t receive letters from the adopted children. The anime leaves you in the dark, alongside the children, experiencing and realizing everything along the way. 
Just like the foreshadowing, the narration and animation of suspenseful scenes leaves me amazed. The director shows one second clips during certain parts, in order to give the overall scene more depth. An example of this would be when the kids gather near the gate during a game of tag, hoping for a future outside of the house. One of the other children, Gilda, realizes that they haven’t heard back from the kids who have been “adopted.” The directors use one-second scenes, highlighting the phrases “you know what?” and “letters?”. With these small cuts, the scene feels innocent, but gives a sense of fear.
Along with directing, the anime has an amazing soundtrack and sound effects, giving the episode a more profound feel. The use of dripping, shallow water and creeping footsteps gives you a suspenseful, horror movie feel. What I love most about their usage of music is when a hopeful song plays, and then, suddenly, there’s this screeching violin sound after Isabella, the children’s “mom”, finds Conny’s bunny misplaced. Her eyes wide, wearing a creepy murderous look gave me a thrilling chill. 
Overall, this anime was unsettling. In one episode, this show really went from 0 to 100 and was surprising without being random. Right to the point, but not rushed, the first episode gave an inside look of what’s to come in the season. It leaves me at the edge of my seat. Who is on their side? What lies beyond the walls? What does the impaled flower mean? Intense, suspense, foreshadowing and tone, all five stars from me.
Crunchyroll is $6.95 a month,
Read more…
On the second floor of a small brick building tucked away on a side street right around the corner from Dudley Square, is Y.O.U. Boston: a nonprofit organization that helps youth ages 16-24 who are court-involved or gang-affiliated by providing them with a space to invest in their futures. The people they serve are either reentering their community after being incarcerated or seeking a safe space away from violence and poverty. On their website, they showcase their mission to “empower and motivate young people to gain the educational, employment, and career advancement necessary to be successful in the workforce, in the community, and in their lives.” 
Though their office seems typical, simplistic and plain with its gray cubicles and a couple of computer labs, it contains people who truly care and are actually excited to meet you. 
One of these wonderful people is Carlos Barbosa. He is a case manager who grew up in Dorchester and attended Boston Public Schools. With his caring and thoughtful demeanor, he expresses so much love for his work and helping youth. His cubicle was gray and small but showcased his pride in his job through photos of him and youth he works with. Even though his cubicle looked small, his desk was filled with papers that were in a chaotic but organized placement, which he seemed to know like the back of his hand because he could find everything he was looking for with ease. Growing up in the city, Barbosa knows his way around the neighborhoods of Boston, so don’t be surprised if you randomly see him going down one of your neighborhood's streets. He likes to be active in the community and check up on those he cares for. 
“I grew up in Dorchester, so I grew up on Adam Street,” he said. “I lived there my whole life and recently just moved to Milton. But I'm moving back to Dorchester again...I kind of do miss being in the city” 
His journey to Y.O.U. Boston was atypical because he wasn’t necessarily looking for this type of job. It was nothing like he had done before, as he had only previously worked at City Sports in downtown Boston and small construction jobs on the side.
“With the construction background…I applied to Y.O.U.,” he said. “They were looking for a supervisor for that time in the project that they had was right there in Marine Industrial Park and it was like a demolition project so they were looking for someone to take down the fence and things like that.”
Barbosa explained that his day-to-day “depends on the caseload.” Sometimes he is only at the office trying to find youth resources and reaching out to them, and other days he is in the community with youth advocating for them. 
When I asked him if he had any challenges when working for Y.O.U. Boston, he said, “I wouldn't say a challenge really, I think it's just kind of figuring out each youth and how to best help them.” He went on to explain that even though this wasn’t the job he thought he would be doing when he was young, he truly loves helping youth work towards their futures. He expressed that he wants to create strong relationships with the youth he works with and get them to trust him with their feelings and future goals, all the while believing that he will do whatever he can to help them as long as they put in the same effort and time.
“I remember one time when with a youth, he was applying to Job Corps…and the only one that they had was in Vermont,” he said. “So I grabbed one of the vans [and] we took a trip out there just me and him…No, I didn't feel like I was going out my way, you know, going to Vermont that I was just doing my job with them.”                            
When we ended our interview, it seemed like a weight had been lifted off of his chest. He was 100% authentic when answering my questions. He told me before we started that he had been preparing all morning and even gathered examples of case files before I could ask how they organize files. He was thorough in his explanations and made sure I understood.
Read more…
Unlike on weekdays, Robert Lewis Jr. was wearing casual clothes. He was coaching baseball boys by cheering them on, telling them to look at the ball and even after the three outs, he hugged the boys, patted their heads and told them to keep working hard because more innings were coming up. 
Lewis Jr. was born in 1960. He is one of six kids and grew up in public housing and public schools. While his mother had to raise him as a single mother, he still feels like he had everything because she raised her children with love and affection and taught them how to be responsible.
“My whole life from youth to now is hopefully about being responsible, accountable, appreciating life and the people around me,” Lewis Jr. said.
When he was a 16-year-old, racial tensions were high, and his house was firebombed. Lewis Jr. and his whole family were evicted from their home and left with nothing. He then decided that he wanted to do something positive and something right in his life. His passion for young folks came through sports. He has found that sports are a great way of teaching you life skills, values, and many other things. 
Lewis Jr. founded THE BASE as a youth-development organization that works with students through sports. Right now it offers baseball, softball, and basketball, but the organization hopes to add other sports as it continues to grow nationally and internationally as well.
I was most interested to ask him about how he named the organization THE BASE. He told me that the name represents the base that you can stand on, as an individual, and the base of your roots. 
“What I wanted to do is to use sports to shift the trajectory for young black and Latino folks and we were coming up and trying to figure out a name,” he explained. “We started thinking about a foundation, we needed something that's the base, the base of where you stand, the base of your roots, and all of a sudden, it became The BASE.” 
Lewis Jr.’s goal was to show black and Latino youth how to be creative and resilient in this world. “People think that we are living in a risky community,” he said. “We are not, you give us an opportunity and all we have to do is succeed and be as great as we can.” 
After reflecting on my time with Lewis Jr., I can honestly say that his love for sports, and for young folks to succeed and take advantage of new opportunities is clear. The way that he expresses his emotions when he talks with people around him is so natural and respectful, and the way he treats young people, as family, as part of him, is incredible. “It’s been 41 years coaching, I started when I was 18-years-old and I never left,” he said. “It was one of the greatest choices.”
Now he coaches one baseball team, the Astros, but back in the day, he was coaching more than one. For him, coaching is not a hard thing because he’s doing what he loves to do.
Read more…
I was never planning on seeing this movie. Seriously. I could not have been less interested in watching Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth fight aliens and high-five between firing their futuristic weapons. Still, on my school’s college road trip, I signed up to see the only school approved movie, “Men in Black: International,” just to have something to do during our free time in Portland, Maine.
After nearly a decade since the third MiB, the unsolicited reboot released in mid-June stars “Thor: Ragnorak” co-stars Thompson and Hemsworth. Agent M (Thompson) tracked down the MiB after they erased her parents’ minds and was welcomed with open arms. She is joined by Agent H (Hemsworth), a once well-respected member of the organization, who is no longer taken seriously due to his inability to be mature. This unlikely pair joins forces to fight against the alien race: The Hive. 
While these two performed well alongside each other in Marvel movies, their charisma faltered due to a script with the density of a saltine cracker and a predictable story that lacked pizazz, making even the most magnetic actors difficult to care for.
Agent M leads as our protagonist. Other than being played by Thompson, there is nothing about her that strikes any interest as she suffers from being one-dimensional. M’s journey as a person is uneventful — her character in the beginning of the movie is the same at the end — which only works in your favor when your lead is as charming as Will Smith. But without Smith’s level of appeal, the only way this character could be tolerable is if she at least gets better. Instead, she remains boring. 
Agent H, does not make up for M’s blandness. In fact, he is nearly as dry. He plays your typical uninteresting sleaze-ball, whose main personality traits are “hot” and “makes quips at inappropriate times.” While it was nice to see a “Thor: Ragnorak” reunion, contrary to many fangirls’ beliefs, this pair could not save this film.
For a comedy movie, it was difficult to find anything chuckle-worthy for the entire two hours. My theater laughed the hardest when the small old man sitting in the back row of the theater would occasionally shout blunt commentary with his nasal voice, or when a classmate cooed an “And I oop—” when one of the characters took a heavy blow. The funniest jokes in the film only provoked air shooting quickly out of your nose at most, which were usually caused by the one-liners of Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani) the alien who swore allegiance to Agent M and pronounced her his queen.
The film also features a "whodunnit" storyline as our lead duo suspect that a mole is in their midst. This had the potential to add some spice to an overall stale movie, but was screwed up by the fact that there were only two other characters besides our protagonists that pass as suspects, with one acting slightly more suspicious than the other, helped by the mysterious close-ups of the culprit’s “up-to-no-good” expression, as if the writers had no faith in the viewer’s intelligence. Needless to say, I didn’t gasp when the mystery was revealed. Predictability worked in the 90s, but decades later we should not be afraid to improve.
The most devastating disservice was the lackluster ending battle. The final throwdown is always anticipated to be the most intense and exciting part of the movie. And yet, some of the fight scenes in the middle of the movie were more interesting than the final one, and that isn’t saying much since none of the action stood out to me, besides maybe the fight in the street with the twin aliens.
The special effects weren’t the best I’ve ever seen, but there were some aspects of the movie that looked decent. The two alien baddies are played by Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois, twin breakdancers. Although it’s obvious they are dancers and not actors, they were entertaining to watch, especially in the club scene where they get the chance to bust a move and show off their skills as “aliens trying to fit in at a bar.”
I left the theater scratching my head at how such a highly-advertised movie could be so lifeless like it was missing an ingredient. It almost felt as though nothing happened. This two-hour movie feels eerily brief, and not because time flies when you’re having fun, but because it seemed to lack so much substance that it was somehow able to feel like a half-hour pilot to a canceled sitcom rather than the resurrection of what was once a popular franchise in America. Once I’m done typing, I’m sure I will have already forgotten about it, right 
You can see “Men in Black: International” at any theater near you.
Read more…