June 27, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

According to interviews with Bruce Willis, what sold him on a fourth Die Hard was the pitch: John McClaine is still an analog surviving in a digital world, and when the digital baddies try to hurt his country, he stands up to show that the analog can kick major ass.

I'm sure the hefty paycheck Fox forked over for B.Will to reprise his 19-year-old role had something to do with it as well.

First thing's first: it was entertaining. Second: It was another unnecessary, generic, ridiculous, money-hungry action flick - obviously the least imaginative of the franchise.

And let me stop here to observe how far we've come since 1988's genre-shaping classic genuinely blew audiences away. The original (for those of you born after the advent of DVDs and the Internet, it was just called Die Hard) was a tight, white-knuckle actioner that lay down the rules for nearly all of the blow-'em-ups that followed. Part One took place in an isolated, more claustrophobic setting (a little ol' skyscraper). Part Two expanded slightly to an airport. Part Three went all out and involved an entire city under siege.

Part Four? The whole frickin' United States of America is under attack, and (you guessed it) only one man can stop it!

Part One virtually created the action-movie cliches we're now indifferent to, and Part Four painfully recycles the shit out of them, ironically borrowing from past blockbusters (True Lies quickly comes to mind) that had been influenced by Part One.

Of course you have the federal bureaucrats running around in an underground headquarters, staring at ginormously detailed computer screens that glow with propmastery glory.

Of course you have a young, bespectacled technogeek who assists the villain, who barks out commands with increasing frustration every time our hero breezes through one of said villain's deadly obstacles.

Of course you have the token, hot Asian bad chick who promptly gets all Crouching Tiger on our hero's ass (whatever happened to The Gritty Fistfight?)

And of course the mission has to become personal during the third act. Our hero needs all the motivation he can get in order to carry the film to its preposterous ending. Here, Daddy's Little Girl becomes a POB (Prisoner of Baddie), and what was once fractured between father and daughter becomes mushily mended (Where the hell is Bonnie Bedelia when you need her?).

As for Timothy Olyphant (a First Echo favorite), his Deadwood alter ego would eat his villain for brunch, shit him out, and then feed him to pigs; Ladies and gents, we have a winner for Most Toothless Bad Guy in a Die Hard Film.

Justin Long (The Mac Kid, The Jeepers Creepers Boy, The Dodgeball Nerd) is perfectly cast as a slacker hacker who gets thrown into this game of flying cars and crumbling freeway structures. However, his role is transparent; you can't help but envision studio execs gathering around a table, forcing the writer to add a gimmicky sidekick who can draw box-office receipts from those darn kids who are so preoccupied with those darn Playstations and that darn MySpace nowadays (Of course the studio had to employ Underworld's Len Wiseman to bring a Grand Theft Auto quality to a franchise that never needed it).

Earlier I mentioned that this movie was entertaining. It was. I clapped when Maggie Q met her match in a fiery elevator shaft. I loved the bird's-eye-view shot of Washington D.C.'s car-crash-clogged arteries. I even enjoyed the harrowing tunnel scene that is sure to be every commuter's nightmare come true.

However, deep down I was hoping for something more substantial, a reminder to America of what an action movie should be, and all I got was another numbing summer movie that just intensified the growing cynicism I have towards Hollywood. Die Hard 4.0, or whatever you want to call it, was just another classic example of a classic neutered for the masses.


By the way, if anyone knows anyone (who knows anyone) who works at Entertainment Weekly...call me.

June 25, 2007

High Five

I still remember the drive to LaGuardia Airport.

I sat in the passenger seat of my mother's then-new car as she steered us past the exit ramp to the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens. Craig David's "Walking Away" was in its umpteenth rotation on Z100, and I thought to myself, What an appropriate anthem for my send-off.

This was June 27, 2002.

The enormity of this day in my life was something I couldn't fathom back then. I think my mother had assumed I'd fly off to Los Angeles with my ginormous piece of Kenneth Cole luggage and college-worn knapsack, meet my cousin at the gates of LAX, see a few palm trees, and then, after getting a bitter taste of the SoCal life, return to New York within a month or two. If my parents had thought otherwise, then I applaud them for supporting me, their only child, in his scary decision to travel to the other side of the country and start a new life.

Five years ago, Los Angeles was a different place in my eyes. I started my "new life" living in Burbank, shacked up with college friends who had already settled in and were desperately searching for new employment (just like the thousands of other green graduates who followed my lead in pursuing that rascally rabbit called A Dream). I slept on an Aero Bed, computerless, my entire life packed away in the trunk of a newly purchased Ford Focus. If I were green back then, I'd consider myself a nice shade of turquoise now.

Five years ago, Burbank was a nifty, comfortable suburb. A little hot, yes, but...cozy. Now? If you tell me I have to drive to the Valley in the middle of July, I'll roll my eyes and make sure the AC in my car is on full blast for my traffic-riddled trip to what I like to call the Furnace of LA.

Five years ago, Santa Monica Boulevard was a long stretch of non-descript buildings and pedestrianless sidewalks. Now, it's my main route home, dotted with name-changing venues in which certain favored cocktails were swigged during the wee hours of a Saturday night.

Five years ago, "the Hills" was a secluded neighborhood only viewed from afar while driving through the labrynths of Fairfax, La Cienega, and Wilshire. Now, I can say I've had the privledge of wining and dining in homes that cost more than five times the average American income.

Five years have given me a history in Los Angeles. It marks the longest period of time I've lived in a place other than New York.

During my very first week in LA, back in that post-9/11 summer of '02, I had been put on the list for an industry mixer thrown by Paradigm. There I was, jobless, homeless, wearing nightlife attire that may have worked better on Landsdowne Street in Boston - a total newbie - attempting to drown myself in a pool of power players. I remember the details of this night so well because I had recorded it in one of my earlier chapters, the "life updates" I would e-mail to those I left back east. I remember faking my way through conversations after telling an exec I was "with Maverick Films" (Rachael, who had worked there at the time, got me on the list). The exec clearly interpreted this as "I'm an assistant at Maverick Films ready to mingle with others in my position." The woman passed me around like I was poised on a tray, spread across a cracker for consumption. She threw names at me, thrust handshakes my way, and fed me to sharks that were still practicing their bites.

Nowadays, if I'm subjected to an industry meet-and-greet, I try to find different, colorful ways to brief people on "my story." Started at Carsey-Werner. Did a home-makeover show for ABC Family. Freelanced here and there. Assisted an EP on an NBC drama. Now I'm at a kickass production company in Culver City.

It's a drill that we "Hollywood people" know all too well. What do you do? Where do you live? How long does it take you to get to work? Oh, the 405, it's a doozy that one!

"You're so LA," Matt tells me, a native Southern Californian himself, and I'm pretty sure there's a grocery list of things to legitimize this. However, that is a subject to be dissected for another time.

To me five years also means that Bank of America will no longer suck two-hundred-plus dollars out of my struggling account every month. My car loan will be paid off next month, and I couldn't be...more indifferent. The extra money will only flow towards the increase in rent that I now pay for my swanky Westwood pad:

I have also seen good friends and acquaintances drop like flies over the past five years. They are the ones who have given up on the City of Angels and moved on to other places in search for better things, whatever that may be. I like to think of it as the Industry weeding out the herd. For every ten newbies that arrive in LA there's usually a pair of veterans who seem to retreat and pack their bags for either a greener pasture or a return to their roots.

Last Monday night I bid adieu to David, whom I had met two years ago, a Jersey boy jonesing for a return to the East Coast. Before that was Josh, Matt's best friend and former roommate (my predecessor), who kissed sunny SoCal goodbye and embraced the more atmospheric San Francisco. Before that was Molly, who left Hollywood to recupe near her family up in Seattle. And sometime within the next two weeks I will be saying farewell to Kerry, a former Knock Firster I befriended when I quit Carsey-Werner and joined the crew of the home-makeover show in the fall of 2004 - she's heading out of LA to enjoy the midwesterny windiness of Chicago.

Who's next? What friend (or foe) will be spit out of the meticulous machine that is Los Angeles? Will there be blood? Tears? Stay tuned...

Happy Anniversay, Self.

Off to go texting on my commute home, ignoring the brushfires, and mentally flipping off the Mexican fruitseller who's holding up traffic on Westwood Boulevard.


June 23, 2007

Crab Gorgonzola Risotto

Last night, dinner at Sur in West Hollywood with Michael, Corey and crew. Staring at the velvet menu.

"Will the risotto make me bloated?"

"Well, do you like crab?"


"Do you like gorgonzola?"


"And clearly you like rice, so..."

June 19, 2007

Size Matters

It is understandable that the most successful blogs are the shortest and easiest to read. It's a flash-in-the-pan world out there after all. People do not want to be bogged down with pages and pages of rants and ramblings. They want a tasty morsel, something to scan and file away in their brain, a read that lasts as long as this paragraph.

I blame the Perez Hiltons of the world for feeding us e-junk, temporary fixes to satiate our accelerating hunger for tidbits on the trivial. They have graffitied over the definition of a blog. The true meaning is now lost amidst the countless e-diaries and websites dedicated to captioned pictures, submitted headlines, and video reactions.

But there is an inkling in me that considers my entries just as worthwhile, a pride in knowing I am supplying to subscribers a satisfying read, neither pretentiously pompous nor painfully boring. I like to think my lengthy entries carry a substance that is seriously lacking in some current blogsites.

However, to appease the masses who may find my paragraphs-after-paragraphs unattractive or too challenging to conquer, I will close out with a simple (short) sample of my suggested soundtrack for June, July, and August.

The perfect mix for the season of sizzle, by yours truly:


1. "Everything I'm Not (Jason Nevins Remix)" by The Veronicas - Easy-breezy, sugary, girl rock-pop - redone for your dancing pleasure.

2. "Valerie" by Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse - Motownish bee-bop meets old-school hip-hop...from the British superproducer's debut album, Version.

3. "Knights of Cydonia" by Muse - The perfect epic-rock score for the closing credits of any Tarantino-esque splatterfest. And it's great to blare when speeding away from cops on the 405 Freeway.

4. "Feels Like Home" by Meck featuring Dino - Gravelly vocals electronically layered with some rockin' beats = neato.

5. "Falling Slowly" by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irgolova - From the Irish indie Once, and possibly the best soundtrack of the year, this melancholy love song soars to emotional heights you never thought existed.

6. "Umbrella" by Rihanna featuring Jay-Z - It just wouldn't be summer without another 80s-sampling club track starring the best thing to come out of Barbados...God, what a difference Jay-Z makes. RUNNER-UP: "Shut Up and Drive," the rockin' single Kelly Clarkson should have released and never did.

7. "Makes Me Wonder" by Maroon 5 - Fabulous, feel-fine funk-rock for the soul.

8. "Apologize" by Timbaland featuring One Republic - Forget the Furtado and point your ears towards this mesmerizing collaboration - America's #1 producer lays his trademark stuttering beats on this ballad by the little-known Los Angeles-based band.

9. "Acceptable in the 80s" by Calvin Harris - A synergy of synth and sass, this British DJ, who only has "love for you if you were born in the 80s," will make you wanna bust out the neon track jackets and acid-wash jeans and do your best Molly Ringwald two-step.

10. "You Are The One" by Shiny Toy Guns - Electro-punk done right.

I hope this was short enough to hold your attention. Forgive me for dumping on you a questionably wordy diatribe and keeping you from the more important tasks you need to focus on during your day or night - writing that memo for your boss before lunch, getting the laundry out of the dryer so your neighbor can carry on with his load, picking up the kids at school, completing that status report for your office manager, turning your attention to the lover who awaits under your bedsheets...

It's okay. Go ahead. Carry on. I'm done. No, really.



June 12, 2007

Party Like It's 1997

The world of music, along with the pop culture universe in general, was changed ten years ago when a certain pop album hit stores across the country. It was a match that lit up a firestorm of copycat pop products, neverending merchandising, and hoarse vocal chords belonging to any teenaged female (and the occasional sensitive male) who stepped near a radio.

They were Boys. And they were from Backstreet.

The irresistible harmonies of Nick, AJ, Howie, Brian and Kevin were a throwback to earlier one-hit-wonders from the 90s like All-4-One and Color Me Badd. America had been given its answer to a 90s version of NKOTB.

I had a chance to revisit those innocent late-90s when my 18-year-old cousin, Lauren, visited me in LA last month. I played tour guide and she took the passenger seat, ready to soak up some SoCal sun. We hit up the stores in Beverly Hills. We conquered the rollercoaster on Santa Monica Pier. We watched Jesse Metcalfe take out the trash outside his home underneath the Hollywood sign (Stars, They're Just Like Us!). And we dined among the hipsters of Los Feliz on Franklin Avenue.

Sightseeing in LA requires a signifcant amount of driving. Hell, running out to 7-Eleven for some milk requires a significant amount of driving. And while showing Lauren the sights of the Southland, some tunes were needed, a soundtrack for her first Los Angeles Experience. Little did I know that handing over the iPod to an 18-year-old would transport me back to a time of which I thought I had let go.

Lauren shuffled immediately to the Boys, and the car was filled with those slick, Max Martin-produced rhytmns. We didn't dare roll up the windows. We weren't ashamed to share with the world our penchant for the blissfully bubblegum.

"Quit Playing Games With My Heart" was the Boys' debut single. Smooth R&B-tinged pop to distract all those suburban white kids from the moody rap and even moodier rock that dominated most of the 1990s. And who can forget those pensive glances and soaking-wet T-shirts in the ridiculous music video that was probably made for five dollars?

"As Long As You Love Me" was the companion piece to the latter. Similiar mid-tempo beat, same puppy-dog message of enduring love. Only this time the Boys stay dry in the video and try to woo the same girl in a portrait studio.

The video for "Everybody" was an ambitious (read: costly) homage to MJ's "Thriller", a choreography-and-prosthetic-heavy showcase of ghosts and goblins who just loved to get down and rock the castle. However, Nick Carter as a mummy asking if he's sexual was laughable, even back then.

"I'll Never Break Your Heart" was the best Boyz II Men single never released by Boyz II Men.

"All I Have to Give," the final weepy to be released from their debut album, came with a "Conversation Mix" on the EP during which each Boy listed his likes and dislikes, what he looked for in a "girl," and how he would take care of her ("My name is Howie D, and this is how we do it!"). The gag factor had been turned up considerably to MY-GOD-AM-I-REALLY-LISTENING-TO-THIS proportions.

One can argue the Spice Girls paved the way for these Boys when they dropped their own disc in the winter of '96. Those British bitches invaded America and released a blitzkrieg of saccharine-sweet singles upon Top 40 radio stations everywhere.

It amazes me how much I remember from ten years ago. It scares me to realize how quickly it took ten years ago to become Ten Years Ago. 1997 was probably the fondest of my teen years, possibly "my favorite year." Fitting, because that was name of the musical in which I played a Philipino boxer named Rookie during my junior year of high school (a.k.a. The Prep Factory).

I remember singing along to Meredith Brooks's "Bitch" during dress rehearsals. I remember Sydney getting run over by a speeding car in her wedding dress at the end of the Melrose season finale. I remember attending a Sweet Sixteen at Juliano's in New Rochelle and unabashedly dancing to "Barbie Girl" with my private school posse. I remember driving up to Boston to check out colleges and stopping at a Connecticut shopping mall to catch a screening of Face/Off with my mother. I remember developing an obsession with Deborah Cox's "Things Just Ain't the Same" and having it peak on New Year's Eve when friends and I danced the night away at the Westchester County Center to her equally contagious "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here." I remember seeing Star Wars for the first time on the big screen when it was re-released during its 20th anniversary. I remember celebrating my 17th birthday with a close few at Edo, the Japanese steakhouse a few miles down the road from home. I remember coming in second place in the final round of Oral Interpretation at the New York State Forensics Tournament in Albany, coming close to grabbing that first place trophy which went to the Ivy League-bound Mahi Mouzakis - I lost to a girl named after a tuna steak.

1997 was probably the most memorable for me because it was the year I tasted independence for the first time - borrowing the Camry to meet friends in Yonkers, borrowing the Camry to go shopping in White Plains, borrowing the Camry...just to borrow the Camry.

Cut to me ten years later, and it's a bit mindblowing to see how things have developed. Unfathomable is the best way to describe what the next ten will hold. If H.G. Wells were to land on my driveway in his latest physics-defying contraption, I would just direct the fellow to move down the street to the next schlub who may be jonesing for a glimpse into his own Tomorrow.

I don't want the next ten years to fly by. I opt not to numb my butt in the passenger seat and blankly stare at the passing views. But isn't that the Catch-22? You can't have the proverbial fun without the time slipping away from you.

Whatever seat I take, driver or passenger, depending on my mood, I'll always make sure I have a little Backstreet to blare when taking in the sights.


June 07, 2007

Must-See-Soon TV

One of the great perks of working in this business we call Show is getting your hands on certain films and TV shows before they're released to the rest of the world for mass consumption and criticism. It's a sneak peek before the official sneak peeks.

Here in Los Angeles, the TV pilot season (a TV junkie's favorite season of all) has finally ended, and the networks have cherry-picked the productions they think are worthy of occupying the comfy spots on their fall schedules. And here in Los Angeles, I am fortunate enough to have friends in places with access to screeners of the dramas and (few) sitcoms that made the cut for the 2007-08 season.

So, allow me to grant you access to a pre/review of what Madison Avenue saw at Upfronts last month in New York. Yours truly was lucky enough to get a sampling before most critics get their hands on them.

So remember kids, you heard it here first:

The opening of this Lucy Liu starrer is a blatant Sex and the City rip-off. No wonder - it's the brainchild of Darren Star. Do we need the voiceover narration? Is Lucy Liu's character writing a novel? Does she have a newspaper column? I don't think so.

Cashmere focuses on a quartet of power-playing women who are likable for the most part. However, it will take a while to distinguish each character. It may be tricky keeping track of who's who because each gal appears to have been torn from the same Working Girl fabric (and whaddyaknow, it's been written by the same guy who penned the 1988 Melanie Griffith comedy). However, the producers seem to be working on that - one of the ladies takes a dip in the lesbian pool and hides it from the rest (I'm sure her secret's out by episode 3).

Favorite moment: Miranda Otto's woman scorned discreetly confronts and challenges her adulterous husband (played by Mariska Hargitay's real-life Greek god of a husband...whatever his name is) at a black-tie fundraiser, right before she goes on stage to accept an award: "Take a good look around you. Look at our friends. I'm going to sleep with one of them, you'll never know who, and you won't do anything about it. Then, the slate will be clean, and we can start over fresh."

Cue the girl-power music.

FIRST-ECHO-METER: 6 (out of 10)

Bret Harrison plays a slacker dude who drives a crap station wagon, works at a Home Depot-type store, where he flirts with his cute coworker, and learns on his 21st birthday that his parents have sold his soul to the Devil (a well-cast Ray Wise). What's a college dropout to do? Work for Lucifer of course! And by "work," I mean collect souls that escaped from Hell by sucking them up with (cue the ingenious product placement) a handheld Dirt Devil vacuum.

Reaper admirably attempts to be the male Buffy - witty, funny, and scary. Let's hope the show's got some juicy mythology in store for its potential fanbase.


Um, more like The Angie Harmon Mystery Hour. What I thought was supposed to be an ensemble mystery turns out to be a drama vehicle for the Law & Order alum. Based on the bestselling novels by James Patterson, Murder Club borrows the premise from Cashmere, only this time the ladies work in the criminal justice system and swap theories on serial killers during mimosa brunches.

While I appreciate the attempt at making this a Sex-and-the-City-meets-CSI, I find that the genre-blending leaves an funny aftertaste. Conversations jump from ex-husband-bashing and bedspread shopping to forensic analyses and fingerprinting. Awkward!


Ladies and gents, here we have the Best Pilot of the Year - Brilliant. Flawless. Refreshingly original. Newcomer Lee Pace (I already envision his mug gracing future covers of Entertainment Weekly) plays a piemaker who has the unusual ability to bring people back from the dead - simply by touching them. This gift allows him to team up with his cop friend (Chi McBride) and solve murders. First touch: the murder victim comes to life, and he asks them how they died. Second touch: they die again before someone else takes their place on Death's doorstep (within one minute).

Things get a bit more complicated once our piemaker is reunited with his childhood sweetheart during a murder investigation, and the chemistry that follows couldn't be sweeter.

This cinematic and whimsical murder-mystery/romantic-comedy is truly something we've never seen before on television.


Dawson's Creek had that student-teacher affair. The OC had teens in jail. And in the first episode of this pretentious piece of prep school treacle, we're given a showcase of sex, cocaine, alcohol...and (horror of horrors!) bad writing. Blake Lively (of Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, her surname does nothing to reflect her acting skills whatsoever) plays the prodigal daughter who returns to her Manhattan high-society roots and dives into a pool of rich kids, their delusional parents, and obligatory cute guys who play nerds on TV but in real-life are not.

1999 called. It wants its Cruel Intentions knockoff back.

And I thought this summer's Hidden Palms sucked.


I'm a big David Eick fan (Battlestar Gallactica), and this re-imagining of the 70s cult hit wonderfully fills in the void left by Alias. Michelle Ryan is the new, brunette Lindsay Wagner, and this time Jamie Sommers has a deaf kid sister (yeah, it ups the mush factor, but it kinda works).

You know the drill...Horrible car accident disrupts Jamie's life. Secret government agency rebuilds her. Shady conspiracy shit hits the fan. If this show is scheduled behind Heroes, Monday nights will never have been this awesome since Melrose made a similar schedule switch 13 years ago.


Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) is a lawyer who inherits a dysfunctional dynasty after his dad croaks. ABC's calling it the redheaded stepchild of Dallas and Dynasty. I'm calling it a soapier Arrested Development. Lots of suds involved (big cast of characters), but enough to keep it from being washed away?

Standouts: Glenn Fitzgerald as a hot-tempered reverend with a secret and Samaire Armstrong as the Paris-esque socialite of the effed-up fam. I'll watch.


I was very intrigued by this show. I loved the sets, the costumes, the soundtrack and overall look (even the freakin' transitions are retro)...For a moment I thought I was actually watching a rerun of Knots Landing circa 1979. However, it was unusually slow compared to other pilots, and the opening shot is literally, um, a jawdropper. And it's on CBS, you ask? Once home to the senior-skewering Walker Texas Ranger and Touched by an Angel? Props to them for having the balls to put this on the air.

The premise: Vanilla midwestern couple and their brood move to a Chicago 'burb where the couples are spicy (look, it's Grant Show!) and the parties spicier (Quaalude anyone?). You name it, they snort it. My one nitpick: I never saw a single key drop in to a fishbowl.


I was never a Gilmore Girls follower, but I totally picked up on the same sharp, lengthy dialogue (thanks to GG creator Amy Sherman-Palladino) in this new multi-and-single-camera sitcom. Possibly the best sitcom pilot (I mean, how many are there to pick from?)...or maybe this is just the only sitcom I'll watch...Parker Posey is a manic book publisher (comedy) who learns she can't bear children (drama) and then asks to her kid sis (Lauren Ambrose) to be the surrogate (dramedy). Finally! Someone's bringing My Sister Sam in to the 21st century.


Zachary Levi (that preppy prick from Less Than Perfect) is a "geeky" electronics store clerk who accidentally gets top-secret government files downloaded into his brain. Enter the CIA, who recruits him to help them stop bad guys.

Nicely shot. Funny as hell. And from Josh Schwartz (The OC)? Just pray we don't get a Mischa Barton cameo.


Desperate Housewives...with dicks. Dylan McDermott, Michael Vartan, Christopher Titus, and Joshua Malina are CEOs who hang out at the country club and talk about their messy lives over some brewskies.

Due to the testosterone factor, the campy fun is hard to find. Will viewers buy four men sitting around talking about their work and love lives? Does ABC expect to lure male viewers to this one-hour drama? I don't see the words "Smackdown," "NASCAR" or "Playstation" attached to it anywhere, so who knows?


So, there you have it. CBS is trying hard to shed its gray hair. ABC is luring all of the richies. NBC is going geek-chic. And the CW continues to try to get out of the shadow of its Big Four brethren.

Notebooks closed. Class dismissed.


Celebrating My 17th L.A.nniversary with a Bang

The impact, like many impacts, was sudden. I heard the crunch of metal, not as loud as those bang-ups you see in the  Fast and Furious ...