December 17, 2008

2008: REWIND

2008 rewind

One could try to rhyme 2008 with cheap words like "great" and "celebrate," but they wouldn't do any justice because this year was so full of sweet and sour morsels that flavored our lives from January through December - it would require a ginormous task force to take one snapshot of all twelve eventful months.

Lucky for you, I'm up for the challenge...

figures of 2008

Our dearly departed Heath Ledger became immortalized in the second-biggest motion picture in history. Miley Cyrus got naked. The 90s came back with a well-coiffed vengeance (the NKOTB reunion, the 90210 reboot, Neil Patrick Harris mania). Katy Perry kissed a girl...and a whole lotta people liked it. Gas reached five dollars a gallon. iTunes reached its 5-year anniversary. China rocked the Summer Olympics. A Depression rocked economy. Rihanna became Chris Brown's boo. Mariah became Nick Cannon's (explain that one to me again). A "man" got pregnant. A hockey mom saw Russia from her house. And while Indiana Jones dusted off his iconic fedora and Carrie Bradshaw dusted off her signature Manolos, Ed Hardy continued to dominate the fashion scene dressing the douchebag population of America.

As for me? I got to see my name printed in Variety for the first time (albeit, in a thank you ad). I took my first shot at a feature screenplay. And before you could say "seven-hundred billion-dollar bailout," I saw more friends come and go in this city known for its constant flow of transients. I hit several red carpets, suffered from film festival fatigue, became an activist, and finally ditched Hotmail to join the rest of the population on Gmail while adjusting to a life that became as busy as a whore during Japanese Businessmen Week (it's the new Fleet Week). Topping it all off - I, along with many of my fellow Angelenos, "Baracked" the Vote in November and witnessed the start of a new era for this red-and-blue-colored crock pot we call the U.S.A.

Now, on with the show (as promised)...


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - David Fincher's exquisite and operatic saga proves to be a benchmark in cinematic artistry. Seamlessly blending elements from Forrest Gump and Big Fish, this fantastic fable (adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story) literally shows a life flashing before our eyes while asking us to reflect on our own in between each brief moment in time. Brad Pitt is at his humblest and Cate Blanchett is at her most graceful, while Taraji P. Henson stands out as Benjamin's unconditionally loving adoptive mother.

2. Milk - No other film this year has been more uncanny in its relevance and importance than Gus Van Sant's poetic tribute to San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk. Sean Penn's performance isn't just a performance; it's an unadulterated act of physical, emotional and mental being. His portrayal of the slain civil rights leader - framed by a shining supporting cast - is one to behold. Academy, embrace him now.

3. WALL-E - Just when we thought Pixar couldn't do any better, along comes the most precious trash compactor we've ever laid eyes on. This stunning and provocative achievement deserves the adjectives "Kubrickian" and "Spielbergian" in all of the praises it's received thus far. Hands down, one of the best animated films in recent memory.

4. Hamlet 2 - For once, a lewd and rude laffer that doesn't have to rely on sex-starved stoner buds to milk laughs from the audience. Steve Coogan's high school musical-comedy about drama hit all the right notes. And the fiercely funny turns from supporting gals Catherine Keener and Amy Poehler didn't hurt either.

5. Frost/Nixon - Frank Langella's performance, while bordering on satirical at times, explodes in the film's anticipated climax during which a chilling admission of guilt (and brute ego) from an American president is made on live television, confirming the fears of cynics across the country. Michael Sheen effortlessly slips into the role of charismatic talk show personality David Frost, a 1970s Ryan Seacrest if you will, who at one point gets in over his head. And the verbal tennis match between these two men, sharply staged by Ron Howard, crackles at the first word uttered in that Los Angeles living room.

6. The Dark Knight - Chris Nolan's electric sequel helped fanboys around the world feel vindicated, bringing to the masses a multi-layered popcorn masterpiece that transcends the genre. Consider it a fired-up blend of Scorsese and Stan Lee, a crime saga soaked in moral ambiguity, tortured psyches and structured corruption.

7. Doubt - A holy trinity of actors (Streep, Hoffman, Adams) set the screen ablaze in John Patrick Shanley's tight adaptation of his own Pulitzer prize-winning play, a verbal battleground on which no code of morality (or authority) is left unquestioned. A major "Brava!" goes to Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller, the desperate mother who would do anything to protect the future of her allegedly abused son. Her scene in the park with Sister Aloysius is so riveting, so heartbreaking, we almost forget Meryl is standing right next to her.

8. Australia - Baz Luhrmann's grand throwback to sweeping romantic epics is just that: One giant, old-school, wartime-set stunner starring two of the brightest marquee names in modern cinema. Call it overstuffed, call it too melodramatic - it's supposed to be. And let's not forget Brandon Walter's breakout performance as Nullah, the "mixed-blooded" child who unites our heroes and represents a tribute to the nation's controversial Stolen Generation.

9. Cloverfield - Blair Godzilla Project jokes aside, J.J. Abrams & Co. managed to do the unthinkable - create a monster feature that slipped under every Hollywood radar and then unleash one helluva thrill ride that reinvigorated the genre.

10. Trick 'R Treat - Normally when a movie is put straight to DVD, it's a huge red flag about the quality of the film itself. NOT in this case. Shame on Warner Bros. for chickening out on fully distributing a horror film that has so much potential to break out and put all of those Asian remakes and 80s "re-imaginings" to shame. Not since the original Scream 12 years ago have we seen such an original and clever horror film that delivers the screams (and laughs) and revels in turning genre cliches on their bloody heads. Mike Dougherty's atmospheric web of terror is Short Cuts set on Halloween night: Four different storylines, showcasing an ensemble cast, intertwining and coming together in a time-jumping twist of an ending that leaves you wanting more (OTHER HORROR BESTS: Let The Right One In and Teeth).

HONORABLE MENTION: The Fall - Shot in over a dozen countries over several years, Tarsem Singh's ambitious fantasy-drama about a hospitalized silent-movie stuntman (Lee Pace) and his exotic tall tales is a visual feast. Justine Waddell, as Pace's bedside sidekick, is absolutely adorable, heralding the trend of using child non-actors to convey an authentic innocence.


DAWN OF A NEW JOHN HUGHES ERA: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and The Wackness

REALLY?: The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Pierce Brosnan's singing in Mamma Mia! and Saw V

BEST ROM-COM OF '08: Definitely Maybe

SCENESTEALERS OF '08: Bette Midler in The Women, Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, and the cockroach in WALL-E

SOUNDTRACKS OF THE YEAR: 21 and Slumdog Millionaire

TRAILERS OF THE YEAR: Star Trek, Watchmen, The Strangers and all of those fakes preceding Tropic Thunder


1. 30 Rock (NBC) - What other comedy on television can cleverly pull off stunt casting (the Oprah twist was classic), master the art of deadpan sarcasm (Alec Baldwin, you're the king) and bring back the cast of Night Court for an impromptu reunion? Answer: none.

2. John Adams (HBO) - Lavish, richly written and beautifully shot...This is what network TV miniseries were like in the 70s and 80s - and should be today. Paul Giamatti brilliantly leads a giant ensemble in this Emmy-winning epic that not only reminds us of our roots as a country, but also attempts to bring back a national pride we've almost lost.

3. Pushing Daisies (ABC) - Bryan Fuller's short-lived gem shall continue to shine long after its gone, thanks to its crisp writing, charismatic cast and unbeatable production design. Pity those who never had the chance to experience the wonder and magic of one of TV's most entertaining hours.

4. Chelsea Lately (E!) - The former Girl Behaving Badly kills with deadpan one-liners in round table discussions that would make the ladies of The View blush. And it's on a network that showcases and celebrates the very celebretards she makes fun of. Isn't it ironic?

5. The Starter Wife (USA) - Like a cold glass of bubbly, Debra Messing's miniseries-turned-series is an effervescent jolt the cable net needed amongst its caravan of eclectic crime solvers. Who wouldn't want to have manic Hollywood connections friends like these?

6. The Real Housewives of New York City (Bravo) - Call me biased (I knew women like these growing up outside the Big Apple), but last season's group of gal pals had me at the first "Oh my Gawd." I wanted to slap Alex. I wanted to fly off to Paris with LuAnn. I wanted Ramona to dress her age. And I wanted Jill and Bethenny to get their own sitcom. Bravo, please bring them back.

7. Mad Men (AMC) - The plots are too complex and too realistic to easily sum up. This Emmy winner is about the individual scheming behind the scenes of advertising, the struggle of women against gender roles and social limitations, the difficulties of marriage, the collision between religious and capitalist, sexist and hippie and establishment and youth culture ideals of the's a mouthful. There's no hook to make it easily understandable and appealing in one sentence. And that's what makes for outstanding television.

8. Brothers & Sisters (ABC) - A drama about a close-knit, upper-middle class family that eats weekly dinners together and works together - and it doesn't make you want to vomit? Watching this show is like curling up on the couch with a chenille blanket and a cup of herbal tea. Topical and relevant without being preachy, WASPs have never been so engaging (*And we cannot wait for the mysterious Ryan to finally make an appearance later this winter).

9. True Blood (HBO) - The backwoods bloodsuckers of Alan Ball's TV follow-up to Six Feet Under are a sexy, intriguing and treacherous group, and the hillbilly spin on old lore is a welcome change to the vamp landscape.

10. Swingtown (CBS) - This summertime sizzler had a Showtime premise but a network TV ethic. Still, we were mesmerized (Look, Jake Hanson grew a porno 'stache!). Applause goes to Miriam Shor as an uptight Pollyanna who'd give DH's Bree Van de Kamp a run for her prized blueberry cobbler. *ALSO: Best New TV Theme Song of the Year - Liz Phair's fabulously retro and deliciously catchy "Give it Up."

AND THREE CHEERS FOR: Saturday Night Live (NBC) - From Tina Fey's wicked turn as Sarah Palin and Jon Hamm's John Ham to Adele's classic performance and Justin Timberlake's homage to Beyonce, the sketchcom had a ball in the first half of its 34th season. And Kristen Wiig: We're not worthy.

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: Skins (BBC America) - "Daring" and "provocative" are just two of the many words repeatedly used to describe what may, at first glance, seem like the British version of Gossip Girl. It's so much more...These kids make those boys and girls at the CW look like home-schooled Mormon muppets.


1. "Time to Pretend" by MGMT - It's the Anthem for the Aughts, a song that has managed to encapsulate the chaotic decadence and schizophrenia of the decade, encouraging an already numb generation to embrace recklessness and "to live fast and die young." Cocaine good! Office jobs bad! And we owe it all to these two techno-jungle rock dudes from Brooklyn. Tongue may be firmly planted in cheek, but this is one seriously epic song. To experience the magic in all its psychedelic glory, watch the video.

2. "Black & Gold" by Sam Sparro - Part Prince, part Depeche Mode, part George Michael, this breakout Aussie is responsible for the most addictive track of the year, an existential electro-soul single that never gets old the more times you play it on repeat (look for the money shot at 1:20):

3. "Mercy" by Duffy - Dusty Springfield would be proud. Another soulful white chick imported from the U.K. croons to a beat reminiscent of "Stand By Me" and makes us want to slip on some go-go boots and break out some Nancy Sinatra vinyl. Forget the vapid remix and that retooled, Americanized video and stick with the moodier original (two words: flaming dancers):

4. "Dangerous" by M. Pokora featuring Sebastian - This instantly irresistible track from France's answer to Justin Timberlake sounds like the distant cousin of last year's ultra-hot "The Way I Are" (the Timbaland collaboration ain't a coincidence).

5. "Fascination" by Alphabeat - No, this isn't a lost track from High School Musical 3. It's Wonky pop, a term the Brits coined to describe sugary uplifting rock that's loved by both pop purists and the hipster set. This Danish group is a pop band - but with an indie ethic. And America needs to get in on the fun (Other must-listens: "Boyfriend" and "10,000 Nights of Thunder"):

6. "American Boy" by Estelle featuring Kanye West - Mr. West proclaims his love for the Brits ("because most of this press don't f**k with me") on this glossy-groovy collab with the U.K. version of Lauryn Hill, a sista with a penchant for passports and peacoats.

7. "Green Light" by John Legend feat. Andre 3000 - Legend's most club-friendly single is an energizing 21st-century Ziegfeld folly tickled by Andre's flirtatious stream of consciousness.

8. "Bonafied Lovin'" by Chromeo" - The 80s are brilliantly revisited in this electrofunk gem produced by the French-Canadian duo behind 2004’s She’s In Control. Be sure to check out their video, a great homage to Dire Straits.

9. "Hometown Glory" by Adele - The 20-year-old Etta James fan from South London hauntingly croons over her piano and pines for better days long gone. Melancholy never sounded so beautiful.

10. "Just Dance" by Lady GaGa feat. Colby O'Donis - The best dance track of the year is also one of the most refreshing pop singles delivered by the former queen of the NYC club scene, a platinum blond bombshell who also gave us a superfun album Fergie and Gwen wish they had released.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: "Magic" by Robin Thicke, "The World Should Revolve Around Me" by Little Jackie, "Save the Lies (Good to Me) by Gabriella Cilmi, "So What" by Pink, Darin's Flashback and Coldplay's Viva La Vida

YEAR OF THE DIVA: Madonna's Hard Candy, Mariah Carey's E=MC2, Britney Spears's Circus, Leona Lewis's Spirit, Pink's Funhouse, Beyonce's I Am...Sasha Fierce, Janet Jackson's Discipline, Christina Aguilera's Keeps Gettin' Better: A Decade of Hits, Cyndi Lauper's Bring Ya to the Brink, Donna Summer's Crayons, Taylor Dayne's Satisfied, Jennifer Hudson's Jennifer Hudson, Carly Simon's This Kind of Love.


"Damaged" by Danity Kane - I'd like to know what would happen if I did have a first-aid kit handy.

Sex and the City: The Movie - Three words: Brooklyn Bridge scene.

"Work" by The Saturdays - Girls Aloud, look out.

Mamma Mia! - A musical. Based on ABBA songs. With sequined bellbottoms.

Shane Mercado's version of the "Single Ladies" video - Crop top and underwear notwithstanding.

Pencils down. Champagne glasses up...

Here's to a fine '09,


November 24, 2008

Total Request Dead

A little over a week ago we witnessed a death in the pop culture universe.

TRL had aired its final show on MTV, counting down its last top 10 list of videos. Every VJ from the past decade returned to the Times Square studios, even Granddaddy himself Carson Daly, reminiscing over memorable performances and iconic videos from days gone by (1999, how we miss thee).

Having not regularly watched the show since...oh...let's say sometime in 2001, I still felt a slight pang from the loss. Although my memories of TRL may not have been as intense as your average 13-year-old girl, I will still cherish my personal experiences with the show (having lived just north of Manhattan)...Being on-camera to request Blink-182's "Adam's Song" during spring break...Taking my 12-year-old cousin to see Backstreet Boys promote Black and Blue...Coming in 2nd Place in a Halloween costume contest for my zombie version of Carson Daly (with a Total Request Dead microphone in hand)...maneuvering through the mob of screaming 'NSYNC fans with my mother after catching a matinee of Saturday Night Fever on Broadway (that alone was embarrassing enough).

The fact that the show's finale barely registered with the masses should be an indication of how much has changed within the music industry - and consumerism. Many have argued that the Music Video is dead, and the end of TRL may as well be the final nail in that coffin. Indeed, music videos aren't what they used to be. Gone are the days of the million-dollar production ("Larger Than Life" anyone?), and with that epidemic of sagging budgets came a compromise in creativity. After all, how good does a video need to look? Does it really need to tell a story? Why bother with an actual concept? The kids are just going to watch it on YouTube anyway in between bootleg downloads of the new Beyonce.

SOAPBOX ALERT: The wrong (read: lazy) way to produce a music video with no budget is to just point the camera at an artist against different backdrops and incorporate imagery that has nothing to do with the message of the song whatsoever. However, when you have no money for fancy locations and special effects, it's time to get the creative juices flowing. And here's an example of how it's done right:

TRL, from what I remember during recent years, seemed to have lost itself, straying away from its original premise. Viewers would be lucky to catch at least 30 seconds of their favorite video during the countdown; the rest of the show was usually overbloated with celeb interviews, shameless plugs and John Norris's increasingly disturbing hair color of choice. The requests took a backseat to the parade of celebretards who came in and took pictures with fans and each other (Though I must say, the TRL Yearbook looks like a fine piece of coffee table literature). And before you say, "Oh Hiks, get over it, you were no longer their demographic," let me just say I that appreciate the hard work that goes in to every production. Showing less than a minute of footage from a vid does a disservice to the men and women who worked long hours on set and in post. Let the whole damn thing play. Don't cut away to a talking head with breaking news about Miley Cyrus's Sweet Sixteen plans. I want to see the rest of Chris Brown's fancy footwork, dammit. I want to see the part where Britney gives us that "Come hither" look. I want to see how the whole thing ends.

I assume the businesses and vendors in Times Square will miss the hordes of customers that camped out in front of those studio windows every weekday afternoon. And the Virgin Megastore closing down across the street didn't help either (damn you, iTunes!). I also assume that the cab driver community of New York City was relieved to hear that it no longer had to worry about potentially running over poster-waving David Archuleta fans in the middle of the day.

And where will our favorite VJs go? Will there be a mass migration over to MTV2? Will Quduus and Damian have to redo their headshots in order to pursue other journalistic ventures? Will there be an influx of GenY correspondents on CNN and MSNBC? It's so tragic to see such photogenic lost souls shoved out into such a cutthroat world. May the most charismatic Teleprompter reader win.

But we will carry on. Eventually there will be something else to fill the void, something else to capture the zeitgeist...

While we wait, I shall leave you with a look back, a reminder of the pure, unadulterated fun that was TRL during its heyday (JT, you had us at "Tearin' Up"):



Rihanna, Beyonce & Me

Last night's AMA's at the Nokia Theater in downtown L.A. turned out to be more like a Divas Live concert...and yours truly was front and center for every one of the 19 (!) performances (is it me, or do they continue to outnumber the actual awards given out?). Anyway, check out my highlights of the night HERE.

November 20, 2008

On The 'Street' Where You Live

Shadyside Map

I grew up on Centre Avenue in a city called New Rochelle...but I came of age on Fear Street in a town called Shadyside.

Created and written by the incomparable R.L. Stine, Fear Street was the first (and most successful) teen horror series that could be found on bookshelves all across America in the early-to-mid 90s. It took place in the fictitious hamlet of Shadyside. Much like Springfield in The Simpsons and Fairview in Desperate Housewives, it existed in Anywhere America. Most of the action centered on a long and winding dead-end street named after a powerful dynasty infamous for its "shady" dealings and black magic practices in the 1800s, eventually leading to a curse that was placed on the entire neighborhood.

Before Twilight, there were vamps sucking it up in Goodnight Kiss and Goodnight Kiss 2. Before The Craft, there were witches brewing up trouble in The Burning. And way before those Gossip gals could perfect the art of deception and greed, there was The Rich Girl figuratively and literally backstabbing her way through the senior class of Shadyside High.

FS - Lights Dead

In its early years, Fear Street was the antithesis of the then-popular Sweet Valley High. Instead of fighting over who would take the Wakefield twins to the prom, R.L. had twins fighting over who would murder their cheating boyfriend first (Double Date). Instead of the new girl in town trying to make it on the cheerleading squad to impress her peers, Stine followed the desperate attempts of a girl trying to exorcise the demonic spirit from her pom-pom-shaking BFF (1992's Cheerleaders trilogy). And rather than spend an innocent weekend at a beach house, away from the 'rents, a group of Shadyside teens shack up in an old oceanside hotel and try to escape a knife-wielding maniac in Party Summer (see also: Sunburn, One Evil Summer and non-Fear Street titles like Beach Party, Beach House).

FS - Prom Dreams

Catering to a generation that grew up on the countless Friday the 13ths and Nightmare of Elm Streets that ran on broadcast and cable television at the time, FS was the Harlequin novel equivalent of those horror flicks, tailored for young readers looking for bloody thrills in the pages of a breezy paperback. One could say that R.L. (that's Robert Lawrence, if you're wondering) was also inspired by those very franchises: Lights Out took place at a summer camp terrorized by a killer, and Bad Dreams toted the tagline "Don't go to sleep!" on its illustrated cover.

FS - Perfect Cheerleaders

Needless to say, I was a fanatic. I hung up the calendars on my bedroom wall (up until my freshman year of college). I read every interview with the author (People once did a piece about his life in Manhattan with his wife Jane and his son, Matt, who modeled for the cover of The Perfect Date). I bought his autobiography, It Came from Ohio! and wrote a book report on it in the seventh grade. I know the complete lineage of the Fear family and the detailed history of the street itself (thanks to The Fear Street Saga). And I made sure to run to my local Waldenbooks and order R.L. Stine's debut "adult" novel, Superstitious, well in advance. It had become a habit with me. I had to have the newest book the second it hit the shelves. In the beginning of every month I'd call every bookseller in Westchester County to inquire about any new shipments. I was a regular at the Friar Tuck Bookshop in the New Rochelle Mall (R.I.P.) where Lois, the saleswoman at the register, would give me a polite nod and smile that would say, There's that chubby 11-year-old who has no friends because his nose is always stuck in a book.

What Fear Street ultimately taught me was that anyone can be a psycho if you just put your heart in it (or have your heart possessed by a vengeful ghost who seeks to ruin the lives of those around you)...And you can't rely on adults to help you out when the boy you're dating may turn out to be telepathic serial killer. Besides the run-of-the-mill Psycho Girlfriend/Boyfriend, Shadyside was populated with plenty of homicidal residents: Psycho Nanny, Psycho Stepsister, Psycho Best Friend, Psycho Teacher, Psycho Rock Singer, Psycho Lifeguard, Psycho Long-Lost Brother, Psycho Next-Door Neighbor - hell, even a Psycho Santa (Silent Night 1-3).

Buffy's Sunnydale would have a tough time competing against this town in the contest for Highest Mortality Rate.

Naturally, like all great series, the stories started to run on fumes (I mean, really, how many adjectives can you put in front of "Date" and "Party"?), and R.L. stopped pumping out original material after 1999's 10-part Fear Street Seniors miniseries. It had been a phenomenal run, ten years of terrifying tales of teen angst in suburbia. Shortly thereafter, Stine's name faded from the shelves and J.K. Rowling and her wizard boy wonder took over...

The Young Adult section of every Barnes and Noble in the country would never be the same again.

Fear street nights

An attempt to revisit the series was made in the summer of 2005 when R.L. published a new trilogy called Fear Street Nights. It was supposed to be a sexier, more risque tale, focusing on a group of teens who sneak out at night to hang and drink at a local bar (Ooh, someone contact Child Services) - only to get tangled in some deadly shenanigans. Of course I bought it.

Unfortunately I couldn't get past Book 2.

Nowadays, the wannabe producer in me wants to buy the rights to the series and adapt it for television, perhaps as a companion piece to Supernatural on the CW. If Josh Schwartz could do it with Gossip Girl, then why not me? There's an entire generation out there that has never visited this evil neighborhood, and I think they ought to have the chance to make the trip. Perhaps we could produce a crossover episode in which GG's Blair and Serena leave Manhattan to visit an old frenemy in Shadyside and stumble upon her voodoo doll collection that comes alive at midnight.

Fear Street will always have a special place in my heart. Like any comic-book collector, I plan to keep every paperback edition in mint condition and proudly shelved as a reminder of bookworm days long gone. Consider it my small part of a legacy in progress. Currently on display in my bathroom is some framed artwork I recently stumbled upon from the series, a little shrine dedicated to one of the influences that guided me down the path to a writing career.

Go on Amazon. Visit your local library. Take a walk down the Street...

Hatching my plot to murder some homecoming queens one by one,


*Anyone know about purchasing property rights?

November 07, 2008


sitting and hugging

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the six-plus years I've been in L.A. never have I lived through such an exciting and emotional week. I, along with countless friends, coworkers and acquaintances, cheered and celebrated Barack Obama's victory on Tuesday night. There was a feeling that this country was finally entering a new era, one filled with hope and much-needed unity. However, the joy was short-lived when it was announced on the following morning that Proposition 8 had been passed, allowing the state Constitution to be amended and discriminate against same-sex couples, banning marriage as their civil (read: human) right (*Note: this is after the State Supreme Court had made it legal; never in the history of America has a constitutional amendment been written to discriminate against a group of citizens).

I wanted to show you, my readers - especially those of you on the East Coast - what it's been like living in Los Angeles for the past several days in the aftermath of such a historic and life-changing development. I've managed to collect some photos from those who stormed the boulevards throughout this sprawled-out city, stopping traffic for miles, bringing this city to a standstill that, for once, didn't involve petty fender-benders or "sig alerts".

I realize I am experiencing a movement the magnitude of which I had only read about in history books...and I couldn't be any happier to be a part of it.

I'll keep this relatively short, because I truly feel some of these images can speak for themselves and convey what my words cannot:

beverly hills


Sunset Boulevard never looked so beautiful:

sunset blvd

mormon church2

weho march

get equal

Heading into Westwood Village:

westwood blvd


weho march 2

weho rally


tax exempt no more

keep all families together


outside mormon church

The movement beginning on Wednesday night:

And it doesn't stop there. The city is now anticipating 20,000 people to gather in the Silverlake area on Saturday and in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday to continue their protests and express their outrage.

Proudly fighting hate and inequality,


November 05, 2008

CHANGE: Fall 2008, Vol. 2

change - small vers

No matter where you stand, the truth is undeniable: our country is going through an enormous transition (and it doesn't involve foliage). Frankly, it's exciting as hell.

And what better way to celebrate this new chapter in our history than with a soundtrack to guide you through it all? We'll need all the good tunage we can get while we clean up the mess we're in...iPods ready?

1. "Womanizer" by Britney Spears

2. "Let It Rock" by Kevin Rudolph feat. Lil Wayne

3. "Up" by The Saturdays

4. "Insomnia" by Craig David - Take Ne-Yo's "Closer" and a dash of Chris Brown's "Forever," and voila...

5. "Return the Favor" by Keri Hilson feat. Timbaland - Or, The Way I Are, Part 2:

6. "Last Goodbye" by Avenue

7. "Party in Your Bedroom" by Cash Cash

8. "Human" by The Killers - It's nice to see the boys getting back to their "Mr. Brightside" roots.

9. "Breathing Your Love" by Darin feat. Kat DeLuna

10. "Eat You Up" by Boa - Proving cute Asian girls aren't just for collecting Hello Kitty memorabilia, this Korean import kills:

11. "Taking Back My Love" by Enrique Iglesias feat. Ciara

12. "Don't Want to Go to Bed Now" by Gabriella Cilmi

13. "Starstruck" by Lady GaGa feat. Space Cowboy - A track from the record Fergie and Gwen wish they'd made.

14. "Everyone's At It" by Lily Allen

15. "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" by Beyonce - Let video speak for itself:

16. "Rule the World" by Take That

17. "I Hate This Part" by The Pussycat Dolls - Can't...resist...this vapid...pop...fluff. Damn you, PCD!

18. "Boring" by Pink - Her bonus track off of Funhouse. No ex-husbands were harmed during the recording of this song.

19. "Lost" by Coldplay

20. "The Lovers Are Losing" by Keane

21. "American Boy (Live)" by Sam Sparro - The electro-soul singer from Down Under admirably covers one of the best tracks of the year (and totally makes it his own) in this live session from London.

October 22, 2008

10 Great L.A. Movies

LA movies

Trying to describe what it's like to live in Los Angeles is like trying to tie a knot with a fart - nearly impossible.

Many have attempted to explain what it's like, often calling L.A. its own planet, which I totally get. Oftentimes I catch myself using the adjective schizophrenic, probably because of the multitude of attitudes that layer this city more than the smog that blankets it. Here, you'll find that in most circles transplants outnumber the natives, resulting in a mishmosh of values, personalities and Starbucks latte preferences. And the random physical landscape of the city couldn't reflect this more perfectly: beaches, ghetto alleyways, mountain trails, residential streets, deserts, strip malls - and that's all within an hour's drive.

I've picked ten films that, for me at least, successfully encapsulate the L.A. experience. And after living here for six-plus years, I like to think that I have a firm grasp on what that's all about.

These movies aren't necessarily about show business, the industry that practically acts as the lifeline of this sprawled-out metropolis. They are merely films (of recent memory...sorry, Chinatown) that have managed to subtly capture the elusive essence of L.A. life and prove that it's more than just traffic, palm trees and lunchtime auditions that shape the hazy skyline. It's about something more...transcendent, if you will.

So here they are, in no particular order (because I'm indecisive when it comes to ranking things)...

1. Swingers (1996) - The shadowy-yet-sexy bars. The caravan to random parties in the hills (only an Angeleno driver can appreciate). The spontaneity behind a Vegas road trip...Doug Liman's ode to bromances (before bromances even existed) follows two dreamers trying to get by - and get laid - in a city of millions with the same aspirations. If you're an unemployed (and horny) actor/writer looking to summon the spirit of the film, may I suggest getting a window booth at the 101 Cafe on Franklin Avenue on any given weeknight after 10.

2. Go (1999) - One of my all-time favorite movies boasts an energetic score from one of my all-time favorite musicians, BT. Critically lauded as a Pulp Fiction Jr., this joyride from Doug Liman (hello again) through an eventful 24 hours in the lives of young Angelenos is so watchable because, upon every viewing, you discover a new thread in this Red Bull-fueled tapestry (look, it's a pre-brainwashed Katie Holmes!). Go is a high-risk journey through a nocturnal wonderland of supermarket shenanigans, all-night raves and death-defying car chases - the kind of live-on-the-edge thrills most of us would love to experience, substance-free or not:

3. Laurel Canyon (2002) - Frances McDormand is a record producer who's still in love with the 70s. Christian Bale is her conservative doctor son. Kate Beckinsale plays his studious yet budding sexpot of a fiancee. And Alessandro Nivola channels Coldplay's Chris Martin as a singer-songwriter with a fondness for cougars. All of them live, learn, love and lose in L.A.'s near-mythological playground located somewhere between Hollywood and that desolate wasteland known as the Valley.

4. Friends With Money (2006) - Or, What My Life is Starting to Feel Like. Here's another Frances McDormand flick in which she plays one of three friends to Jennifer Aniston's less fortunate gal pal. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener paints a beautiful portrait of disaffected life in West L.A., steering three marriages through bitterness, childcare dilemmas and mistaken sexual preferences while also delivering all-too-real bits of comedy and heartache against a backdrop straight out of a Restoration Hardware catalog:

5. L.A. Story (1991) - Steve Martin's comedy did for Los Angeles what Woody Allen's Manhattan did for the Big Apple. L.A. Story exposes Southern California as the big, bubbled melting pot of controlled lunacy it really is. And that freeway sign that torments Martin's woeful weatherman? One of the best visual gags ever created. Bonus: Catch a young Sarah Jessica Parker, before she moved to that other City.

6. Clueless (1995) - "You get mad if anyone thinks you live below Sunset." That's just one of the many lines that still gets us, along with the inside jokes about the Valley (such was the trend in the 90s). One of those rare "teen" movies loved by both the young and the old, Clueless is sometimes an exaggerated look at what it's like to grow up in an exaggerated city where learning to drive can be considered an extreme sport.

7. Crash (2004) - Here is one of those few movies that doesn't paint the City of Angels as a glossy Shangri-La filled with tanline-obsessed hardbodies. This Oscar-winning ensemble piece nails the melancholy and loneliness that often permeates L.A.'s tense commuter culture...and probably continues to discourage prospective transplants from moving here.

8. Grand Canyon (1991) - More than just "a Big Chill for the 90s," Lawrence Kasdan's masterfully written character study taps into mid-life crises, racial guilt and the frustration over making a left turn on La Cienega at any given hour of the day, perhaps a precursor of P.T. Anderson's Magnolia. Enhancing the script are nuanced performances from Kevin Kline, Danny Glover and a sturdy supporting cast that includes a toned-down Steve Martin who plays a hotshot movie producer learning to re-prioritize his life after getting shot by a gang member.

9. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) - William Friedkin's kaleidoscope of crime was the antithesis of the then-popular Miami Vice and its glam gunslingers. In the simplest of terms, this cult classic was a cool yet gritty L.A. cop movie - two years before Lethal Weapon came on the scene and reclaimed the title.

10. Less Than Zero (1987) - Sex, coke and pool parties. This is the movie that probably got RDJ started on his infamous drug binges in the 90s (and subsequent legal troubles). Adapted from Bret Easton Ellis's then-controversial novel, LTZ showcased Beverly Hills brats well before Aaron Spelling zoomed in on that ubiquitous zip code. Now, the movie is only great for nostalgic purposes; those Gossip Girl bitches could probably eat these characters for breakfast - and then vomit them up just in time for lunch.

Honorable Mentions: Strange Days (1995), Falling Down (1993), Magnolia (1999), Mullholland Drive (2001), Collateral (2004), The Broken Hearts Club (2000)

Go on and fire up that Netflix queue.


October 20, 2008

At Spike TV's SCREAM Awards

I recently got a shout-out on OhLaLa Magazine:

Hiko on OhLaLa

It was for the kickass weekend I had at Spike TV's SCREAM Awards at the Greek Theater here in L.A.

* Hanging with Seann William Scott and 90210's resident bad girl Annalynne McCord

* Witnessing a Scream reunion between Wes Craven and Neve Campbell

* Crowning a couple of Scream Queens

My extensive coverage for Hot in Hollywood is up and running. Enjoy.

October 14, 2008

Return to the Prep: Part 2


Peeking into dark classrooms and wandering the trophy-lined hallways of Iona Prep on a Saturday night during the Class of '98 Reunion was - in the eloquent words of our valedictorian, Mark Michalowski - "a complete mindfuck."

The flashbacks were in full swing as we four strolled past the rows of polished lockers (yes 4, out of the 198 who graduated ten years ago) - homeroom shenanigans, beating deadlines for the school newspaper, inside jokes during AP Calculus (we bitchslapped logic proofs), rehearsing for weekend speech-and-debate tournaments in Room 209, the hot Italian teacher who had an affair with a senior after graduation...

The reunion wasn't just all about us. The classes of '03, '93, '88, '83, and '78 were in attendance as well. The class of '03, fresh from college - not yet affected by "the real world" - were an eager bunch, enjoying the comeback, happily paying their respects to the school that had sent them off to prestigious universities and into the depths of student loan hell. The class of '83 was loud and obnoxious, most of them drunk from the free beer and wine that flowed throughout the cafeteria, fortysomethings filled up on the best buffet dinner $75 could buy per person.

And then there were the '98ers. Thankfully we had been part of the same circle back in the day. All four of us were speech-and-debate and theater veterans. That night, most of us left our ties at home and dressed in our best jackets and carefully distressed jeans. We did the brief who's-doing-what recap over some shrimp cocktail and white wine. Two of us stayed in New York. One bounced back and forth between Pittsburgh - and Japan. And yours truly was the sole Prepster who had become a West Coaster. Teacher, entrepreneur, scientist and writer.

A framed portrait of our graduating class was on display outside the Tully Gymnasium. Besides commenting on our own photos (that hair! those eyebrows!) we pointed out faces we hadn't seen since 1998, some we never cared to see, and others we had forgotten about ("Where are they now?"). Later, after enjoying some baked ziti and gravy-smothered chicken, we broke away from chatter and music to go on a private tour of our private school. We ended back in the gym, more ginormous than we remembered, and snooped behind the curtains on the stage where we had once embarrassed ourselves in front of friends and family with an a cappella version of My Favorite Year during our senior year (don't ask). We then went on to brave the old locker room where it smelled like several cats had died in a pile of month-old jockstraps covered in vomit.

The night ended shortly after ten. Armed with a souvenir pint glass decorated with the school emblem, I hopped in my mom's car and drove through the streets of New Rochelle, down North Avenue, past old haunts (the Wykagyl Starbucks, where I bought my first mocha frappucino) - just like old times. I made it back to my parents' place in time to catch Anne Hathaway make light of her ex-fiancé drama during her SNL monologue.


I had lowered my expectations during the weeks leading up to this reunion, and I'm glad I did. There was no rekindling of any kind, no grand epiphany by the end of the night, no hooking up with an old flame who would later hold me hostage on a boat so he could smuggle drugs into Mexico, right before shooting him in self-defense and learning that I was pregnant with his child...Way to get my hopes up, Aaron Spelling.

One thing we were able to take away from the night: The crazy fact that Iona Prep's current freshman class was born the year we started our freshman year. Dang.

I could spend paragraphs breaking down the psychology and total strangeness of high school reunions, the reasons why we put ourselves through revisiting a past that's either been too painful or fairly painless (simple curiosity, some kind of closure, research for a screenplay), but why bother? It just happened. We came. We saw. We went back to our regularly scheduled lives. And that's okay.

I plan to hold on to the business cards I collected, the phone numbers I jotted down. Who knows, perhaps we'll meet again. I hear the twenty-year can be a doozy.

But hey, we'll always have Facebook status updates.


September 26, 2008


To celebrate the release of Britney's debut single from her sixth studio album, Circus, I've gone ahead and put it up for all to enjoy.

Not as addictive as last year's "Gimme More," but it continues to prove that the hot mess can still pump out catchy dance pop. Damn.


September 22, 2008

Return to the Prep: Part 1

"I think when you're 18, your personalities conflict, and then you meet up 10 or 15 years later and the playing ground is totally different and you're fine...of course there were nerves going in. But half of it was the buildup everyone else put in on it."

- Shannen Doherty on returning to 90210

iona reunion invite

The way I see it, there are two kinds of people who attend their 10-year high school reunion.

First, there are those who have stayed close to their hometown, their roots, and welcome with open arms the chance to see familiar faces from the past, regardless of what they've achieved over the past decade. The second group, on the other hand, accepts the invitation to return to their alma mater in hopes of subtly showing off what they've achieved since stripping off the cap and gown and bidding adieu to the lockers and lunchmeat.

And then there's me: a sucker for nostalgia, slightly masochistic in his curiosity and simply looking for a reason to escape the palm trees and paparazzi for a while and return to the East Coast for some autumn foliage and hometown glory.

Iona Prep

To prepare myself for Iona Prep's Class of '98 Reunion I visited the school's website to get a glance at any changes I could expect. New to Student Life was a No Cell Phone Policy which was strictly enforced for the classes of '09, '10, '11 and '12 (Just typing those years now seems really bizarre to me). Ten years ago I couldn't fathom the concept of texting and developing a "CrackBerry" addiction. Ten years ago, laptops were a grand luxury bestowed upon the select few who mastered standardized tests and were destined to be shipped off to the Ivy League school of their choice. Now, it appears that anyone can slip a Powerbook into a messenger bag and browse through iTunes during free periods (hooray for Wi-Fi!).

My first journey through the wonderland known as the Internet took place in the school library during my sophomore year. One of my earliest Web memories was visiting the site for Independence Day to watch the countdown to the movie's opening weekend. I had finished my lunch early enough to run down to the library and grab a computer terminal before the usual crowd rushed in (Dorkus Maximus, party of one).

Hacking into each other's e-mail accounts was also a practice we perfected in between classes. There were days during senior year when a friend and I would read another friend's e-mails from an unknown sender (Obviously, names are being withheld for the sake of those with whom I may still keep in touch). The messages referred to a sordid summer that we had never known about. There wasn't anything jawdroppingly scandalous about them, but it was usually an interesting read. We were 17-year-olds after some shits and giggles.

Sometimes the library would be disrupted by the shenanigans from the jocks, meatheads, and stoners of Iona Prep - or, as I like to call them, the IQ-Challenged Posse. Poor Nancy Forrest, the librarian who had to endure the torment of the footballers who pulled practical joke after practical joke every afternoon. The worst was when Senioritis kicked in during the spring. The catcalls and spitballs had evolved into monkey screeches and chair-banging. Shedding her quiet and timid senior-citizen persona, Mount Forrest finally erupted, and a dominating disciplinarian emerged, silencing everyone in the room. "Enough!" she bellowed, and right then the marrow in my bones would freeze. The woman could have been a dominatrix for Hitler under those cardigans and plaid slacks.

Our headmaster, a moustached mullet-wearer with a voice comparable to a used-car salesman on Vicodin, would usually be called into the library whenever it got out of hand. He'd call out some names from his list of usual suspects, and those unfortunate souls would then spend an hour with him after the final bell rang at the end of the day.

The 2:41 Club was the name for those students who never stayed after hours to participate in extracurricular activities. They were the ones who ran out of the building at 2:41, the final bell, and were never seen again until the the next morning. They were the loners, the nobodies, the invisible freaks...and I had been one of them up until the end of my sophomore year.

I had been in the library during lunch period trying to get a headstart on my homework (Melrose Place was a two-hour that night) when I was recruited by the persistent Ricky to join the school's successful Forensics team. This was in the fall of 1996, a time when the words "college," "future" and "involvement" were thrown around to scare us into joining extracurriculars and building an impressive record for those selective universities that would further shape us into outstanding members of society (they don't call it a prep school for nothing).

iona prep forensics 03

Involving neither cadavers nor fingerprint dusting (which is the usual impression), Forensics dealt more with playwrights and extemporaneous speaking - a.k.a speech and debate. I leaned more on the speech side, Oral Interpretation to be exact. I was given some prose and poetry to recite for judges at small local tournaments, coached by Mr. "I Love Denim Jackets" Sloat and Brother "I Love Theatrics" Cavet. My prose selection was "Here There Be Tygers," a short story by Stephen King, and for my poetry portion I recited several works from the late and great Shel Silverstein. I learned how to master diction, how to perfect subtle arm movements and how to alternate the pitches of my voice when playing several characters at once.

Those of us in OI would make patients with multiple-personality disorders look like amateur Muppet actors.

By the end of my junior year my prose and poetry readings had taken me as far as Albany (The State Tournament, in which I won 2nd Place) and Baltimore (the Catholic National Tournament, in which I placed in the top 24). Looking back, the Baltimore experience was a lot like the Hollywood rounds of American Idol - except there wasn't any melodramatic weeping...and most contestants were obsessed with Tennessee Williams and Newt Gingrich. And just like Idol, everyone got along, especially with those on rival teams from other schools. Of course, once we got back to our hotel rooms, we talked about them behind their backs and ripped on how cheesy their deliveries were, how awful their tones sounded, how horrid their hair looked with that secondhand wardrobe.

We were a bitchy lot.

I look forward to reliving some of these memories come October 4. I'm keeping the expectations low, realizing that there can never exist a reunion quite as superfabulous as Romy and Michelle's. I will not search for redemption in a three-way dance to the strings of "Un-Break My Heart". Likewise, I will not be whisked away in a helicopter while my former enemies are blown away into the bushes, tupees flying over the parking lot (I didn't have enemies - everyone freakin' loved me).

I'll go with an open mind, knowing that I may learn a little more about myself in addition to the fellas I haven't seen since that momentous summer of '98. I'm sure there will be promised efforts to keep in touch, exchanges of business cards, photos taken for the alumni newsletters (and Facebook albums). But I also can't help feeling that it may just be a fleeting experience, one that may quickly be forgotten, or one that may deliver closure for some and new opportunities for others.

We shall see...

Ooh, will you look at that. It's almost 2:41.

Gotta run.


"I invented Post-Its."

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