BLOG OF THE YEAR: A 2011 Review


2011 was what I consider The Year of the Departure.

Oprah, Regis, Meredith Viera, and Susan Lucci all said goodbye to their daytime audiences. Katie Couric peaced out on the CBS Evening News. Harry Potter finally bid adieu to Hogwarts. The Walker clan danced into that good night on Brothers & Sisters (to Lady Gaga no less). Steve Jobs and Amy Winehouse left us too soon. And yours truly left a comfy position at Anonymous Content after four-and-a-half years of working in commercial production. It seems like wherever you turned, someone was embarking on a new chapter of his or her life, whether voluntarily or not, in the first year of this new decade.

Joining the unemployment ranks, I did what any jobless/freelance schmo would do - buy an iPhone 4, go to Vegas, and accumulate enough fast-food receipts to form a sizable pile on my desk at home. 2011 was the year I got in touch with my "inner artist" and attempted to live the life of a writer - whatever that is. In theory, it's a romanticized period spent sitting with my laptop in different coffeeshops every week, meeting a handful of deadlines, taking in a few movies here and there, going to the gym on my own time, and having the liberty to pursue whatever (or whoever) I want. In reality, it involves getting increasingly familiar with daytime television (I'd like to have lunch with Wendy Williams and Anderson Cooper - at the same time), maintaining my dignity with an occasional ramen noodle dinner, fighting with my bank to refund an overdraft charge or two (or seven), and ignoring the incessant phone calls from student loan collectors. But hey, at least someone was crazy enough to give me my own TV column!

And I must admit that getting a chance to meet and interview the likes of Justin Timberlake, Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Will Ferrell, and Henry Cavill for that other little blog of mine proved to be a sweet perk I enjoyed throughout the past year.

In other words, I've collected tons of fodder for future memoirs. But this being the end of another year, as usual, I'd like to look back and revisit the facets of the popular culture that has, in the words of Mother Monster, "become our religion."

Who's ready to reflect and pray with me?


FILM PICKS OF 2011



"What world are you living in? I don't need friends. I need fans."
- Jill Roberts, Scream 4


Besides Harry Potter breaking records in July, I broke my own personal record in moviegoing attendance (80+ films in theaters - granted, one-third of these included press, festival, and premiere screenings...and yes, I keep a log of when and what I see). And after sitting through hours of cinematic treats (Gwyneth Paltrow dies in the first ten minutes of a film!) and treacle (Really? Edward eats out Bella's baby? Wait, that didn't come out right), I've come up with ten particular movies that stood out and captivated me. These are the films that did more than just tickle my fancy. They inspired, they broke ground, and they re-instilled my belief that Hollywood hasn't totally fallen into the crapper with its relentless reboots, reunions, and regurgitated ideas:

1. Weekend - This little indie that came out of nowhere gave moviegoers one of the most heartbreaking and honest portrayals of contemporary romance. Writer-director Andrew Haigh's intensely intimate British love story is the Before Sunrise for the Grindr generation, a three-day glimpse into the lives of two Nottingham blokes (Tom Cullen and Chris New) that reassures us - regardless of religion, race, or sexuality - the most tender and the most important connections made are human ones. Clearly demonstrating that the struggle for an authentic life is universal and comes in all forms, Weekend is ultimately about the search for identity and the importance of making a passionate commitment to one's life. The New York Times said it best: It's "astonishingly self-assured, unassumingly profound, and one of the most satisfying love stories you are likely to see on screen."

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 - An enormously satisfying conclusion to the biggest franchise in film history, Harry & Co. went out with several bangs, plenty of deaths, and an emotional wallop that stayed with us long after the final credits rolled. Every story, every bit-part player (Emma Thompson gets three seconds of screen time, and we're still blown away!), and every magical nook and cranny came together with expert precision like cogs in an enchanted machine. All in all, a 10-year investment (2001-2011) that definitely paid off. Easily the best experience I had in the theater all year.

3. Beginners - Christopher Plummer will most likely be overlooked by the Academy for his gentle performance as Hal, a 75-year-old man who discovers his true self, in Mike Mills's semi-autobiographical character study. Ewan McGregor and the magnetic Melanie Laurent respectively give fine performances as Oliver and Anna, Hal's struggling son and the woman he falls for. And three cheers for that subtitle-communicating Jack Russell Terrier.

4. Super 8 - My favorite action film of the year provides a much-needed reminder of how magical movies - particularly summer ones - can be. Featuring the best young cast since 1986's Stand By Me, every scene of J.J. Abrams's Spielbergian mash-up of Close Encounters and The Goonies is a thrillingly paced, character-driven adventure. It's also a tender portrait of a pre-XBox, pre-YouTube, pre-iPhone generation that once created their own fun rather than constantly consumed it.

5. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Besides featuring an opening credits sequence that would rival any 007 intro, David Fincher's masterfully balanced adaptation of the international bestseller is packed with so much info, so much character, so much story, none of it is ever lost on the audience - a cinematic miracle. Fans of the original Swedish trilogy who feared a sterile Americanization should breathe a sigh of relief. Nothing's been compromised; the nasty bits have been kept intact, and Rooney Mara is a solid Lisbeth Salander. You can say otherwise. Just don't fuck with her laptop.

6. Page One: Inside the New York Times - A top-notch, suspenseful thriller about the impending doom of a global institution...and it's a documentary. Andrew Rossi's unprecedented inside-look at the most famous newspaper in the world also paints a portrait of the faces behind the renowned content and reveals just how endangered of a species print media is. Journalist David Carr, whom most of the film follows, supplies some tasty soundbites as we watch his career, and those of his constituents, hang by a thread.

7. The Help - Or, what I like to call The Fried Green Tomatoes of the 2010s. This southern-fried, feel-damn-good drama earns bragging rights for featuring the best ensemble of the year. Each actress in Tate Taylor's sharply executed adaptation gets a well-deserved moment to shine. Viola Davis, just when I thought you couldn't top yourself after your scene-stealing moment in Doubt, you blow me away here. And Octavia Spencer? You had me at "Eat my shit."

8. The Descendants - Sure, Clooney does another sterling job, this time as Matt King, a Hawaiian land owner who must come to terms with his comatose wife's infidelity reevaluate his sense of fatherhood, but it's newbie Shailene Woodley (from ABC Family's The Secret Life of an American Teenager? Really?) who supplies the breakthrough performance in Alexander Payne's so-poignant-and-real-it-hurts family drama.

9. Midnight in Paris - If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I would be placing a Woody Allen film on this list, I'd probably stare you down for several minutes, eventually brush you off, and try to remember the last time I enjoyed a movie from the neurotic auteur (that would be Manhattan Murder Mystery). But thankfully I was lucky enough to have stumbled upon this love letter to literature in which an enjoyable Owen Wilson becomes an unassuming time traveler in Paris and mingles with the literary giants of the 20th century. For any writer, bibliophile, or fan of nostalgia it's a decadent fantasy worth revisiting, especially if it only involves few minutes of waiting on a street corner for an antique car to come whisk you away to a local speakeasy.

10. Bridesmaids - The moment Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph's characters sit down over coffee for a round of effortless, off-the-cuff girl talk, I knew something special was going on here. Bridesmaids, disguised as a gross-out chick flick (who knew those two words could work together?), is really a sweet statement about friendship and the challenging changes that sometimes threaten it (relocating to another city, losing a BFF to a fiance). And thank you, Judd Apatow, for introducing us to the absolutely charming Irishness of Chris O'Dowd, an unassuming romantic lead who makes for the best romantic lead.

AND 10 VERY HONORABLE MENTIONS

Cedar Rapids, Attack The Block, Hanna, Crazy Stupid Love, Contagion, Limitless, Insidious, Horrible Bosses, Shame, and Warrior.


BEST FILM SHOT IN 2007 ONLY TO BE RELEASED FOUR YEARS LATER

Take Me Home Tonight


DISAPPOINTED, AS EXPECTED

New Year's Eve, Sucker Punch, and Cowboys and Aliens


SURPRISINGLY DIDN'T DISAPPOINT

Fright Night, Source Code, and 50/50


BEST SNEAK PEEKS OF 2012:

The Hunger Games, Rock of Ages, and The Cabin in the Woods.



TV PICKS OF 2011



"Someday your fans are going to work for my fans."
- Alex Dunphy, Modern Family


The kids were defintely not all right in 2011. While MTV birthed an American version of Skins, pretty girls with ugly problems dominated the news (I'm looking at you, Casey Anthony and Amanda Knox), Jersey Shore continued to kill brain cells (this time bringing the bronzer overseas), and the good old Family Television Council had another bone to pick with Glee. The great news is that females were delivering better than ever on the "boob" tube. Wives were Good, Girls were Broke, and Zooey Deschanel used her adorkable powers for good. Oh, and Sarah Michelle Gellar wisely returned to the medium that made her. I could go on and on (I mean, really, I could spend an entire night discussing the improvements of The Real Housewives of New Jersey), but let's get to it: Here are the ten pieces of television that titillated, tantalized, and thoroughly entertained my ass during the past 12 months...

1. Happy Endings (ABC) - Sure, they're a bunch of young urbanites navigating life and love with laughter, but whereas Friends now seems so quaint (and so 90s), this sophisticated group of buds have turned rapid-fire dialogue and gut-busting non-sequiturs into an artform. Huge claps for Casey Wilson, who plays unlucky-in-love Penny with a slight adorkable desperation that doesn’t get too grating, and the hysterical Damon Wayans Jr. whose Brad is an irresistibly dashing cad with a goofball edge.

2. The Killing (AMC) - True, most episodes left me wanting to reach for a raincoat (and that finale may have been a cop-out), but the first-rate ensemble and killer writing brought life to this dreary tale of a murdered Seattle teen and those affected by her gruesome death (Michelle Forbes, I always knew you'd get Emmy recognition). And special kudos goes to Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman for their dynamic chemistry as Linden and Holden, the most original and watchable pairing since Mulder and Scully.

3. Cinema Verite (HBO) - One of the year’s most pleasant surprises was seeing The Secret Circle’s Thomas Dekker effortlessly play Lance Loud (his best role to date), the out-and-proud son of America’s first reality-TV family in 1973. Diane Lane, Tim Robbins, and James Gandolfini also shine in this fantastic fictionalized behind-the-scenes account of the groundbreaking PBS documentary series, An American Family.

4. American Horror Story (FX) - Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's enjoyably twisted take on the haunted house genre was everything I expected from the minds behind polar-opposite Glee. Jessica Lange couldn't have chewed enough scenes this season as Constance, the next-door neighbor with plenty of secrets up her sleeves, and Evan Peters brought it as the tortured Tate, television’s chilliest teen.

5. Homeland (Showtime) - Who knew little, angsty Angela Chase would grow up and return to television in a political potboiler? Clare Danes is pitch-perfect as a conspiracy theorist, and what the dynamic drama does best is balance both sides of the character coin. Who’s good? Who’s bad? The fun is all in the guessing.

6. The Hour (BBC America) - Even the Brits are feeling the Mad Men Effect. This densely plotted, richly written chronicle of the BBC's early days is equal parts 50s spy thriller and journalistic drama. And the alluring trifecta that is Dominic West, Ben Whishaw, and Romola Garai is an engaging piece of casting. No wonder why The Playboy Club flopped and Pan Am is floundering. The Hour has a style and intelligence all its own.

7. Hot in Cleveland (TV Land) - There’s something very 80s about this comfortably traditional sitcom. These three golden boomers (and one Golden Girl) hit their stride during the cable-com's second season, and the undeniable charisma of this cast of comedy veterans is what drives each episode. Get in on the fun – the third season just started.

8. 2 Broke Girls (CBS) – Hipster-hating Max (the sharp-tongued Kat Dennings) and spoiled-rich Caroline (a bubbly Beth Behrs) are the breakout duo of the TV season in this Whitney Cummings concoction (not to be confused with her other, shoulda-been-canceled-by-now sitcom). Girl power has never been this funny.

9. The Oprah Winfrey Show (ABC) - The void Oprah left in daytime television will certainly be felt for some time to come, and we will forever be grateful for the 25 enlightening years the talk show titan gave us. In the weeks leading up to her poignant farewell, watching Winfrey was like experiencing a greatest hits collection. Every show, every guest, was impressive, provocative, and ultimately satisfying. And as for that lecture-filled finale? I'm still soaking up those memorable life lessons.

10. Revenge (ABC) – For all intents and purposes, this suds-filled drama about rich people with problems shouldn’t have made this list (boring billboards, lackluster promos), but after experiencing the first ten episodes, I became a convert. Why does it work? While Desperate Housewives satirized primetime soaps (and suburbia), Revenge refreshingly plays it straight. Icy glares. Delectable dialogue. And enough twists (Tyler’s a hustler?!) to make us shiver with anticipation for the next episode. That said, welcome back Madeline Stowe.

HONORABLE MENTION:


The Royal Wedding (all networks) - As inescapable and overdone as the coverage was for William and Kate's regal tying of the knot, Americans couldn’t help but swoon over the tastefully done fairy-tale production of this historic affair.


MUSIC PICKS OF 2011


"It isn't hell if everybody knows my name."
- Lady Gaga, The Edge of Glory


American Top 40 in 2011 sounded more like an Ibiza soundtrack from 2000. For every house-inspired beat, there was a synth-driven chorus striving to be everyone's anthem, and for every lyric commanding us to dance until the world ended, there was another telling us to throw our hands up in the air and just "have a good time" (thank you, LMFAO). But not all was gloss and glitter. The following gems made impacts that will far outlast any spotlight-hogging, AutoTuned fart machine:

1. 21 by Adele - Exquisite. Cathartic. Soul-baring. Gorgeous. The list of shining adjectives that have been applied to the 12 songs that make this brilliant collection are endless. And for those late to the party, there was that stirring live rendition of "Someone Like You" at the VMAs that scored the girl new fans; the song quickly shot to #1 on the charts, making her only the 15th British artist to top the list in the past 20 years. And it's no surprise that the girl's been adorned with multiple Grammy nods, including - just as I had predicted - Album of the Year. The singer who made her pain our pain succeeded in crossing generations (finally a pop star both teenyboppers and grandparents have in common!) and standing out amidst all the synths and dubsteps that permeated the charts. To quote one Cathy Dennis, is this for real, or is this just another dream? 21's standouts: "Rolling In The Deep," "Rumour Has It," "Set Fire to the Rain," and "Turning Tables". A true future classic.

2. "Helena Beat" by Foster The People - The hipster trio that was on everyone's party playlist surprised the music industry with the popular, un-Top-40-like "Pumped Up Kicks" (seriously, did it have to play at every Hollywood afterparty, boutique opening, Comic-Con event, and barbershop?), but it's their second single that truly delivers the goods, making hopelessness sound so...glorious. And the delightfully twisted Lord-of-the-Flies-meets-Mad-Max video provides plenty of offbeat visuals to accompany such an epically offbeat yet harmonious jam:



*And may I also recommend the equally mesmerizing "Houdini"?

3. "The Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga - Easily the best single to come off Born This Way, "Glory" outshined the album's title track simply by being unassuming with its message and employing the late and great Clarence Clemons, who delivers an epic sax solo that raises the song to new heights of, well, glory.

4. "Young Blood" by The Naked and Famous - Another epic anthem of 2011 came from this alternative bunch. Taking cues from MGMT's 2008 "Time to Pretend," "Blood" rejoices in its quest "to find the in-between" and revels in its airy synths, creating pop music you can dream to:



5. "No Light, No Light" by Florence and the Machine - Leave it to good ol' Flo to kick it up a notch on her glowing sophomoric effort, especially with this second single from the majestic Ceremonials. What starts out as a timid response to a demanding lover transforms into a groundshaking and liberating declaration. Those thundering drums, that rousing chorus - this is pop music that causes its listeners to have a religious experience. Get down on your knees and worship, dammit.

6. "Princess of China" by Coldplay feat. Rihanna - The collaboration that should have never worked...works. Whether or not you think this was the British superband's jump-the-shark moment in an attempt to guarantee radio airplay and consistent sales, you can't deny the soaring and unexpected awesomeness of this single. To Chris Martin & Co. I say: Kudos for upping the electronic quotient in your repertoire and evolving your sound without completely veering off your musical course.

7. How Do You Do by Mayer Hawthorne - He could be Adele's (or Robin Thicke's) geekier long-lost brother, a white boy with soul who's bringing Motown into the 21st century and garnering support from the likes of Mark Ronson. On "The Walk," the first single from How Do You Do, Hawthorne plays a man scorned and content with saying "So long, you did me wrong" to the lady in his life. "A Long Time" is both a brilliant homage to Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen" and a storied history of Hawthorne's beloved Detroit, followed by a duet - yes, a duet - with Snoop Dogg on "Can't Stop." Someone get this guy booked on a talk show.

8. "Stay Awake" by Example - The London rapper delivers a hard-hitting and resonating dance single with a message for the world, one that also poses the most intriguing question ever asked in pop music: "Did we chase the rabbit into Wonderland?"



9. "Shield and Sword" by Clare Maguire - If Gaga, Adele, and Florence had a three-way and used Annie Lennox as the surrogate then...well, that should clearly tell you what this Welsh broad is like. Witness it all here.

10. "Moment 4 Life" by Nicki Minaj - Yes, "Super Bass" was great and all (and followed you wherever you went in 2011), but here is where the Gaga of Hip-Hop created something rare: an existential rap single. Oh, and the Drake cameo ain't too bad either.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:


Beyonce's sass-filled "Schoolin' Life", David Guetta's empowering "Titanium" (featuring Sia), and Jessie J's joyous "Abracadabra" and "Domino."


MUSICAL MVP'S OF THE YEAR:


Whistles - Britney's "I Wanna Go," Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks," Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger" (feat. Christina Aguilera).

and...


The Saxophone - Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night," Gaga's "The Edge of Glory," Alexandra Stan's "Mr. Saxobeat," Dev's "Dancing in the Dark".

MUSIC VIDEOS OF THE YEAR:


1. Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (TGIF)" - A crowd-pleasing exercise in 80s nostalgia. And bonus points for the Debbie Gibson and Corey Feldman cameos.

2. Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend" - A ridiculously simple yet effective piece in which the Swede With The 1991 Bowl Cut lets loose and dances. Her. Ass. Off. In one take!

3. Swedish House Mafia's "Save the World" - A funny, touching, and random ode to the the four-legged superheroes in our lives (by the way, the single is nominated for a Best Dance Recording Grammy, and rightly so):



And that just about does it.

See you next year,

H.P.M.


Lady Gaga Marries The Night (And The Director's Chair)

"When I look back on my life, it's not like I want to see things as exactly as they happened. It's just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way..."

And so begins the 8-minute short film that precedes the long-awaited music video (and by long-awaited, I mean one whole month) for Gaga's personal ode to the city that gave birth to her, "Marry The Night." Upon viewing it a second time - and like most fans and pop culture hounds - I tried to scrape away the make-up and somewhat pretentious direction (yes, she's now aiming for a DGA membership, and from the looks of it, she has a hard-on for Kubrick) to see what the hell is really going on here.

..."And truthfully, the lie of it all is much more honest because I invented it..."

However oxymoronic that is, she goes on to tell us, while being transported on a gurney by a pair of fashionable nurses (one with "a great ass"), that memories are killed by trauma, her past is an "unfinished painting," and she "loathes reality." So, what she's offering us in this "Prelude Pathetique" is a glimpse into a little personal history after distracting us with avant-garde costumes, flashy cuts, overacting, and iconic metaphors. Could her music-video self here be a version of her true past self?

For those who'll be too impatient to sit through the next five minutes and will want to just fast-forward to the actual music video, you'll only be missing a messy montage in which she makes love to a box of Cheerios (Honey Nut, from the looks of it), poses as a ballerina who will never fit in, gets naked in a bathtub, cries like the former struggling artist she was (back when she was living in a ramshackled studio apartment in the Village), and flashes her boobs while high on whatever drug of choice was trendy in the mid-2000s.

You see, kids? It's autobiographical.

Next, she finally manages to break free from the chains that kept her hands tied for so long (Goodbye ambiguous figures of suppression!) and go out into the real world to pursue some artistic integrity - and a record deal, of course.

Then we get to the music...and the dancing. But first, before I forget, there's some awkward writhing in the driver seat of a Trans Am and exploding cars that must have been a bitch to manage on set (those production-hired fire marshalls can be sticklers sometimes).

Cut to Gaga in a dance studio, training to be the best she can be, and putting her ego on display by being the only dancer moving in heels (gotta stand out, don't ya Gaga?). The scene is very Fame, and it's pretty tight. And thankfully we finally get to see some Mark Kanemura action here as well.

Also interesting is the all-too-brief dance sequence underneath an El Train (maybe in the Bronx?). Here Gaga is in her element, in her natural habitat, tearing up the streets in her stilettos, and soaking up the energy of good ol' New York City, which is what the song is all about.

Okay, enough reading. Just watch:

Overall, the whole thing, as some haters might argue, is one giant, live-action diorama for her ego. I mean, she has the balls to predict in the prologue what colors will be big next spring (check those surgical caps); it clearly demonstrates that she knows she's earned enough clout to shape the future of fashion (and music). And anyone who strives to direct her own music video must be some kind of control freak, right? Maybe, but you have to give the Italian Catholic schoolgirl some credit. She's non-stop, always creating, always bleeding herself out. Can you blame her? She is, I think, the product of a short attention-spanned society that tends to be quick when it comes to favoring a new flavor every so often, which is ironic considering most of her current videos are 12-minute opuses (but that's a thesis paper for another time). It's okay, girl. Take a breather. We wouldn't want to see you implode.

But in the meantime, go ahead. Marry that night. As long as it's legal in New York State.

Sincerely,

A Little Monster.


Justin Bieber & Mariah Carey Redo A Contemporary Christmas Classic

Five things about the recent music video debut for Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You (SuperFestive!)," the collaboration no one saw coming because, frankly, we were already used to (or prefer) the dozen or so versions of this 1994 yuletide tune from artists like Michael Buble, Lady Antebellum, and that little girl at the end of Love Actually (God, what a good movie).

1. There is indeed something superfestive about a Jenny Craig spokeswoman lip-syncing to a song she originally recorded 17 years ago, back when her current duet partner was a mere fetus.

2. Cheers to the publicity team behind Macy's for coming up with a way to lure more shoppers to its already overcrowded counters and migrane-inducing florescent lighting.

3. As blatant as that Nintendo 3DS product placement is, it isn't as obvious as the soft lighting Ms. Carey is now regularly utilizing whenever a camera is pointed at her.

4a. There's no way in retail hell that a department store stampede would be so calm and controlled.

4b. And something tells me the shots of Mariah and Justin frolicking in the sleigh was the only time the two had met (I sympathize with the line producer who had to balance the schedules of both pop divas to get this accomplished).

5. I'm pretty sure that wasn't the real West 34th Street outside.

That said, enjoy:



Needless to say, I prefer the 1994 version.


Random Thought of the Week #28

What if there were a Broadway musical based on the discography of Ace of Base? Hey, if it happened to ABBA, it could happen to everyone's favorite Swedes from the 90s.

If I ran things, I'd simply call it The Sign, an epic romance set against the backdrop of the "turbulent yet carefree 1990s" (as quoted from my hypothetical Playbill). Perhaps we could be treated to an emotional rendition of "Don't Turn Around" in which our hero and heroine are on the verge of a teary-eyed break-up. Maybe our heroine doesn't approve of her man's lifestyle as a jewel thief and con artist and breaks out into a rip-roaring version of "Living in Danger," complete with choreography by Mia Michaels or Travis Wall.

Just throwing it out there. And if it does happen, just remember who came up with the idea first.



H.P.M.


DIARY OF THE FUNEMPLOYED: Free Caffeine Fix

My relationship with coffee didn't begin until I was 21 (call me a late bloomer).

It was a cold autumn morning in 2001. To make a few extra bucks my college roommate and I got up at the buttcrack of dawn to stand in line at the Fleet Center in downtown Boston and wait for the box office to open. The "job" consisted of buying the maximum number of tickets (premium seats, whatever the event) for a local ticket brokerage firm that later sold them "at premium prices" to their "clients." We were to meet a contact who would give us hundreds of dollars in cash for the purchase (they held onto our IDs as collateral so that we wouldn't run off). Although it seemed shady and sneaky, it was a totally legit operation. And it paid in cash. One hundred bucks for two hours of our time.

Anyway, what got me up and ready for the early task was a cup of vanilla roast from Dunkin' Donuts. My roommate, Steve, had introduced me to it. It was warm and smooth and invigorating (the spoonfuls of sugar and heavy cream, I'm sure, had something to do with it as well). Holy Splenda this was good! Was this what I had been missing out on? The closest I came to coffee was an obsession with Starbucks Mocha Frappucinos for a good part of my junior year of high school.

I was hooked. Coffee good.

Cut to a decade later, and I can't seem to get through most mornings without a cup of joe. True, I did invest in a Mr. Coffee just over a year ago so that my budget wouldn't be blown on overpriced lattes at every Peets, Starbucks, and Coffee Bean I seemed to frequent in my neighborhood. However, there's something about those grande-sized cups with the brown cardboard sleeves and green logos. They've become, in a way, status symbols. A nice, steaming venti cup is an indicator of where you stand in society. It tells people, Yeah, I can afford giant caramel macchiato every day - what are you gonna do about it? So what if I'm too lazy to make some at home? And there's no way in hell I'll drink that mulch they make at the office. And don't even get me started on the irresistible holiday cups with their festive red and white designs. Ah, eggnog lattes...

Sorry, where was I?

With the way my budget is going, I'm lucky to afford 2 small fancy cups a week. However, I've managed to find a few cheaper alternatives. First, there are those press junkets I've had the pleasure of attending. As I've mentioned before, the free food ain't too shabby, but what's even greater is the endless supply of coffee, particularly at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Silver spoons, herbal teas, and cream, oh my! I always make sure to grab a to-go cup before I leave so that I'm caffeinated for the remainder of the day.

Then there's my bank. Although they love charging me an annoying checking account fee every month (I really do think they enjoy squeezing every penny out of me in order to contribute to their obscene, annual $5 billion-dollar profit), I thank them for their little coffee station. Instead of making my transactions at the ATM outside I will walk into my branch - even for the slightest of reasons - just to get my hands on one of those complementary Styrofoam cups, sprinkle some non-dairy creamer and pour some hot black stuff to get me going. I wonder if the tellers would notice if I brought in a thermos to fill up for the rest of the day...

The other day I walked into said bank for the sole purpose of a free coffee. I had no paycheck to deposit, nothing to withdraw. In order to keep up the charade, I held in my hand an old pay stub, pretending to prep myself for a transaction. I went up to the counter, grabbed a deposit slip, started to fill out a few numbers, and then feigned frustration as I crumpled up the slip of paper and backtracked - this time stopping at the coffee station. "Oh, might as well grab a cup while I'm here," said my body language. I filled up, flashed a smile at the bank manager, and made my merry way back home.

Desperate? Or just plain creative in my thriftiness?

H.P.M.


THE SANTA SESSIONS: The 2011 Holiday Playlist


This was inevitable. After all, if Justin Bieber and Zooey Deschanel can pop out Christmas compilations, then why can't I?

I've always believed that a steady, well-balanced diet of contemporary and classic holiday tunes is necessary for any celebration involving tinsel, candy canes, and spiked eggnog. Therefore I've come up with a small sample of what's on my playlist between now and December 25. I mean, there's only so many times I can listen to Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" on the radio, so I'll be relying on my iPod to deck the halls with boughs of ear candy.

1. "When Christmas Comes" by Mariah Carey & John Legend
2. "Shake Up Christmas" by Natasha Bedingfield
3. "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" by Michael Buble
4. "I'll Be Home For Christmas" by Katharine McPhee
5. "White Christmas (Live)" by Lady Gaga



6. "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" by Charice
7. "All I Want For Christmas Is New Year's Day" by Hurts
8. "Winter Wonderland" by Jason Mraz
9. "Do You Hear What I Hear?" by Kristinia DeBarge
10. "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Leighton Meester
11. "Last Christmas" by Jimmy Eat World
12. "Grown-Up Christmas List" by Monica:



13. "Wonderful Christmastime" by Kelly Rowland
14. "Child of Winter" by Rachel and the Reindeerz - A shameless plug for my friend Rachel who worked on this merry little Beach Boys cover last year and turned it into a cheery viral hit.
15. "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" by The Glee Cast - An original pop number that will get your head bopping while trimming the tree and hanging up those stockings with care.
16. "Mistletoe & Holly" by Leigh Nash
17. "Merry Christmas Everybody" by Steps - Because nothing screams "cheesy kitschy fun" like this poptastic early 2000s gem from the Britpop superstars.
18. "Carol Of The Bells" by The Bird And The Bee
19. "All Alone on Christmas" by Darlene Love - An oldie from the early 90s (yes, it's also from the Home Alone 2: Lost in New York soundtrack), and it is one helluva rollicking good time.
20. "The Christmas Song (Thunderpuss Remix)" by Christina Aguilera - It wouldn't be Christmas without some diva theatrics set to an over-the-top remix. Perfect for those yuletide rooftop soirees in Chelsea:



21. "Love Is Christmas" by Sara Bareilles
22. "Last Christmas" by Cascada - If one version wasn't enough, then check out this club-friendly rendition from the Queen of Eurodance Trash.
23. "Sleigh Ride" by Debbie Gibson - A flashback to the 80s to help you reminisce about that Hot Wheels playset you found underneath the tree (or is that just me?).
24. "The Christmas Song" by Justin Bieber & Usher - I hesitate to put this on here, but Usher offers some redeeming vocals to turn this holiday classic into a late-night slow jam.
25. "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by The Glee Cast

Happy Holidays,

H.P.M.


Random Thought of the Week #27


There's something consoling about seeing a Rolls Royce waiting in line at a McDonald's drive-thru.

Rich people: they have cravings just like us.

H.P.M.


Titanic 3D: Bringing 1997 Back

So, it appears James Cameron is resurrecting his cash cow from 1997 for a 2012 audience. You know, the one about the big boat that sinks (if you consider that a spoiler, then welcome back from Jupiter).

I guess it's the lesser of two evils. I mean, at least it's not a remake...or a sequel. Oh, wait, that already happened.

Go ahead. Roll your eyes. Let's see how many fools will be clamoring for those 3D glasses come April. After all, if you think about it, there's now a entire generation that hasn't experienced this romantic epic on the big screen, and after devouring the 3D spectacle that was Avatar, these kids today just might bite and a buy an overpriced ticket to see "that guy from Inception" and "that MILF from Contagion" get it on the backseat of a 1912 Renault. Take a look at the newfangled trailer:



*Yes, it's true that I saw this film three times in the theater when I was senior in high school. Yes, it's true that I proudly own Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love on which the ubiquitous "My Heart Will Go On" can be found. And yes, it's true that my prep school friends and I would lip sync to the ballad like crazy in my dad's 1992 Camry while driving through the streets of New Rochelle.

Your judgments have been noted and quickly dismissed.

H.P.M.


FROST FACTOR: The 2011 Winter Playlist


Winter technically doesn't start until December 21 (Happy 90th, Grandma), but I'm here to prep you ahead of time. This one's for the Thanksgiving dinners, the Black Friday trips to the mall, the commute to work as you sip on a peppermint mocha and mentally put together what you'll be wearing to the office holiday party.

1. "Princess of China" by Coldplay feat. Rihanna - The collaboration that should've never worked...works.
2. "Love On Top" by Beyonce
3. "Holidays" by Miami Horror - I'm a little late to the party celebrating this Australian electro-pop group. And the title of this carefree jam just happens to fit the season.
4. "No Light, No Light" by Florence and the Machine - My favorite track off the majestic Ceremonials is also one of the best singles of 2011. Rise up and rejoice.
5. "The One That Got Away" by Katy Perry - Because the girl (or her record label) would like to smash Michael Jackson's record and make this her sixth consecutive #1 single from Teenage Dream.
6. "Turn Me On" by David Guetta feat. Nicki Minaj
7. "Call It What You Want" by Foster The People:



8. "Room for Happiness" by Kaskade feat. Skylar Grey
9. "Mouth 2 Mouth" by Enrique Iglesias feat. Jennifer Lopez - This duet, 10 years in the making, finally dropped/leaked last month, and while it's pleasantly derivative at best, I can't wait for the remixes:



10. "Lightning" by The Wanted
11. "It Will Rain" by Bruno Mars
12. "Run Dry (X Heart X Fingers)" by Patrick Stump - The former Fall Out Boy frontman impresses with a soulfully funky vibe no one saw coming.
13. "Down For Whatever" by Kelly Rowland feat. The WAV.s:



14. "Nothing" by The Script - Because there's nothing like a little Irish croon to go with your gingerbread latte.
15. "Calling All The Monsters" by China Anne McClain
16. "Up" by James Morrison feat. Jessie J
17. "Dance With Me Tonight" by Olly Murs
18. "Music Sounds Better With You" by Big Time Rush
19. "My Heart Takes Over" by The Saturdays - Not feeling the mid-tempo treacle? Then try the High Level Radio Edit here.
20. "All Night Long" by Demi Lovato feat. Timbaland & Missy Elliot


Japanglish

At first I thought this PCD-influenced girl group was attempting to cover Republica's "Ready to Go" - you know, with the requisite butchering of prepositional phrases (stereotypical but true). But upon viewing this flashy music video I discovered that it's just your run-of-the-rice-mill single from 4Minute, one of the many pop groups treading water in the ocean that is the saturated J-Pop market.

There are a few English words thrown around ("shining star," "shut up and go away," and of course, the title declaration). And I can't help but think that they're chanting my name at the :51 and 1:53 marks. But that's probably just my ego talking.

Enjoy:


Dancing Around Questions With The Stars

I recently interviewed a couple of celebs for HIH. It was a chance to sit in a comfy suite at a posh hotel, enjoy a free meal, and sneak a couple of disposable hand towels from the bathroom (Shhh...). You can catch one HERE and the other HERE.

*For you Michael Fassbender fanatics, that one's coming soon. *UPDATE 11/29/11 - Here it is.

H.P.M.


Random Thought of the Week #26

To the creative culinary mind at Trader Joe's who came up with the idea to sell milk chocolate-covered potato chips, I thank you. And hate you.

Not only have you given me pure, unadulterated joy, you have also cursed me with yet another edible distraction filled with enough calories to corrupt the healthiest of the healthy (seriously, if you have no urge to try one, then you have no soul).

You promise that "every crunchy bite brings a symphony of flavors and textures that please the palate and bring joy to the world. Or at least to your taste buds." Just admit it - it causes severe foodgasms. You also claim that it "fits right in with a balanced lifestyle." Clearly you haven't seen how balanced my kitchen cabinet has been lately.

Munch, munch,

H.P.M.


FLASHBACK: Chante Moore Anyone?

The year was 2000. And lost in the shuffle was this bumpin' R&B number from a woman who would forever struggle in the shadows of giants like Mariah, Aaliyah, and Lauryn. I'm talking about Chante Moore, the former Mrs. Kadeem Hardison (that's right, A Different World's Dwayne Wayne!), and her single-that-shoulda-soared "Straight Up."

I randomly happened to remember that I had put this jam on one of my European-influenced mix CDs after living in London during the first half of 2001 (such carefree, pre-9/11 times). I had caught this video while watching MTV UK in my flat and was hooked ever since, sadly never seeing it catch on here in the States.

And looking back now, it just screams early 21st century (Tae-Bo choreography! Sports jersey midriffs!). How quaint compared to the glittery dance trash that's currently being forced down the ears of the American public.

You're welcome:


Theme Song of the Month: November 2011

It's not every day you get to have a religious experience while listening to a song.

Well, today is that day. Florence and the Machine's "No Light, No Light" is one majestic piece of pop, a thundering opus of epic proportions (and the rest of the album ain't too shabby either). Those pounding drums. That rousing chorus. And yes, those are harps you hear being strung at the 1:02 mark.

My brothers and sisters, get down on your knees and worship with me:


DIARY OF THE FUNEMPLOYED: Free Movies!

The wise prophet Ferris Bueller once said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Clearly Mr. Bueller isn't a 31-year-old unemployed/freelance writer who has Prius payments to make and student loans to neglect every month*. If I may, I'd like to tell him that life indeed moves pretty fast. However, if you've been stopped for a prolonged period of time, twiddling your thumbs, you can still miss it. Having left my employer back in February, my weekly routines of waking up, attempting to hit the gym, watching The View, getting booked on a few writing gigs, and spending hours in almost every Starbucks this side of La Cienega have made these past eight months fly by at a pace I've never experienced.

Nearly seven years ago I had written a "chapter email" to all of my friends and family back home (remember, this was before I ever acquainted myself with a blog) about my first experience as "an employee for the government." At the still-green age of 24, I had been laid off when the home-makeover show I worked on got cancelled by ABC Family after three short seasons (I had been an assistant in the low-budgeted art department). It was nice, at first. And the timing was perfect. I was "laid off" two days before Halloween, which meant that I could go crazy on the 31st of October and sleep in the next morning...which I did (again, I was 24). Little did I know it was the calm before the Quarter-Life Crisis Storm during which I'd find myself questioning my move to Los Angeles, where I was going with my life, and why I had jumped ship a couple of months before landing the art department gig (I had been a lowly staff PA at a highly esteemed production company that had already started placing one foot in its grave).

Granted, my current bout with unemployment was brought on voluntarily. I had seven years worth of experience to prepare me for this round of joblessness. I knew it was going to be challenging. But I had regained hope and a rekindled desire to continue pursuing what I had come to this city for, and being unemployed in 2011 has opened my eyes to a couple of things.

A slight perk I've taken advantage of is the chance to attend bargain matinees of movies I've wanted to see but was too cheap to cough up the additional dollars for weekend or nighttime admissions. What's even better, especially in L.A., is the chance to go to matinees - for free. Being on the mailing list for test screenings, I've been able to watch a number of flicks before they hit multiplexes (And don't forget my pro-bono work for Campus Circle, which has allowed me to sit in on plenty of films and interview a couple of celebs - I wrote about my press junket experience HERE).

You see, many movie studios try to gauge a film's success by coordinating a handful of screenings that also act as focus groups. They do them all the time here. If a theater is constantly filled with laughter during an upcoming R-rated comedy, then execs can take comfort in knowing that they have a hit on their hands. However, if a theater is filled with laughter for the wrong reasons, then the execs (and the film's director) have some work to do (hello reshoots!). Any weak points or strengths are also made clear when audience members are given forms to fill out and express their opinions on things like characters, story development, and pacing.

After attending several test screenings here in the City of Unemployed Angels, I couldn't help but take a mental inventory of the kinds of individuals who frequent these freebies. I guess it's a thing writers do; we observe the crap out of stuff. There are the similarly jobless schmoes who share my ravenous appetite for free shit. There are the college students who have nothing better to do in between classes. There's that one member of the press who's managed to infiltrate the group (anyone remotely connected to "The Biz" is prohibited from joining - oops). And then there's the riffraff, some of them looking as if they came off the street with no clue as to what they're participating in.

A funny story about that whole No-Showbiz-People-Allowed rule:

Back in July I received an invite to attend a preview screening of the contemporary masterpiece Shark Night 3D. In Chatsworth. Chatsworth. The theater was roughly 45 minutes away from my Westwood apartment, but considering I had nothing else better to do (besides hunt for more work), I made the trek deep into the armpit of The Valley. When I showed up a line had already wrapped around the building, but I was confident I would still get in. Armed with a water bottle and my trusty paperback novel, I walked all the way to the end of the line by the dumpsters. There, a man with a clipboard was checking people in. I had memorized my confirmation code and was ready to give it to him.

"Name?" he asked. I gave it. Strange, I had never been checked in like that before.

He consulted a list on his clipboard. "Sorry, I can't let you into the screening. You work in entertainment."

"I'm sorry?" I feigned confusion.

"You're a member of the industry. This screening is for general audiences only. I'm going to have to ask you to step out of the line."

I remained cool and collected on the outside, but on the inside, I panicked like a sleeper agent who had just been exposed right before completing his mission for the Taliban. I continued to act offended by his false accusation (call it reverse psychology), and Mr. Clipboard then explained that my name popped up as a Person of Interest. Apparently this particular marketing firm gathered together a bunch of names to look out for. I was basically blacklisted. There was a warrant out for my removal from screenings. I imagined posters being hung up in offices with the word "WANTED" splashed across my face. I pictured gruff, middle-aged men shouting at their subordinates, "Do not let this guy in! He's a writer! He influences other people's opinions!" I envisioned APBs being broadcast across the city: "Suspect was last seen exiting a screening of Immortals downtown. Proceed with caution. Blogger is considered a high risk."

Still, I was determined to get into the screening at hand and see some bikini-babe-on-shark action. I calmly waited for Mr. Clipboard to bring over his senior colleague to re-explain the rules. I assured them that I was unemployed, having worked as a bookkeeper for an electrician (which was kind of true; I had a one-month stint back in the summer of '06). They responded by saying they couldn't do anything; my name was linked to several entertainment-related entities (Damn you, Google). I admitted working for a production company eight years ago, but that did nothing. I bitched about the time I wasted driving out here from Westwood. They apologized. I continued to stand there. The standoff was reaching its boiling point. Finally Senor Clipboard, in an attempt to compromise, gave me a slip of paper that granted me free admission to any movie of my liking. And I had to use it that night. The only two movies with reasonable showtimes were Captain America and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Which would be the worst of two evils? Thus my dilemma of the day (I chose the robots).



Ironically enough, one month later found me sitting across from the Shark Night cast in an interview I wrote for Campus Circle. I had to ask questions about what it was like working with animatronics, what it was like to scuba train, and how hard it was to run around in a swimsuit the entire time (sadly, there was no time to discuss the qualifications of the Republican candidates). And I still haven't seen the movie.

My summer run-in with the Test Screening Police hasn't deterred me from accepting more invites to free movies. Last week I attended a preview of Tower Heist, and -- marketing execs, relax -- I rather enjoyed it. That's all I'll say. And the week before that I caught an afternoon sneak peek of Immortals downtown. Like all screenings, in order to guarantee a seat, I had to arrive an hour early and wait in line for a confirmed ticket. Hence a book or magazine would be wise to bring. While standing in line on Olympic Boulevard by the multiplex entrance I couldn't help glancing up from my Kindle every now and then to match the voices with the faces of people whose conversations I had eavesdropped on.

Woman: "I love these things. Last week I saw this movie with Matt Damon. It was good. God, I loved him in Gigli too."
Young Man: "My girl told me about these, and I'm like, I ain't got nothing else better to do."

I tell ya, nothing but the creme de la creme down here in Theater 10 at Regal Cinemas.

If I can't manage my way into any more of these test screenings, I'll always have my press screenings...and the free movies I can rent from the public library. Speaking of which, I finally discovered the West Hollywood branch which recently reopened their doors after undergoing a tremendous renovation (above). Free wi-fi. State-of-the-art equipment. Study rooms. Comfy leather chairs. It is quite the sight to see for any bibliophile.

Off to go RSVP my ass for that new Kate Winslet-Jodie Foster flick,

H.P.M.

*According to current Obamanomics, if this new student loan plan officially kicks in next year, then so. Be. It.


DIARY OF THE FUNEMPLOYED: The Great Sephora Caper

I am Jennifer Aniston.

Well, I can relate to the character she played in Friends With Money. In the 2006 dramedy, acutely written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Jen's character, Olivia, is a down-and-out broke girl living in West L.A., surrounded by loved ones who have enough disposable income to fund a small private school for several years. I included the film in a list I compiled three years ago called "10 Great L.A. Movies" (you can catch it here). I also considered it one of the ten best movies I had seen that year.

Olivia hoards small sample jars of designer facial creams and soaps she acquires from various department stores throughout the city because, obviously, she can't afford the full-sized, full-priced bottles. In one particular scene we see her line up dozens of mini-bottles in her bathroom cabinet while she partakes in her nighttime facial ritual. Sometimes she'll even enlist her well-off friends to grab a sample for her; twice the moisturizer for the price of one trip to the mall.

Like Olivia, I have managed to develop my own system involving my local Sephoras and any department store that sells Lab Series For Men's Multi-Action Face Wash. One 3.4-ounce tube of the stuff that "cleanses, exfoliates and conditions the skin" goes for $18. And with the way my bank account seems to get depleted of funds on a monthly basis, there is no way in hell I'll shell out one Hamilton, an Abe Lincoln, and three Washingtons to make my face feel minty fresh every night before I go to bed.

Therefore I will drive myself to the nearest mall and walk into Sephora, ready to be faced with the inevitable "Welcome to Sephora. Can I help you find anything?" To which I'll reply, "Why yes. I was wondering if I could try a sample of that facial soap from Lab Series for Men." Sometimes I'll purposely flub up the name in order to look like a clueless male who's too intimidated to enter an overly bright room filled with lipsticks, powders, eye creams, and enough fragrances to elicit a contact high. Other times I'll just make my way over to the Men's section and pick up a box, pretending to study its contents, and wait for a sales associate to walk over and check in to see if I need any assistance. And occasionally I'll even pull out the My-Friend-Swears-By-This-Stuff-And-Tells-Me-I-Need-To-Try-It card ("Does it really work?"). Once I was approached by a petite Asian girl who showered me with extra samples of shaving cream and SPF lotions after asking her if she could "help a brother out with some exfoliating hookups."

I should also point out that one little sample jar of the Multi-Action Face Wash can last up to seven washes. The tiniest of dollops can foam up like crazy, so four jars could last an entire month. That's four Sephoras I could hit up over the span of one weekend. And it's the perfect size for traveling - no need to worry about those darn FAA carry-on regulations!

Please understand: in no way do I consider this a scam of any sort. I'm not shoplifting chotskies from Pier 1 or T-shirts from Target (although the latter has the potential to become a giant, um, target for similar schemes). I am merely being resourceful during my time of financial need, finding ways to thriftily take care of myself and provide the best hygiene no money can buy.

If that's a crime, then lock me up in a cellblock room. At least I won't have to worry about making rent. Or buying groceries.

H.P.M.


20 Things I've Learned About Living in L.A. (Thus Far)

I thought I'd save this for next year's anniversary blog celebrating 10 years of living in the City of Angels, but why wait? I'm sure I'll stumble upon other discoveries before next summer rolls around. Here are twenty little nuggets I thought I'd share in the meantime (are there any I'm missing?).

1. Arclight Cinemas = Best. Popcorn. Ever.

2. Friends in other cities may gather together for movie nights and board game nights. Here, they gather together for award nominee screener nights and my-friend's-guest-starring-on-CSI nights.

3. Attractive, scantily-clad joggers should not be allowed to stretch and stand on the sidewalks of busy intersections; it's a driving hazard. And just not right.

4. When in doubt, take Fountain Avenue (or Olympic).

5. When the invite says 8pm, arrive at 9pm. Or, depending on the host, don't show up at all.

6. Some casting directors are jaded, former actors with a penchant for pot-smoking, obsessing over the shenanigans of Bravo reality-TV stars, and dating those who qualify as "10s."

7. Anyone who's ever tried to adamantly defend living in the Valley most likely considers "a wild night out" to include a cocktail at The Americana before 8pm, followed by sushi and karaoke somewhere along Ventura Boulevard and an Evian nightcap on the couch in front the latest Saturday Night Live.

Courtesy of MyParkingSign.com
8. 2004: "Don't date the 818." 2011: "Nothing's fine about the 909." (Sorry, K.S.)

9. Valet can be avoided 90% of the time.

10. Yellow curbs are a godsend when looking for a parking space after 6pm.

11. The homeless beggar stationed at the 405 Freeway exit ramp on Santa Monica Boulevard earns more than I do in one day. I have no doubt.

12. Larchmont Village is the new Brentwood.

13. Abbot Kinney is the new Melrose.

14. The Sunset Junction street festival is an excuse for anti-WeHo gays to break out the assless chaps and for Silverlake hipsters to celebrate each other's ironic awesomeness.

15. The Grilled Cheese Truck and Umami Burger are conspiring against me in an attempt to sabotage my waistline.

16. The following is not always true: The longer the wait for a table, the better the brunch experience.

17. Downtown is where East Coast transplants attempt to recapture better days and fool themselves into thinking they live in lower Manhattan.

18. Soap actors love making appearances at The Griddle Cafe on Sunset (whether or not they consume the calories in those ginormous pancakes is irrelevant).

19. The four seasons of Los Angeles are as follows: Awards, Wildfire, Earthquake, and Pilot.

20. Celebrities - they're just like us. Except they get stuff for free (even though they earn 100 times more than us), pay people to polish their reputations, and come with truckloads of insecurities.

H.P.M.


Theme Song of the Month: October 2011

Color me indecisive.

I'm going back and forth among three singles that have been tickling my fancy recently, hence my delayed choice for this month's anthemic tune.

The first is Lady Antebellum's "We Owned The Night." The country trio finally won me over during their Saturday Night Live performance last week (btw, Melissa McCarthy, I love you), and I can't help but feel like taking an impromptu nocturnal road trip up the coast or lighting a bonfire somewhere up in Malibu whenever I hear this breezy track.

Then there's James Morrison's duet with Jessie J, "Up," a song with a message I can certainly use to help me get through the rest of this "interesting" year.

But it's Mayer Hawthorne's "The Walk" that has completely won me over, and the video for this soulful throwback stars that hot chick from The Event, who could very well be JoJo's older sister.



All three songs are worthy selections for the season, but you know me: I just can't say no to a bespectacled crooner who doesn't take himself too seriously.

H.P.M.


MASQUERADE: 2011 Fall Playlist, Vol. 2

While you put the finishing touches on that slutty Halloween costume you'll eventually throw together at the last minute you may want to play these 25 tracks to help you get into the mood. Soulful throwbacks, mesmerizing vocals, and high-energy dance is what's on the menu. My second fall compilation of 2011 is now being served.

*And yes, those would be download links to some of the tracks below (get 'em while they're hot).

1. "We Found Love" by Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris
2. "Just In Love" by Joe Jonas
3. "I Like How It Feels" by Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull
4. "Shake It Out" by Florence + The Machine
5. "Russian Unicorn" by Bad Lip Reading - Upon the first listen, you may not get the lyrics at all. That's because it's one of those songs you need to see to believe. The geniuses behind BLP have produced a single as an alternative to the Michael Buble video for 2009's "Haven't Met You Yet," and the result is a hysterical exercise in random absurdity:



6. "The Lady is a Tramp" by Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga
7. "Au Revoir" by Cascada
8. "Sexy and I Know It" by LMFAO
9. "All Night Long" by Demi Lovato feat. Missy Elliot - The former Disney princess/tabloid fixture surprises with this bump-and-grinder produced by the trying-to-stay-relevant Timbaland. And the Missy cameo is a welcome appearance.
10. "Earthquake" by Labrinth feat. Tinie Tempah
11. "Good Feeling" by Flo Rida
12. "On Display (Arkatone Radio Mix)" by Melissa Gorga - The remix of this disposable dance fluff from the New Jersey Housewife I've grown to root for ain't too shabby.
13. "Paradise" by Coldplay
14. "The Sound of Missing You" by Wildboyz feat. Ameerah
15. "I Surrender" by Clare Maguire:



16. "Bedroom Eyes" by Dum Dum Girls
17. "Playmate to Jesus" by Aqua - Who'da thunk I'd still be jamming to the guys who gave us "Barbie Girl" 14 years ago? This mid-tempo pop number hails from the halfway decent Megalomania which was recently released overseas.
18. "Beautiful People" by Benny Benassi feat. Chris Brown
19. "The Muppet Show Theme Song" by OK Go - To prepare you for the upcoming Muppets reboot.
20. "Take Over Control" by Afrojack feat. Eva Simons - Despite its release last winter, Top 40 seems to have finally caught on to the Eurotrashiness of this track.
21. "25/8" by Mary J. Blige
22. "Crazy" by Electrolightz
23. "The Walk" by Mayer Hawthorne - A soulful jam from a funkier, nerdier version of Robin Thicke:



24. "Without You" by David Guetta feat. Usher
25. "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)" by Kelly Clarkson


You Are Now Leaving Wisteria Lane

*Updated on 5/11/12

A seemingly happy wife and mother named Mary Alice puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger...and an idyllic neighborhood is never the same.

Not since Knots Landing have television viewers been so enraptured by the weekly dramas of a bunch of cul-de-sac-dwelling suburbanites. For the past seven years, Wisteria Lane on ABC's Desperate Housewives became a ground zero for soapy fun. It quickly became a place where secrets - along with several criminals - were harbored, where wealthy former models slept with their gardeners, where neglected wives went off their rockers and shot up supermarkets, where accident-prone single moms got kidnapped by vengeful ex-cons, where on-the-lam families hid from eco-terrorists, where shady politicians got skewered by picket fences during tornados, where airplanes crashed into holiday parties, where serial killers held pregnant women hostage, where bitchy real estate agents got electrocuted by telephone poles, where...

You get the idea.

Debuting on October 3, 2004, Desperate Housewives, in a way, filled a void left by four sexy women who used to chat and gossip over lunch and see each other through some juicy trials and tribulations. If Sex and the City celebrated the comedic dramas of female, urban singles, then DH went further and celebrated the comedic dramas of female, suburban marrieds (and divorcees). Instead of sitting around a table and supporting each other while sipping cosmos at a trendy Manhattan hotspot, Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher), Lynette Scavo (Felictity Huffman), Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longora), and Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross) sat around a kitchen counter supporting each other over cups of coffee. And they did more than just cry on each other's shoulders and lend a sympathetic ear. Like the title of the show suggests, every episode consistently featured these women going out of their way to maintain order around the neighborhood and in their homes. Whether it was lying to cover up for a husband's crime, sabotaging a bake sale to get back at a rival, stealing other people's identities to save a life, or corrupting a carpool to avoid walking an extra block in heels, each housewife did whatever it took in order to protect their loved ones and get what they wanted.

While brushing up on the history of femme-centric television, one might discover that gathering around a table to dish about love, lies, and life in general was originally an art perfected by four Miami seniors named Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia. The Golden Girls essentially invented the TV Girl-Talk Forum the moment they broke out the cheesecake and sat down to vent their problems. So it may come as no surprise that Marc Cherry, Desperate's creator, had been a writer on the classic sitcom during its last two seasons. The Golden influence on Housewives is evident.

DH also filled another void in prime-time television. It brought back the Nighttime Soap to small screens and tweaked the genre in way that made it more easily digestible for the savvy audiences of the 2000s. It introduced three-dimensional characters we grew to love, placed them in sudsy situations in a believable way, and recognized the absurdity of some of them through delicious one-liners and tongue-in-cheek dialogue that remained consistent throughout the years.

While many complain that the show never regained its mojo after that stellar first season - especially after sitting through the much-maligned second season (Alfre Woodard's got her son locked up in the basement!) - I pity those who were quick to give up and tune out. Having learned their lesson, producers delivered a third and fourth season that reminded loyal followers why they kept coming back to The Lane (new gay neighbors, back-from-the-dead spouses, and Dana Delany, oh my!). Then came the high-profiled stunt for the show's fifth season, that five-year jump into the future. Partners swapped, children grew up, and a new villain moved in (Neal McDonough's bent-on-revenge Dave). As for Season 6, fans were given a double dose of mystery when the Bolen family arrived in town (see Torchwood's John Barrowman get blown up in a Prius!) and the Fairview Strangler terrorized the neighborhood (Poor Eddie!). And the writers must have been getting a little nostalgic when they brought back first-season Man of Mystery Paul Young for the seventh and penultimate season (More revenge! This time with a switched-at-birth twist!).

Clearly the show is a liberal dressed in a conservative's clothing. The fictional and picturesque town of Fairview is located in the conveniently ambiguous "Eagle State" (Anywhere, U.S.A.). It's neither red nor blue but a bold shade of purple, maintaining its appeal to moms in Missouri as well as party boys in West Hollywood. This couldn't be exemplified any more than in Marcia Cross's Bree Van de Kamp, who was modeled after Marc Cherry's very own mother. Bree may be an uptight, church-going, gun-toting Republican with a penchant for pie-making, but she's got a gay son and a less-than-perfect daughter she loves with all her heart.

And now that the groundbreaking dramedy's eighth and final season is hitting the home stretch, I'm sure a retrospective of sorts is being planned for what will most likely be an emotional farewell. I look forward to seeing how this season's mystery, in which all of the ladies have implicated themselves in the murder of Gaby's evil stepfather, will be resolved (In a nifty twist that brings everything full circle, they find themselves in the same situation Mary Alice was in so many seasons ago, particularly Bree). And with March's shocking death of resident beefcake Mike Delfino (series veteran James Denton), the producers and writers have let it be known that they're not playing it safe as the countdown to the finale begins. The final scene in the pivotal episode, in which Mike fell victim to a mob-related drive-by shooting on his doorstep in front of wife Susan (Hatcher), was a gut-wrenching moment for viewers who grew to love the couple after the many ups and downs they endured over the years. And many of those years were poignantly revisited in a flashing montage of clips just as the fatal bullet hit Mike in the chest.



Like many suburban satires before it (American Beauty, The Ice Storm), the Housewives have made their case: Small-town life can be just as scandalous (and dangerous) as any crime-ridden metropolis. Rapists, drug dealers, and murderers aren't downtown - they're residing in that nice 3-bedroom behind your hedges.

Thanks for the memories, ladies (and Mr. Cherry).

Here's to seeing you at the wrap party.


H.P.M.