March 27, 2012

A Love/Hate Letter to Hollywood

While I'll be careful not to totally bite off the very large and powerful hand that feeds me, I'd like to address some of the complaints (and cases) that have been made by fanboys, friends, consumers of popular culture, fellow bloggers, journalists, some industry insiders, and even the general public itself about the giant machine that is Hollywood. These age-old bitch-abouts ("What's with all the remakes?" "They don't make movies/TV/music like they used to") seem to have grown louder and louder every time something equally loud and overly ostentatious comes our way (right now, Wrath of the Titans and John Carter, I'm looking at you).

After living in Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, for nearly a decade now, I've seen friends, coworkers, and acquaintances roll their eyes or let out a collective "Sheesh!" every time the front page of Variety announces in bold letters the news of a flashy new project headed by some bigwig looking to fatten up his bank account. And after living here for ten years, I've seen those friends, coworkers, and acquaintances give up on Tinseltown.

I can understand why some have quit "the biz." It's not because they're weak or incapabale of keeping up with the Kardashians. Some do have valid reasons or extenuating circumstances keeping them from keepin' on. But sometimes it's because most of them are genuinely fed up with the constant barrage of detrimental doodoo this business tends to spew out. And while I don't see myself packing up and hightailing it back to where I came from (New Rochelle, NY, FYI) anytime soon, I'd like to see if I can speak for those who have washed their hands clean of anything that has to do with the Business of Show...

Hollywood -- and I use this term very generally to cover all grounds of entertainment -- you have become a hot mess.

You have managed to convince millions of people that remaking a shit show from yesteryear, raping childhood memories, adapting flashy comic books, and ressurrecting old ideas warrants every American to hand over $12 at the box office. You've convinced another several million people that watching the undeservedly rich and famous whine about their love lives via vapid confessionals makes for compelling television. You've told children across the country that they deserve a record deal and a fat bonus check after prancing around on stage in front of judges who get paid seven figures to shout out catchphrases. You've conditioned youth to respect wealth and privilege and accept that hard work isn't necessary. You've basically created a sub-industry that indulges narcissistic tendencies and feeds off insecurities (reality TV). You've taken international properties and reformatted them for English-speaking audiences because, frankly, you think middle America doesn't like to read subtitles. You continue to write checks to (and inflate the ego of) this man. You continue to let Adam Sandler make movies. You've turned "films" into "franchises" for the capitalist sake of raking in more cash and compromising creativity and originality in the process. You've inspired many to adopt the philosophy of "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" for the wrong reasons, prompting others to become paranoid and cynical about the true intentions of acquaintances. You hand out awards to actors because their publicists tell you to do so. You thought The Adventures of Pluto Nash was a good idea. You gave Snooki and book deal. You still consider women a minority or a "tough sell," even though you'll never admit it, especially when something like a Bridesmaids comes along.

As you can see, it's easy to rip on an industry that has so much power and influence in the world and permeates every aspect of civilization. But after working and living here in Ground Zero, I will attempt to look on the proverbial bright side, to see through the bullshit, and to maintain some positivity.

Why am I not ready to quit on Hollywood? Because I still believe there is a decent minority in this factory town that believes in what they do. I won't let the abundance of bullshittery of the business deter me from doing what I am passionate about. I simply won't the let the bad outweigh the good. I have met and befriended countless others who are similarly (and genuinely) passionate about their work and continue to act as my support system. I appreciate the constant inspiration that hits me every week as I continue to learn, grow, and accomplish. I'm blown away by the collaborative spirit and camaraderie that's formed when working on a project. I enjoy some of the perks that come with having friends in unions (Free movies! Award shows!). I get a high whenever I walk out of theater after seeing a kickass film receive a round of applause from its audience. I love that I can wear flip-flops in January. I take comfort in knowing I'm surrounded by thousands of others who feel the same way. And it's that comfort that prevents me from sinking into that abyss of negativity and propels me forward, inspiring me to keep on keepin' on.

If that makes me a naive optimist, then take a good look at yourself and figure out why you're so quick to snarl before you poo on my parade.

Sure, there'll be days when I'll tsk-tsk at the news of a 3D remake of a film I saw fifteen minutes years ago, but I'll know that there will be more exciting news around the corner to celebrate and share.

And with that, I leave you with a little musical treat from the talented Mr. Robbie Williams that once worked as my theme song back when I arrived in Tinseltown in the summer of 2002:

I should remember to play it more often.


Best Horror Movie of the Year

Ditzy blonde who gets hot and horny for her alpha-male jock boyfriend? Check. A rustic and isolated locale with no cell phone service? Check. Creepy, deadly things that go bump in the night and terrorize a bunch of clueless college kids? Check and check.

In the Joss Whedon-scripted, Drew Goddard-directed horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods, all of the slasher movie stereotypes are presented to us in typical fashion – and swiftly dispatched and turned inside out halfway through the film. There’s Curt, played by a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth (the film was shot in ’09), a hulking bro of a dude who just wants to have sex with his hot girlfriend (the bimborific Anna Hutchison), Holden (Grey’s Anatomy’s Jesse Williams) the quiet scholar with a crush, Dana (Kristen Connolly), the “virginal” chick who just wants to take a break from studying and enjoy a weekend with her friends, and Marty (Dollhouse alum Fran Kranz) the shaggy-haired loser who may not be your average pothead.

This may seem like an Evil Dead/Cabin Fever/Friday the 13th rip-off, but think again...

My review on Cabin is in. Check out the rest over HERE.

Thank you.


March 22, 2012

Random Thought of the Week #32: American Pop Stars Who Want To Be British

Nicki Minaj has become infamous for breaking out a Cockney accent in some of her jams. The recently debuted (and adorable duo) Karmin close their catchy chorus with "That's right, come on, cheerio" in their buzzworthy single "Brokenhearted" (video below). And then there's Her Madgesty herself, the one and only Madonna, who's known for donning a posh English accent ever since she moved to London and shagged Guy Ritchie.

Are these American-born pop stars closeted Anglophiles? Why the need to adopt a British sensibility? Are they paying homage to our colonial ancestors? Or are they finally figuring out that artists from across the Pond are the (arguably) better musicians who happen to be currently hogging the spotlight?

Take a glance at the U.S. charts, and you'll see why. Brit boy band One Direction has topped the American Billboard album charts while those blokes of The Wanted are enjoying the success of their single "Glad You Came" (I was actually listening to it a year ago and think they've got better tricks up their sleeves). Then there's Jessie J who has made somewhat of an impact with "Domino" (I think she has yet to show her true colors). And let's not forget that soulful songstress from Tottenham, England, Adele, who continues to dominate radio with "Set Fire To The Rain" (personally, I can't wait for "Rumour Has It" to officially take over the airwaves).

Will 2012 be the Year of the Brit in American music? After waiting 11 years for my countrymen to catch on, I hope so.

March 20, 2012

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Turns 20

“I can’t believe I’m in a graveyard with a strange man hunting for vampires on a school night.”

This line of dialogue perfectly exemplifies the 1992 film that brought TV heartthrob Luke Perry to the big screen, showed us a different side of Paul Reubens, and – oh yeah – inspired a long-running, critically-acclaimed television drama that starred Sarah Michelle Gellar: Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Back in the summer of ’92, the movie, directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui, earned more than double its budget ($7 million), making it a moderate success compared to its box office competition at the time – Death Becomes Her, Honey I Blew Up The Kid, and A League of Their Own. Taking on the titular role, Kristy Swanson did an admirable job as a cheerleader from the Valley who finds out she's The Chosen One, the next in a long line of descendants who must vanquish the vamps of the world. Unfortunately, it's one of the few roles she's remembered for. I mean, really, what else has the girl done, besides Deadly Friend and Higher Learning, that sticks out in film history? I would like to know: Where is she now?

Regardless, the fun thing about revisiting a classic film (yes, I just called it a "classic") is rediscovering who's who in the supporting cast, and BTVS doesn't disappoint. We've got a baby-faced Hilary Swank, way before her first Oscar win, playing the ditzy Kimberly. We have a young David Arquette, four years before he assumed the role of Officer Dewey in Scream, playing Pike's best bud Benny, a slacker who becomes a creature of the night (one funny scene has a hungry Benny floating outside Pike's window looking for a midnight snack). And then there's a young(ish) Paul Reubens, before those pesky sex offender charges, being a hoot as Amilyn, the right-hand man --because he's only got one arm for most of the movie -- to the film's Big Bad, Lothos (a hammy Rutger Hauger).

As for Donald Sutherland, who plays Merrick the Watcher, the old dude was still an old dude back then, and something tells me the actor was only there for the paycheck. Go ahead and check out the DVD's brief behind-the-scenes featurette, in which the cast has a hard time wrapping their heads around the goofy movie title, and you'll see what I mean.

But those finds aren't nearly as fun as the uncredited cameos that made me rewind and pause my ancient VHS copy (yes, I still have a VCR). Early on, Ricki Lake appears at a local teen hangout (“I’m Charlotte, I’ll be your waitress”). How she didn't earn a credit, especially after Hairspray, I'll never know. And then, halfway through the movie, keep an eye out for a 19-year-old Ben Affleck as Basketball Player #10. The future Oscar winner (and Mr. Jennifer Garner) has a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it run-in with a teen vamp on the b-ball court.

How does Buffy The Vampire Slayer hold up 20 years later? Only fans who grew up with these characters will still be able to appreciate the fun campiness on which the movie is built. First-timers may poo-poo some of the cheap stunts and make-up. But remember, whereas a “film” takes itself seriously, a “flick” doesn’t, and Buffy clearly falls under the latter. Viewers may also get a kick out of the very datedness of the look and styles (“That’s sooo 90s!”). Plus, there’s the equally dated soundtrack, which serves as a snapshot of the pop charts in the early 90s. C&C Music Factory, Divinyls, and Toad The Wet Sprocket all have their turns on the playlist. But when all is said and done, it's still nifty to see a young female character evolve from a shallow cheer-tator (Bring It On reference alert!) into an ass-kicking, pre-Lara Croft, pre-Alias heroine who learns a few things about growing up.

Joss Whedon, the film's screenwriter, has been known to have expressed his disappointment with the way his script was adapted for the big screen. That's why, four years later, he felt the need to right the wrong, returning to 20th Century Fox and pitching Buffy as a darker heroine in a TV series that reinforced the high-school-is-hell metaphor. Luckily at the time there was new, fledgling network called The WB where executives thought it could be placed to entertain a very sought-after young demographic ("There's this new group called Generation Y...")

And the rest is history.

As a matter of fact, this month happens to mark the 15th anniversary of the television series. I was 16 going on 17 -- and a rabid fan of teen horror -- when it premiered on March 10, 1997. It was as if the show was created just for me. Each week a new monster terrorized the students of Sunnydale High, and each week I was titilated by the sparkling dialogue and clever twists in every episode. Who could have possibly guessed that this little teen show based on a schlocky B-movie would evolve into a fully satisfying (and Emmy-nominated) drama featuring fully developed, iconic characters, some of whom would spin-off into their own sagas? No one.

There isn't enough room here to write about the awesome brilliance of the show, so let's save that for later...and let us now raise our glasses and salute the one film that started it all.

Happy Double Anniversary, Mr. Whedon. And thank you for bringing that stake-wielding cheerleader into our lives.


March 18, 2012

Shelf Life

It was recently announced that Encyclopaedia Britannica would stop publishing print editions of their 32-volume sets. 2010 will be their final edition, so to the few of you who shelled out thousands of dollars for those babies, may I suggest holding onto them for dear life, because they're about to become a rare species.

This is just another nail in the coffin of print media, and I can't help worrying that, in the not too distant future, there will be no such thing as bookshelves in modern homes across the world.

Excuse these trivial concerns from an old fogey like myself, someone born at the end of the 20th century). I consider myself a traditionalist when it comes to reading and collecting old-fashioned books, flipping through tangible pages and taking a whiff of freshly published (or old and musty) paper. That's how this bibliophile rolls, despite the fact that I own a Kindle (given to me as a birthday gift last year...I've only read one book on it thus far).

Like other media-filing racks and organizers, the bookshelf may soon be an antiquated piece of home furnishing. A friend of mine once said that it's his dream to own a minimalist home with not a single book, CD, or DVD in sight. Everything would be digitally stored in one little box or on a mobile device. No muss, no fuss. And with the way our tech culture is rapidly evolving, it isn't hard to imagine some homes already adopting this motif.

And it isn't just happening in homes. I once did a temp job at an accounting firm that decided to go completely paperless. My task was to scan every single file in their records and save them to a hard drive. File cabinets were emptied, bookshelves cleared. Soon enough, after all of that useless paper had been shredded and recycled, there was a lot more space. What would one do with all of that emptiness? Practice some yoga? Roll a treadmill into the office? We're humans; we always find ways to fill up space and use up more resources.

To me, a nicely packed bookcase, filled to the brim with various-sized paperbacks and hardcovers, is a cozy sight. It's a physical reminder that many worlds and characters await at my fingertips, at the turn of a page (as opposed to a sleek tablet with touchscreen buttons). Additionally, most of the young-adult novels I've amassed throughout the 90s (as seen above, left) are out of print now. They're rare gems (in my mind). They deserve a home, nestled in the confines of a sturdy shelf. Or maybe I'm just a hoarder.

Just like DVRs killing the relevance of watercoolers as a place to discuss favorite TV shows, I'm afraid that e-readers and tablets will cause bookcases to be put on the extinction list.

I won't let it happen.


March 14, 2012

Madonna Enters Her Fourth Decade of Music With MDNA

Today's Word of the Day is: pandering.

As in, "Upon listening to all of the preview tracks from Madonna's forthcoming album, MDNA, it seems like the Material Girl is pandering to fans of Gaga and Rihanna." It's quite ironic, given the fact that, several weeks ago, Madge was recorded saying that Gaga's music, particularly the blockbuster "Born This Way," was "reductive" (look it up).

Die-hards and pop purists may be quick to argue that Madonna "started it all," and while they may be right (I myself think she deserves all the recognition and respect for keeping up with Ke$has), the woman who's known for brilliantly reinventing herself with each album is finally showing signs of...recycling. Exhibit A: the preview video for her latest single, "Girl Gone Wild."

With shades of "Justify My Love" and "Human Nature," the video doesn't break any new ground, which is fine, but it doesn't do anything for the uninspired song either. "Girls, they just wanna have some fun," she chants. Funny, that was the same sentiment shared by Cyndi Lauper 27 years ago. And that whole, artsy man-on-man action? She may have started that homoerotic trend back in the 90s, but Gaga brought it to new heights in 2010's "Alejandro."

Here's the thing: most consumers of pop music in 2012 weren't even born when M's "Vogue" debuted on the charts and boldly solidified her icon status. So why sink to their level in musical tastes? Is there that much pressure to remain relevant? Could there have been a hint of bitterness and jealousy when she dropped that "reductive" comment on Mother Monster? I can't shake the feeling that, at the stupendous age of 53, Madonna is starting to resemble that middle-aged mom who still wears Juicy Couture thongs and wiggles her hips to anything with a deep bass. When I first heard "Give Me All Your Luvin," my ears cringed, and for the first time, I felt embarrassed for Lourdes, Rocco, and little David. Like many critics, I was offended by the choice to use such a derivative tune as the lead single and employ Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. as distracting filler. If you recall, Madonna used the same tactic back in 2008 when she brought Justin Timberlake on as a collaborator for "4 Minutes," the first single from the hit-or-miss Hard Candy. While more tolerable than "Luvin," it still reeked of "Hey kids, look at me gettin' down with Timbaland!"

Your Madgesty, you need not conform to the sounds and styles of Top 40. What happened to paving your own way and breaking the rules? Look at 1998's Ray of Light. While radios were succumbing to boy bands and hip-hop superstars, you remained in your groove, stayed strong, broke down the door of electronica, and delivered a rarity: meditative dance pop.

I guess what I'm saying is that I was -- still am -- hoping for MDNA to be her next Confessions on a Dance Floor, arguably her best album from the 2000s. And once you move past the Auto-Tune, there are a few bright notes in the teasers. "Love Spent" sounds like a promising electro-pop ditty, while "Turn Up The Radio" appears to be a traditional house anthem that sticks close to her roots.

Give us your best, M. We know you still got it in you. Justify our love.


March 13, 2012

Talking With The Stars

I've recently been on a press junket kick, interviewing a couple of celebs for a couple of movies.

First, there was my chat with the delightful Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor (my birthday twin!) for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Catch that (pardon the pun) HERE.

Next up, a chat with Elizabeth Olsen, star of Silent House, in which she showed me true, theater geek colors.

And then finally, a Q&A over coffee and breakfast with up-and-comer Jay Hayden, a friend of a friend who happens to be the star of Hulu's first original scripted series, Battleground.

Enjoy...and thank you.


March 12, 2012

PULSE: The 2012 Spring Playlist, Vol. 3

Catch a whiff of some freshly cut grass and drop that Shamrock Shake because there's a crapload of music I'd like you to check out. What do we have here? A pleasant assortment of resurrected divas, soulful crooners, and enough remixes to get your heart racing and those calories burning -- just in time for (gulp) swimsuit season. Take note, my friends...

1. "Vacation" by Alphabeat - Kicking things off is the lead track from the third album of my favorite Danish band, a six-membered pop act that has had a special place in my heart ever since I first heard their catchy harmonies four years ago with the refreshingly upbeat "Fascination." Now, they're pumping us up for warmer weather with this equally jubilant ditty:

2. "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsin

3. "I Heart You" by Toni Braxton - The 90s R&B star back, this time with a much-needed dancefloor anthem:

4. "Feel Like I Feel" by Marcus Collins - Last year's British X Factor runner-up is bringing the funk to this jam that'll have your ass shaking in your bedroom, in your car, and everywhere in between. Listen here.
5. "Silenced By The Night" by Keane
6. "Crystallized (Radio Edit)" by Kim Sozzi
7. "Primadonna" by Marina and the Diamonds
8. "If Only You" by Danny feat. Freja
9. "Heartbeat" by Childish Gambino - Look! It's Community's nerdy Donald Glover! As a bitch-hatin' man scorned:

10. "Summer of Love" by Cascada
11. "Somebody That I Used To Know (Myndset Remix)" by Gotye feat. Kimbra - An outstanding remix that doesn't compromise the essence and soul of the original.
13. "I Like It Like That (Goldstein Remix)" by Hot Chelle Rae
14. "Let's Go" by Calvin Harris feat. Ne-Yo:

15. "Invincible" by MGK feat. Ester Dean - A suggestion brought to me by this guy.
16. "Is There Anybody Out There?" by K'naan feat. Nelly Furtado
17. "Charlie Brown" by Coldplay
18. "Live My Life" by Far East Movement feat. Justin Bieber - The "Party Rock Remix" is just as fun too.
19. "Colours (Armin Van Burren Radio Edit)" by Emma Hewitt
20. "Party and Bullshit" by Rita Ora
21. "Happiness" by Sam Sparro
22. "The Island - Part 2 (Dusk)" by Pendulum
23. "Aural Psynapse (Original Remix)" by Deadmau5
24. "Proud" by JLS
25. "Can't Stop Me (Club Mix)" by Afrojack & Shermanology
26. "In The Air" by Morgan Page, Sultan, Ned Shepard & BT feat. Angela McCluskey - A heavy collaboration (just look at the names attached to this thing) makes for quite an epic trance track.
27. "Fire" by Adrian Lux
28. "Think Like A Man" Jennifer Hudson feat. Ne-Yo
29. "Waterline" by Jedward - One of Ireland's Eurovision finalists, Jedward doesn't shy away from their standard pop sensibilities.

Speaking of Ireland, have a happy St. Patrick's Day,


March 09, 2012

Random Thought of the Week #31: Miriam Shor

I'm kind of blown away that Miriam Shor, who currently plays the church-goin' Cricket Caruth-Reilly on ABC's delirously soapy GCB (left) is the same Miriam Shor who played the bandanna-wearing, Rent-loving Yitzhak in John Cameron Mitchell's brilliant movie adaptation of Hedwig and the Angry Inch eleven years ago (right).

Brava, lady. So proud of you. Here's to more recognition and, dare I say, an Emmy in the future.


*PS - And for those of you who remember 2008's wonderful but short-lived Swingtown on CBS, yep, that was her too.

March 08, 2012

My 2012 Must-Haves

What may be misconstrued as a birthday present wish list (cough, March 31, cough) is really just a list of things I am HIGHLY anticipating throughout the remainder of the year. (and so what if I've also included links to online retailers for your convenience?)

A snippet of "Vacation," the new single from my favorite Danish band, Alphabeat:

A sneak peek at Keane's new album, Wasteland:

Then there are two of my favorite films of 2011, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Weekend, finally being released on Blu-ray:

And, as if I didn't already have dozens of books waiting on my shelves to be read, there's Stephen King's Under The Dome. I think this would suffice as some girthy summer reading. I'd also like to finish it before the inevitable movie/mini-series is released.


March 02, 2012

Guess Who's Joining Bello Mag?

It's official:

Yours truly has joined the team at BELLO Mag as their Entertainment Editor. The e-magazine (Fashion! Entertainment! Lifestyle!) is available at iTunes in the App Store Newsstand for iPads and iPhones. That means my pop cultural ramblings and commentary will be mobile!

Many thanks to the wonderful Alek & Steph, the Bello founders (and photographer extraordinaires) who had taken me to lunch earlier this week to invite me on board.

The current issue, featuring Alexander Ludwig from The Hunger Games, celebrates old and new Hollywood. My Oscar piece can be found there, as well as my "Life Lessons From Revenge".

And speaking of Revenge, to your left you will find actress Ashley Madekwe, who plays social climber Ashley Davenport on the ABC soap, along with The Lying Game's Randy Wayne. It's a sneak peek at next month's issue, taken from today's photo shoot here in L.A. They're just two of the many hot, young stars the magazine will be showcasing in glossy spreads in the weeks to come.

I look forward to the many exciting possibilities this will bring, and I hope you'll join me for the experience.


Inspired by Destiny's Child

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

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