June 28, 2013

RED WHITE & EQUAL: The 2013 Summer Playlist, Vol. 2

After this week's historic California Supreme Court decision to squash the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, summer became a whole lot sweeter for same-sex couples and supporters of marriage equality.

So it makes sense to celebrate with some tunes that'll be blaring from an iPod dock near you.

There are some obligatory tunes from a couple of pop divas (Britney, Kylie) as well as a few from several unexpected acts (Hello there, Empire of the Sun, Phoenix, and Bastille).

You are now entering what I like to call The Summer of Equality. Enjoy, and be excellent to each other.

You can sample some of the tracks below, or get the whole musical enchilada here.

June 27, 2013

After Living in L.A. for 11 Years, I Know This Much To Be True

Last Sunday, while driving home from a lovely dinner with old friends in Venice (my old stomping grounds) I exited off the 10 Freeway to head north on the 405.

This exit ramp is one of many I've driven hundreds of times in my 11 years of living in Los Angeles. However, this particular ramp provides an unusual view of the city. On a clear day, in a span of two seconds (if you're a cautious driver like myself), you can be greeted by a unique panorama. As the ramp curves high above the surface streets and speeding traffic, there's the Westside to your left, the tall condominiums and office buildings of Westwood and the Wilshire Corridor straight ahead, and the cluster of faraway structures in Hollywood and downtown on your right.

This view is unusual because no one has ever really captured a shot of the city from this angle, despite the fact that Los Angeles is known for being one of the most photographed cities on the planet (and the least photogenic). This view also stands out because it reminds me of the commute I used to take during my first year as a California driver. I had taken this route every morning to Studio City from my humble abode in Venice (shout out to the Carsey-Werner crew of 2003-04).

That was 11 years ago.

Today marks my anniversary of living in Los Angeles, which means I have now lived in the City of Angels for one-third of my life. A third of my life has been spent huffing and puffing (and hustling) my way through a city that promises so much, delivers so little (depending on who you talk to), and yet attaches itself to anyone willing to go along for the ride.

Every year I look back at the 22-year-old who took the plunge and moved across the country to pursue something more than just a job. I, like many of you reading this, had yearned for a new challenge, had wanted a new experience, and had sought after a new life that was all my own.

What I received was something I never expected. I've now created a history in L.A. In some way, no matter how big or small, I like to think I've made a mark on this place ("Hiko wuz hea"). Every sidewalk, every street, and every freeway has a memory attached to it somehow.

I've been fortunate enough to work in an industry that affords me new relationships with each job I work on (or "gig," if you wanna get all Hollywood), and I've made it a habit to remind myself of the friendships I have established over these past 11 years. I'm reminded of the people who continue to influence me, support me, and love me every time I drive home from a group movie outing, a birthday dinner, a kickball game, a night of cocktails, a "business lunch," a coffee date, a game night, a film festival party, a road trip to Palm Springs, a political rally...

Perhaps it's a case Only Child Syndrome that has encouraged me to surround myself with people I can turn to -- and perhaps I can overanalyze myself at another time in another post. But here's one truth I know: they are the ones who have made my 11 years worth it.

Usually, with these anniversary blogs, I tend to look back on the lessons I've learned while continuing to look ahead at what the Universe is preparing for me. But I also have to remind myself that the lessons will keep on coming.

And I will keep on learning.


June 26, 2013

Ladies and Gents of California, Let's Put A Ring On It

So, this happened on the eve of my 11th anniversary of living in Los Angeles, a historic turn of events that I'm sure has 99.9% of my friends and loved ones celebrating across the state of California (and elsewhere). What a joyous day.

I can only imagine the dollar signs wedding planners must be seeing right now. After all, a step towards equality for all also means a step towards a better economy for all, right?

Goodbye DOMA. Farewell Prop 8. You're finally old and irrelevant. In the words of The Black Eyed Peas, you're "so 2008."


June 25, 2013

According to 'World War Z' and 'White House Down,' Parents Make Better Action Heroes

Like many moviegoers, I was somewhat excited for World War Z, the Brad Pitt-fronted adaptation of the bestselling zombie survival guide written by Max Brooks. Despite the behind-the-scenes budget drama and reshoots that plagued the film, I got a kick out of the trailer when it premiered earlier this year. Despite the inundation of zombie apocalypses in pop culture (The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, Warm Bodies, the Resident Evil franchise), I knew I'd eventually cough up several bucks to see -- once again -- the entire planet get torn apart and ravaged by flesh-eating nasties.

However, even though I had never read the book, I knew the movie had gone through drastic changes to transform it into a summer blockbuster with mass appeal -- and this is where I (partially) have my biggest beef with it.

Gone were the first-person accounts from the book that gave the global disaster different perspectives from around the world. Instead of a large, disaster-movie-like ensemble, the movie version of World War Z focuses on a family man (Pitt) who flies around the world to find a way to clean up this undead mess (it definitely helps that he's a former U.N. officer who's capable of getting access to wherever the hell he wants). 

WWZ is just one of many examples in which the protagonist is a loving father and husband who must race against time to save those who matter most to him. Why do action heroes need families? It's a simple Hollywood rule: it makes them more relatable or likable. And, for the most part, it guarantees a safer, PG-13 rating.

This isn't the only movie that has used the "family man" approach to tell a protagonist's story. In Roland Emmerich's 2012, hero John Cusack had to race against time to save his brood from being swallowed up by the Earth. Last time I checked, Charlton Heston didn't have a kid with Ava Gardner in 1974's Earthquake, and Sean Connery only had Natalie Wood to hold on to in 1979's Meteor (Hi, I'm an aficionado of disaster flicks).

And look at this week's White House Down (also directed by Emmerich): Channing Tatum, who shares the same birth year as me, is given an 11-year-old daughter in the film...to eventually rescue, natch. Why? Because, according to Hollywood Blockbuster Arithmetic, it raises the stakes and gives his character a more relatable edge: What would YOU do to save YOUR child from terrorists?

Of course, this child/spouse-in-danger scenario is nothing new. It goes way back to the original Die Hard (and farther back, I'm sure), but it's popping up more often, creating a trend in the genre that is starting to, I believe, tell audiences that a character isn't well-rounded enough or worthy of a compelling story if he or she a) isn't married b) isn't divorced or c) is childless. In fact, the inclusion of young children in peril nowadays, to me, is feeling forced and bordering on being straight-up manipulative and exploitative, especially when a piece of Styrofoam has more parental charisma than said action star.

Sure, John McClane had kids, but did we see them in that 1988 blockbuster? He only had ex-wife Holly trapped at the top of Nakatomi Plaza. His kids didn't really come into play until earlier this year when the fifth installment, A Good Day To Die Hard, featured his adult son as a sidekick and his grown daughter as first- and third-act filler. 

The last two decades in the genre speak for itself: Taken, The Last Kiss Goodnight, and True Lies -- daughters in peril. Snitch and Ransom -- sons in peril. The Day After Tomorrow -- son and son's girlfriend in peril. The Happening -- a group of schoolchildren in peril (as laughable of a movie as that was). And then there's this fall's Prisoners in which Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal search for two kidnapped little girls. I'm sure there are tons of other examples; I'm just too lazy to do the research right now.

And don't even get me started on the horror genre. The Ring, Insidious, Sinister, Dark Skies, The Conjuring, Silent Hill, and Paranormal Activity 2 and 3 are all guilty of placing parents and their offspring at the forefront of some traumatizing business.

My question, then, is this: Why can't we see more single, unattached guys (or gals) save the day in an action blockbuster? Are action heroes better -- and therefore, that more sellable -- if they're playing the role of Loving Parent while diffusing a bomb in ten seconds or less? Or is this just a case of lazy screenwriting? Should we single folk with no kids try to be less sensitive, stuff our mouths with popcorn, sit back, and just watch the damn movie? 

Or can an alternative action hero exist -- and thrive -- in a marketplace and industry that requires them to check off a list of traits that makes them widely appealing? Can't they be driven and motivated by something other than a helpless little girl in pigtails clutching a stuffed animal while hanging from a precipitous ledge?

Let me know your thoughts.

June 05, 2013

Theme Song of the Month: June 2013

Leave it to the (slightly) more progressive radio stations in New York to introduce me to new pop jams that can brighten up my summer (shame on you, Los Angeles).

Case in point: I caught Nikki Williams's "Glowing" on Z100 while driving into Manhattan during my recent summer visit to the East Coast.

While the video is a poorly directed piece of disappointment, the song itself is an unabashed club banger, an anthem for blaring on the road, by the pool, or in your bedroom on a Saturday night.

The girl's got some pipes, but someone should tell her to ditch the whole drunk-flower-child-at-EDC look:


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