August 31, 2013

The 'Downton Abbey' Season 4 Teaser Trailer is Here

...and my heart is skipping several beats.

Granted, it's a minute-long promo from Britain's ITV network, but still, those two seconds of Tom Cullen (Weekend) are. Giving. Me. Life.

Seriously, we gotta wait til January for this period porn? Damn you, PBS! But at least we get a glimpse at the new faces that are visiting everyone's favorite countryside estate.

Behold, and let your breath be taken:


August 29, 2013

Christina Aguilera's "Let There Be Love" Finally Debuts

Apparently I'm not the only one who thought this single should've dropped sooner.

Christina, looking trim, happy and absolutely carefree while delivering a heartfelt message to her loyal fans, is finally releasing "Let There Be Love" as her next single. The super-charged dancefloor anthem is a no-brainer when it comes to selecting Top 40 radio-friendly jams. Yet, nearly a year after releasing Lotus, why now? This should have been the obvious choice after the lukewarm reception for "Your Body" put a damper on her alleged comeback.

As for the video: I don't want to hate -- because that would go against the song's blatant message -- but to me, it reeks of a record label (or management team) trying to ride the coattails of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis's "Same Love" or any other pop song with social relevance. That, or a last-ditch attempt to salvage an album before it's completely forgotten and finds a home in the High Profile Pop Album Graveyard.

Don't get me wrong. If you know me well enough, you know Xtina's still one of my five all-time favorite artists. That's why it's a little disheartening for me to see such a great track receive the shot-on-a-Flipcam-and-edited-on-iMovie treatment. The song screams glitter and choreography.

Here's hoping that this is all just a teaser of what's to come...

Or just file this under When Bad Music Video Happent to Great Pop Songs.


Pop Culture Rant of the Week: Twerking with Patrick Stewart

To twerk or not to twerk? That is the question asked during this post-VMA week. While some of you continue to flood my news feeds with Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke editorials, I'll focus my attention on other things that are beeping on my radar...

1. Dorian Gray alert! Both Jared Leto and Wentworth Miller are 41 years old. As in, born in 1972. As in, entering middle age. Why do I get the feeling both of these genetically blessed blokes are hiding crumbling portraits of themselves somewhere in an attic?

2. The teaser trailer for next year's Divergent, the dystopian thriller starring Shailene Woodley (based on the bestselling YA series -- surprise), came out earlier this week:

My thoughts? While cynics will be quick to scream "Hunger Games rip-off!" I'll sit back and appreciate Kate Winslet as an icy government bitch and congratulate Theo James for finding something that will hopefully propel him to superstardom more so than CBS's short-lived Golden Boy last spring. And no, I have no plans to read the books whatsoever (I have yet to start Mockingjay, and that's not happening anytime soon).

3. Patrick Stewart went viral with his YouTube lesson on The Quadruple Take -- And apparently he was stoned while doing it from the comforts of a treehouse somewhere in New York. Somewhere Ian McKellen is taking a bong hit and educating his boyfriend on the nuances of "spit" takes.

4. Ariana Grande's new album leaked -- And everyone over 25 shrugs in unison. ('s actually a pretty good album!)

5. Finally! More of my friends have caught up on the first season of Orange Is The New Black -- And so it begins, the quest to find another show no one has watched and obsess over it for the next three months...

In conclusion: Every month should come equipped with a three-day weekend. Dagnabbit, America deserves it after earning its reputation as one of the hardest-working nations in the world (despite being simultaneously perceived as the laziest).

Happy Labor Day,


August 28, 2013

Passport Alert: I'm Going To Peru

There, I said it.

Come September 25 I will embark on a 10-day excursion to South America where I will eat, pray, and (hopefully) love my way through Cuzco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Lima.

My gracious hosts at Magical Journey are providing some outstanding accommodations, and I couldn't be more grateful. After spending a night in the city of Cuzco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire, I will travel to Sacred Valley and spend six nights at a luxury retreat called Willka T'ika. This will be followed by two nights near the sacred ruins of Machu Picchu and then one night in the metropolis of Lima (I'll have 20 hours to kill there before hopping on my flight back to Los Angeles).

Many thanks also go out to The Westin Lima Hotel and LAN Airlines for their generous support during my trip.

Needless to say, I am beyond thrilled by this amazing travel opportunity. That said, please excuse the Instagram pictures and Facebook posts that will inevitably fill up your news feeds a month from now. It's safe to say the Japanese tourist in me will be more than a little camera-happy once I get off that plane and begin what will surely be an unforgettable journey.


August 27, 2013

THE SEPTEMBER SESSIONS: The 2013 Fall Playlist, Vol. 1

Labor Day weekend is upon us, and as we bid adieu to another summer, I'd like to press play on the following tracks that'll help us transition into the next season.

I consider this my own version of Vogue's super-sized September issue. Without the 100 pages of fashion ads tailored to make you feel shitty about yourself, of course.

Some of the songs here are obvious choices ("A-P-P-L-A-U-S-E"), while others may be unexpected and new to some ears (a boy band of yesteryear returns). But ultimately, each one is presented here to make you feel good and remind you to enjoy the hell out of life while you still can (isn't that right, Basement Jaxx?).

1. "Applause" by Lady Gaga
2. "Take Back The Night" by Justin Timberlake
3. "Roar" by Katy Perry
4. "Miss Movin' On" by Fifth Harmony
5. "Permanent Stain" by Backstreet Boys
6. "Best Song Ever" by One Direction
7. "Hears Like Ours" by The Naked and Famous:

8. "What A Difference Your Love Makes" by Basement Jaxx
9. "Pompeii" by Bastile
10. "Pumpin Blood" by NoNoNo
11. "King of Wishful Thinking" by Letta
12. "Sometimes" by Miami Horror
13. "Tomahawk (Edit)" by BT & Adam K
14. "Teenage Crime (Radio Edit)" by Adrian Lux
15. "My Number" by Foals
16. "First Time" by Jonas Brothers
17. "Danny, Dakota & The Wishing Well" by A Silent Film:

18. "Reload" by Sebastian Ingrosso & Tommy Trash feat. John Martin
19. "No You Girls" by Franz Ferdinand
20. "King and Lionheart" by Of Monsters and Men

Stay tuned for Volume 2...


August 22, 2013

'The X-Files' Debuted 20 Years Ago

It was the show that not only rejuvenated sci-fi, it practically gave birth to the genre of mythology-driven serials that allowed shows like Lost, Fringe, and Grimm to exist and flourish on network television.

Created by Chris Carter, The X-Files introduced millions of people to what would become one of TV's most popular duos, Mulder and Scully -- the believer and the skeptic -- in the attractive forms of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, respectively. These two FBI agents investigated every proverbial bump in the night and out-of-this-world freak show imaginable, and every week each case proved to be creepier than the last.

Next month, my inner fanboy-geek will be celebrating the Emmy-winning drama's 20th anniversary as well as cringing at how fast time has flown since that fateful autumn premiere on Fox.

Is it me, or does Gillian resemble Virginia Madsen here?
Allow me to paint a picture for you: It was September 1993. I had just started eighth grade and was looking forward to collecting my umpteenth Fall Preview issue of TV Guide. Having already been a fan of episodic thrills and chills (in the countless paperback horror novels I read in junior high), I was intrigued by this new Friday night drama. The pilot immediately sucked me in with its atmospheric, only-in-Vancouver locales and its eerie, minimalist score. Critics and journalists kept comparing it to The Night Stalker, a short-lived show from the 70s I had never watched. All I knew was this: I had a companion show to complement my other Friday night staple, Picket Fences (I didn't get out much).

The show basically heralded an era of cynicism, doubt, and speculation -- otherwise known as the 90s. During a time when the POTUS had to lie about his indiscretions with a White House intern, and the Internet was quickly turning the public into inquiring voyeurs, The X-Files fed a nation hungry for information and thirsty for truth in any way, shape, or form.

Most of the cases Mulder and Scully solved (or left open) were truly terrifying. Eugene Tooms, the serial killer who thrived on bile and ate people's livers, was one of the first Big Bads that left an impression on viewers as well as my 13-year-old self. The second episode of Season 4, entitled "Home," earned a viewer discretion warning for its graphic portrait of a family of inbreeders. And then there's the darkly comedic "Humbug," a Season 2 entry about the murders of circus sideshow performers; also known as the episode where Scully happily ate a bug.

Chris Carter & Co. defied expectations, taking risks and breaking new ground with the narrative style of episodic television. There was "The Post-Modern Prometheus," shot entirely in black-in-white, "Triangle," which was filmed in real time (in one single take), and "Hollywood A.D.," a meta episode that skewered Tinseltown with its satirical edge. And in between the show's "Monster of the Week" stories was a vast and rich mythology involving one mother of a government conspiracy that I won't even attempt to summarize here. Let's just say it involved Mulder's dad and his abducted sister, Scully's sudden pregnancy, super soldiers, black ooze, and a guy who smoked a lot of cigarettes. Like, a lot.

The X-Files was my first true TV obsession (alongside Fox's other primetime hit, Melrose Place). I collected TV Guide clippings, magazine articles, and any random piece of material I could add to my 8-inch-thick scrapbook (that'll win the respect of my classmates). And it didn't stop there. There were the paperback novelizations, the posters, the T-shirts, the XF-themed mix tapes my friend Sarah and I made for each other (it was a simpler, pre-Spotify time), the piles of VHS cassettes of episodes I accumulated, and naturally, the one convention I attended with my nerd buddies, one of whom wrote a piece of XF erotic fan fiction -- another story for another time.

When The X-Files: Fight the Future was released in theaters during the summer after my high school graduation, I ran to my nearest multiplex and experienced the ecstasy of seeing my favorite supernatural crime fighters on the big screen. However, I won't even touch the ginormous disappointment that was 2008's The X-Files: I Want To Believe. (I mean, did that really happen? Or was that just a bad dream co-starring Xzibit and Amanda Peet?)

And then there was this year's 20th Anniversary panel at Comic-Con down in San Diego, a momentous occasion for which I killed three hours waiting in line. Gillian and David never looked better.

Debuting at the beginning of my last year of elementary school and concluding at the end of my senior year of college, The X-Files had an impact on me, not only as an avid TV watcher, but as a writer. It taught me about character development, it taught me about running with one's freaky imagination, and it ultimately taught me the risks of wearing out a show's welcome (and creative juices) for two seasons too long. Regardless, some of the weakest entries in this pioneering drama are still stronger than what may pass for cult entertainment nowadays.

That all said, I wish a happy 20th to Chris, Gillian, David, and the rest of the crew.



August 01, 2013

'Orange is the New Black': So I Finally Finished the First Season...

It took less than two weeks, but I finally made it. Ahem...

A great show works on so many levels, and OITNB touches upon a plethora of issues few dramas tread on.

Effortlessly and ingeniously blending themes of sexuality, female friendship, identity, race, religion, psychology, redemption, fate, and corruption (especially within America's prison system), Jenji Kohan's (Weeds) behind-the-bars drama isn't as dark and heavy as you'd expect, but it's not light either. Taylor Schilling, who embodies a J.Crew-and-Whole-Foods preppiness, surprises as Piper Chapman, a traditionally pretty fish-out-of-water who reluctantly succumbs to her harsh environment; it's the most compelling de-evolution of a TV character we've witnessed since being introduced to Breaking Bad's Walter White in 2008. To see what she becomes within the first 13 episodes is as shocking as it is natural (those last two minutes of the finale were jawdropping).

Backstory in a nutshell for those of you who have yet to binge on this outstanding series: Back in college, Piper became a mule for an international drug smuggler with whom she had a lesbian fling (That 70s Show alum Laura Prepon). 10 years later, she's now paying the price, a 15-month sentence in a correctional facility in upstate New York.

But it's not just about her. Each player in this large and refreshingly diverse ensemble brilliantly commands whatever screen time she (or he, but mostly she) is given because they are given a well-thought-out history, which in turn, adds a mesmerizing dimension to each character. Kate Mulgrew's Red is one cunning and proud Mother Hen. Michelle Hurst's Miss Claudette is a sympathetic figure cut from the cloth of a Dickensian tragedy. And Laverne Cox lends a quiet gravitas to Sophia, a transsexual firefighter-turned-hairdresser who strikes up an unlikely allegiance with a nun (the comforting Beth Fowler).

And there's more: Taryn Manning is nearly unrecognizable as religious freak Pennsatucky. There isn't a scene the fantastic Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes) can't steal. Australian actress Yael Stone makes the adorable yet clueless Lorna a chick from the Bronx you'd want to be pals with. Danielle Brooks is heartbreaking as Taystee, especially when she finds herself back in prison after dealing with the unfair cruelties of an outside world no one prepared her for. And let's give three cheers for a pair of American Pie alumni, Natasha Lyonne and Jason Biggs, for being gifted with such stellar material and easily delivering their best work to date as actors.

What Jenji Kohan & Co. have created is a rich and colorful tapestry that will continue to unravel with each season (there will be more, no doubt), with each character, and with each carefully plotted storyline. Congrats to Netflix for landing their best original series to date, a dynamic and nuanced portrayal of individuals who have made bad decisions, some of them luckless victims, but all of them part of a class of citizens neglected by society -- who all happen to be women.

A lot will inevitably be written about this multi-layered show because there's so much to observe and analyze. But all I know right now is this:

Let the OITNB withdrawal begin.


This Scared The Crap Out Of Me As A Little Kid

While browsing through the racks of used DVDs at Amoeba Music in Hollywood earlier today (in the horror section, natch), I came across a movie I haven't seen -- or thought about, really -- since the mid-80s.

The Watcher in the Woods is a 1980 Disney flick (Disney!) about the spirit of a dead girl haunting a young teen at her family's British countryside home. Starring Bette Davis in one of her final roles, the melodramatic movie also features Carroll Baker, the gun-toting grandmother from Kindergarten Cop (all together now: "You're not so tough without your car, are ya?").

To think that the studio that gave us the Happiest Place On Earth also produced a straight-up supernatural thriller without any comic relief or blatant product placement is mind-boggling today (granted, it was rated PG). If I were to make an analogy? It's like if Disney had released Insidious two years ago.

I must have been 4- or 5-years-old when I saw this movie for the first time. The eerie imagery (a blindfolded little girl, occult rituals, and Bette Davis) left an impression on me. I doubt the movie holds up well 33 years later in a world inundated with fare like Paranormal Activity and The Conjuring bringing on the scares.

But still, I plan to revisit and rewatch.


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 ...