December 31, 2013
These ain't no stinkin' resolutions. The following is simply a list of things I wish to do in the new year, little things to be mindful of while I navigate these sometimes treacherous waters we call social media...and that thing I call a life. Let's see what I'm capable of in 2014, shall we?
1. Stop using "Um" to start my status updates and tweets.
2. Resist the urge to call TVLand "the network where former sitcom stars go to die."
3. Say the word "love" more often. To people. To their faces.
4. Invest in a pair of Rockports. Something like these. With light blue laces.
5. Unsubscribe to e-newsletters that continuously flood my inbox.
6. Send publishers that book treatment I've been delaying.
8. Get around to reading this.
9. Get my passport stamped again.
10. Continue to say "no," and be okay with it.
11. Finish The Fall on Netflix.
12. Practice more empathy.
13. Make more lists.
14. Continue to let go.
May 2014 bring you happiness and more.
December 20, 2013
Back in 2007 I had the privilege of meeting Ned Vizzini in an apartment in Hollywood while celebrating a mutual friend's birthday. Coincidentally, I had finished reading his novel, Be More Chill, several months prior and had fallen in love with his writing. The novel, an Entertainment Weekly Top 10 Book of 2004, is about a high school loser who takes a pill to make himself cool and popular. It was one of the best pieces of fiction I had read in a while, and I had been thrilled by the circumstances that allowed us to cross paths. Rarely does one get a chance to meet - and befriend - someone whose work you enjoy and admire.
From then on, Ned became a "writer friend," one of those acquaintances I'd meet up for coffee every once in a while. I was always inspired after our conversations, hearing about his latest projects and sharing what we were enjoying at the time (and sure, I had some writer envy). And then there were birthday and holiday gatherings throughout the years. He treated me to a birthday mojito at last year's festivities and burned me a copy of Alphabeat's new album (my favorite Danish pop group) when I attended a Christmas party he and his wife Sabra had hosted. He even took some time out of his schedule to help me with a little video project I had worked on during the summer of 2010 (he pops up at the 2:11 mark).
When I received a call from our mutual friend last night, telling me about the news of his death being plastered all over Twitter and Facebook (the guy has many dedicated fans and followers), I had to check for myself and hoped that it was some kind of bizarre hoax or publicity prank. Sadly though, after receiving another phone call confirming the news, I was speechless. What was heartbreakingly jarring is the fact that one of my peers had taken his own life. The amount of thoughts and speculation that follow such an act are many, but all that matters is that this talented human being who touched lives is no longer on this earth.
News like this just stuns a person into a state of disbelief, and you can't help but flash back to all the memories you had with him. I had been corresponding with Ned via email shortly before Thanksgiving, asking him if he was interested in being a guest contributor for Bello Mag. Naturally he was busy, but I was proud of him for landing a staff gig on J.J. Abrams's mid-season drama, Believe. I wished him well and hoped "to see you soon!" As for the last time I physically saw him, it was back in April at the L.A. Times Festival of Books at USC. I wanted to show my support, sit in on a panel he was sharing with director Chris Columbus, and hear them excitedly talk about their new project, a young-adult fantasy series called House of Secrets.
The posts inevitably followed across all social media platforms:
Nick Buchanan at Vulture.com recently posted about Ned's passing, quoting from an interview which discussed the writer's past struggles with depression. Ned's soundbite was as follows: "My favorite distraction from suicidal thoughts is riding my bike. Bad thoughts get caught under the front wheel and good ones whiz up the back into brain."
This quote reminds me of one of the last times I had met up with Ned for coffee. It was at L.A. Mill in Silverlake, and after parking my car, I found Ned chaining his bicycle to a fence. He had said that he loved riding in his neighborhood. I simply thought it was because he was being environmentally conscious and saving up on gas money.
Now I know why.
Ned, here's to celebrating nothing but good thoughts.
December 19, 2013
Christmas came a little early when I received a copy of S, an ambitious mystery novel from the mind of J.J. Abrams and novelist Doug Dorst.
The concept: It's a book within a book. The Ship of Theseus is the "book" written by a mysterious "author" named V.M. Straka, and inside its pages are the corresponding scrawlings of a college senior named Jennifer and a "disgraced grad student" named Eric who try solve a much bigger mystery made manifest in a collection of letters, postcards, and newspaper clippings stuffed inside the 400+page book.
The hardcover itself is ingeniously designed to look like a used, vintage copy from a library (checkout dates are stamped on the back cover, and the spine is categorically labeled). A lot of thought apparently went into this meta-story, and I wouldn't be surprised if a movie adaptation is being developed as I write this (of course, it'll have to reach some kind of best-selling status to warrant one).
And hey, if they can invest in a creepy teaser trailer for this book (watch it here), they can easily turn this into something for the screen, big or small.
I cannot wait to tear into it. But first, I'll have to complete the massive paperback that is The Passage, which I plan to crack open on my upcoming holiday flight to New York.
*Thank you Kaila for the gift!
December 18, 2013
Last night's magical moment during the anticipated Christina Aguilera-Lady Gaga duet on The Voice arrived at the 2:34 mark when Mother Monster and Xtina grabbed each other's hand in a gesture of solidarity, obliterating all of the rumors that stained the blogosphere, pitting both superstars against each other in she said/she said bitchery. Needless to say, I was experiencing severe Whitney-Mariah flashbacks to 1998 when both singers performed "When You Believe" at the Academy Awards.
Sure, the whole thing could've been an ingenious PR move from both sides, but you have to hand it to Aguilera for sending out the message -- after the awesome performance -- that female artists need to stand together, continue to support each other, and leave all the diva rivalry bullshit behind.
December 17, 2013
First of all, thank you for consciously clicking on the link that took you to this post. It means a lot. Really, it does. It gives me warm fuzzies of validation inside. You've taken the time from your busy Facebook/Twitter feeds to see what this 2013 Review is all about, and I appreciate it.
If you're new to these parts, welcome. And if you're a First Echo regular, then welcome back; you probably know what you're in for -- a whole lotta critique and commentary on the portions of popular culture that pinged on my packed radar this year. I've got a list of items as long as Miley Cyrus's tongue.
In a year full of royal babies, upsetting trials (George Zimmerman), WTF celebrity deaths (Cory, Paul, et al), and viral sensations (enough with the Harlem Shake), there was plenty to talk about. 2013 didn't fail to supply the goods. For every Buzzfeed list celebrating the nuanced facial gestures of pop artists, there was an inspiring, faith-restoring clip on Upworthy. And for every 12 Years a Slave, there was a Lone Ranger (or After Earth).
As for yours truly, it was certainly a transformative year. But at the risk of sounding like one of those lengthy "holiday update letters" you receive from friends and relatives you rarely see anymore, I'll just list everything -- in one long, random stream of consciousness -- that made my 2013: new car, new job, new bed (thanks, Ellen Degeneres!), 15 airplanes, 13 celebrity interviews, 7 cities slept in (including 1 mountain forest), 3 countries visited, and 1 addiction to Scandal. Of course, there were some not-so-happy moments (A root fracture! Continued debt! The loss of a friend), but why dwell on the negative? If anything, this was the year I truly understood the meaning of gratitude. I never thought I'd write this, but here it is: It took a trip to South America to make me realize how grateful I should be - and am. It's more than just looking on the bright side of things; it's a matter of counting every blessing, big or small, and constantly reminding yourself to soak up all the good stuff while it lasts. But enough with the inspirational chatter (there'll be more on my experiences in Peru when I publish my travel feature next year).
Once again, I've gone ahead and listed what I've thoroughly enjoyed during these last 365 days (give or take). Please allow my attempts to infotain you before you get drunk at the next holiday gathering and make a fool of yourself...
FILM PICKS OF 2013
*based on what I've viewed at press time
1. Before Midnight - The art of conversation is rarely exhibited in cinema, especially in a soundbite culture that has whittled down dialogue to 140 characters or less. Richard Linklater's third entry in his Jesse-and-Celine saga revels in those intimate moments of lengthy chatter, refuses to romanticize anything about the trappings of relationships between men and women, and dares to voyeuristically place the audience in a marriage that is far from perfect.
2. The Spectacular Now - A "teen" movie without the gloss, without the pretense, without the obnoxious pop soundtrack. Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller shine as a pair of high school seniors who form an unlikely relationship in Small Town, USA, and the result is an intimate and resonant drama of John Hughesian proportions.
3. Philomena - Six words: Judi Dench can do no wrong.
4. Prisoners - It's dark, Domestic Drama crossed with brutal Revenge Flick, but what director Denis Villeneuve, writer Aaron Guzikowski, and the brilliant cast (headed by a fierce Hugh Jackman) ultimately do is hold a mirror up to an American culture seeped in violence and simmering rage. What's fascinatingly disturbing is the film's subtle way of telling its audience that anyone -- anyone -- is capable of evil.
5. Gravity - A stunning technical achievement from the man behind Children of Men (a top 10 fave from 2006), this immersive space thriller is a tale of survival that hooks you at the first frame.
6. The World's End - Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's exhilaratingly entertaining pub crawl uses a sci-fi trope like an alien invasion to wryly comment on friendship, nostalgia, the state of the world, and the absolutely frightening process of getting older.
7. August: Osage County - Meryl Streep, in a role that will undoubtedly earn her an umpteenth Oscar nod, is the morose centerpiece in this ensemble drama that takes family dysfunction to darkly comedic new heights. Witness Julia Roberts unleash a rage unlike any character she's ever played. See a devastatingly vulnerable Benedict Cumberbatch fall in forbidden love. And marvel at Margo Martindale's broken soul of a sister.
8. The Place Beyond the Pines - A meditation on the relationships between fathers and sons and the legacies they leave behind, Derek Cianfrance's drama is cut into three powerful acts, set over a 15-year timespan, that respectively showcase three magnetic performances from Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and relative newcomer Emory Cohen.
9. Blue Jasmine - Cate Blanchett commands the screen as a woman of privilege who loses her cushy life (thanks to her Bernie Madoff-esque husband, played by Alec Baldwin) and gradually starts to lose her mind. Jasmine is a character desperate to cling on to what she once had, and watching her fall apart is at times funny, heartbreaking, and beautifully tragic.
10. American Hustle - Admission: Part of the thrill of this rollicking crime drama is seeing its A-list talent dress up in late 70s garb and act like the crazily greedy figures they're portraying. It's a period piece that feels very now, populated with people who do bad things for semi-good, understandable reasons. Sure, it's blatant Oscar bait -- and it doesn't give a shit.
FOUR HONORABLE MENTIONS:
You're Next (A fabulously frightful family slasher film)
Disconnect (Crash with chat rooms and identity theft)
G.B.F. (Or, what will easily be nicknamed Mean Gays)
G.B.F. (Or, what will easily be nicknamed Mean Gays)
Trance (An art heist film by way of Danny Boyle channeling Christopher Nolan)
Star Trek Into Darkness (Popcorn perfection).
TV PICKS OF 2013
During my first year without cable, I managed to keep up with the
Kardashians Joneses and transform myself into a proud, streaming couch potato. Thanks to HuluPlus, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go, I was able to binge my way through shows about lawyers (finally finished Damages), imprisoned lesbians, and adorkable British blokes.
1. Orange Is The New Black (Netflix) - 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, psychology, redemption, fate, and corruption (especially within America's prison system), Jenji Kohan's 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 prepiness, 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. As for the rest of the brilliant ensemble, there aren't enough Emmys to dole out for the amount of diverse talent that carries this show.
2. Breaking Bad (AMC) - Delivering one of the most satisfying (and inevitable) final episodes in TV history, Vince Gilligan & Co. brilliantly tied up the tragic saga of Walter White, a character destined for the TV Icon Hall of Fame. The final 8 episodes delivered several one-two punches we never saw coming, propelling the story towards its deadly denouement. Television drama has never been so tense, so poetic, and so gorgeously cinematic.
4. House of Cards (Netflix) - Kevin Spacey covets a role he was destined to play in a series that is destined to further change the way we watch television. This David Fincher-produced political potboiler is sinister in all the right ways, and actor Corey Stoll is truly the revelation of the year as Congressman Peter Russo.
5. Enlightened (HBO) - Laura Dern, in a criminally ignored performance on a criminally neglected show, is brilliant as Amy Jellicoe, a David going up against a Goliath, which happens to be the corrupt corporation she works for. Mike White's highly addictive tragicomedy brilliantly says so much about so much -- the state of the corporate world, the treatment of mental health, the trappings of fortysomethinghood -- with so little.
6. Scandal (ABC) - Having binged on this deliriously delicious drama's first 20 episodes back in the spring, I am now a full-fledged fanatic, live-tweeting during episodes and following most of the cast on Twitter. I haven't been riveted by such crazy cliffhangers and plot twists like this since the early days of Alias, and before that, Melrose Place. OMGTV indeed. Shonda Rhimes, you crazy.
7. American Horror Story: Coven (FX) - Ryan Murphy knows his powerhouse actresses. And thank the gods that he brought Angela Bassett to television. There was never a dull moment in AHS's third go-round, and much of it was due to the cast's razor-sharp performances and the sinfully scrumptious scripts.
9. The Americans (FX) - You may or may not remember 1999's disturbing yet highly engrossing Arlington Road (starring Jeff Bridges as a man who suspects his neighbors are terrorists), but if you do, you'll find brilliant shades of it in this awesome Cold-War-in-the-80s series that sees Felicity (Keri Russell) turn into an ice queen with a gun and the gay brother from Brothers & Sisters (Matthew Rhys) transform into an ass-kicking soldier torn between honoring his home country and saving the one he's slowly adopting as his own.
10. The Blacklist (NBC) - I feel like patting NBC on the head and saying, "Well done, Peacock! Well done!" for giving network audiences a thriller that's thisclose to rivaling those found on cable. And hello, Megan Boone, who may very well be the next Jennifer Garner.
HONORABLE MENTION: Family Tree (HBO) - From the improvisational mind of Christopher Guest comes this quiet underdog of a comedy that delivered one of the best gags of the season: Nina Conti as Bea Chadwick...and her hand puppet Monk (due to a childhood trauma, Bea needs to express her emotions through a stuffed monkey, and the side barbs the little creature spits out are hysterical). It's awkward, it's heartwarming, it's unapologetically British.
MUSIC PICKS OF 2013A pop diva-filled fall (Katy! Gaga! Britney! Beyonce!) couldn't distract us from the fact that the rest of the year featured some musical standouts from artists who came out of nowhere and dared to change the game...
1. In A Tidal Wave of Mystery by Capital Cities - Sure, Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian's ubiquitous "Safe and Sound" is nice and all, but there's so much more to discover on their magnificent debut album (and previously released EP) like: their hypnotic cover of Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" and the electro trumpet-filled "Kangaroo Court," which needs to be played on more radios (see below). These former commercial jingle writers also win the award for Best Song Title of 2013: "Farrah Fawcett Hair," a spectacular track that unpredictably combines narration from NPR's Frank Tavares, soulful, gospel-like theatrics...and Andre 3000.
2. "High Society" by Betty Who - A great pop song is one that can be played on repeat without getting tired, and that's what this irresistibly breezy, all-consuming love song excels at. The Australian singer, who made waves with her song appearing in that Home Depot marriage proposal video earlier this year, delivers some easy-on-the-ears vocals and silk-smooth lyrics. She's like Robyn without the Euro-quirk, Katy without the excess. Her next collaboration with producer Peter Thomas, "All of You," should propel her into a bigger spotlight. Because this girl needs to own 2014. Listen for yourself:
3. Ice On The Dune by Empire of the Sun - The eclectic duo from Down Under elaborate on their electronic soundscapes and deliver a sophomore album that electrified the summer (sorry, Daft Punk).
4. Heartthrob by Tegan & Sara - Talk about a delayed breakout: this twin sister act has been around for a decade, but it took the excellent pop production stylings of Greg Kurstin to propel T&S to new heights and earn them new fans - myself included - with this sparkling gem of an album.
5. "Sweater Weather" by The Neighbourhood - Surfer noir rock and all of its melancholy glory:
6. "My Heart Is Refusing Me" by Loreen - The Swedish pop tart with pipes gave listeners a riveting, EDM-driven single that is equal parts pulse-racing, emotionally cathartic, and quite transcendent. Arguably the best dance track of the year:
7. Bad Blood by Bastille - Fronted by singer-songwriter Dan Smith, this London-based group is delivering some early 90s alternative pop-rock realness blended with a unique yet familiar sound that is very early 2010s. And any band that un-ironically mashes up Corona's "Rhythm of the Night" with Snap's "Rhythm is a Dancer" to evocative effect is A-OK in my book.
8. "Chocolate" by The 1975 - Consider The 1975's breakthrough single a slice of alt-rock-pop from 1995. It rolls along and builds up towards an anthemic bridge you'll want to sing along to while downing a few pints at the pub with your mates (even though you may not be able to decipher the heavily-accented lyrics).
9. "Royals" by Lorde - While the Women of Pop were busy roaring and living for the applause, this teenager from New Zealand snuck in and basically changed the game. With awesome lyrics that shame pop for celebrating the vapid and shallow tropes often found in Top 40, it's an anti-establishment anthem that thankfully doesn't get bogged down with cynicism.
10. "Same Love" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis feat. Mary Stewart - The long-neglected category of Pop Music With a Message came back during a time when this country needed it. The headline-making rap duo surprised with this marriage equality anthem, bravely taking hip-hop to new heights and exposing the genre's embedded prejudices and hypocrisy.
...AND 10 VERY HONORABLE MENTIONS:
"Wake Me Up" (Avicii feat. Aloe Blacc)
"Mirrors" (Justin Timberlake)
"We Can't Stop" (Miley Cyrus)
"Good For You" (Icona Pop)
"Her Favorite Song" (Mayer Hawthorne)
"Gypsy" (Lady Gaga)
"American Girl" (Bonnie McKee)
"You Will Leave A Mark" (A Silent Film)
"The Wire" (HAIM)
Happy Holidays, kids.
And here's to having 2014 kick 2013's ass.
December 14, 2013
And yes, I will openly admit that Ricky Martin is included on this playlist as well as a dance jam that's been out for a while now (apologies for the delay). What else? I kick off with Gaga's best track from ARTPOP, followed by a One Direction single that actually doesn't suck. And when you get to Tegan and Sara, feel free to blare it at the gym while you burn off those Christmas cookies.
1. "Gyspy" by Lady Gaga
2. "Satellites" by Cash Cash
3. "Story of My Life" by One Direction
4. "International Smile" by Katy Perry:
5. "On The Radio" by The Saturdays
6. "Hard Out There" by Lily Allen
7. "Soldier" by Samantha Jade
8. "Shudder to Think" by Tegan and Sara
9. "Over Your Shoulder" by Chromeo:
10. "How I Feel" by Flo Rida
11. "Amy" by Goodie Mob feat. V
12. "Tidal Wave" by Sub Focus feat. Alpine
13. "Time To Save Our Love" by Brian McFadden
14. "Come With Me" by Ricky Martin
15. "The Mother We Share (Moonboots Remix)" by Chvrches:
16. "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" by Lorde
17. "Call Me What You Like" by Emeil Sande
18. "We Own The Night" by The Wanted
19. "Hand On Heart" by Olly Murs
20. "Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais Vocal Down Mix)" by Lana Del Rey
December 12, 2013
The title of this YouTube clip may be "Madonna Live from The American Music Awards, Los Angeles 1985" -- and sure, it's great to see the Material Girl in all of her pre-Gaga glory -- but the following might as well be called "Look How Racially Insensitive The AMAs Were 28 Years Ago."
Really? Was there no other way to describe a genre of music that was inherently pop?
The first category is mentioned at the :20 mark. Then again at :43. And then the nominees in another similarly named category get announced at 3:15. Just watch...and gape in disbelief:
And sure, you may also find Purple Rain beating out Thriller just as offensive.
December 11, 2013
When one nostalgically binges on all seven seasons of The Golden Girls like me (I swear I have a life), you pick up on a few things. Certain patterns appear as you continuously witness the consumption of countless cheesecakes inside a fictitious Miami kitchen and hear one St. Olaf story too many.
Here's what I noticed after playing my DVDs of this 80s classic over the past several months (and if you're already familiar with the following factoids, excuse me for underestimating your fanaticism)...
2. The same can be said for Sid Melton, who played Sophia's deceased husband Sal (in flashbacks and dream sequences). He also appears in a Season 6 episode as a jester in a medieval-themed restaurant where Dorothy and her high school crush (Hal Linden) go out on a dinner date.
3. Memory Slip! Starting in the fifth season (1989-90), it becomes apparent that Bea Arthur had started using cue cards during certain scenes, especially if they involved lengthy monologues. The same can be said for Estelle Getty; it became known that she had entered the early stages of dementia at some point in the early 90s, when the Golden franchise was coming to and end (a tidbit brought up during an episode of Lifetime's Intimate Portrait).
5. You may notice a slight change in Sophia's look after the show's first season. The reason: Estelle Getty got a facelift during the show's first summer hiatus.
6. Character Continuity Mistake #1: Dorothy's son, Michael (Scott Jacoby) appears three times throughout the show's run. In his first appearance, Dorothy refers to him as a 30-year-old. In the second, he's 21. However, in his last episode, he's in his 30s again.
7. Character Continuity Mistake #2: After Miles leaves Rose to go back into the Witness Protection Program (he ratted out The Cheeseman, a Chicago mobster), he is later referred to in the following episode as having gone on a class trip with his university students.
9. The idea for The Golden Girls emerged during the taping of a 1984 TV special in which actresses Selma Diamond (Night Court) and Doris Roberts (Remington Steele) appeared in a sketch promoting new show Miami Vice as Miami Nice, a parody about old people living in Florida. In the audience was the network's senior vice president, Warren Littlefield, who liked the performance and envisioned a sitcom based on geriatric humor.
9. Tom Whedon, a writer-producer on the show for several seasons, is the father of Buffy creator and Avengers director Joss Whedon.
10. In the pilot, Dorothy says she's from Queens, but throughout the remainder of the series, she's referred to as a Brooklyn native.
11. Marc Cherry, the creator of Desperate Housewives and Devious Maids, was one of the show's story editors starting in Season 5. He later became a producer along with writing partner Jamie Wooten.
12. During the second season, an attempt to spinoff the show was made. Rita Moreno appeared in a backdoor pilot called Empty Nests, a comedy about a middle-aged couple who live next door to the girls. It obviously didn't work, because by 1988, it was retooled to focus on the life of widower Harry Weston and his two adult daughters (Empty Nest).
13. And as for that exclamation point-shaped carving on the door? I finally had to do a little research because it has been bugging me for years: Bea Arthur apparently did it before taping the pilot episode (as a possible gesture of good luck).
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