January 23, 2014

Passport Alert: I'm Going to Vancouver

Next week I'll be flying off to the Seattle of Canada, a place where many a Hollywood producer likes to take advantage of alluring tax breaks -- Vancouver, BC.

My generous hosts at Destination BC are treating me to a four-day experience that includes two nights at the Opus Hotel and two nights on Whistler Mountain at the luxurious Nita Lake Lodge. A shout-out also goes out to Desigual for hooking me up with a much-needed winter coat (I left mine in New York) and the good folks at iHome for supplying the hot pair of headphones I'll be needing for the inevitable plane and bus rides during my wintry adventure with other travel journalists (my feature will be seen in an upcoming issue of Bello Mag).

It's safe to say you won't be seeing any photos of me zipping down the mountain on a snowboard -- my feet haven't touched a ski since the late 80s. Right now, the plan is to enjoy some downtown nightlife, take a snowshoe hike, and absorb as much culture and scenery as I can (translation: eat some good grub).

Canada, gird your loins.


Obsession of the Week: Neon Trees's "Sleeping With a Friend"

Shortly after returning to L.A. from a three-day weekend in Vegas (I won $30 at blackjack and killed my hamstrings during a kickball tournament), I took a break from listening to the Nerdist podcast, turned on the radio, and was immediately wooed by the latest single from alt-pop rockers Neon Trees: "Sleeping With a Friend."

It's a refreshing little ditty perfect for my nighttime drive down Sunset Boulevard. With drumbeats straight out of 1993, it's as if it came from the soundtrack of some long-forgotten rom-com...or the opening credits to a short-lived GenX drama on Fox.

Watch. Listen. And love:

January 17, 2014

TWENTY14: Sounds of a New Year

My first compilation of the year consists of an eclectic ensemble. I mean, where else will you find a playlist that includes Vampire Weekend one minute and then Cher in the next?

Once you're done cheating on your New Year's resolutions, pop in the earbuds and give these tracks a spin. You'll be glad you did.

1. "All of You" by Peter Thomas feat. Betty Who
2. "Do What U Want" by Lady Gaga feat. Christina Aguilera
3. "Cannonball" by Lea Michele
4. "Neon Lights" by Demi Lovato
5. "Take Me Home" by Cash Cash feat. Bebe Rexha
6. "Hey Brother" by Avicii
7. "Surrounded" by BT & Aqualung
8. "I Want it All" by Karmin
9. "Take It Like a Man" by Cher
10. "XO" by Beyonce
11. "Farrah Fawcett Hair" by Capital Cities - Like the chorus says, "it's good shit."

12. "I See Fire" by Ed Sheeran
13. "Adore You" by Miley Cyrus
14. "Helium (Radio Edit)" by Chris Lake feat. Jareth
15. "Incredible" by Celine Dion & Ne-Yo
16. "Unbelievers" by Vampire Weekend
17. "Coming of Age" by Foster The People:

18. "Not Giving Up" by The Saturdays
19. "Birthday" by Katy Perry
20. "Infinite" by Sam Sparro
21. "Sleeping With a Friend" by Neon Trees
22. "All Eyes On You" by St. Lucia


January 15, 2014

R.L. Stine's 'Fear Street' Turns 25: Honoring Those Demonic Cheerleaders and Psychotic Stepsisters

It all started with a seemingly safe boy-meets-girl story...which ended with identity theft and murder.

In June 1989, The New Girl kicked off one of the biggest YA series in publishing history, Fear Street, transporting young readers to the fictitious hamlet of Shadyside, where the mortality rate rivaled that of similarly sinister towns like Sunnydale or Sleepy Hollow.

Created and written by the incomparable R.L. Stine, Fear Street is the record-breaking teen horror series that dominated bookshelves all across America in the early-to-mid 90s. Much like Springfield in The Simpsons, Shadyside existed in Anywhere America. Most of the action centered around a long and winding dead-end street named after a powerful dynasty known for its duplicitous dealings and black magic practices in the 1800s, resulting in a curse that fell upon on the entire neighborhood.

Before Twilight, there were vamps sucking it up in Goodnight Kiss and Goodnight Kiss 2. Before American Horror Story: Coven, there were witches brewing up trouble in The Burning. And way before those Gossip girls could perfect the art of deception and greed, there was The Rich Girl figuratively and literally backstabbing her way through the senior class of Shadyside High.

In its early years, Fear Street was the antithesis of the then-popular Sweet Valley High. Instead of fighting over who would take the Wakefield twins to the prom, R.L. had twins fighting over who would first murder their cheating boyfriend (Double Date). Instead of the new girl in town trying to make it on the cheerleading squad to impress her peers, Stine followed the desperate attempts of a girl trying to exorcise the demonic spirit from her pom-pom-shaking BFF (1992's Cheerleaders trilogy). And rather than spend an innocent weekend at a beach house, away from the 'rents, a group of Shadyside teens shack up in an old oceanside hotel and try to escape a knife-wielding maniac in Party Summer (see also: SunburnOne Evil Summer and non-Fear Street titles like Beach PartyBeach House).

Catering to a generation that grew up on the countless Friday the 13ths and Nightmare of Elm Streets that ran on broadcast and cable television at the time, FS was like the Harlequin novel equivalent of those horror flicks, tailored for young readers looking for bloody thrills in the pages of a breezy paperback. One could say that R.L. (that's Robert Lawrence, if you're wondering) was also inspired by those very franchises: Lights Out took place at a summer camp terrorized by a killer, and Bad Dreams toted the tagline "Don't go to sleep!" on its illustrated cover.

Needless to say, I was a fanatic (okay, I still am -- I frequently give him shout-outs on Twitter).

I had the calendars hanging on my bedroom wall -- up until my freshman year of college. I read every interview with the author (People once did a piece about his life in Manhattan with his wife Jane and his son, Matt, who modeled for the cover of The Perfect Date). I bought his autobiography, It Came from Ohio! and wrote a book report on it in the seventh grade. I studied the complete lineage of the Fear family and the detailed history of the street itself (thanks to The Fear Street Saga). And in 1995 I made sure to run to my local Waldenbooks and order R.L. Stine's debut "adult" novel, Superstitious, well in advance.

It became a habit of mine. I had to have the newest book the second it hit the shelves. At the start of every month I'd call every bookseller in Westchester County to inquire about any new shipments. I was a regular at the Friar Tuck Bookshop in the New Rochelle Mall where Lois, the saleswoman at the register, would give me a polite nod and smile as if to silently say, There's that chubby 11-year-old who has no friends because his nose is always stuck in a book.

What Fear Street ultimately taught me was that anyone can be a psycho if you just put your heart in it -- or have your heart possessed by a vengeful ghost who seeks to ruin the lives of those around you. And you can't rely on adults to help you when the boy you're dating turns out to be telepathic serial killer. Besides the run-of-the-mill Psycho Girlfriend/Boyfriend, Shadyside was populated with plenty of homicidal residents: Psycho Nanny, Psycho Stepsister, Psycho Best Friend, Psycho Teacher, Psycho Rock Singer, Psycho Lifeguard, Psycho Long-Lost Brother, Psycho Next-Door Neighbor -- hell, even a Psycho Santa (Silent Night 1-3).

Naturally, like all great series, one could argue that the stories started to run on fumes (I mean, really, how many adjectives can you put in front of Date and Party?), and R.L. stopped pumping out original material after 1999's 10-part Fear Street Seniors miniseries. It had been a phenomenal run, ten years of terrifying tales of teen angst in suburbia. Shortly thereafter, Stine's name faded from the shelves and J.K. Rowling and her wizard boy wonder took over...

The YA section of every Barnes and Noble in the country would never be the same again.

Fear street nights

An attempt to revisit the series was made in the summer of 2005 when R.L. published a new trilogy called Fear Street Nights. It was supposed to be a sexier, more risque tale, focusing on a group of teens who sneak out at night to hang and drink at a local bar (Ooh, someone contact Child Services) -- only to get tangled in some deadly shenanigans. Of course I bought it.

And now, as it was recently announced, Stine plans to return to Shadyside later this year with several new entries in the franchise that propelled him to literary superstardom. Party Games is the first title in the new batch, and the author has already promised to intensify the scare tactics for a new generation that has grown accustomed to dystopian dread, sexed-up bloodsuckers, and zombie gore.

Just in time to celebrate this gloriously bloody milestone.

Fear Street will always have a special place in my heart. Like any comic-book collector, I plan to keep every paperback edition in mint condition and proudly shelved as a reminder of bookworm days long gone. Consider it my small part of a legacy-in-progress. And currently on display in my bathroom is collage of book covers I recently stumbled upon -- along with a framed letter I received from R.L. in the summer of '92, a response to the first (and only) fan letter I had ever written -- a little shrine dedicated to one of the influences that guided me down the path to a writing career.

Go on Amazon. Visit your local library. Take a walk down the Street.

Happy 25th, Mr. Stine.


January 10, 2014

Revenge of the Hollywood Assistants: 20 Things We Need to Get Off Our Chest

Some friends of mine, who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons, and I were recently chatting about our shiny-happy, palm-tree-filled careers in Los Angeles. Actually, replace "shiny-happy" with "grueling and traffic-clogged," and you'll have a more accurate description of what it's like to climb the ever competitive Hollywood ladder. Sure, the palm tree backdrop is nice, but no one gives two turds about the view after your first day working in the bowels of a production company, agency, or any office related to the big Tinseltown Machine.

Although most of us have moved on to bigger and better things, what's still fresh in our memories are the obnoxiously inane things we've had to endure (or witnessed secondhand) while navigating a gauntlet of big egos, crappy attitudes, and unbearable personalities. You've probably seen Swimming With Sharks. You've probably read the books and blogs written by former assistants who dished on their hellish experiences. And while they're all great cautionary tales detailing the shitstorms that occur within the walls of show biz, I wanted to do something that allowed the former (and current) assistants of this industry to get back at the higher-ups who put them down, the superiors who gave them inferiority complexes, and the oblivious ass-wipes with big paychecks who, ironically, can't wipe their own asses.

We get it. There's usually a lot of money riding on jobs, particularly projects that will either make or break careers. But that amount of pressure shouldn't give you the right to throw a sharp object -- usually an award for some crap movie you produced in the mid-90s -- at someone who makes one-hundredth of your weekly salary. And then there's the sense of entitlement. Does one really earn the right to throw a hissy fit and deliver a condescending and passive-aggressive voicemail when one's name is omitted from a lunch invite that's bound to get rescheduled three more times?

Let's face it, Hollywood bosses. Most of your jobs are just glorified, expensive games of Make Pretend. The amount of time and money spent in determining whether or not a shirt is too red for a 3-second appearance in a 30-second commercial could be put to better use -- for anything. Solving the hunger crisis. Contributing to a scholarship fund. And no, investing in the enlargement of your wife's cup size doesn't count.

Assistants, it's your turn. Now's your chance to anonymously say what you've always wanted to say to your bosses. Speak your mind. Let it all out!


1. "Guess what? There is no Coffee Fairy who magically refills the pot in the office kitchen every morning. And those bagels? They don't reappear every Friday out of thin air." -- Worn Out in Westwood

2. "Thanks for the signed headshot instead of a Christmas bonus, asshole." -- Tired in Toluca Lake

3. "Wait, you want Valentine's Day flowers sent to your wife AND your girlfriend? Same message on both cards? Classy. Always keeping it classy." -- Hungover in Hollywood

4. "Can't you order your own spray-on hair? Don't you feel just the tiniest bit ashamed even asking me to do it?" -- Frustrated on Fairfax 

5. "I'm sorry, but I can't plan your child's birthday party for you if you won't even take the time to learn my name." -- Steamed in Studio City

6. "Really? You can't go to the Virgin America website, click on 'Book a Flight,' and select a first class seat for your fat ass? It's so easy, an underage mistress can do it. I'm not saying your underage mistress. Just any underage mistress." -- Broken in Beverly Hills

7. "I will not fetch you anything. I am not a dog. But if you keep talking to me like this, you'll soon learn I can be a bitch." -- Vicious in Venice

8. "It's takes the same amount of time writing a lengthy and descriptive e-mail requesting dinner reservations as it would had you made them yourself. It's called Open Table, prick. Familiarize yourself with it." -- Beaten in Burbank

9. "Of course I'll stay an extra 45 minutes to research bakeries in Silverlake for you, even though you clearly see that I've shut down my computer and packed my bag to go home. On a Friday night. At 7pm." -- Livid in Los Feliz

10. "Find a Kosher caterer for your kid's New Year's Eve sushi party? You know that's tonight, right? No, I can't imagine that'll be a problem. Just making sure we're clear." -- Done on Doheny

11. "If I go to your holiday party, will you please have me help your boyfriend decorate your home again? Pretty please?" [insert eye roll] -- Peeved on Pico

12. "What's that? You want me to doctor my timesheet so you don't have to pay the overtime from me working ten days straight? Sure, that's not abusive or illegal at all." -- Anonymous in Anaheim

13. "Oh, I didn't pick the right 48 things from the list of 50 you told me had to be done today and then acknowledged were impossible? Sorry. I'm a PA. Mindreading is above my pay grade." -- Venting on Ventura

14. "Sure, I guess a Snapple bottle could double as a urinal." -- Weary in WeHo 

15. "Please, please don't make me lie to a Rabbi. I lie to your wife, I lie to your girlfriend, I lie to your kids. Just please, please don't make me lie to a Rabbi." -- Losing It in Larchmont

16. "Yes, I do know how to use a fax machine. You don't have to hover over me, not so subtly looking down my shirt as I send a fax. And who the f**k faxes anyway? I didn't realize it was still 1993." -- A Vengeful Ivy Leaguer

17. "If you respond to an email with ???????? one more time..." -- Crazed in Culver City

18. "Seriously? You need me to go grab the Halloween candy one floor down, yet you were just there and your hands aren't full?" -- Fuming on Franklin

19. "Hi, remember me? I dented your Mercedes with a golf cart two years ago, and you had me fired. Well, I just signed a three-picture deal with Sony, and I'm happy to pick up the check at our next lunch meeting." -- A Justified Writer (or a writer on Justified?)

20. "I'd like you to meet a friend of mine. Her name's Karma. And she's a bitch." -- Hiko Mitsuzuka

January 08, 2014

20 Nicknames I've Had Since The Age of 12


The thing about having a unique name like mine is that people just LOVE coming up with their own variation on it. Thankfully this didn't lead to any kind of severe bullying while growing up. Perhaps it was because I grew up in one melting pot of a New York suburb where, next to the Johns, Jameses, and Tommys, there was also Veerasak, Sindhu, and Augusto. Now that I'm older, I'm grateful for the one-of-a-kind moniker my parents gave me at birth (for the record, it's Hikoichi, which is a variation on the name of my Japanese grandfather and translates as "the first echo"). I've even developed a sense of pride whenever people tell me how cool my name is after introducing myself.

What's even cooler is the inventive twists friends have put on my name. Like...

1. Heeks - Commonly used today -- at work, at social events, over the phone with loved ones, and everywhere in between.

2. Hikrotchi - This pet name originated in middle school, simply because of the inclusion of "crotch." Classy, right? Ah, the minds of 12-year-olds...

3. Hikster (sometimes preceded by "The") - Which makes me sound like a character from Dazed and Confused or a Kevin Smith movie.

4. Higgins - British name #1 (created by an acquaintance in junior high).

5. Hikscliff - British name #2. Not to be confused with this cartoon cat.

6. Hiko Piko - Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, I was baptized with this nickname by the one and only "Jossy Wossy" (you know who you are).

7. Heeky - Which makes me sound like a cartoon teddy bear, no?

8. Hikel - My Jewish name. To be followed by my last name: Mitsuzukashitz.

9. Hikoman - Similar to the soy sauce brand. Naturally.

10. Heek the Chic (or Sheik) - Even parents of friends have joined in on the fun.

11. Hiko Suave - Another one coined in junior high. For obvious reasons (it was the early 90s).

12. Hiko Itchy - "Is Hiko itchy?" is a common question I'm asked when I disclose my full first name.

13. Hikobear - Given to me by one Swagabunny.

14. Hitachi - At this point, I might as well start my own electronics company.

15. Heeksy - A favorite among females.

16. Mitsubishi - Naturally, since my surname closely resembles the automobile giant.

17. Hiko-san - Usually uttered by white guys infatuated with Asian cultures.

18. Mr. Hiko - An ironically formal take on my name used by a fellow freelancer during my time in the commercial production world.

19. Pistachio - Picture it: March 2001. During an "adventure weekend" in Wales (during my semester abroad) I was staying at a little B&B where one of the owners, a gentleman who resembled Tom Jones, had a hard time pronouncing my name, and...voila.

20. Paul - Because, if you didn't know -- believe it or not -- it's my middle name. Also known as my Starbucks name.


January 06, 2014

That Time I Was on a Game Show with Louis Virtel and Showed Off My 'Melrose Place' Expertise

Last fall I participated in The Experts, a game show on YouTube that allows individuals, like myself, to proudly let their geek flag fly. Contestants are tested on a pop culture topic on which they claim to be experts.

My topic? It happened to involve a certain Aaron Spelling primetime soap from the 90s...

Catch Round 1 below (and yes, they provided alcoholic refreshments):


January 03, 2014

The 'Veronica Mars' Trailer Makes Me So Happy

...and this Marshmallow has just started to binge-watch the entire series (all three seasons - pretty doable) in order to prepare for the glorious March 14 release.

Team Piz!

January 02, 2014

All Kinds of Awesome: Harry Shum Jr.

The Glee star shows what he's made of in this inspirational piece that I'm sure will make SYTYCD's Mary Murphy weep. It's also a great video to help some of you (myself included) kick off this new year right.

14 Things That Will Turn 20 in 2014

Why should Buzzfeed be the only nostalgic site that makes you feel old? I'm currently mentally time-traveling back to 1994 to relive all of the things that defined a year in which I started to come of age. And by "come of age," I mean "hit the wall of puberty like a crash-test dummy."

1. Speed - Sandra Bullock made a bus jump off a highway ramp. And Los Angeles public transit is never the same.

2. Dave Matthews Band's "What Would You Say" - An anthem for the summer before I became a high school freshman.

3. The wedding of Billy Campbell and Alison Parker on Melrose Place - Because weddings in which the bride ditches the groom by jumping out of a window after learning her dad molested her are the best!

4. Forrest Gump - Life is like a box of chocolates...shit gets old and expires, and you can only enjoy it for so long.

5. Friends - The Central Perk gang came into our living rooms for the first time, and it was instant love. Could we have been any more infatuated with this lovable group of Manhattanites?

6. Torvill and Dean at the Winter Olympics - ...And inspired my mom to buy the double-VHS set of the sporting event just to replay their beautiful ice dance over and over. And over. (BONUS: Nancy Kerrigan gets beaten up)

7. The O.J. Simpson freeway chase - My friend's 8th grade graduation party was overshadowed by the live news footage of this development leading up to the court case of the decade.

8. Pulp Fiction - Welcome back, John Travolta. Enjoy it while it lasts.

9. Kurt Cobain's death - Pretty much ending the Era of Grunge.

10. The wedding of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley - Even the Melrose Place writers couldn't have come up with something as bizarre as this.

11. This song:

12. Wes Craven's New Nightmare - The first movie I saw in a theater by myself. Shout-out to the multiplex at Cross County!

13. The Lion King - Hakuna matata y'all.

14. Four Weddings and a Funeral - America, meet Hugh Grant. Hugh Grant, America.

What else am I missing?

Catfights, Cleavage and Carrie-Anne Moss: 'Models Inc.' Turns 25

In the early 90s, as anyone familiar with the oeuvre of uber-producer Aaron Spelling knows, the successful  Beverly Hills, 90210 begat ...