Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: A Year in (Hottie) Review...

Admittedly the men who made this list are loved for their good looks but also their ability to keep their private lives just that (because when one is splayed all over the cover of tabloids not only is he overexposed, but I also have to be reminded that he's with someone else). And in most cases, the characters they currently play weigh heavily as well. Though I am able to tell the difference between fictional characters and the very real male actors who portray them, sometimes I prefer to imagine the reality looks more like what-- or who--'s on screen!

Here is my Top Ten of 2009 (many of which also make the cut for the Top Ten of the Decade):

10. Mark Salling (Noah "Puck" Puckerman, GLEE) - Let's see...this year this boy has proved he is humble (with a YouTube ode to how much he loves his job), that he loves dogs (with a YouTube clip of spending Christmas teaching his family dog a new trick), he can rock a letterman's jacket and even a ridiculous mohawk, but most importantly that he can sing! He is the bad boy who can whip out a guitar and serenade me anytime!!

9. Christopher Meloni (Detective Elliot Stabler, Law & Order: SVU) - He's almost fifty, and he has spent the last decade on the same show, as the same overzealous cop who seems to only get better with age. He's big and he's gruff, but behind his gentle blue eyes, you know he's just there to protect you, and that makes everything okay.

8. David Ramsey (Anton Briggs, Dexter)
- His laid-back soulfulness only adds to his charm. The fact that he can sing is a bonus. But that he didn't turn out to be the shooter at the end of the season means he can swoop back in and be a savior. Even if Deb doesn't deserve him, I (in the audience) certainly do!!

7. Jonathan Waud (Model,
Make Me A Supermodel) - The young husband and father was everyone's sentimental favorite model to walk away with the contract from Bravo's fashion reality show, but he was also the most seemingly qualified. Confident in his own skin, his portfolio showcases that he is also more than comfortable in nothing more than a European cut pair of swim trunks. And for that, I must thank RM for making him their spokesman!

6. John Krasinski (Jim Halpert,
The Office) - On his own he has the tall, dark, and handsome thing down. He is also goofy with just the right amount the geek chic charm that endears itself rather than annoys. However, all of that coupled with the loving looks he is able to pull out of his back pocket so easily in his primary role is what so easily won me over. Because you can just tell he is drawing on real emotions in those moments and is therefore just as sweet, charming, loving, and lovely in his actual real life. Emily Blunt is a lucky, lucky lady.
5. Ryan Reynolds (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Adventureland,
The Proposal) - He has a baby face on a body of a God. He is a family man who has talked about wanting to adopt. He's snarky and smart and...did I mention the body of a God?

4. David Beckham (L.A. Galaxy) - Sports critics have called him more style than substance. Apparently, he didn't actually take the field (soccer) as much as he maybe should have when he first joined the L.A. team. But ticket sales still increased because fans just want to catch a glimpse of him-- whether he's running and sweating or sitting and posing on a bench. He looks good in cleats; he looks good in suits; he looks good with a faux-hawk or a shaved head; he looks good in tighty-whities on giant billboards (a compliment I very rarely give). Hell, the man even looks good in wax!

3. George Clooney (The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Men Who Stare At Goats, Up In The Air)
- He may have some misses with the scripts he picks in his older age, but the salt and pepper definitely make up for it!

2. Denzel Washington (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3) - Ditto to #3.
1. Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester, Supernatural) - I admit it: much of his appeal comes from the gun-toting, classic rock listening, classic car driving, snarky and slick rugged nomad type he portrays on the CW. In actuality, I think the man is a bit more conservative (and probably less inclined to strap on leather cuffs and coats). But he is just as smart, witty, and attractive nonetheless!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Woof Wednesday #33...

The holiday season always exhausts Madison!

"Please don't pack me away with
the rest of the decorations in January, Mama!"

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009: A Year In (Must) Review...

Earlier in the year when I took Entertainment Weekly's lead and filled out my own "Must List," I did so using personal interests of the moment. Now, however, I am looking back over the year and filling out the same questions with answers that apply for 2009 as a whole. In other words, this "must" list is really just another "best of!"


Must Movie

I don't go for big summer blockbusters, and in all honesty, I haven't gone to the movies much at all this year. Ever since I started working at The Corporation (in VOD distribution), I chose to instead watch most of my movies on a much smaller screen, correctly assuming that most of them were not worth the ten to twelve dollars theaters were asking for entrance to a screening during peak hours. (500) Days of Summer was one of the exceptions, though. A relationship drama told in fragments and from the male point of view, (500) Days of Summer is perfect for those who want to stay grounded in reality. Nothing blows up; there is no threat that the world will end; it is not set on some distant planet; it does not even feature your typical chick lit ending. It is simply a look at life during a very specific point, and it feels like it could have been lifted from almost anyone of our own lives. For that, it is more than worth the price of admission!


Must TV Show

I know what you're all expecting me to say, and I'm not going to do it! The best new TV show to come out of 2009 was not a musical, nor even an ESP drama. It was simply one about an everyday family and their wacky escapades trying to relate to each other. Modern Family features comedic geniuses like Ed O'Neill, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sofia Vergara, Julie Bowen, and my new faves Eric Stonestreet and Rico Rodriguez!! It's ridiculously hard to pick a favorite moment-- or even a favorite episode-- as every one is better than the last, from Burrell's dorky dad character stealing another kid's bike to teach his own a lesson to little Manny drinking espresso and playing the pan flute.


Must Band

Recently I asked my Facebook friends to submit to me names of bands (or, if they were feeling extra generous, full on mixtapes) who are good to which to write. I find myself procrastinating more by flicking through iTunes, trying to find a good backdrop soundtrack than anything else! But really, I didn't have to look too far, as one of my Facebook friends is Rob Benedict, actor and lead singer of Louden Swain. Though the band has been around for years, I was first introduced to Louden Swain this year through their CD release party for their newest album, A Brand New Hurt (though they have others available online). They have a fun and upbeat sound with simple lyrics that become catchy after just the second listen.


Must Book

I'm going to have to call a tie on this one. Everyone knows how much I love Stephen King (he was my first-- and only to date-- May-December romance), so of course I have to select "Under The Dome" as the Must Read for 2009. It was released at the end of the year, but the story (of a small town that gets trapped within some kind of forcefield) is so rich and enthralling it flies by (all thousand-plus pages of it). There really is no wonder that someone has already jumped on the rights to turn it into a miniseries!

However, Kathy Griffin's "Official Book Club Selection" is also just as rich, albeit with a very different subject matter. A memoir "according to her," this is much more than your typical celebrity autobiography that puts a positive spin on everything. True to her comedy stylings, Griffin dishes on her family, her childhood, and her celebrity frenemies, and she doesn't hold back in what she really thinks. Reading this is like spending an evening with a really funny friend.


Must Videogame

I don't own any videogame consoles unless you count my Mac, which actually does have capacity to run a version of Guitar Hero. I was always terrible at videogames as a child, beating only one-- the Aladdin game for Sega Game Gear in the mid-nineties (man, I just loved to fly away from that lava cave on my magic carpet!). However, these days everyone is all about the Wii because it actually does the exact opposite of what my parents always complained videogames were all about: it gets you up and moving! More of my friends Tweeted this Christmas about receiving Super Mario Brothers for the Wii than any other present, too. So though I haven't played it personally yet, I will take their word for it and recommend that one. And I will let you know tomorrow, after I come from my first session with the Wii at a friend's house, if I change my mind.


Must Website

Again, I'm going to have to go with this one :) I may have gotten a little off-track this year, focusing more on celebrity interviews and television news than originally intended when I started the site back in 2007, but I believe all of those things only enrich the experience and prove my legitimacy as an authority on the subjects about which I write, as well as a pop culture junkie in general.


Must Gadget

I know it's not technically a "gadget" since there is no real technology involved (well, not yet; let's give it a year and see if they add a heating component or mini microwave oven pocket or something!), but the "Sleeved Blanket" aka the Snuggie or Slanket has really blown up this year. I still don't quite get it because you can find a cheaper robe and just wear it backwards...but now that these companies offer more personalized options, like Hello Kitty or your favorite sports' teams, they became the go-to gift for the holiday season.


Must Scapegoat for the Moral Decline of Society

Jon Gosselin. I vowed never to breathe his name on this site because I didn't want to be just another so-called journalist who reported so-called news about his crazy publicity stunts and therefore fed him the fame he so obviously is after. However, I find I must speak out in his defense about this one very important thing. He did not make Ed Hardy shirts douchey; they were already ridiculous before he was snapped wearing them everywhere. He did not give dead-beat dads with way too many kids a bad name; Kevin Federline and the dudes on Maury Povich and Jerry Springer's shows had been doing that for years. He did not cause (and it is arguable if he even really added to) the moral decline of our society; we were already lying on the bottom of that hill, in the gutter, before he came along!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Best of 2009: My Life, Made Possible By Pop Culture Pieces...

A producer I used to work with once told me that 2010 would be my year, and while I still hope he was right, I can't help but notice that 2009 was a pretty strong start for my writing career already. Sure, I still have three manuscripts sitting unpublished, and I am not yet on staff at Entertainment Weekly, LA Times, or Good Day LA, but I don't have as far to go as I did when I first started this site. After all, finally getting back into red carpet reporting and film and TV reviewing has given me countless new clips for my portfolio. And I have gone through the year's posts to select my favorite one from each month to serve as a summary of the year's happenings in pop culture.


Though this column was started for a Guest Columnist stint with "i am that girl," the first interview, with actress Krista Allen, was a featured interview on "My Life, Made Possible By Pop Culture" first and foremost. What was intended to be a 20-minute, 500-word piece turned into an hour and a half conversation that could have filled multiple essays. Allen was full of wisdom and victory in this interview, one of the last she gave before taking a break from the Hollywood scene, proving she is anything but what people stereotypically expect from her.
- Archived from January 2009

Facebook has undergone countless "face lifts" this year, supposedly to make the interface faster, easier to navigate, and more efficient. However, back in the first quarter of the year, there were still quite a few bugs to be worked out, and I took a look at some of what I thought were the most annoying quirks of the social networking site, on which I-- admittedly-- was already hooked.
- Archived from February 2009

Inspired by Mariah Carey's Honey B. Fly Club contest for fans to submit their favorite songs of hers for consideration in her "anniversary" "Best Of" countdown, I took to this site and ranked my ten favorites (with videos and brief explanations) from her first fourteen (compilations included) studio albums.
-Archived from March 2009

After season three, many fans and critics alike started to discount Desperate Housewives, but the Paley Center for Media stuck with the cast and crew long enough to realize its rebirth of sorts with the 2008-2009 season should be celebrated. They produced a panel with Marc Cherry and some of the cast during their Spring 2009 Paley Fest, which I attended and covered for Starpulse.com.
- Archived from April 2009

Okay, admittedly this never became a monthly, or even bimonthly occurrence, as I found that all of the work that went into getting panelists, shooting, editing, and then re-shooting and re-editing if there was "late breaking news" was just too time-consuming considering I still had my day job at The Corporation. But this experience was extremely fun and a little taste at what Chelsea Handler's life must be like with her nightly roundtable!
- Archived from May 2009

Stealing the subjects (such as "Must Movie" and "Must Scapegoat for the Moral Decline of Modern Society") from an Entertainment Weekly article may have been a slight cop-out, but the ideas and selections were all originals. It was the first "Must List" column of what will probably become bi-yearly.
- Archived from June 2009

Honestly, I'm just impressed I managed to write anything in July at all, let alone anything about this experience. Moving back to New York to take care of my mother in her final days was the most terrifying, angering, and humbling thing I have ever done-- and perhaps will ever have to do. Although it taught me a great deal about what I am capable of, I cannot rightly say that it only made me stronger. But maybe that is a conclusion I will come to over time...
- Archived from July 2009

Returning to LA at the end of the summer jump-started my career in celebrity interviews. This was the first month I did a number of them, and it was hard to select just one. Knowing that I had to-- and that it was the month in which I first met those GLEE kids who became such a phenomenon-- the choice seemed to be made for me, though. Covering their Hollywood stop on their mall tour-publicity tour, each and every kid was friendly and eager to chat with fans and press alike.
- Archived from August 2009

2009 was the first year that Disney held a D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center. Advertised as the "Comic Con for Disney geeks," I more than happily filled my gas tank and spent the weekend driving back and forth to Orange County to take in seminars on Pixar animation advancements, the making of Toy Story Mania for Disneyland California Adventure, and the future of The Muppets franchise. My favorite, though, was the one part Disney trivia, one part cultural and one part historical trip into Disney Records' archives, "From Annette to Miley."
- Archived from September 2009

After countless announcements from the various studios about a new Ghostbusters, Scream, and even Death at a Funeral, I took a look at whether or not remakes really are less risks-- financially as well as creatively-- than new releases. I utilized a few examples from this fall only, but it is the kind of case study that really could be revisited every few months.
- Archived from October 2009

November was a ridiculously hard month to narrow down. It was the time when I visited the set of The New Adventures of Old Christine, had a call with the It's Always Sunny... guys, and looked at both Fearless Females in Comedy as well as Modern TV Villains. I think, though, the most fun piece to work on-- as well as to read-- was my interview with Joel McHale and Ken Jeong of NBC's Community. I had only covered the show once before-- a couple of months earlier during an advanced screening of the pilot-- and quite frankly I was somewhat disappointed in the lack of character development within the program. However, these guys are so likable, and they create so many laughs, they endeared the show to me even more. And I think I managed to capture their voices and relationship pretty well in the write-up!
- Archived from November 2009

After attending the CW preview day back in September, I got super excited about their new family drama (then titled Parental Discretion Advised). Unfortunately for me, the show was not put on the fall line-up. But fortunately for me, their January premiere date gave me ample time to get the network to know and like me and get me exclusive interviews with the cast and creator. Though I spoke to Kerr Smith and Kristoffer Polaha separately, I combined their sentiments into this one epic transcript style article. And to date, I have been the only television writer to talk to these guys, but I sincerely hope more will follow because they-- and their show-- are awesome and deserve the positive press!!
- Archived from December 2009


What the hell can next year hold??

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Spreading Just A Little More Christmas Cheer...

I know this is just a photoshop creation. I also know it's grammatically incorrect. But it was still a phenomenal Christmas e-card to get, even a day late!

30 Days of Christmas: The One That Didn't Make The Cut...

As yesterday wound down, it left behind a trail of Christmas cookie crumbs and exhausted but gleeful children clutching new toys. However, it also left behind a few disappointed readers of my site who emailed and Tweeted at me and posted on my Facebook wall that they could not believe I left out one traditionally classic holiday film-- especially when I included so many that seemed random, cheesy, or one-note. The film in question was It's A Wonderful Life, and today I am here to defend my decision.

The reason I don't like It's A Wonderful Life and therefore actively avoid it every holiday season, whether it's on television or just screening on a friend's DVD player, is because at the end, when George Bailey (James Stewart) realizes he has to go back to his life, he does it out of obligation to all of those around him. What he learns on his nocturnal journey is not that he suddenly loves his life but rather that everyone else is better off with him in their lives. It is an ego boost for him, but it is a momentary one and will probably be fleeting right after his holidays come to a close.

The film works really hard to make George Bailey seem noble in that way. His actions, as dictated by the narrative, are purely unselfish and therefore should be celebrated. And when the swell of that score wafts in, disagreeing seems downright Scroogelike! However, even George Bailey himself would probably admit that in the wake of the morning, without the glare of the lights on the tree in his eyes, he has to live and be happy with, for, and in himself before he can do any good for anyone else. Maybe those in his life wouldn't be better off without George Bailey, but what about George Bailey?? The way that movie goes, it seems like a trip to AA will be what George Bailey gets next Christmas!

Friday, December 25, 2009

30 Days of Christmas: Christmas Day!...

I know that the annual Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade is not technically a holiday film, but you have stuck with me for a holiday film a day-- and two on Fridays!-- for the past twenty-nine days, so today, I recommend nothing other than sitting around your tree with your family, eating Santa's leftovers, and watching this celebration.

The hosts are usually the same (Regis Philbin, Ryan Seacrest, and Kelly Ripa), but the talent and attractions change to whatever was popular in the previous year, and what Disney assumes will be hot in the upcoming one. This year includes performances by Stevie Wonder and American Idol's latest winner, Kris Allen. Everyone's favorite classic characters are on hand (or on floats, as it usually is), too, decked out in big, bright Christmas sweaters.

But what is really remarkable about this parade is that year after year, families line Main Street with their little ones to partake in the tradition. Though we grow older and a bit more jaded towards giant talking mice or princesses and their woodland helpers, the cameras always zoom in on the littlest ones in attendance, eyes wide in awe of the magical spectacle they are watching unfold before their eyes. That alone is worth the price of admission for this increasingly more expensive holiday season!

Merry Christmas! Now Have a Cookie!...

From all of us (all two of us!) at "My Life, Made Possible By Pop Culture," we wish you a very Merry Christmas!!!

Madison gets in on Santa's leftovers, though he is much more reserved than I thought he'd be and somehow manages to pace himself this year.

And if you don't celebrate Christmas, Happy Friday! And have a cookie anyway!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

2009: A Year In (Photo) Review...

2009 was full of ups and downs in pop culture. There were some great achievements, such as the premieres of GLEE and Modern Family; some lackluster performances, like disappointing new albums from Eminem and Mariah Carey; and there were some complete flops...ala The Beautiful Life, which barely made it on air to begin with. However, the year was full of ups and downs in my personal life, too, and that is what this photo blog is all about. The following shots will showcase the high and low points of my year-- both in pop culture and at home.

The How I Met Your Mother TV Academy Panel, January 2009.

My i.a.t.g interview with IBG, February 2009.


Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp return to RENT, February - March 2009.

USC reunites at Disneyland, April 2009!

My baby's first trip to Venice, April 2009.

The Desperate Housewives Paley Fest panel, April 2009.

My custom "Growing Up with 90s TV" Fazzino, May 2009.

Madison and I spending the summer in N.Y.C., July 2009.

My first GLEE press event, August 2009.

A Facebook-NBC screening of Community, September 2009.

Rehabbing at the beach, September 2009.

Hanging out with my first boyfriend at D23, September 2009.

Meeting a few of the Muppets at D23, September 2009.

The LIVE "Nightman Cometh" Tour, September 2009.

Meeting Kathy Griffin at her book signing, September 2009.

An LMS fundraiser with Nick Pileggi and the IBG girls, October 2009.

Karen and I attending the Troop Beverly Hills quote-a-long, October 2009.

A couple of friends got engaged this year, but
I only had to attend one wedding:
Matt and Sandra Sivaborvorn's, October 2009.

Meeting Rob Benedict at Louden Swain's CD release party, October 2009.

Madison learning to drive, October 2009.

A completely unrelated, but still upsetting, injury, October 2009.

Gillian Anderson attends IBG's "Believe Again" event, November 2009.

A handful of my friends had babies this year,
but only one is related to me by blood:
Shane William Proscia, born November 2009.

Seeing Kathy Griffin's Black Friday Stand-Up Show
(from the cheap seats in the back), November 2009.

Marisa and I visit the Friends set, December 2009.

Marisa, Caileigh, and I have a little too much fun
with the Tiger Woods scandal (playing tourist at
Madame Tussaud's), December 2009.

Meeting Jodie Sweetin at her book signing, December 2009.

Spending Christmas at Disneyland with my boyfriend, December 2009.

Happy Holidays from Disneyland!
Happy Holidays from the IBG Girls!!

And, of course, Happy Holidays from Madison and me!!!



In Memory Of:

Melanie Turchiano
September 10 1949 - August 1 2009


30 Days of Christmas: A Christmas Story (Of Course!)...

For the last few years now, A Christmas Story has run in a marathon on television the night before Christmas. Well, lo and behold, we are at the home stretch of my 30 Days of Christmas experiment already! It is Christmas Eve, and therefore there are ample opportunities to catch this pick today!

A Christmas Story has become a classic for its imagery of a little boy in glasses in a pink bunny suit, a little boy in glasses with his tongue stuck to a pole, a little boy shooting off his own glasses...oh yeah, and a leg lamp! Telling the story of Ralphie Parker, who only wants one thing for Christmas ("an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle"), A Christmas Story is one of the few movies to showcase that for most, the holiday season is all about just getting through. Ralphie has to survive bad grades and altercations bullies in school, bad presents from distant family, and annoying but persistent dismissing claims (like "You'll shoot your eye out!"). But of course, in the end, he still gets that BB gun on which he so desperately has his heart set. Because that, Charlie Brown, is the true meaning of Christmas: seeing a little kid's face light up with "the best present [he or she] will ever receive!"

Besides, on a purely personal note, I have taken to ordering Chinese food for Christmas Eve dinner, too, so I feel like the Parkers and I would get along swimmingly! And, you know, I like guns! ;P

30 Days of Christmas: Bonus x2!...

The Muppets AND The Roots? An amazing Christmas present coming just a day early! ...And Jimmy Fallon still can't keep a straight face.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Woof Wednesday #32...

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Santa's (Most Adorable) Little Helper!

Shame On You: People Magazine Edition...

Yes, Twitter is a public forum. Yes, celebrities who have verified accounts and post photos and thoughts for their fans (and critics) to see put such things out into the ether and can no longer claim ownership for them in a lot of ways. However, that does not grant others the rights to steal them and take credit for them.

I let it go when Jenna Ushkowitz re-tweeted my photo of her and Amber Riley from the Diversity Awards without giving me credit. For all I know, maybe she thought I had stolen it from somewhere else anyway. Besides, in all honesty, I was more flattered she selected that photo as her "favorite" to share with her adoring people. That was a minor infraction, though. She is young and new to stardom anyway. People Magazine, who calls itself a leading journalistic publication, should know better.

Today my friend Jamie tipped me off to a gem of a news item (must be a slow day so far, with results from Brittany Murphy's autopsy taking weeks longer than first originally assumed). People Magazine actually created an article from a selection of Neil Patrick Harris' weekend Tweets. They followed his harrowing journey flying across the country (at one point he says he felt like he was on The Amazing Race) and then decorating his Christmas tree. They top it all off with a reprint of a personal cameraphone photo he posted on his own account!

Now, while I understand all of this is legal, I don't get how the people at People can say this is all "okay." How can they call themselves journalists and feel good about the work that they do when what they're really doing here is just stealing someone else's information and reposting it as if they received some sort of "scoop?" How is this any better than entertainment magazines that read an interview or a breaking news story on one site and then re-word it for their own but end up posting virtually the exact same information? And why can People Magazine simply admit this all came from his Twitter feed and that's the end of it? Why aren't they held to a higher standard when subscribers are paying for their goods and services??

Everyone who has a favorite celebrity is thrilled when that person gets a Facebook fan page and/or a Twitter. And similarly, many celebrities seem equally excited to be able to keep in touch with fans in such simple and easy ways. But in my not-so humble opinion, this is the kind of media action that will discourage celebrities from signing up for such social networking sites in the future (and perhaps have those already signed up consider canceling accounts). After all, there is not really a reasonable right to privacy on the internet, but there should be a reasonable expectation that the media will not pull together personal thoughts as made-up interview quotes!

If I had done something similar on this blog, I feel like I'd be brought up on stalking charges, if not simple ethics issues!

30 Days of Christmas: The Perfect Holiday...

Oscar nominated Terrence Howard and Queen Latifah as Christmas elf-angels? What?? 2007's romantic holiday comedy, The Perfect Holiday features site gags but also a very sweet story about an aspiring songwriter (Morris Chestnut) who is just trying to make ends meet as a mall Santa while he follows his true dream. While on shift, he ends up spotting a single mom (Gabrielle Union) who comments that all she wants for Christmas is for a man to pay her a single compliment.

The pair end up dating, and the aforementioned omnipotent duo do what they can to make things work despite the odds of a young son who is jealous of the attention his mom's new beau is getting, as well as an ex-husband determined to try to buy back affections. The film is simple but has a lot of heart, and the eye-candy that is Chestnut never hurts either! Something for everyone this holiday season!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009: A Year in (Status) Review...

2009 was a big year, and this in now way manages to capture the nuttiness of it all, but it was a fun little thing to put together nonetheless!

If we're not already friends on Facebook, feel free to look me up and send a message. If you're a fan of my blog, I consider you a friend!

30 Days of Christmas: Nightmare Before Christmas...

I personally have always looked at The Nightmare Before Christmas as much more of a Halloween film than a Christmas one. In part this is because the film is full of skeletons, ghosts, and ghouls-- including the protagonist of Jack Skelleton, a resident of Halloweentown-- but in larger part it is because it is a Tim Burton film, and he is known for dark and offbeat design.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a musical stop-motion animated film that all started with a poem by Tim Burton. Jack Skelleton decides he is bored with the same old-same old of Halloween and decides to bring Christmas to his town. Unfortunately, things get complicated when the other townspeople don't fully understand the concept and keep comparing it to the former holiday. He adopts a new persona, that of "Sandy Claus," and has some townschildren kidnap the real Santa so he can be the one to deliver the presents. Santa gets dropped off with a gambling boogeyman, though, and it is up to Jack and his ghost-dog-reindeer Zero to save the day.

Though some studio execs worried in its initial release that The Nightmare Before Christmas would be too scary for children, the film has won over generations and generations-- from the slightly cynical Christmas purists (like me!) to the little ones with visions of gingerbread men dancing in their heads. Every year at Disneyland, those fans line up around the park to see the Haunted Mansion all done up for the "thirteen days of Christmas," just like in the movie!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Eminem: The Man, The Myth, The Misogynist (What Year Is This)?...

Earlier this month, it was revealed that despite taking an approximate four year break-- complete with an almost overdose and secret stints in rehab-- Eminem was the highest selling artist of the past decade. Today he is back with a two-disc special edition album entitled "Refill." Though the artist admitted this is not the official "part two" of his May 2009 "Relapse" album, it is a new edition to the series. A basic re-release of that May sixth studio album, the second disc of "Refill" features seven brand new tracks (though most of them had already leaked online prior to press time).

When Eminem aka Slim Shady aka Marshall Mathers first burst onto the scene in the mid to late nineties, critics, parents, and the FCC were hard on him for his "misogynistic" lyrics and attitude toward women from his mother to his estranged ex-wife to virtual characters he created in skit and song alike. Eventually, though, everyone learned to back off-- in part because of how sweet he was with his daughter, Hailey Jade, but also due to the fact that he showcased he was much more than a "slice 'em up" lyricist. With his "Eminem Show" album, he seemed to virtually apologize to the women in his life, or at least attempt an explanation of his behavior toward them, on tracks like "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" and "Cleanin' Out My Closet." Fans and critics alike could feel his pain, and in many ways, it seemed as if Eminem the persona was shedding and Marshall the man was emerging. If anything, that album served almost as a cleanse, years before he would ever think he'd need a detox.

In the early 2000s, Eminem's brand of controversy instead quickly turned political, and in 2004 his "Mosh" became the youth revolt anthem for those against George W. Bush and his war-heavy policies. He was older, wiser, and seemingly more mature. One could clearly divide and define the serious tracks from the silly on his albums, such as "Encore," which featured both the aforementioned "Mosh" but also a few nonsensical tracks (like "Big Weenie").

When Eminem returned from his partially self-imposed hiatus just earlier this year, his "comeback" album, so to speak, was one large fever dream that served to depict the way demons in his head worked themselves out in his life, his career, and his family over the past few years. Ending the "Relapse" album with two sobering (no pun intended) "bonus" tracks ("My Darling" and "Careful What You Wish For") that featured the duality of his manhood seemed to hint at a glimpse of the artist we would see going forward. It seemed almost hopeful that the pensive, serious, thought-provoking Marshall would be ditching the characters-- the masks, the personas, the aliases, the fiction-- and sticking around for good this time.

However, just when it seems like this larger than life legend has been figured out, he drops another bomb. With his daughter entering her teenage years, Eminem opts to devote the majority of his seven original "Refill" tracks to songs that once again feature the torturous downfall of young women at the hands of Eminem's "Dark Passenger" persona. On "Music Box" he references "Dakota," who most assume is Dakota Fanning, and who, for most, is just cutting too close to home. The precision and the specifics with which he describes the would-be crimes are unsettling and uncomfortable, to say the least, and even the most hardcore Eminem fan will undoubtedly have a hard time bumping "Music Box" with the windows rolled down on the freeway.

On "Buffalo Bill," though, he adopts the Silence of the Lambs villain as an alter ego and utilizes the iconic film imagery in his verses. Listening to the latter song after the former may ease one's mind a bit about whether or not these are real fantasies the artist has or if he is just trying something creatively through his medium. However, being that the order is actually reversed on the album makes it instead feel as if you are listening to the escalation of a madman.

So what brought on the reversion? It is hard to tell. It could be the final break-up with his on-again-off-again wife Kim, the mother of Hailey Jade. It could be that his own mother, Debbie, seemed to manage to manipulate him earlier in the year regarding the severity of her illness. It is hard to tell if Eminem has cracked up, feels like he has something to prove, or is just trying to slaughter (again, no pun intended) the competition. His beats are on-point; his lyrics are sick in many definitions of the word (part of "Taking My Ball" sounds like it was inspired by The Trinity Killer); and his vocals are as fresh and sharp as the knife he claims to wield.
The one weak point of "Refill" would sadly be Dre's guest vocals on "Hell Breaks Loose," as he very plainly sounds like he's reading off a lyrics sheet-- lyrics that he very clearly didn't write for himself.

With "Relapse 2" still being promised as being on the horizon, it still remains to be seen just what else Eminem has up his sleeve. But with the game having changed so much in the last half of the past decade-- and with no sense that it's going to slow down now or in the next decade-- the writing is on the wall. Eminem has played the woman-hater before, and whether or not that's who he really is no longer even really matters. Just as they once "said [he] can't rap about bein' broke no more..." someone needs to tell him to stop sticking to the same old script here, too. After all, if all he's got is joints about ripping women up with chainsaws and jokes at Mariah Carey's expense (though even I have to admit "The Warning" was hot!) in his repertoire, then he really is yesterday-- or last decade--'s news. The laugh will unfortunately be on him because the industry won't be waiting around for "Relapse 2" the way once diehard fans (myself included) were waiting for the first installment.

30 Days of Christmas: You're A Good Elf, Charlie Brown!...

All right, I admit it: this one is on the list purely at the instance of certain friends of mine who just absolutely love it. Personally, I've never really seen the appeal, and quite honestly, I go out of my way to avoid it most years. I have no idea why. It can't be the two-dimensional animation, as I still love all of the South Park Christmas episodes. It can't be Snoopy, as everyone knows I am a dog-lover! I think it's Charlie Brown himself because he just seems so...sniveling at times. Or maybe he's just drawn that way.

ANYWAY, A Charlie Brown Christmas premiered in 1965 and runs every year, showcasing little Charlie Brown's despondency during the holidays. Even though everyone is getting in the festive spirit by sending holiday cards and decorating their houses (and doghouses!) with lights and trees, Charlie Brown falls deeper and deeper into a funk. He decides, though, that the way to save the holiday is to be as traditional as possible, and he opts to prove this by directing the Christmas play with a real wooden tree, instead of the modern designs his friends come up with. He believes everyone has been corrupted by commercialism, after all.

In the crux of it all, his friend Linus proves Charlie Brown to be wrong about their motives, though, as he gives the infamous speech about the "true meaning of Christmas," and lo and behold, all of his friends join in on the sentiment, singing a carol to Charlie Brown. It's as if they pulled one big "Gotcha!" over his eyes the whole time. But it was all in good fun...or so the animators hope we will believe.

...On second thought, I think I do, in fact, realize why A Charlie Brown Christmas has never sat well with me: Charlie Brown wants to get the true celebration of Christmas back to the Bible. But Christ wasn't really born on December 25th, so he wants to take us back to a lie anyway. And if we're going to honor a lie, I much prefer the one about the jolly old man who brings presents to all the girls and boys rather than the one that invokes images of a scared, cold, pregnant girl out on the street...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

30 Days of Christmas: Modern Classics...

I spoke earlier of my love of all movies airport, and that extends much further than just kids running loose in an airport. In fact, it is probably what immediately endeared me to today's (first) Modern Classic pick: Love Actually. But the meet-cute gimmick location was just a quick entry to an extremely well put together film with a cast of characters seemingly as large as some film's casts and crews!

Love Actually is a long one, as far as holiday movies go. Some would assume it is too long for a genre that is notoriously known for cheesy carols and over-the-top design. However, what is at the core here are some very sweet (and often intertwining) stories about young love. From the racy movie stand-ins who come together (no pun intended), bonding even in awkward situations, to the elementary aged boy who is convinced he has found his true love, to the youthful prime minister who falls for his saucy and somewhat inappropriate staffer, and the writer and his maid who don't even speak the same language, the relationships in this film are what warm you. And even though some of the relationships go south, the result is not a decent into holiday depression because everyone knows yet another clip from the fictional (and hilarious) "Christmas Comes Once A Year" music video is just around the corner!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

30 Days of Christmas: A Christmas Carol...

But not just any version of A Christmas Carol (because there are so many!): Mickey's Christmas Carol!!! This Disney-filed version of Charles Dickens' classic novella was released in 1983 and partially based on a musical version of the same name that predated it. However, this animated short film featured everyone's favorite high-pitched mouse in the Bob Crachit role with Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge.

What was always so great about this version was how, at the end when Scrooge McDuck goes to the Crachit family home, he keeps up his gruff persona. As a little kid, one might think he really didn't learn a lesson from the Ghosts of Christmas past after all, but in reality, he's just tricking the family. The big sack he drags with him is not filled with laundry or papers but toys for the kids. Mickey Crachit gets his raise and partnership in the company, and little Tiny Tim is so full of holiday joy, he no longer seems ill. Hard to read a lot of emotion on cartoon's faces, but Mickey's Christmas Carol makes it just a little bit easier!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Is Mams Taylor Coming To A TV Near You?...

When speaking to Leonard Richardson, the CW’s V.P. of Music, in mid-December, he mentioned that he, as well as his music supervisors and showrunners, often go out around town to scout new talent to potentially sign for one or more of their shows or promos. “Over the summer we actually had…the All-American Rejects come into the offices and perform for us, and we ended up using them on 90210,” he explained when asked if finding new talent was more than just combing through the Warner Brothers Records archives.

And that was refreshing to hear. After all, I had just come from an intimate showcase by Mams Taylor & The Premiere League. Taylor has a song featuring Joel Madden of Good Charlotte called “L.A. Girls” that was released as a single on iTunes in 2008. Featuring lyrics like “Bathin’ in the California sun/Man I think I gotta get me one/(L.A., L.A., L.A.)/There’s nothing like those L.A. Girls,” the song is the perfect anthem for 90210 or Melrose Place—in my humble opinion, preferably the latter if it manages to survive for a second season. And perhaps it would stand a better chance if promo-ed with Taylor’s hot track underneath.

30 Days of Christmas: Miracle on 34th Street (Both Versions!)...

For most, the only "right" answer when asked which version of Miracle on 34th Street you might be watching is "the original" (starring Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood). However, I have tons of friends who actually prefer the 1994 remake (with Elizabeth Perkins and Mara Wilson). Perhaps this is because we were just kids when that hit theaters, and for some of us, we had the same wide-eyed wonder that Wilson brought to the screen when it came to all things Kris Kringle. For that reason, I urge you to watch both movies during the holiday season-- even back to back as I am doing today-- to show you that though remakes aren't always necessary, sometimes they can be just as endearing as the originals.

Miracle on 34th Street starts out with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade Santa being unfit for the job, so Kris Kringle convinces the store's marketing director (O'Hara and Perkins' role) to let him take over instead. Since he is a jolly older man with bright white hair and rosy red cheeks (that we can't confirm in the 1947 original because it is in black and white), she allows it. He does such a good job-- and looks so authentic-- the store keeps him on for the season.

The marketing director's daughter is a little girl who wants some very specific things from Santa this year: a house, a father, and a brother. And she has just the specific house in mind, having seen a picture of it in a magazine. She tells the Santa at Macy's exactly what she wants and is promised her dreams will come true.

The Santa at Macy's, meanwhile, doesn't just call himself Kris Kringle, but he also is convinced he really is Kris Kringle. Despite a bunch of lawyers trying to commit him as just a "mentally ill old man," gradually more than just this little girl begin to wonder and then believe if maybe he's the real thing after all.

What is so great about this movie is that it plays on a personal theory of mine for years. After Kris Kringle deliberately fails his mental sanity test and is put on trial, the question is raised as to what is real and what is not. If we believe in something, does that make it real? If we teach our children something is out there, are we lying to them, or are we creating something out of nothing? And furthermore, if Santa is not real, is God real? After all, Santa and God are both these omnipotent beings that see all, know all, and can reward or spite; no one sees either of them, but yet we are told they exist. Perhaps I am reaching a bit with that one, but it's part of what has always made this movie so special for me: it calls out the grown-ups on their crap!

1947 Version

1994 Version