Saturday, April 23, 2016

15 Netflix suggestions for my sister Kathy (or anyone else in the free world)

Some quick suggestions for my sister and beyond, after watching copious amounts of programming these last few months of winter at the Jersey shore.

Netflix kinda stinks anymore frankly. I don't like the new interface and the programming seems to be going downhill over. I switched over to Hulu for a month (where I fell into the guilty pleasure that was Nashville) and kinda liked it better.

1. Glen Campbell - I’ll Be Me

A touching and inspiring doc about beloved musician Glen Campbell on his farewell tour after his Alzheimer's diagnosis. You can almost feel his spirit watching this well-made flick. And the deep adoration the audience feels for him is so palpable and wonderful to witness. Great interview with director here. (James Keach is one sexy old dude, just saying.)

2. The Nightmare

There are some seriously scary scenes in this, yikes! Director Rodney Ascher explores the topic of night paralysis in this semi-fictional manner that seems more like a horror movie and less of a documentary. Get your blankie for this one.

3. Bernie

Another flick that blurs the lines between documentary and narrative, Jack Black (who surprisingly delivers) stars in this black comedy directed by Richard Linklater and co-starring Shirley MacLaine and an annoying Matthew McConaughey .

Black plays a beloved funeral director in small town Carthage, TX. He's responsible for a crime that the town folk refuse to believe he committed (based on a true story). The National Board of Review included Bernie in their Top 10 Independent Films. Sweet and distinctive piece of work.

4. Peep Show

A British version of Trailer Park Boys meets The Odd Couple? This highly popular UK series is occasionally crass, purposefully awkward and over-the-top sophomoric, which makes it one of my favorite picks on the list!

The leads are comically superb but the real strength is in their supporting cast who are off-the-hook funny. Love this show. 

5. The Wrecking Crew

A must-see for all music lovers. Or anybody who has heard of music. The Wrecking Crew is a doc based on a team of the tightest studio musicians who were pretty much behind hundreds of the most successful recordings of the 60's and 70's (The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds for example). It's fascinating to discover how many bands didn't really play their own music but hired these guys to do the heavy lifting.

6. Hush

If you're looking for an old-fashioned, solid-enough home invasion thriller to distract and scare you one night, Hush keeps you watching until the bitter end.

A very unique casting choice for the bad guy (John Gallagher Jr.) who definitely plays against type. He's kinda cute, likable and dare I say a little funny as the deranged killer, which adds an extra level of disturbing. * I think I love him. *

7. The Hunting Ground

“A searing look at the failure of American universities to grapple successfully with campus rape.” 

Everybody should stop what they’re doing and watch this. Seriously. But be prepared to be revolted.

The takeaway: it is only the victims of these crimes that have made any legal or social difference in this country in the last decade; the universities do practically nothing and only care about covering their asses and those of their precious athletes.

8. Fantastic Lies

The complete flip-side of The Hunting Ground, this ESPN's acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary series profiles the Duke lacrosse case and a horrible, media-driven rush to judgment on a rape case on their campus.

9. The Returned (US and French version)

Okay, okay...the French one was better. But the US version holds its own and you don’t have to read subtitles or wish you smoked cigarettes again (the French sure make smoking look so good).

What would you do if a loved one who died reappeared suddenly? That’s the question at hand in this existential supernatural thriller.

10. Happy Valley

This show rocks. Easily one of my faves on this list, Happy Valley is a taut British crime drama television series starring Sarah Lancashire. Refreshing to see such a powerful female lead in a crime drama. She is simply the bomb in this and I would not mess with her if she arrested me. 

The trailer above offers a perfect summary of the show.

11. Guidance

A modest and most pleasurable Canadian dark comedy about a guidance counselor who doles out non-traditional guidance (to say the least) to his students. Nice and easy watch with friend. 

12. Prescription Thugs

Filmmaker (and pill taker) examines the pharmaceutical industry and prescription-drug addiction in America. Not that you didn’t know it was bad...but it’s way worse than you think. The numbers are staggering. The filmmaker’s approach to this topic is admirable and down-to-earth, considering the vastness and extremity of the topic.

13. Breathe

A typically sullen French film that ends bleakly. (Wait, you're supposed to like this movie, right?) I do...the dynamics between these two friends is compelling and dangerously close.

14. The Riches

Just started this series and I must say, it’s pretty impressive. (Though who would have thought to pair Eddie Izzard with Minnie Driver? I did cringe a little during their love scene, I confess.)

The Riches follows a traveling family of con artists. Called “the most scathing take on class relations anywhere on TV.” - New York magazine. Eh, not sure about that but…compelling characters and story line.

15. The Dark Matter of Love

A naive and blindingly positive family adopt 3 children from a Russian orphanage, but the children aren’t assimilating as they’d hoped. Powerful doc on the psychological aspects of growing up without parental love...and how to manage when you finally get it.


I Hate Christian Laettner (ESPN's 30 for 30 series)

Oh boy, what a fascinating case study on an incredibly gifted but highly unlikable college athlete who seems to thrive off of the negative feelings he generates. Narrated by Rob Lowe.


You can pass on:

Keith Richards, Under the Influence

A musical doc snooze fest. No one needs to hear Keith Richards sing that many times in 90 minutes.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Yes, cleverly written and some funny moments but Season 2 seems too forced and self-conscious. (Enough of Titus and his damn show tunes already! We get it, he can sing.) Though Jane Krakowski is so fun to watch, I might stick with it a little longer.

Welcome to Me

I so wanted to like this disturbing comedy about a mentally ill woman (played extra creepy by Kristin Wiig) who wins the lottery and makes her own TV show where she can openly explore every painful aspect of her life. But the story line is disjointed and too serious to be funny at times. A confusing tone.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

8 Netflix Suggestions for Laura (plus 2 guilty pleasures)

1. The Dark Matter of Love - a poignant and psychologically informative doc about the difficult process of integrating children from a Russian orphanage into an America family. The adopting family is over-the-top upbeat (they have Disney nicknames for one another) but even they feel the strain of these managing these underloved children.

2. Divorce Corp - A must-see sobering documentary about the vast money-making machine that is today's divorce court. (Seriously, everyone should watch this one. You'll either never get married or never divorced.)

3. Happy Valley - Powerful doc about Penn State's Sandusky scandal and football as a religion. You definitely don't have to be a football fan because this is about so much more.

4. Casting By.  "The surprising, never-before-told tale of the indispensable yet unsung role of casting Director."

5. Locked Up Abroad: from Hollywood to Hell - Locked Up Abroad always makes me feel grateful that I'm currently not locked up abroad because it seems like it sucks in a major way. This episode in particular is pretty amazing.

"On a trip to Pakistan, LA actor Erik Aude’s life completely changes after authorities find opium hidden in the lining of his suitcase." (The hulky actor ends up being quite a real-life badass.)

6. Parenthood. Most have probably seen this popular and highly relatable family series but if you haven't, it's smart, sweet, super watchable and the all of the leads are pretty amazing.

7. The Politician's Husband. Sort of a Star is Born for British politics where the wife is on the professional rise while the husband spirals downward. It's only a decent miniseries but David Tennant is so captivating, it's worth looking past the flaws. Man, he's good.

8. Being Human (UK).  "Deciding to turn over a new leaf, a group of friends who also happen to be vampires and werewolves move into a house together, only to find that it is haunted by ghosts of people who have been killed under mysterious circumstances."

This series just keeps growing on me. Even though it's a little overacted and kinda just plain silly at times, Being Human is also inventive, human and fun to watch, with just the right amount of darkness. Kinda the antithesis of Twilight.




Army Wives. A Lifetime (usually yech) series explores "the impact of military life on family life by focusing on the spouses of soldiers stationed at a South Carolina Army base." (It's not as soap-opery as it seems.)

Witches of East End. "Set in a seaside town of East End, free-spirited artist Joanna Beauchamp is the mother of wild-child bartender Freya and shy librarian Ingrid, who are both gifted -- and cursed -- with a magic birthright."

Sure, Charmed-like corny but a lot of serious magic going on, spells in Latin and all.

Monday, March 30, 2015

15 Magical Words to Brighten your Spirit

[A piece I wrote for Direct Self, a self-help magazine.]

What is a chant? It’s simply a repetition of powerful words used to gain a desired result. Prayers fall in that category as well. In short, words equal power.

Speak the following words aloud. Notice how they make you feel. Allow the power of the word to transform you. Simply speaking a word can stimulate an emotion and have a ripple effect in your life.
Clarity – A crisp, clean word that means brilliance, splendor and clearness of thought, action and atmosphere.

Forever – Can any word capture time rolling forward eternally? Forever and ever tries.

Epiphany – A brilliant thought that hits you suddenly, as if by magic. A lightning bolt of an idea.

Exuberant – Pleasantly excited. Brimming over with stimulation and delight. Exuberance glows.

Luxurious – Think chocolate mouse or a hot bath. Luxurious is rich, warm, enveloping and inviting.

Fragile – Delicate, beautifully raw. Being fragile is not a bad thing but a sweet and vulnerable state where your true soul can be seen.

Mellifluous – Sweet-sounding ear candy that transports you to another place and time. Think of a Mozart symphony or the distant sounds of a waterfall.

Felicitous – This pretty word can mean a smart fit (“her nickname was particularly felicitous) or pleasing, blessed and fortunate.

Jejune – This word means dull and childish but if you want to tell an annoying person that they’re acting so jejune, it will make you feel really good.

Rhapsody – This intoxicating and magical word has several definitions but for our purposes, it means “rapturous delight or ecstasy.”

Redolent – An intoxicating scent, one that lifts you off your feet and carries you away. Think of a roast cooking in the oven or a freshly-baked apple pie.
Diaphanous – Gossamer-thin, fine and delicate. An angel’s wing is diaphanous.

Elixir – A powerful potion that can heal and transport you, a good one is rumored to prolong life indefinitely.

Cathartic – A profound purging from your system, complete repelling and expelling. A genuine catharsis can transform you permanently.

Dulcet – Sweet to the taste or pleasing to the ear, dulcet is honey-like and pleasing. The dulcet tones of a lover’s voice in your ear.

Monday, March 23, 2015

7 Things that I'm Surprised I Like

1. Southern Rock

Musically, I never saw this one coming. Born and raised on 70's pop, I should dislike this kind of macho heavy-handed, long-jam rock whose lyrics can lean toward bigotry and closed-mindedness. But play a little Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band or ZZ Top and out of me flies a whiskey drinking cowgirl, ready to throw punches.

2. Car Repair

Weird. I mean, changing a light bulbs gives me pause, so its not like I'm handy. I just love hearing about car repair. Sit me next to an auto mechanic and I'll converse for hours. Perhaps I just like the tidiness of problem solving or bad-ass engines that go vroom, vroom.

3. Chicken Livers

Wild about them. And they're gross. They're gross to look at, grosser to touch. I don't even eat that much meat. But ever since I was a small child, I loved chicken livers. My mother would fry them up in a pan and toss pieces to the pets and me and we'd gobble them down together.

4. Barry Manilow

Okay, I actually have a reason for this one. And it involves LSD.

I dropped some acid with my late, great friend Vicki when we in our teens. We were losing our shit, crawling on train tracks, freaked out by trees, collapsing in maniacal fits of know the deal.

When we finally made it back to Vicki's house, we turned on her bedroom radio and the station was playing all Barry Manilow for some Satanic reason. I sang every word as if I'd known his music my entire life. I was channeling Barry. Vicki watched me, jaw-dropped (and drooling, maybe).

Ever since that acid trip, Barry Manilow has meant a lot to me. (How many people get to write that line?) And I still know practically every lyric of every song. I've even seen him in concert and booed when he did a medley that included Could it be Magic (my favorite tune) instead of the whole song.

I even like the Take That version...who am I?

5. GYN appointments

Big fan of the gynecologist. They keep my sex life happy and healthy. And I've been blessed by nothing but amazing ones. The first one was from Australia, looking like he walked out of a GQ ad. It added a whole other dimension to the gynecological experience, let me tell you what sisters and brothers.

And then there was Dr. Brandberg, the hippest cat ever. He told me it was alright to smoke cigarettes occasionally. He missed being broke like me, he revealed once, as we sat in his office and shared a smoke, post-exam. His life was less complicated. I told him to give me his money then. He laughed and pulled out his checkbook.

"You have a fine vagina," he would say, mid-exam. "A fine vagina." Yeah, some would be freaked out by this kind of remark, but you had to know him. It was just small talk for him. One of a kind, that crazy doctor.

My latest gynecological wonder? Dr. Trim (his name, I kid you not). Warmest hands ever. And he gives me hugs.

6. Martha Stewart

Life is too complicated not to be orderly. ~ Martha Stewart

God, I loathe this woman. And yet...I love her. She's cold, cold as ice. But she's shrewd and ruthless and knows crazy shit about all things domestic. She influences every day of my life: the way I prepare food, make my bed. She even shamed me into washing my sheets more frequently. (She was shocked that some people wait as long as 3 weeks to wash their sheets. I was one of those people. Until Martha.) Her business acumen is over-the-top. She's done time. And she makes souffles.

7. Anal

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Top Ten Buzz Kills

Just because you're buzzed doesn't mean life stops being annoying. In a perfect world, we'd beam ourselves to a hassle-free planet and ride unicorns and eat marshmallow pies all day. 

Until then, we must deal with these 10 buzz kills:

1. Cops

The uniform, the car, the militaristic attitude...goodbye buzz, hello "Can you step out of the vehicle?" (If you're lucky, it's a stripper cop and it's all a great big joke with a sexy ending.)

2. Losing Stuff

My friend Lisa had a rule of thumb: get everything ready before you get stoned. Everything. If you wait until after, you will search endlessly for your keys, phone or general purpose in life. And never find it...never find it.

3. Frigid Temperatures

When I was a flannel-wearing teen lass, I used to hang out at an arcade in South Jersey. Our long-haired gang would pop into the woods on an icy winter's night to light up. We'd all wonder why we didn't feel high...until we went back into the arcade and our high would thaw out, just like magic! Head magic.

4. The Rambler

Nothing can be more deadly to a perfectly good high than the Rambler, who starts a story with no intentions of ending it. And because you're high, you can't muster up the energy to interject. So instead, you get sucked in, deeper and deeper. Soon your buzz has been bored right the hell out of you, never to return. (The Lecturer has the same effect.)

5. Your Mother

Okay, some of you get high with your mom and she's so cool and blah, blah, blah. But parents are similar to cops; you feel like you've done something wrong by merely being in their presence. They're judging, watching all the time. And don't you forget it. 

6.  A Blow to the Head

Once during a party I got hit on the head by a lamp while pulling my coat out of the closet. Boom - high completely gone. Fucking lamp.

7. Monsters

They're fun in the movies but when they are in your living room, they are unpredictable, angry and messy (because of the green goo). They also will eat your weed and projectile vomit it back up, which isn't pleasant and a waste of perfectly good weed.

8. Dental Work

I thought it would be a good idea to smoke a little prior to some extensive dental work I had years back. Unfortunately, it just heightened the torturous sensations. Pretty soon, I thought the dentist had it out for me like Olivier in Marathon Man. My buzz was literally drilled out of my head.

9. Existential Angst

There is no god. You are all alone. The people are laughing at you and you look ridiculous. The world feels dry, chalky and desolate and you're the only scrap of humanity left. The best you can do is listen to some Pink Floyd and embrace the painful truth. Cheetos may help but I make no guarantees.

10. Alien Abduction

I know, it depend on the alien, of course. Some aliens are totally down for a good time but others are into naval probing and mind melding. I find the smaller, ET-style aliens are much more easy going than the ones with the two rows of teeth.

So watch out for buzz kills. Life is short and highs aren't cheap. Remember: you can always just walk away...even from the cops. Especially from the cops. Go do your own thing. Create your own world. Screw everyone else. Marshmallow pies await you, my friend.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Mentors I Haven't Met

I've waited and waited for my mentor to come along. You know, that magical, mystical (and hopefully hot) elder who would gently yet firmly instruct and guide me down the yellow brick road of life.

But alas, nobody. Sure, some great teachers, but no wise man with a white beard and stern, fatherly voice.

So I was forced to expand the definition of mentors. Below is a list of mentors I haven't met, but have shaped my path nonetheless.

Howard Stern

Cringe if you want, but Howard Stern is a major risk-taker and one of the few real pioneers of radio. He fearlessly lets his id guide him. No, I don't always like his material and I can find him just as sexist and annoying as the next person, but I respect his balls.

He taught me to take bigger and edgier creative risks.

David Sedaris

Don't tell anyone this but I'm not a fan of most writing. Fiction makes me perfectly sleepy. Plus nothing I had read was all that...funny. Until Sedaris.

I still remember the first time I read The Santaland Diaries on a Muni train in San Francisco and laughed so hard, I thought they might toss me out. I had never laughed like that reading a book.

David taught me that being a dangerous, dark and funny writer is highly encouraged. Go there, it's alright.

Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks is a magical and beautiful witch, plain and simple. Ever since I first laid eyes on her, I wanted to be just like her and promptly bought a crimping iron and lots of scarves.

Stevie taught me to tap into that wild, feminine essence and blaze my own gold-dust trail. (Honorary mention goes to Kate Bush, my other favorite rock goddess.)

The Onion

What's there to say about a team of the funniest journalists in history? No one touches their deeply satirical humor. I see Gawker attempting it but they have a meaner edge and just can't replicate the funny that is The Onion.

For over 20 years, they have been taking massively politically incorrect chances and nailing it, somehow not offending but only inspiring people like me to not worry when I write.

Here's a list of their best faux headlines. 

Pee Wee Herman

Pee Wee Herman (aka Paul Reubens) has always intrigued me. He seems like a true artist, compelled by some mysterious inner child. When I'm not feeling great, nothing makes me feel better than watching re-runs of his old TV show or movies. And when I see an interview with Paul Reubens, I'm instantly mesmerized. He's a special man.

He taught me creative conviction and inner child importance.

Monty Python

The first time I saw Monty Python and The Holy Grail when I was a child, I peed my pants. Several times. (So? I peed easily when I was young.) The absurd risks they were taking just floored me. Who were these game changers and how could I become one? It was unlike anything I'd seen before in my life. The sky was the limit after watching these guys.

The Monty Python team taught me the grave importance of being profoundly silly.

Bob Fosse

Bob Fosse and his work have always taken my breath away. When All that Jazz came out (based loosely on his life), I saw it countless times. The dark sexual artistry blended with rich colors and his one-of-a-kind choreography made me want to move that way, look that way, feel that way. And the fact that he was highly imperfect (drinker, smoker, etc) only made me like him more.

Cabaret (which he directed) still influences my creative choices in life. Joel Grey's emcee character still remains in my mind the most mysterious and incredible supporting roles
in a movie. And the pinnacle of her career.

Freddie Mercury

I still remember when Freddie died. I had a dinner plate in my hand, listening to the news. When I heard that he passed, I dropped the plate and ran to my bedroom, in tears for hours. He was my vocal hero.

But it was so much more than that: Freddie commanded attention like no one else. And he wasn't perfect looking. It was that inner "thing" that he radiated. Balls-out confidence.

He taught me to feel powerful and regal regardless of all of my seeming "imperfections".

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee is one of the most amazing physical specimens known to humankind. He trained hard and damn, it showed. He inspired me (like oh-so-many others) to learn martial arts and take my body just that much further than I thought it could go.

Bruce Lee taught me how to be fierce and kick up my self-discipline a notch.

Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend is everything I consider rock, simply put.

He taught me to be unbridled and defiant.

Early Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy truly was raw. Sharp. Edgy. Nobody could touch his funny in his day. Now he's a little too self-serious but then...damn, he was just on fire.

But the thing that Eddie taught me was the seriousness of comedy. If you listen to earlier material, the subject matter was often pretty heavy underneath.

Eddie taught me that real life can be tragic and dysfunctional...but you can make it funny.

Judy Garland

I saved the best for last. Judy is my queen. Since I was 3, I was obsessed with her. She still remains to me the most beautiful woman that ever existed. But again, not just based on her physicality, but that innocence and esprit that she radiated.

Unlike many artists who seem like they should hang it up after years of drug and alcohol abuse, Judy channeled that pain and heartache into her performing, which moved people like no other.

Judy taught me to maintain and nurture the innocence of my inner Dorothy and perform with full, unbridled expression.

So no old bearded man or wizened blue-eyed woman held my hand and taught me how to become an artist. I found them on the big screen, the radio, the movies. And they remain with me, as if they were in this room. Where I type this piece. Topless.

I told you.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

15 Bands that Smarted the Fun out of Music

Some musicians are a little too smart for their own good. They're not bad or anything. Just could stand to lighten up a little. Stop smarting the fun out of music, man!

WARNING! Do not defend the bands to us. We actually like several of the musicians listed. We make fun of them nonetheless...because we can, we can.

1. Brian Eno (Well, someone's looking stately today.)

2. Philip Glass (likes balloons and black licorice)

3. Radiohead (If I played a practical joke on Thom Yorke, he'd scold me and I'd cry.)

4. Beethoven

5. Moby

6. Patti Smith (likes to be tickled with pink feathers)

7. Trent Reznor (They're all laughing at you, Trent.)

8. Leonard Cohen and Suzanne Vega. (Not skipping through the daisies anytime soon.)

9. Robert Fripp (The "I'm smarter than you and I know it" look.)

10. Morrissey (Don't let the pussycat fool you.)

11. Early Bono (His lizard-like tongue is about to dart into one of the flowers any second.)

12. Arnold Schoenberg (Oh you're in trouble now.)

13. Lou Reed (Even dead, he's grouchy.)

13. Steely Dan (Love you guys, you know that...but you definitely fit the bill.)

15. Diamanda Galas (Lover of raw meat and sharp objects.)

(My fave Moby piece. Serious but oh so stunning.)