16 great summertime movies

The arrival of summer makes me want to do certain things. Such as wear crisp black and white, or my raggedy denim cutoffs. Listen to Niki & The Dove and Bananarama. Eat BLTs, watermelon, cheeseburgers and things with pesto. Drink red sangria. And watch the movies I consider summertime classics.

In making this list, I noticed some common themes. They often include the presence of Richard Dreyfuss, a Kenny Loggins song, Sam Neill or Laura Dern or both, people looking appropriately flushed or damp, an anxiety-ridden scene around a middle-class kitchen table, and a great soundtrack.

Here are my favorites:


You can usually find Jaws playing on some random cable channel. I like the first half of the movie best: all the beach scenes with Roy running around blowing his whistle and pissing off the mayor, and the kitchen table scenes with him looking all swarthy and worried. You just know they don’t have air conditioning.


I’ve really warmed up to this one over the years. Now, it doesn’t feel like a proper summer unless I watch it at least once.


Baby’s jean cutoffs and Keds. The soundtrack. The dancing. I carried a watermelon. The parents who just don’t understand. Come ON!


It just FEELS like summer in this movie, even though the kids are obviously in school. Running away will never make it right. But anything worth my love is worth a fight. I’m free!


Creepy hijinks on a sun-dappled sea. Foreboding music. Nicole Kidman running around with flushed cheeks. Billy Zane playing a salty dog lunatic. Sam Neill barely saying a word. I’ve never stopped loving you, Dead Calm.


Again, we have Richard Dreyfuss playing a dry-humored, know-better hero. I prefer the first half of this movie, when it’s all beige and humid and 70s-ish. And Teri Garr!


The family goes to movies. They go for ice cream. They go boating. Reminds me of my childhood (except for the scary Robert DeNiro parts).


My favorite scenes are of the caddies just hanging out as part of their summer job. “Then you don’t get no Coke.”


I remember seeing this in the theater and being so blown away. Haven’t seen in years (it’s rarely on TV). Seems to perpetually take place in summer — either idyllic balmy small-town summer or a hazy wartime oven.


Compared to most others on this list, Ruby in Paradise is small and quiet and I’ve only seen it once or twice. A Sundance Film Festival winner and one of Ashley Judd’s first films. Her breakout role maybe. She’s a self-possessed but lost soul who gets random jobs in beach junk stores and tries to figure out her life.


I consider this a late summer movie, when you’re starting to crave fall and spookiness. A cross-over pick, meaning it’s also on my list of favorite Halloween movies. If it’s on, I’m watching it.


Another small movie that for whatever reason resonated with me. Diane Lane is a repressed housewife in the 1960s who falls for cool alternative hippie Viggo in — you guessed — the summertime. Great soundtrack!




I won’t insult you.


I rediscovered the fun of Jurassic Park last summer when my kids got into it in preparation for the Chris Pratt dino-buster (which we also dug).


Cornfields. Baseball. Aliens. A foreboding family dinner around a sad looking kitchen table where everyone is on edge while eating fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Signs has all the elements! I have a soft spot for M. Night.

*I would also include Point Break, T2: Judgement Day, Field of Dreams and Top Gun on this list except that I pretty much watch those year-round.

And you know which summer-esque movie I’m craving? Sleeping with the Enemy. Bring it on, DirectTV! Maybe it will make next year’s list.






Stardust memories

In honor of the Oscars, I’m reflecting on my four years living in L.A. (1996 – 2000) and covering the film industry for Premiere Magazine, the now-defunct movie magazine for film lovers.

[Warning: this blog post is looooong.]

I met so many great stars (and regular folks) through that job — my first real writing job out of journalism school. I didn’t know how good I had it. I had moved to L.A. in August 1996 with no job lined up and knowing no one. I just wanted to work in the movie business somehow — maybe as a script supervisor or at a production company. To pay the bills, I was working at Nine West in the Beverly Center — to this day, the worst job I’ve ever had. I made it to October when I just called up and quit one day.

I got the job at Premiere the same week, through a cold call to the West Coast bureau in Santa Monica, on the infamous Bundy Drive of O.J. Simpson fame. I happened to get a fellow Midwesterner on the phone (thanks Max Potter) who told me about an unpaid internship they were looking to fill. He gave me the internship which turned into an editorial assistant job by Christmas. Over the following three years, I visited movie sets, attended weeknight screenings and covered dozens of premieres and red carpet events, including the Oscars, Emmy’s, Golden Globes and Independent Spirit Awards. I was 22 years old and on my own —  no spouse or kids to get home to. The rest of the staff had been doing it a while. They were over it, and too senior to go out weeknight after weeknight to squeeze into the press corps behind the ropes of the red carpet. Meanwhile, I was happy to.

Because this was before iPhones, I have precious few photos from all my experiences. Here are a few:


{Here I am interviewing Brad Pitt at the post-premiere party of The End of the Affair at Jimmy’s II Restaurant in Beverly Hills / Century City area on December 2, 1999. The End of the Affair was directed by Neil Jordan, who Brad had worked with on Interview with a Vampire. Brad had just finished filming Snatch with Guy Ritchie. This photo was mailed to my office a week after the party. A professional photographer had snapped it. Pretty awesome that he took the time to send it to me, in retrospect. In case you’re wondering, Brad was a nice guy. Very present, interested and locked in — i.e., not looking around for someone more important to talk to. I always found the bigger the star, the more focused and kind they were.}


{My first selfie? It was on the way to the Golden Globes in 2000, during the 3 months I worked for Us Weekly, a miserable job. I must have had a regular disc camera… I can’t remember. I do remember that shirt I’m wearing was like $20.}


{In Santa Monica near the pier with my mom, when she visited L.A.}

I had worked at Premiere for two years before I got to cover the Oscars. It was a tough ticket and my boss usually covered it.

I know I covered the Independent Spirit Awards a couple times — and it may have been 1997. The Spirit awards are held in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica on the Saturday before the Oscars. It’s much more laid back. I remember talking to Ed Harris, Mary Louise Parker, and Cameron Diaz and seeing Alec Baldwin. Everyone is just running around having fun. I remember having a ribeye and bloody Mary in a nearby hotel restaurant with one of my co-workers afterward. I was always ravenous after covering events.

The first time I covered the Oscars, it was the 70th Academy Awards on March 23, 1998. That was the year of Titanic, Good Will Hunting, As Good As It Gets and L.A. Confidential.

When I say I covered the awards, I should clarify: I didn’t attend the actual Oscars ceremony inside the Shrine. But I did have press credentials to the Governor’s Ball, one of only a few reporters allowed in. Premiere was very well-respected and trusted among the publicity folks. And our West Bureau Chief, Anne Thompson, was and still is a sort of grande dame of Oscars. If the Oscars ceremony is a wedding, the Governor’s Ball is the reception immediately following. From there, everyone goes to after-parties sponsored by Vanity Fair, InStyle, Elton John, and the studios. My lovely co-worker Sean Smith and I divvied up the passes to those after-parties. That’s when my work really began.

Highlights of the night for me: talking to Matt Damon at the Governor’s Ball right after he won best screenplay for Good Will Hunting (just like Brad, a nice guy) and talking to Greg Kinnear at an after-party after he won for As Good As It Gets. Greg = also a super humble and nice guy.

The following year, I covered the 71st Academy Awards on March 21, 1999 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown L.A. I borrowed a beautiful beige gown and Jimmy Choo heels from Pam in the magazine’s Advertising department. I even have a photo of myself with Sean just before heading downtown (I would watch the first part of the show in my apartment and then head down to the Governor’s Ball when it was nearing the end). But I can’t find it! Maybe next year…

The 1999 Oscars were all about Shakespeare in Love, Saving Private Ryan, Life is Beautiful and Elizabeth. It was the year of Gwyneth Paltrow’s famous pink gown and Roberto Benigni walking on the backs of chairs in the theater when he won.

That year, I covered the Miramax after-party at the Polo Lounge in the storied Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. A couple things I remember about that night: my driver’s side door on my shitty Toyota Celica was broken, so when I pulled into valet, I had to get out through the passenger side; Gwyneth Paltrow was there holding court at a table and I lingered like a vulture for a very long time before giving up; I met Kevin Costner, who had brought his daughter as his date; and on my drive home, I saw a lone coyote run across Sunset Boulevard, near the deserted UCLA campus.

That year, I really wanted to just watch the show from home with a bowl of popcorn like I had done for so many years back in Ohio. That was kind of the beginning of the end.

The following year, 2000, I was in San Francisco on Oscars night. I had quit my job at Premiere for a job at Us Weekly that quickly fizzled out, and was planning to move back to Ohio in a few days’ time. I remember walking around San Fran (I had never been and wanted to check it out before moving home) and being beside myself that I wasn’t watching the Oscars — and being ASTOUNDED that anyone would be out instead of at home glued to the show. At that time, I still believed the world revolved around Hollywood.

Once home, it took many months to shake that. I was like a recovering Hollywood insider. I couldn’t stand to talk about movies or hear other people talk about movies. As if they knew anything.

First Red-Carpet Interview

Winona Ryder (The Crucible)

Biggest / Most Memorable Stars Interviewed at Premiere Parties

  • Brad Pitt (The End of the Affair)
  • John Travolta (Mad City)
  • Dustin Hoffman (Mad City)
  • Nicole Kidman (Eyes Wide Shut)

My Teen Idols, Interviewed

  • Olivia Newton-John (annual Women in Hollywood luncheon; she complimented me on my black Banana Republic pantsuit. I’ll never forget it.)
  • Rob Lowe (Austin Powers)

Stars Interviewed at the Oscars

  • Matt Damon (the year he won for writing Good Will Hunting, at the Governor’s Ball)
  • Tom Hanks (at the Governor’s Ball)
  • Kevin Costner (at an Oscars party with his daughter)
  • Greg Kinnear (the year he won for As Good As It Gets)

Strangest Interview

Gene Simmons (at a party I was covering for InStyle Magazine, a freelance gig)

Interview I Had to Literally Run Down

Jim Carrey, at the height of his career when he was the first actor to earn a $20 million payday

Stars Who Didn’t Look as Good in Person as They Do Onscreen

Hugh Grant (sorry Hugh)

Stars Who Look Better in Person Than They Do Onscreen

  • Sandra Bullock (stunning)
  • Michelle Pfeiffer (magical)
  • Jeff Bridges (more leading man, less The Dude)

Sit-Down Interviews That Lasted an Hour or More

  • George Clooney (on the set of O Brother, Where Art Thou?; charming, funny but also a lot more everyday than you might expect)
  • Jeff Bridges (in his hotel room, doing press for Arlington Road and I was sick as a dog, coming down with the flu)
  • Ashton Kutcher (I think it was a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Sunset Boulevard)
  • Peter Facinelli (some lunch place in the valley)
  • Lisa Kudrow (some lunch place in Beverly Hills)
  • Vincent Perez (in the Hotel Peninsula’s beautiful dining room, for I Dreamed Of Africa)

Stars Interviewed on a Movie Set

  • Peter Berg (Very Bad Things)
  • Kevin Bacon (Hollow Man)
  • Charlize Theron (The Astronaut’s Wife)
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Haunting)
  • Liam Neeson (The Haunting)
  • Lindsay Lohan (The Parent Trap)
  • Natasha Richardson (The Parent Trap)
  • Dennis Quaid (The Parent Trap)
  • Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween: H20, one of my all-time favorite scream queens from one of my favorite movies ever, the original Halloween)
  • Geoffrey Rush (The House on Haunted Hill)
  • Josh Hartnett (Halloween: H20)
  • Paul Walker (Joy Ride)
  • Steve Zahn (Joy Ride)
  • Leelee Sobieski (Joy Ride)
  • Clint Eastwood (Space Cowboys)
  • Matthew Lillard (Spanish Judges)

Other Interesting Women I Interviewed

  • Drew Barrymore (at the annual Women in Hollywood luncheon)
  • Eva Marie Saint (one of Hitchcock’s leading ladies!)
  • Debra Hill (she produced most of the Halloween movies)
  • Cindy Crawford (she was at the same party where I saw Madonna)

Memorable Interviews at Premiere Parties

  • Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic; again, what a nice guy)
  • Jerry Seinfeld (Sour Grapes)
  • Harrison Ford (Air Force One)
  • Jared Leto (Gattaca)
  • Uma Thurman (Gattaca)
  • Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth)
  • Vince Vaughn (Return to Paradise)

Most Memorable Stars I Saw at Events But Didn’t Interview

  • Madonna (tiny, like so many of them)
  • Robert Deniro (it was at the premiere for Ronin and when he entered, the entire room got quiet, like the Queen of England had arrived)
  • David Schwimmer (I was staring into space and when I re-focused, he was doing that hand-wave thing you do to people, like, “Hello? Earth to reporter?”)
  • Chris Farley (I passed him on the stairs of a premiere party and he asked me if I had a boyfriend)
  • Bruce Willis & Demi Moore (at the G.I. Jane premiere; they were such a gorgeous power couple)
  • Jennifer Aniston (tiny with a golden tan)

Stars Who Waited Me Out

  • Gwyneth Paltrow (at the Oscars after-party, the year she won for Shakespeare in Love)
  • Ben Affleck (some premiere party I don’t remember)


The Biggest One That Got Away 

Tom Cruise (he was holding Nicole Kidman’s hand while I interviewed her on the red carpet of the Eyes Wide Shut premiere. He was being interviewed by some other red carpet reporter. This was right before they broke up.)

Stars I Thought Were Jerks

Billy Zane (at the Titanic premiere) and Winona Ryder (she apparently had some long-standing beef with Premiere magazine)

The Biggest Stars of the Era That I Never Even Caught a Whiff Of

Julia Roberts

Double jeopardy

My #1 goal this week — my stay-at-home mom-cation — was to spend time with the kids and just be around for them. I had lunch with them in their school cafeteria. I volunteered an hour in Greta’s class. We did doctor’s appointments and teacher-parent conferences. We went to the movies yesterday. I got them on and off the bus. I was able to make dinner. These were simple pleasures. I can’t believe how awesome it was.

Second priority was to get in some exercise. Did, done, check.

I always feel, as I’m sure many people do, short on time. Always hewing to a schedule, not willing to squander one precious minute. I am crazy about my time the way some are crazy about their budget.

This week, I really noticed how good it felt not to be rushing around. The longish line at the grocery store did not send me over the edge, like it normally would. When did I become such a tightly pulled wire?

So one of the highlights of this week was being able to spontaneously sit and watch a guilty pleasure movie, Double Jeopardy. It was a hit back when Ashley Judd was at the top of her game. I love this movie. It has all the classic platitudes you could ask for. Ashley is wrongfully convicted of murdering her husband. Once she figures out she was framed, we get the montage of her pumping iron, doing sit-ups and running around the prison yard. Then miraculously, she’s out on parole with one mission: to find her son, who she hasn’t seen in at least 6 years. We get Tommy Lee Jones as a hardened parole officer with a dry sense of humor and a zero-tolerance policy. He doesn’t give second chances. But after chasing Ashley around Washington State, Colorado and New Orleans, he starts to believe Ashley is telling the truth. We get chase scenes in the French Quarter, a delicious confrontation at a masquerade ball, a sweet reunion between Ashley and her son Matty, and even a scene where Ashley tells Tommy ‘you saved my life’ and he says, out of her earshot, ‘you saved mine.’ What’s not to love?

I watched it start to finish. I didn’t text. I didn’t hop on the computer or check my email. For some, that 90 minutes would have been better spent getting a massage at the spa or having lunch with the girls. For me, it was just what my soul needed.


Celebrity Flashback: Jamie Lee Curtis on the set of Halloween: H20

What’s Celebrity Flashback? From 1996 – 2000, I met dozens of celebrities while working in the West Coast bureau of Premiere Magazine and later, at Us Weekly. These interviews ran the gamut from 30 seconds on the red carpet (Leonardo DiCaprio) to an hour on set (George Clooney). And of course, there were many stars I never interviewed or even saw – not ever in the entire time I worked in Hollywood (Julia Roberts). In Celebrity Flashback, I’ll share the details of one of those close encounters.

Jamie Lee Curtis on the set of Halloween: H20

It was 1998. When I heard they were making a Halloween: H20, I knew I HAD to visit the set for the “In the Works” section of Premiere. It wasn’t too difficult a sell to my editors. The movie, which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the 1978 original classic, starred Jamie Lee Curtis, plus up-and-comers like Josh Hartnett and Michelle Williams. And Debra Hill, one of film’s original producers, was a friend of the magazine. I got to meet her at our annual Women in Hollywood event. She was a short, blonde, round, sweet, unassuming, very regular lady. Not a power tripper at all. She loved that I was a fan of the original. I think it was her first film ever, and probably her most famous.

Anyway, I was thrilled to drive out to La Puente, California to meet Jamie and Josh on the set of Halloween: H20. The downtown main street of tiny La Puente was serving as the downtown of fictional Summer Glen, where Jamie’s character lived as headmistress of Hillcrest, a school in northern California. That day, they were filming a totally boring ‘filler’ scene where Jamie’s character has white-wine lunch with her boyfriend played by Adam Arkin.

After watching the pointless scene, I went to Jamie’s trailer to talk about making the original, and why she’d agreed to do this one — essentially part 7. She told me how incestuous the making of the original was. I believe John Carpenter and Debra were a couple at that point. And some of the other actors were dating each other. The guy who played Michael Myers was dating one of them, I think. She was happy to retell those memories, so that was cool.

Jamie was friendly but I wouldn’t call her warm. She had kind of a masculine, aggressive way about her. A little scary. I could tell the unit publicist was scared of her too. When Jamie needed something, she bellowed out to the unit publicist, ‘MARGARET!!!!!’ Margaret immediately busted into a sprint to get to us. Jamie chuckled and said to me, ‘Look at her run!’

What can you say? She’s a legend. She’s Janet Leigh’s daughter for godssake.

Separately, I met Josh Hartnett, new hottie on the scene. He played Jamie’s son John. He and Jamie had no interaction while I was there; he seemed to be holed up in his trailer with his beanie cap and his music. He seemed like a stoner. It was his first movie ever and I could tell he’d rather be off making a Gus Van Sant film, artiste that he is. I got nothing use-able from him. That’s probably why my write-up never ran.

Later I talked to LL Cool J on the phone. He had a bit part in the movie as a security guard. No idea why. We talked for about five minutes, and he mentioned he was playing at the House of Blues that week, and I should come. He put me on ‘the list.’ Then the call dropped and he never called me back. I did go to the show. Thrillingly, he started the show with a super-loud remix rendition of the famous Halloween theme music.

My biggest regret of the whole deal is I didn’t get to see Michael Myers on the set. No sign of him. I have often wondered if they do that on purpose — schedule press visits on days when he isn’t there so as not to ruin the magic — or if it was my bad planning.

I’ll never know. Happy Halloween!

13 best Halloween movies

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Halloween (1978)
Everyone has a movie that scares them to their core – probably something you watched on TV as a kid when you shouldn’t have. For me, it’s Halloween. When I went on the game show Debt, my chosen pop culture ‘area of expertise’ was this movie.  WHY I LIKE IT: The woolen, brown and burgundy 1970s atmosphere; the grit that our studious heroine Laurie shows; that Michael Myers never runs anywhere, so confident is he that he’ll catch up in due time; his creepy gas station jump suit. And of course, the frickin’ music. I got to meet Jamie Lee Curtis on the set of Halloween: H20 in 1998 — twenty years after the original. I’ll blog about that in the coming weeks.

Haute Tension aka High Tension (2003)
This little-known movie is terrifying. It’s French with sub-titles. Now you know why it’s little-known. But there’s not a lot of dialogue so it doesn’t really matter. It’s about two girlfriends who go visit one of the girl’s parents. They stay the night and some maniac shows up at the desolate house and stalks each one of them. One of Barrak’s co-workers let us borrow the DVD. I watched it by myself when I was pregnant with Greta. I was so freaked out, I had to turn it off. For weeks, I was afraid to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Then I heard there’s a fantastic twist, so I returned to it. It was worth it. A little gory though. WHY I LIKE IT: The twist is on par with the one in Sixth Sense when you find out Bruce Willis is dead.

The Amityville Horror (1979)
Scary movies from the ’70s do it for me because they spend a lot of time building suspense. This movie is heavy on creepy build-up and light on gore. It’s based on a true story about an already fragile family who, unbeknownst to them, move into a haunted house. It made me scared to go to the basement for a long time. WHY I LIKE IT: The exterior shots of the house and the scenes with Margot Kidder wondering what the hell is wrong with her husband, James Brolin. The feel-good moment of the movie? When the dad runs back into the house at the end to get the family dog!

What Lies Beneath (2000)
This is a guilty pleasure. It’s directed by Robert Zemeckis, who is known for his special effects. It takes place during the time of year we’re in now – back to school turning to full-on fall. It’s got Ouija boards, doors mysteriously opening, ghosts writing messages on steamed up mirrors, and a pretty good plot twist. Also a couple homages to Hitchcock. WHY I LIKE IT: Would I be a nerd if I said the acting? Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford are such a pleasure to watch as upscale, empty nesters living in a sweet house on a lake. And the smart girl triumphs in the end. Love that.

The Worst Witch (1986)
Ok, this is a TV movie, and it’s not at all scary. It’s a kids movie — a pre-cursor to Harry Potter, in fact. Starring Tim Curry, Diana Rigg, and Mrs. Garrett from the Facts of Life. I used to plop down on the couch with a tuna fish sandwich and watch it after school. I would have been around 13. It takes place at a witch school and centers around a young witch, played by Fairuza Balk, who is struggling to master her powers. See? Harry Potter. WHY I LIKE IT: Little witches running around their boarding school turning each other into frogs. So cute.

The Village (2004)
I am M. Night Shyamalan’s perfect audience. I love twists and I never see them coming. How did I not see this one coming? Here, we’ve got Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Joaquin Phoenix and others as pilgrim types living in what seems like Thanksgiving-Land. There’s a color they do not speak of, and they don’t dare leave their village because of the clawed beasts that lurk in the woods surrounding their enclave. But then Joaquin is gravely injured and his brave blind girlfriend offers to leave the village for medicine. WHY I LIKE IT: It’s got the big three: spooky fall atmosphere, scary music and a good twist.

Sleepy Hollow (1999)
I don’t think anyone would say this movie is scary. It’s a Tim Burton production — with equal parts wry humor, melancholy sadness, and macabre darkness. Johnny Depp plays the doctor/coroner who comes to the town of Sleepy Hollow to solve the mystery of the headless horseman and all the decapitated people who keep turning up. WHY I LIKE IT: The set, the costumes, the comical medical equipment that Johnny pulls out of his doctor bag. Plus it has Christina Ricci as the town heiress Something Von Something, and Christopher Walken as, well, you can probably guess. Barrak is a big Tim Burton fan so we own this.

Scream (1999)
I’m pretty sure they play “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in this movie. That’s an automatic point. But really, it’s the first 15 minutes of the movie that secures its spot on my list. It’s textbook, people. WHY I LIKE IT: The beginning, as I said, and the tongue-in-cheek, self-aware vibe of the whole movie. David Arquette as the dopey and accidentally effective town cop? Check. Henry Winkler as the school principal? Check. An homage to Halloween, my all-time favorite scary movie? Check.

Friday the 13th (1980)
A couple years ago, before kids, I had to take a day off work to have a root canal. It was a few days before Halloween. It was kind of a windy, sunless afternoon and I came home from the oral surgeon’s office to our empty 1914 bungalow in Clintonville, popped some Vicodin, and turned on Bravo or AMC. The original Friday the 13th was just starting. It struck me that the killing and all that business — it’s a pretty small part of the movie. It’s all about suspense, creating that creepy foreboding. God, that root canal was painful. WHY I LIKE IT: It’s got the ’70s/early ’80s grainy look, a creepy masked figure, killer music and an exceedingly harassed girl who triumphs. I don’t give a shit about aliens from outer space or birds who attack or even witches who lurk in the woods. Give me a creepy man-boy in a one-piece zip-up who stalks teenagers and you’ve got yourself a scary movie!

Devil (2010)
This movie barely makes the list. It has no star power other than M. Night Shyamalan, who produced it. It’s kind of hokey. But while you’re watching it in your living room on a Saturday night, it’s kind of good and pretty effing scary. A bunch of people are trapped in an elevator and one by one, they start dropping. But who’s doing it? WHY I LIKE IT: There’s a scene at the end — the ‘reveal’ if you will — that I can see plain as day in my mind’s eye and it still creeps me out when I think of it.

When a Stranger Calls (2006)
You’re getting tired now, Green. It’s 11:20 p.m. When a Stranger Calls? Really? Yeah, you’re right. It’s a remake, for god’s sake. WHY I LIKE IT: Remember, in the original, young babysitter Carol Kane is advised by a strange caller to ‘check the children.’ Then next thing you know, the cops are telling her, ‘The call is coming from inside the house! Get out!’ That is CLASSIC! Unfortunately it’s like the only good 10 minutes of the movie. The 2006 version is more interesting. The people are prettier, the house she’s babysitting in is architecturally awesome and beautiful, and it’s really pretty good. There’s also one creepy scene at the end where she knows the guy is in the house, she goes into this one room, and he’s… well, you’ll just have to try to catch it on HBO. Or WGN.

Stir of Echoes (1999)
This stylish little film is worth searching out. It came out around the same time as Sixth Sense (‘I see dead people’) and got overshadowed. Kevin Bacon plays a Chicago dad who gets reluctantly hypnotized and suddenly attuned to the bad things that happened in his house before he and his son and pregnant wife moved in. The son is also attuned, kind of like Danny in The Shining. I interviewed Kevin shortly after this came out. We were on the set of Hollow Man, and we both knew Stir of Echoes was way more interesting. I told him how much I liked it. He seemed genuinely appreciative of the compliment, and agreed the movie got eaten up by the Sixth Sense ballyhoo. WHY I LIKE IT: I was practically under my theater chair.

American Horror Story – Season 1 (2011)
I’m sneaking this one in — yes, it’s a TV series that ran on F/X a few years ago. The good news is, you can buy it on DVD easier than most of the movies listed above. Season 2 was also majorly creepy with a fantastic twist that TOTALLY snuck up on me. But the first season? An instant classic. Dylan McDermott (love him), Connie Britton (love her) and their daughter move into their dream home in L.A. Then some truly terrifying stuff starts coming out of the woodwork. Jessica Lange, such an unbelievable chameleon, was really good as their cock-a-doodle neighbor. WHY I LIKE IT: Barrak would always go to bed and leave me up to watch this by myself. Usually I made a Brandy Alexander-cognac-Bailey’s-milkshake type concoction to drink while I watched. Bless Belle, our bulldog, for staying downstairs in the living room with me while I sat frozen in my chair. I hated the ending though.

Anything I missed?

Celebrity Flashback: Nicole Kidman

From 1996 – 2000, I met dozens of celebrities while working in the West Coast bureau of Premiere Magazine and later, at Us Weekly. These interviews ran the gamut from 30 seconds on the red carpet (Leonardo DiCaprio) to an hour on set (George Clooney). And of course, there were many stars I never interviewed or even saw – not ever in the entire time I worked in Hollywood (Julia Roberts). In Celebrity Flashback, I’ll share the details of one of those close encounters.

In my brief Hollywood experience, I found that the bigger the star, the nicer they were.

In 1999, there were few stars bigger than Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Tom was a megastar, at his peak. Nicole was major in her own right by then, having earned serious cred in Portrait of a Lady. The couple had just made Eyes Wide Shut with Stanley Kubrick. They had reportedly grown very close to the legendary director, who had died that March, just after wrapping. I interviewed Nicole on the red carpet at the Los Angeles premiere of that movie.

It was July 1999 and the premiere was held at Mann Village Theatre in Westwood Village on UCLA’s campus, just off Sunset Boulevard. It was a regular movie theater most nights of the week but movie premieres were held there pretty frequently. It about five minutes from my 1-room studio apartment in West L.A.

The sun hadn’t gone down yet and she and Tom were graciously working their way down the red carpet, hands tightly entwined. Tom led the way with Nicole trailing behind, both guided by their publicist as always. Tom got past me but stopped to talk to the reporter immediately next to me. That put Nicole right in front of me.

By this time, I’d been working in L.A., visiting sets and covering premieres for about 3 years. Let me say, not all Hollywood stars are beautiful in person. Some were quite ordinary looking. Or wrinkly, with tell-tale cigarette lines around their mouth. But Nicole, she was lovely.

She was tall and slender but solid – not frail. She was wearing a flimsy, backless bordeaux camisole and matching mini-skirt that revealed long, toned legs and a slice of toned, white midriff. It seemed like her pale skin had never seen the sun. There was no sign of lip injections or Botox then; she was just flat-out flawless.

I’m sorry to tell you, reader, I cannot for the life of me remember the questions I asked any of these people. I probably couldn’t have told you a week after actually interviewing them. I definitely can’t recall now.

I do remember Nicole confided that she’d picked out the outfit herself at some shop and now wasn’t so sure about it. She was showing a lot of skin that evening. She told me she was freezing. But she seemed happy and light-hearted.

So while stars like Winona, Uma, and Gwyneth were on the icy side (sorry Gwen! I do love your cookbook), Nicole was warm and friendly and kinda vulnerable — like your best girlfriend who second-guesses her outfit after arriving at the party. She was holding Tom’s hand the whole time we talked. I kept thinking he’d end his conversation and join us. Didn’t happen.

P.S. In my Winona post, I mentioned that I often got to go in and watch the movie with the stars after working the red carpet at premieres. That didn’t happen here. There was so much secrecy and build-up with this movie, it was nearly impossible to get into an advance screening.

Celebrity Flashback: Winona Ryder

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences HQ and the site of my extremely brief interview with Winona

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences HQ and the site of my extremely brief interview with Winona

From 1996 – 2000, I met dozens of celebrities while working in the West Coast bureau of Premiere Magazine and later, at Us Weekly. These interviews ran the gamut from 30 seconds on the red carpet (Leonardo DiCaprio) to an hour on set (George Clooney). And of course, there were many stars I never interviewed or even saw – not ever in the entire time I worked in Hollywood (Julia Roberts).

In Celebrity Flashback, I’ll share the details of one of those close encounters.

If you don’t count an over-the-phone interview I did with Harry Connick Jr. in college, my first celebrity interview ever was with Winona Ryder.

It was a chilly Wednesday night in late November 1996 – almost Thanksgiving. I’d been sent by my boss, Anne Thompson, to cover the premiere of The Crucible, the period film Winona made with Daniel Day-Lewis based on the play by Arthur Miller. Winona played a girl accused by her fellow villagers of being a witch.

The premiere was held at the state-of-the-art Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, which is inside the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences building on Wilshire Boulevard in the heart of Beverly Hills.

I had just moved to L.A. a few months before with no job and no contacts. I got the gig at Premiere because the guy who answered the phone when I called was a fellow midwesterner named Max Potter who took pity on me. He gave me an unpaid internship transcribing interviews for the senior writers and sorting the mail. By that November, I’d been hired as an editorial assistant — still transcribing but also answering the phone for Anne, the bureau chief, and writing whenever I could. They paid me as if I were a freelancer: $1 per word.

Most of the writers and editors were too senior — and too over it — to go stand behind a rope on a weeknight and jockey with other media outlets for a quote or two. And it was a tiny staff: in addition to my boss and Max, there were only three other senior writers. Everyone else was in New York.

I had no idea what to do or what to ask when Anne gave me the assignment a few hours before the event but I jumped at the chance. In those days, I wore no makeup and paid no attention to what I was wearing so I’m sure I went straight over to theater from work.

It should be noted that I also got 30 seconds with Daniel Day Lewis that evening. I think he introduced his wife, Rebecca Miller, to me; they’d met on The Crucible (she’s Arthur’s daughter). He was soft-spoken and respectful and nice.

But it was Winona I was waiting for. In my high school years, I must have watched Heathers at least 50 times. She was a teenage angst hero.

So here I am, on the red carpet, probably wearing something from The Gap, and here comes Winona. She was wearing a strappy black dress and her shiny black hair was cut in a supershort pixie. Her skin by contrast was pale and flawless. She had big eyes and a fragile ‘don’t hurt me’ look. Her publicist guided her my way. Publicists liked Premiere because we were film lovers and generally nice to celebrities. We didn’t dig through their trash or ask them questions about their embarrassing shoplifting arrest.

I clicked on my tape recorder and asked, So what made you want to do this movie? or What drew you to this character? It was something stupid and easy like that.

But instead of playing along with some easy, bullshit answer, she wrinkled her nose and said, ‘Where are you from?’ Meaning, which publication.

Premiere,’ I said proudly.

You would have thought I said Playgirl. She literally recoiled. And moved on to the next journalist.

Most of the schlubs covering the red carpet didn’t also get to go inside and watch the movie. But Premiere had cache. I always had tickets to go inside, walking the same red carpet the stars had just worked and watching the movie with the director, producers and cast who’d made it. Such was the case that night. And I ended up sitting one row back and directly behind Winona.

Throughout the movie, I struggled with two things: 1) to stay awake and 2) the impossible size of Winona Ryder’s shoulders, which were small as a child’s.

It’s not easy to watch a boring, unfunny or just plain bad movie with the people who made it. You cannot yawn. Who knows who you might offend?

The next day, I found out from my co-workers that Winona had a beef with Premiere over something we’d written about Mermaids, the movie she’d made a year or so before with Cher.

Over the next several years, I never ran into Winona again.