Miley Cyrus, Genius Marketer

Miley Cyrus takes the stage

Miley Cyrus takes the stage

Whatever Miley Cyrus’ outrageous “Bangerz” tour is trying to say, after just four stops, it has earned the twerking pixie something far more than mere controversy: Cred.

From the moment she took the stage at Staples Center on Saturday night, Cyrus was in command like a bona fide star, strutting around in what the Hollywood Reporter termed a “cannabis leaf-o-tard” with matching gold medallion, rubbing her crotch atop the hood of a mini gold cutlass with the sort of abandon that would make the girls at Crazy Horse in Vegas blush.

Not for the Hannah Montana crowd, but then, when the competition is Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, one has to up the ante. Which would explain the spectacle that opens with a pair of knockout drag queens and then quickly morphed into a David Lynch scene complete with dancers dressed as stuffed animals, a pint-sized seductress wearing a giant Britney Spears mask and, a woman dubbed “Amazon Ashley” in red Spandex who Cyrus gleefully spanked.

Before long, the aforementioned Ms. Perry appeared in the front row just in time to offer Cyrus a big wet one. By the end of the night, Cyrus sat astride a giant inflatable hot dog, mimed fellatio on Abraham Lincoln and shared a mic with the beloved Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne.

So far, the tour has made for some good headlines, but even better reviews. Which speaks to Cyrus’ business acumen. She may come off as a living internet meme, a Disney star gone horribly awry, but as her father Billy Ray Cyrus’ wave from the engineer’s pit reminded us all – Miley’s got showbiz in her blood. And it takes a lot of to get attention from teenagers these days and even more to convince their parents to pay upwards of $1,100 a piece on StubHub for Bangerz tickets.

For all the bum-shaking silliness of her performance, she’s got the pipes to fill arenas and the good sense to lampoon herself while she’s covering the likes of Outkast and Dolly Parton.

The guilty pleasure of “House of Cards”

It probably wasn’t a good idea to watch all of “House of Cards’” season two in three days. Yes, the last few episodes devolved into high camp (menage a trois with the chauffeur!) but the real turn-on of House of Cards is its unapologetic villany.

Unlike so many other antiheroes of his caliber – Tony Soprano and Walter White included – Frank Underwood not only telegraphs the infantile greed and duplicity of American politics, he forces us to confront our absolute powerlessness against it.

Of course he gives us an entertaining way to loathe our do-nothing Congress and every president who has disappointed us. (read: all of them?) Some speculate Frank was modeled after John F. Kennedy’s successor Lyndon Johnson. And though, the show is, as New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley

photo courtesy Netflix

photo courtesy Netflix

wrote, probably “the most joyless” on TV, it’s also validating in surprising ways.

For Americans stymied by one piece of failed legislation or another, by one corporation or another, watching “House of Cards” offers the illusion of control. We can revel in the Underwoods’ malevolence, while at the same time, point at the screen and shout “See? Here’s the real reason we’ll never be able to retire/fund our kids’ college/take a vacation/drink our tap water.” It’s a masochistic pleasure. And it’s all your fault Francis.

The Hipster Mid-Life Crisis

Thank you Noah Baumbach, though I’m not exactly sure for what. I’ve seen the trailer for your new film “Greenberg.” Ben Stiller is an interesting choice to speak for we sourpuss Gen-Xers. He was, after all, the auteur of “Reality Bites,” the 1994 ode to post-grad melancholy that beset so many of us. We sounded like middle-aged kvetchers even back then. But now we have legitimate reasons for whining. Here we stand, our final decades before us and in our wake, the wistful recollections of our misspent youth (cue anthemic 1980s alt classic, preferably Morrissey or Kate Bush). “It’s weird, aging, right?” Greenberg asks his fellow furrowed-brow friend as LCD Soundsystem soars in the background. It is especially weird aging in Los Angeles, where this film is set. It is hyper-transient, poignant for the same reasons that it is the perfect place to reinvent yourself. And ideal for those who can’t bring themselves to grow up. I, for one, am staying.

Viggo and the potato chips

Viggo Mortensen gave me a bag of potato chips. It was a small thing, really. But as I walked down the hall, away from his hotel suite, reflexively putting chip after chip in my mouth (I wasn’t even hungry, but it seemed like the thing to do.) I was once again struck by the weirdness of Hollywood celebrity. Junkets, in particular, emphasize the perversity of it all. All those attractive people housed in individual rooms in one luxurious hotel for a weekend of relentless scrutiny by decidedly less attractive throngs of other people. Each encounter between the two groups so excruciatingly choreographed that even the most benign instance of authenticity – say, a movie star handing a reporter a bag of potato chips – suddenly feels profoundly intimate. As an individual, Viggo came off as pretty grounded. A serious artist, but without a lot of vanity. I couldn’t help notice that he had little tiny holes in the armpit of his shirt. It was endearing. Make no mistake. Viggo knows how to work those cheekbones, but for those of you who saw “Eastern Promises” you know he’s not afraid to show his less flattering side. And I mean that quite literally.

Tiger Beat Blues

Robert Pattinson, the face that has launched a million Life & Style magazine covers, is pretty scruffy up close. At a crowded Friday press conference on his latest vampire angst-fest “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” he was a bit unshaven and wore the same flannel shirt I’ve seen in a dozen paparazzi shots. Yet that brunette meringue of a coif– itself a work of genius — remained flawlessly unkempt. And there’s something to be said for his British brand of  self-deprecation. Quite charming. Pattinson, it turns out, is a little irritated that his brooding teen vampire in the “Twilight” series is being perceived as a sort of “animated Tiger Beat.” “I’ve never played it thinking, ‘Oh, I’m in a series of guhls films’ or doing something just for guhls,'” he said to a group of sweaty grown-ups hanging on his every word. Hmm. I wonder what those legions of hyperventilating 12-year-olds have to say about that. (Btw, here’s my story on this in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Art of Feigned Sex

theartoffeignedsex It’s something that fascinates even the the most sophisticated cineaste. “Sex” on screen, particularly when the logistics of the thing make you turn your head like the Victrola dog, plugs into something prurient in everyone. This month in a new column in Los Angeles Magazine, I share the back stories from mainstream actors who make a living faking it. It’s interesting to hear the psychological gymnastics that take place between couples when one has to have “sex” with a stranger. Suspension of disbelief, indeed.

Behold, the unrepentant rage of a wildfire

Though I’m not breathing ash this week — mercifully, I’m up in San Francisco — I can still smell the charred air that seems to characterize Los Angeles in the fall. And I can’t read about this latest, and staggeringly vast, inferno without being reminded of my own drive into the black clouds and the burning skies. Back in 2003, I spent a night in a Red Cross shelter chronicling the stories of the San Bernardino County evacuees of that so-called “Old fire,” though most of them could hardly grasp the devastation they’d just survived. I didn’t sleep. My lungs ached from breathing so much soot. And I’ll never forget how wounded the sky looked. It felt as if the world was coming to an end. My heart goes out to all the folks fighting this one. (Photo by Los Angeles Times photographer Robert Gauthier)

Funny. Like ha-ha.

For last two months, I’ve been lucky enough to get paid to laugh. Literally. And here’s the result of all those heart-felt guffaws. A young scruff named Harris Wittels is the star of the article, and deservedly so. But so many others are right up there: Donald Glover reminded me of a young (more sophisticated) Eddie Murphy. Anthony Jeselnik is spectacularly dark and has mastered the power of the pause. And Brody Stevens made me laugh harder than I have in years. I’ll be chronicling the weirdest, most progressive, most interesting bits of it over the next few weeks. Stay tuned. (Photo by Christina House for the LA Times)

My Existential Crisis

Here I am. A whole paradigm away from the excruciatingly hip Echo Park enclave we vacated last winter. I’m starting to feel (even more) ridiculous in my skinny jeans and rock Ts. “The Artist’s Way,” a book I sneered at three years ago, is now resonating with me. Deeply. I’m considering a tattoo. Perhaps the words “MY LIFE IS HAPPY AND FULFILLED” on the palms of my hands. That way, even when I strike a despairing pose (head-in-hands, for instance) I’ll literally be face-to-face with my future, manifesting only good things. Cough. Surely some of you know what I’m talking about here. Why else would The Atlantic tout on its cover, a piece on the world’s most comprehensive happiness study? (Turns out friends and relatives are what’s keeping you alive.) And why else would I receive three emails in a week, by three unrelated individuals pointing me to that over-achiever Gretchen Rubin and her Happiness Project? It all comes back to the economy, I’m afraid. When we can no longer afford to shop our pain away, when an afternoon in Target isn’t the blissed-out experience it used to be, (all that plastic. so wasteful.) we are forced to turn inward. Hey, can someone turn a light on in here?

Damn you, Barbie.

So now that Barbie’s gotten all tatted up and Dora the Explorer has suddenly outgrown animal rescue, opting instead for adventures at the mall, I’m starting to feel nauseatingly out-of-control. As the mother of a wee female, I’m especially aware of her budding self-image. And naturally, toy manufacturers are my new nemeses. These corporations have a special talent for sexualizing inanimate objects. Peruse the aisles of Toys R Us and you will see thousands, nay millions, of pairs of Angelina Jolie eyes beckoning in the guise of newborn babies, candy-colored ponies and those bite-sized “Sex and the City” wanna-bes that call themselves “Polly Pockets.”What was the conversation that spawned the updated “My Pretty Pony?” They wear toe shoes and windblown skirts. There is something prurient about them. These toys are designed for 3 year old girls, remember. Back in the day, the heavy-lidded, bullet-chested Barbie was to blame for warping our ideas of beauty. Hell, Barbie looks positively chaste compared to the miniature floozies — of every species — elbowing each other on the toy store shelves today.