July 12, 2018

Review: 'Eighth Grade'


First thing’s first: Elsie Fisher is, at the risk of sounding trite, a revelation.

She is the young actress starring in writer-director Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, a teen dramedy unlike any we’ve seen on the big screen in recent memory. It may also be the first (and best) movie about Gen Z that could very well resonate across all demos.

Fisher plays 13-year-old Kayla, a girl on the verge of a major transition: graduating from middle school to high school. And every awkward, humiliating, joyful, devastating, and mundane moment leading up to that is captured and conveyed with such gorgeous poignancy and tender nuance.

Burnham, mostly known for his stand-up and YouTube past, proves himself here as a keen observer of adolescent life in the late 2010s. Welcome to a world of sniffing markers, shooter drills (look out for a scene that is simultaneously funny, jawdropping, and heartbreaking), and adults pathetically attempting to dab and use words like “lit.”

It doesn’t take long to easily settle into Kayla’s world and realize just how much she is a product of it. She comes from a single-parent household (Josh Hamilton plays her dad to perfection). She mindlessly scrolls through Instagram, liking random posts, hoping to be liked back (a rabbit hole she often falls into, staged with a kaleidoscopic effect and a synth-dizzy score). She records weekly affirmations on YouTube that no one watches (a device brilliantly used to juxtapose her daily struggles at school). And all throughout, she so desperately wants to be cool...

Read more of my glowing review of a film that is easily falling into my Top 10 of 2018 so far - here.

June 27, 2018

(Bitter)Sweet 16: An L.A.nniversary


For my 16th L.A.nniversary I thought I would be waxing nostalgic on the life I’ve created for myself in this city, reminiscing and reflecting on the moments that have brought me to this point in time – like I usually do. I thought I would be celebrating 16 years of surviving a city that tends to chew up and spit out those who have – let's say – a more delicate constitution.

But unfortunately, I’m not feeling that right now. There is something about the sociopolitical climate we’re currently living in that is inspiring more bitter than sweet within me. And, for other reasons I’ll likely disclose at a later time, I’m feeling a little…vent-y (not the Starbucks kind). I’m ignoring the advice of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.” That said, I’m sure I’ll look back on this someday and say to myself: Sheesh. Get the stick out of your ass, Mitsuzuka.

In other words, #sorrynotsorry for what you’re about to read...


As I reach this 16-year milestone, I’d like to share some of my own words of wisdom.

If I had any advice for young hopefuls planning to move to L.A. in order to pursue their dreams and passions – or pursue the hot piece of ass they met on Bumble or Grindr – it would be this:

Don't come here.

Seriously. Don't move to this city. We've already got plenty of folks scrambling to achieve a number of #careergoals, #bodygoals, #couplesgoals, and whatever other goals are currently being invented by some 20-year-old intern who wants to "make it" as an influencer.

Trust me. You'll only clog up more boulevards and freeways (and our infrastructure is already fragile as it is). You’ll only crowd more gyms – and the hiking trails at Runyon Canyon. You’ll only create a longer wait at that brunch place Eater said had “killer gluten-free French toast.” You’ll only further inundate our inboxes and news feeds with invites to see your stand-up comedy, your one-man show, your gallery opening, or a table read for that indie drama you co-wrote with the college friend you’ll eventually lose touch with once she books a pilot and leaves you with nothing but a side gig writing TV recaps for a website no one reads.

You are basically the reason why La Brea Avenue, Hollywood, and downtown have been dominated by state-of-the-art condominiums and countless housing developments, why rent is skyrocketing, and why no one can afford anything north of the 10 Freeway.

In fact, I'll go one step further and say this: stop dreaming. The industry you're hoping to break into is already at its most competitive. By the time you read this sentence, a thousand wide-eyed YouTubers and Instagram models from New York and the Midwest will have already arrived in town with plans to “dominate,” “get some exposure,” or “not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Instead, move to another city that could use a boost in its economy. Go gentrify a neighborhood somewhere else where you can make a bigger splash, where you can get more recognition, where you can buy a three-bedroom house for the price of a studio in Silver Lake.

Sure, L.A. may look all glam and fabulous (and some of it is), but turn around, save your hard-earned money, and flourish in another place.

Don't come to Los Angeles. Really.

We’re good here. Thanks.

@TheFirstEcho

June 11, 2018

"Too Many Friends" by Hearts & Colors Might As Well Be My Theme Song For Life


Sweden sure knows how to crank out some pop.

Hearts & Colors, a duo from the northern European country, has come out with "Too Many Lovers," a seductive, mid-tempo track that is resonating with me a little too much with its lyrics about empty beds and the dead-ends of one too many platonic relationships. And never mind that these guys resemble a more ripped version of early 90s twin rockers Nelson.

And after befriending a stranger from Stockholm during my recent visit to Berlin, I'm taking this as a sign that I need to take a trip to the northern European country in the near future.

Enjoy:

@TheFirstEcho

June 08, 2018

Review: 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?'


Ever since the trailer for director Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? dropped earlier this spring, fans of the beloved kids’ show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, have been sharing their reactions to the emotionally powerful preview that has undoubtedly stirred up countless childhood memories. As for the documentary itself, which looks back on the impactful legacy of Fred Rogers, the man behind the long-running TV program, it is guaranteed to open even more floodgates of nostalgia.

“Although Fred Rogers was an ordained minister, he didn’t preach when he was on TV,” the Academy Award-winning Neville states. “He was far more interested in asking questions and offering ideas that could help guide his viewers on their own journey in life.” And with this sterling doc, the filmmaker succeeds in taking Rogers’ lead and exploring the groundbreaking and powerful ideas that were subtly communicated within the show throughout several decades.

As a result, Neighbor is a beautiful tribute as well as a testament to the power of empathy. It’s the soothing balm we need for this divisive Era of Outrage. It’s also one of the best movies I’ve seen this year thus far...

For more of my review, check out Bello Mag.

@TheFirstEcho


May 22, 2018

EUROSUMMER '18: A Playlist for Sunburn Season


Before I jet off to Berlin, Paris, and London to kick off the Summer of 2018 -- while acknowledging how obnoxious this sentence actually is -- I want to bestow upon you the playlist you'll need to accompany your season of sunburns, sandcastles, and barbecues.

If I had to pick some highlights out this compilation of 40+ tracks, they would be: Troye Sivan's "Bloom" (an anthem for bottoms!), Anne-Marie's nostalgic "2002," and the excellent "Some Kind of Wonderful" by MOBS, the Australian pop group that has been churning out irresistible bops ever since they beeped on my radar several months ago.

@TheFirstEcho

May 17, 2018

12 Questions with Elephante


I may be heading to Las Vegas this weekend, but sadly, I will not be attending EDC where Elephante (a.k.a. Tim Wu) will be taking the stage for the first time at the dance music festival. (Instead, I'll be treating my parents to dinner at Gordon Ramsay Hell's Kitchen and the Jennifer Lopez concert for their birthdays.)

But the DJ recently took some time to answer a few questions for me at Bello Mag.

You can check out my interview with him here.

@TheFirstEcho

May 10, 2018

Early 2000s Nostalgia Is Already Here, Thanks to Anne-Marie


It was inevitable. But who knew it would happen so quickly?

There's now a segment of a generation that is not only throwing it back to the 90s -- they're straight-up reliving the early aughts. Anne-Marie, the British pop singer, released "2002," which was co-written by Ed Sheeran and is loaded with plenty of Britney Spears, Jay-Z, and *NSYNC references to make your heart long for simpler, pre-YouTube times.


If you want to check out the official video, which is packed with visual homages to the aforementioned pop artists, watch it here.

And if that isn't enough to convince you that 00s nostalgia is starting to become a thing, then take a look at this Ellen clip from last week:

@TheFirstEcho

May 03, 2018

#TBT: Tweets from the 90s


There are times when I am thankful for having survived my adolescence before the advent of social media. But there are times when I think to myself: What if? What if I had all these platforms at my fingertips? What would my posts look like? 

Probably something like this:


And this:


And then this...



Of course I would have to include this:


...along with music videos that defined most of the decade for me:

Christina Aguilera's "Accelerate": A Transcription of My Reaction


Recorded at 6:31am PST

6:31am - Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod... [goes on YouTube, finds the "Official Video"] Oh, there's a video already?

Oh, it's featuring Ty Dollar $ign and 2 Chainz? Hmmm...

6:32am - So, before I play this, I just want to say that I had a dream about this, about listening to her new single, and it's what woke me up at the buttcrack of dawn. The excitement, like, woke me up, knowing a new Christina Aguilera song was debuting today. And in my dream, it sounded good! You ever dream about songs that don't exist yet? It was like a really good banger. Pulse-pounding beat. Powerful chorus. God, I hope this could be a summer jam. Okay, let's just press play.

6:33am - Okay, she's lapping up some milk with her tongue. Um, does no one remember "Not Myself Tonight" from 2010?

The beat...Are these what they call 808 drums?

Oh, okay.

6:34am - The video looks like leftover, repurposed footage from her Paper magazine photo shoot.

Okay, lips covered in glitter. I just know someone's gonna call her out for mimicking what Miley did for her Dead Petz album cover.

6:37am - Okay, um, I need a minute to digest.

6:38am - This can't be the official single. I do like the cooing near the end with the hint of synths. It's very 90s. But this is not what I expected. What the f**k is she doing?

And yes, I'm all about her aesthetic for this era. She's not piling on the makeup, and she's so pretty without it. But this isn't about her looks.

And first of all -- and I know this is gonna sound like I'm defending her because she's my number one and all -- but I'd just like to say that Christina now represents an era long gone. When pop stars actually had vocals and didn't sound like moody ghost girls trying to haunt a house (I'm looking at you, Halsey and Lorde). Yes, come at me. Come. At. Me.

That said, this track does nothing for her vocals. Where does it go? Nowhere. I hate to say it, but it sounds like a B-side. Does anyone do B-sides anymore? Ugh, I don't even think this is worth replaying, and I was planning on having this on repeat all weekend while I'm in Palm Springs and lounging by the pool and everything. Ugh. Talk about anticlimactic.

6:40am - Why is she letting me down? Wait, she's not letting me down. She does have more. Liberation is coming out June 15. This CANNOT be representative of what the rest of the album sounds like, right? She'll for sure have a power ballad. God, Top 40 nowadays hasn't had a good power ballad. Because no one can do them. No one does them really.

What. Is. She. Doing?

6:41am - 8:04am - [gets sucked into a YouTube wormhole]

8:09am - [searches Internet for other reactions]

8:32am - Okay, Perez Hilton is saying it may just be a buzz single. Please, God, let it be that.


@TheFirstEcho

April 23, 2018

Jessie J Apparently Won a Chinese Singing Competition and We Need to Talk About Her Performances


Jessie J competed on Singer, a popular competition show in China that is apparently open to professionals with recording contracts because...hello, it's Jessie J.

And before we get to her outstanding, show-stopping, jaw-dropping performances, I'd just like to ask: Really, J? Is your management and publicity team not getting you enough gigs in your native U.K. or here in the States? Because what are you trying to prove here, girl? We already know you got the pipes and ability to flaunt some melisma. How is this possible?

Anyway, the finals concluded this past weekend, and she became the first non-Chinese and international singer to win the competition in its six-season history. She was also the first singer to rank in the top three during all of her performing weeks throughout the season.

And now...watch in awe as she covers Celine's 1997 hit from that little movie about a sunken cruise ship:


And then, witness her tackling Whitney...


Twice.
 

FYI, it was "I Will Always Love You" that earned her the crown.

In a word: Wow.

@TheFirstEcho

April 20, 2018

The 'Roseanne' Revival and the Sad Side of Nostalgia


I was eight when my mother and I caught a teaser for a new sitcom "coming to ABC" called Roseanne. It featured Roseanne Barr and John Goodman cuddling up to each other and making some caustic comment about their kids ruining their alone time. I remember my mother chuckling to herself. She then turned to me and said, "That looks good, doesn't it?"

Back then, in 1988, a blue-collar family sitcom with overweight parents and a home that was often in disarray was, simply put, revolutionary -- especially for a generation of TV viewers raised on the polished glean of shows like Growing Pains, Who's The Boss? and Family Ties.

Roseanne promised something different.

And it delivered just that. And more. (*NOTE: the below teaser is not the promo I'm referring to.)


"They're just like us."

That was my mother's reaction during the early years of the show. In fact, this was undoubtedly a similar remark made throughout millions of homes in the late 80s and early 90s -- hence the sitcom's warm reception and immense success. But we didn't consider ourselves blue-collar. We were squarely middle-class, and both of my parents worked hard to make ends meet and provide a comfortable childhood for me. (My mom's reaction was more about our family's plus-sized figures and boisterous demeanors.) And even though I never had siblings and grew up straddling two kinds of cultures on account of my mixed heritage, I still found Roseanne to be a TV show that closely resembled a family dynamic I was very familiar with.

The groundbreaking, Emmy-winning comedy went on to become a contemporary classic as well as one of the definitive sitcoms of my adolescence. Only in hindsight do I realize how much I related to the character of Roseanne and Dan Conner's middle child, Darlene. She was the one who was into creative writing and had dreams of leaving Lanford, Illinois to attend art school and create a life of her own in the big city (Chicago). For me, New Rochelle, New York wasn't far from Manhattan, so my aspirations weren't so different.

Now, after a 21-year "hiatus," we have the revival series. And despite Roseanne Barr's divisive, right-wing political advocacy, I was cautiously optimistic yet interested in seeing how the Conner clan was doing in 2018. Also? I am easily nostalgic and will revisit any book, film, or TV series that takes me back to a time before I had to pay rent and deal with other stressful challenges that come with adulting.


The new Roseanne kicks things off with the unemployed 40-year-old Darlene moving back into her childhood home with her sullen teenage daughter, Harris, and gender non-conforming son, Mark. Widow Becky, now 43, is a waitress at a Mexican restaurant, hoping to earn money by faking her age and being a surrogate. And the little-seen DJ is back from serving a tour in Syria, taking care of his young mixed-race daughter. As for Roseanne and Dan, they're still struggling -- financially and physically.

Going in, I knew I wanted to soak up enough episodes to make a fair assessment of this "tenth" season. And five episodes in, I started to notice something...disheartening.

Episode 5, titled "Darlene v. David," sees the return of Darlene's estranged husband and father of her two children (played by Johnny Galecki). David first appears in the window of Darlene's old bedroom. After climbing in, he looks around and says, "Aw, they kept everything exactly the same as it was when you guys were kids." To which Darlene retorts:


Cue the laughter from the live studio audience. It's a great punchline. Funny and painfully true.

The two then attempt to reconcile for the sake of their teen daughter's birthday. But after one night together, they realize they can't recapture what they had 20 years ago and agree to go their separate ways.

As for the rest of the family this season: Becky finds out she can't bear children, sees her dreams of buying a home get crushed, and casually mentions that she has a drinking problem. (Um, what?) Roseanne relies on pain pills for her bad knee and uses a motorized chair to go up the stairs. And Jackie and Roseanne's mother, Bev (the great, still-kicking Estelle Parsons), gets booted from her nursing home for being too sexually active. Great sitcom material, no?

Overall, it appears as though the Conners are still the same. And while that may provide joy for some, it's where I'm struggling with this reboot.

For me, watching these new episodes evokes contradictory feelings. At first, I am comforted to be reunited with this TV family that left an impact on me during my formative years, but I am also sad to see that not much has changed for them. Darlene continues to mope around in her plaid flannel shirts because apparently, her dreams of starting her own life in the city never became a reality. Roseanne and Dan apparently never had it in them to sell their home once their kids had flown the coop -- or even invest in a new couch (hence the above decorating joke). Meanwhile, Jackie apparently has no love life. (Also: where's her son Andy?) And as a result, the Conners apparently voted Republican in the 2016 Presidential election because the desperate, socioeconomic circumstances of their lives forced them to choose a wealthy, brash, reality TV star with no experience in politics whatsoever. (Which is heartbreaking, but also confusing; see Bill Maher's response in the below video.)

In other words, after two decades of being away from the Conners, it's somewhat depressing to see that their lives have had little or no improvement. And don't we all wish to see happy endings for our favorite TV characters? With this reboot, we're told this family never achieved that. Therefore, for the sake of producing more episodes, they are still in progress. Still scraping to get by. One could then argue that their current situation leaves room for a discussion on the widening economic gap within the United States and how it continues to keep families at near-poverty levels.

I also realize that my view on the new Roseanne has much to do with where I am in my own life. I no longer live in my hometown; neither do my parents. I swapped Main Street for Santa Monica Boulevard. I moved to a big city to start a career and create a life my family has always wished for me. That said, even though I am still scraping to get by in my own way, the new Roseanne may no longer reflect who I am. It doesn't resonate as much, but I understand and appreciate that it still does for a significant portion of the country.

Maybe it's also a matter of having been fed a steady diet of TV shows like Modern Family, Glee, black-ish, Will and Grace, and even The Real Housewives of New York City over the past decade. My taste in comedy has evolved and so have the storytelling methods and sensibilities on TV. Small-screen entertainment is more aspirational than ever, and Roseanne was never that. It was always written and produced to reflect the very real lives of Americans who prefer a six-pack of beer over a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Any conflicts or problems faced by characters on a show like the aging Big Bang Theory or the critically-acclaimed Master of None seem superficial compared to what the Conners have to go through on a weekly basis.


Right now, my conflict lies within how to consume and enjoy this revival. At times, I find myself basking in the glow of nostalgia -- that harmonica-tinged theme song gets me every time -- but then it's clouded by the harsh reality of the circumstances that surround these characters. And as I write this, I realize my sadness may come off as pity for these characters, which is, in itself, a reflection of who I am at this point in my life.

Like Darlene and David, I may be trying to recapture something that reminds me of a time long gone, but like most trips to the past, it's a futile attempt. And if looking back at your life is supposed to help you measure how far you've come, then looking back at the Conners of 1988 doesn't provide that much distance from the Conners of 2018.

@TheFirstEcho

Review: 'Eighth Grade'

First thing’s first: Elsie Fisher is, at the risk of sounding trite, a revelation. She is the young actress starring in writer-director...