March 20, 2019

Spring Equinox 2019: So Much Pop Culture News in One Day


A lot happened on this rainy Spring Equinox...

We found out the long-awaited third Bill & Ted movie has a release date: August 2020. Excellent indeed. Bring on the mid-life crisis punchlines. (And who knew the Hollywood Bowl was the go-to rendezvous spot to make such an announcement?)


Speaking of things that come in threes, Netflix went ahead and dropped the trailer for Stranger Things 3, which takes place during the summer of 1985. It's chock-full of colorful, Reagan-era imagery (Geometric patterned clothes! Neon-lit malls! 4th of July carnivals!) and establishes how quickly these kids are growing up.


And then Lizzo goes ahead and drops a new single featuring Missy Elliot, "Tempo," a track tailor-made for twerking:


In casting news, the Twittersphere had a collective coronary when dreamy Netflix heartthrob Noah Centineo (if you don't know the name, you are clearly over 25 and have never watched a YA romance adaptation) was announced to be "in talks" to play the new He-Man. Yes, this guy. And all I have to say right now: The same schlubs who are bitching and moaning about this development will be the same ones watching the inevitable YouTube fitness trainer videos demonstrating how they too can get a jacked Masters of the Universe bod like him.


Finally, we got a sneak peek at Quentin Tarantino's ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which stars Brad Pitt as a stunt double for Leonardo DiCaprio's hotshot TV actor in the 70s. Margot Robbie is in there somewhere, and so is an actor playing Bruce Lee. I'm sure there will be a kickass score and plenty of showbiz skewering. I'm like, okay...

@TheFirstEcho

March 14, 2019

Lori Loughlin Reunites with Daughter Olivia Jade: A Dramatization


The following is purely speculative for the purposes of our general entertainment and my possible employment to write the inevitable HBO/Hulu/Netflix/Ryan Murphy limited series...



EXT. THE MOSSIMO ESTATE - DAY

A black SUV makes its way through a throng of news vans and a mob of reporters. Cameras flash. A proverbial media circus. The SUV pulls up to the gate as it slowly opens.


EXT. THE MOSSIMO COURTYARD - CONTINUOUS

The SUV makes its way up the driveway and stops. A shaken LORI steps out of the car. She's clearly had a rough night and glances up at the house, preparing herself for what's to come. Her assistant, RILEY, 27, an overly groomed twunk running on three Venti lattes, is right there with her. 

He attempts to guide her to the door, but she waves him away.


INT. THE MOSSIMO ESTATE - FOYER

Lori and Riley enter the quiet house, the outside chaos suddenly muted. No one is there to greet them.


RILEY
She should be upstairs in her room.

LORI
And Isabella?

Riley solemnly shakes his head.

Lori looks up at the top of the grand staircase. Afraid to take that first step. After a beat, she kicks off her Tory Burch flats.


INT. OLIVIA'S BEDROOM - MOMENTS LATER

OLIVIA is curled up in the corner of her Bali Wood Canopy King Bed. In one corner of her room: piles of boxes of Olivia Jade x Sephora Bronze & Illuminate palettes. Her pale face is aglow from her phone as she listlessly scrolls through.

Lori stands in the doorway and then makes her way to the foot of the bed. Her daughter doesn't give any indication that she hears her mother approach. 

LORI
Liv, baby...

Olivia doesn't move from her position.

LORI
I don't know where to begin.

More silence. Lori is near tears.

LORI
Can we please talk?

Nothing. She makes another attempt.

LORI
Looks like you had a nice time on Rick's 
yacht. I'm sorry it had to be cut short.

OLIVIA 
(glued to her phone)
Did they put you in a cell?

LORI
What?

OLIVIA
Did they put you in a prison cell for the
night? Did you have to sleep on a cot?

LORI
What? No, honey. They had me in this room--

OLIVIA
They should've put you in a cell. They 
    should've made you practice. Rotting away. 
 Considering that's what you'll be doing 
in Hell someday.

LORI
Honey, please. I know you must be hurting...

Olivia turns to face her mother. The rage begins.

OLIVIA
Hurting? Try humiliated. Try totally shunned
by all my friends. Try devastated because all
my sponsors just dropped me. Like that! Gone.
This is officially the worst spring break EVER!
I hate you! How could you do this to me? My
life is beyond over! How can I ever go back to
school? How could I ever make another video? I
have two-fucking-million subscribers who rely
on my beauty and lifestyle tips! Do you know
what they've been saying about me on YouTube? 

LORI
Honey, why don't you put the phone down--

Suddenly, Olivia throws the phone across the room. It hits one of her makeup palette boxes, and like dominoes, it hits another box; several tumble to the floor.

OLIVIA
Do you know how much I was making each 
month?

LORI
Olivia, baby--

OLIVIA
DO YOU?! I was making more than you'd
ever make in one episode of that flaming
piece of shit you call a Hallmark show.
And ironically? I was making enough to pay
for a semester at the school you and Dad
paid some old dude to get me into.

LORI
It's so much more complicated than that. 

OLIVIA
I can't stand to look at you.

Lori wipes away her tears. Regains her composure. There's a shift in her tone.


LORI
You have no idea how much we invested in 
you and your sister.

OLIVIA
Half a million apparently.

LORI
What did you think those fake crew photos
were for? You knew what we were doing.

OLIVIA
Is this where you tell me I'm an ungrateful
little brat? That I should be thankful
for everything you and Dad have given me?

Lori doesn't recognize the young woman in front of her. She's at a loss for words.

OLIVIA
Face it, Mom. You're fucked. What are you
gonna do now that everyone knows America's 
Favorite Aunt is a conniving felon?

LORI
I'm so sorry, Olivia. Please. Tell me...
Just tell me, what can I do?

OLIVIA
(daggers in her eyes)
You can get the hell out of my room.

And with that, Lori backs away. She nods, the tears coming back. She closes the door behind her.


March 02, 2019

LAUDERDALE: The 2019 Spring Playlist


Sure, there may be an arctic blast that is hitting most of the United States, but that doesn't mean we can't tap into some Spring Break feelings.

I've scoured the interwebs to find the perfect collection to get us all in a slightly warmer mood. So far, here's what I got: Lizzo is proving to be the Queen of Spring 2019 (she appears twice here). Hailee Steinfeld (track 3) has an 80s dance jam that Carly Rae Jepsen (track 10) wishes she released. Grammy darling H.E.R. covers a classic for the soundtrack to What Men Want (track 9) while Danish pop group Alphabeat makes a welcome return with "Shadows" (track 11). Speaking of comebacks, we have British boyband Westlife dropping in (track 6), and of course, Broadway crush Ben Platt shows up (track 5) with the first single off his forthcoming debut album.

As of this posting, there are 35 tracks waiting to be played, but as always, come back for updates to this playlist. (*As for the cover art, check out Yoko Honda's awesome retro designs here.)

@TheFirstEcho

March 01, 2019

My Pop Culture Saviors of 2018: A Belated List


2018 had its challenges -- but it also had some really good keepsakes. Here are some of the people (and things) who kept my year afloat.

1. Kevin Kwan - The author of Crazy Rich Asians and its two sequels became the subject of my Instagram fascination: a writer living a jet-set life, touring the globe on the merits of his writing, and seeing his creation turn into an international, Golden Globe-nominated sensation on the big-screen.

2. Cynthia Erivo - Her role (and singing chops) in the future cult classic, Bad Times at El Royale, caught my attention (along with anyone else who saw Drew Goddard's neo-noir crime thriller) and her fierce supporting role in Widows only cemented my fascination with this Broadway-trained actress.

3. MOBS - They're the Australian synth-pop group that has yet to make a splash in the States, and they hooked me in with their throwback tunes, specifically those on their EP, You Want Beauty, all written from the point of view of characters from 80s movies. But as of this posting, the group has switched record labels, which has led to a repurposed EP called Bad Love that is the only available piece of work now available on Spotify.

4. Roxane Gay - You haven't read her brilliant collection of pop culture essays in Bad Feminist yet? Or her collection of short stories in Difficult Women? Or her painfully raw memoir, Hunger? What are you doing with you life?

5. Dave Holmes - I read his so-relatable-it's-scary memoir, Party of One, two years ago and started listening to his podcast, Homophilia (co-hosted by the equally enjoyable Matt McConkey) last year. And I can't get enough of his insightful, witty, intelligent pop culture thinkpieces at Esquire. In short, I envy Dave Holmes, and I would like his career. Please.

6. Lucas Hedges - I wholeheartedly appreciate and respect a young up-and-coming actor who avoids taking a role on any given CW or Freeform show and opts instead for meaty, award-worthy indie fare.

7. Sideshow Books in L.A. - This small independent bookshop was previously located on Idaho Avenue on the Westside (around the corner from the Nuart Theatre). And when it closed in 2017, I was crushed, thinking it was another nail in the coffin of indie booksellers. But luckily, on one fateful Sunday afternoon, I drove down La Cienega and caught a nondescript sign that read BOOKS in painted letters. I pulled over, walked in, and discovered a new personal haven.

8. Queer Eye's Fab Five - The reboot of the makeover series has successfully recontextualized its format for a post-marriage equality era in America, thanks to the charisma of its lifestyle gurus, Antoni Porowski, Karamo Brown, Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France, and Bobby Berk. Taking the boys out of major metropolitan areas (i.e. NYC) and putting them in the small towns of the South certainly helped. And they helped me feel hopeful again for the future of this country.

@TheFirstEcho

February 21, 2019

The 80s Remix of Hailee Steinfeld's Single is Bringing Me "Back to Life"


Damn. How did I fall asleep on this?

It's like the best Carly Rae Jepsen single Carly Rae Jepsen never released. And it's from a Transformers spinoff? Well done, Miss Steinfeld.

Color me thoroughly, pleasantly surprised by this throwback tune:

@TheFirstEcho

January 31, 2019

'Slasher Movie Girl': The Bloody Plot


Some of you reading this may already know that I spent most of 2018 finishing my teen horror novel, Slasher Movie Girl, a passion project (for lack of a better cliché) more than two years in the making. Tapping into my obsessive knowledge of horror movies, I came up with an idea that was begging to be put to paper. And 80,000 words later, here we are.

The next hurdle was landing an agent, and I was fortunate to find one who believed in my book and appreciated the story I wanted to tell. After signing with a reputable lit agency, I spent the summer working on the unfinished chapters. Once I completed a round of edits, my agent felt the manuscript was ready to be sent out into the publishing world. And this past fall, the literary baby I had birthed was placed in the hands of faceless strangers who would determine its fate.

For the curious, below is the novel's plot summary from the pitch letter that went out to those strangers -- editors at publishing houses across the country:

18 year-old college freshman Heather Farnsworth is supposed to be a "Final Girl"--the last girl killed in a horror film. Except this isn't a horror film, it's real life. Heather, a virgin, is determined to finally get the attention of Adam Kozlowski, a bookish loner with a few secrets of his own.

After a lackluster freshman year, Heather and her friends escape to spend a weekend at a luxury cabin in the woods. The one condition of the trip: everyone must unplug and go completely off-grid, leaving their phones locked in a box in a shed in the woods.

When Heather volunteers to collect logs to start a fire one night, she finds herself on the end of a bloody machete--becoming the first victim of a masked killer who roams the forest. As a self-proclaimed horror movie fangirl with an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, Heather should have seen this coming. Now reduced to a "human shish-kebab," Heather is beyond frustrated. She'll never know what it's like to kiss Adam or to legally buy a beer. And now she's stuck in some sort of purgatory, filled with regrets about what could have been.

Meanwhile, Matt Feeney, the hipster host of the weekend, entertains a trio of mean girls: Maya Vasquez, a Kardashian wannabe with a heart of gold, Olivia Ringwald, a former cheerleader who is smarter than she appears, and Phoebe Sutton, who worships Olivia. Olivia is also dating Max Reynolds, a meathead with too many shirtless Instagram selfies. And then there's poor Delia Brookhart, Heather's best friend, crushing on Tyler Kento...who happens to be in the closet.
Over the next 48 hours, Heather will reflect on her short, pop-culture-obsessed life while offering biting commentary on the horror movie genre and watching helplessly as her friends fall prey to the mythological masked madman. Even though she's just a ghost, can Heather somehow use her knowledge of scary movies to help her friends survive the weekend?


Slasher Movie Girl takes the bloody body count of Friday the 13th or Scream and reveals what life is like -- from the afterlife (in the vein of The Lovely Bones or If I Stay). The narrative occasionally switches perspective to present the thoughts of Heather's so-called friends. By the end of the story, stereotypes will be shattered and secrets will be revealed in a cabin in the woods that none of these characters will want to revisit.

After reading the pitch letter and proposal, interest was piqued, and a number of editors requested to read the full manuscript.

I now welcome any kind of response at this point, especially since this story has been living inside my head for the past two years, and sharing it with fresh pairs of (professional) eyes may be able to offer some new perspective on what I hope will be an good sell.

I realize this is an ongoing process; a debut author doesn't just hit it big overnight.

Here's to whatever comes next.

@TheFirstEcho

January 21, 2019

Fleur East's New Single is My New "Favourite Thing"


I've been an admirer of Fleur East ever since I fell in love with "Sax," an irresistible, energetic 2016 jam that was The Best Summer Song That Never Was. (But at least it got me a shout-out on Guy Branum's podcast, Pop Rocket, when I offered it for "official summer jam" consideration back then.)

Anyway, the former X-Factor contestant is back with a new single for 2019. It's called "Favourite Thing" (yes, she's British, hence the title's spelling). It includes an infectious fusion of Afrobeats and sensual pop. And the music video visually touches upon the singer's Ghanian roots.

In other words, I frickin' love it. You will too:

@TheFirstEcho

January 10, 2019

ASCEND: The 2019 Winter Playlist


I'm a little late getting this out, and that's because it's been slim pickings out there during these winter doldrums. But I managed to find 30+ tracks to keep you warmed up while you try to hold onto those New Year's resolutions that will mostly likely fall through by MLK weekend. (Or is that just me?)

While Ariana was too late to make it on the previous playlist, Troye Sivan arrives just in time with a new single (and video), and new-to-me artist Roosevelt is wooing me with his neo-disco magic (see track 4). Then there are a few veterans who dominated the charts back in 1999: Backstreet Boys return with a new single, album, and tour while Jennifer Lopez has her Sia-penned anthem, straight from the soundtrack to her latest movie, Second Act. (That Vanessa Hudgens plot twist -- really?)

Anyway...enjoy:

@TheFirstEcho

January 04, 2019

The Backstreet Boys Are Backstreet Daddies in the Music Video for “No Place”


AJ, Howie, Kevin, Brian, and Nick are getting BSB fans ready for the release of their new album, DNA (dropping January 25), with the video premiere of “No Place,” a tender, acoustic ode to their domesticated lives. In other words, it’s a chance for the Boys to proudly show off where they are in their lives, enjoying quality time with their respective fams. The video is an adorable series of vignettes in which each singer interacts with his brood.

By the end of it, you’ll probably ask yourself the question that’s been screaming inside our heads: How the hell is Brian the father of a teenager???

Check it out:

@TheFirstEcho

December 31, 2018

The 2018 Review: My Top 10 Film Picks


If anything, 2018 was the year movies felt more inclusive than any other year in recent memory (or ever). One could attribute it to the efforts of artists, writers, and filmmakers who have been given the opportunity to tell stories that are rarely distributed to mass audiences, with characters that are not often found on the big screen. Titles like Sorry To Bother You, Crazy Rich Asians, The Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Hate U Give, BlackkKlansman, SearchingHearts Beat LoudTo All The Boys I've Loved Before, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Love, Simon made their presence known and struck a chord.

And with critical faves like Roma and The Favourite not yet screened as of December 31, here's what left a mark on me this past year:


1.  EIGHTH GRADE (RT Score: 99%) - Bo Burnham's directorial debut may be the first (and best) movie about Gen Z capable of resonating across all age groups. Elsie Fisher, a true revelation, plays 13-year-old Kayla, a girl on the verge of graduating from middle school. And every awkward, humiliating, joyful, devastating, and mundane moment leading up to that transition is captured and conveyed with gorgeous poignancy and tender nuance. Burnham proves himself as a keen observer of adolescent life in the late 2010s. Welcome to a world of sniffing markers, shooter drills, and adults pathetically attempting to dab. When Kayla puts herself out there at a mean girl’s pool party — in an unflattering green swimsuit — we follow her along that tense, unbearable walk until she submerges herself, hiding among a group that doesn’t acknowledge her. We see her pain. We feel her pain. We know her pain. Eighth Grade never comes off as an indictment of Kids These Days. It’s a beautiful snapshot of youth and the culture that is rapidly shaping it, whether we like it or not.

2. WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (RT Score: 99%) - Morgan Neville’s sterling doc looks back on the impactful legacy of Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, simultaneously opening the floodgates of nostalgia and exploring the groundbreaking and powerful ideas that were subtly communicated within the show throughout its decades-long run. It is a beautiful tribute as well as a testament to the power of empathy. Soothing balm we need during our divisive Era of Outrage.


3. CRAZY RICH ASIANS (RT Score: 91%) - In an marketplace dominated by superheroes and YA adaptations, we almost forgot what rom-coms can be capable of -- despite the fact that the term "rom-com" has devolved into something cliched and easily mockable. But Jon M. Chu's vibrant and groundbreaking adaptation of Kevin Kwan's delicious bestseller reminded us of the magic of these films (when done properly, of course). Sure, CRA covers every trope in the genre (scene-stealing sidekick, exotic locales, a fashion-music montage), but it does so with unabashed gusto, uplifting and inspiring audiences when we needed it the most.

4. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (RT Score: 98%) - Melissa McCarthy wisely trades in her comic chops to inhabit the life of down-on-her-luck celebrity biographer Lee Israel in early-90s New York City, and thanks to Marielle Heller's restrained direction, what almost becomes another movie-about-a-writer turns into quiet yet engaging literary caper.

5. GAME NIGHT (RT Score: 83%) - The plot (a murder-mystery game goes horribly wrong for a group of competitive friends) is deceptively simple. The jokes (that squeaky toy gag, Jesse Plemon's creepy cop) are unexpected and clever. And the writing and direction is razor-sharp, carefully crafted, and surprisingly polished for a modern-day, R-rated laugher. A well-cast (and rewatchable) reprieve from the ad-lib-heavy joke machines that have forgotten what a great comedy is supposed to be.

6. TULLY (RT Score: 85%) - Forget the publicized gimmick touting Charlize Theron's weight gain for her role in writer Diablo Cody's tender ode of motherhood. Instead, focus on the actress's subtle choices and Jason Reitman's beautiful direction in this domestic drama that offers a brilliant twist on movies about nannies.


7. WIDOWS (RT Score: 91%) - An explosive, visceral collaboration between director Steve McQueen and writer Gillian Flynn, Widows is more than just a female-fronted heist story. It is a prime example of intelligent, impactful drama for grown-ups that not only taps into the zeitgeist, it holds a mirror up to it and dissects the sociopolitical and socioeconomic problems that continue to challenge American society. Featuring the best big-screen ensemble in recent memory, it is tight, tense, and tricked-out with twists that never feel contrived -- a manifesto for the demise of the American dream.

8. BLACK PANTHER (RT Score: 97%) - Even those suffering from the worst cases of Superhero Movie Fatigue couldn't resist the power, charisma, and genuine wonder of the latest installment within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. More than just another fantastical epic, Panther brought much-needed black excellence to the big screen in a way that felt effortless -- all while offering a fascinating look at an alternate world in which such excellence is allowed to soar beyond its potential.


9. SEARCHING (RT Score: 93%) - This is the second year in a row in which John Cho appears in my Top 10 (last year he starred in the beautiful Columbus), and this time he plays a father of a teenage girl who goes missing. What makes this familiar story so bracingly original is its execution: the increasingly tense narrative unfolds across computer screens, text messages, surveillance footage, and news reports -- never losing its momentum, rising above the tropes of the found-footage genre -- only to drop one of the best plot twists in years.

10. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT (97%) - Tom Cruise & Co. have successfully defied the odds, keeping a 22-year-old franchise as fresh and thrilling as ever. This sixth entry is a reminder that not all action flicks need capes and intergalactic battles to keep audiences engaged. This one has both brains and brawn, giving us one breathtaking sequence after another with twists and turns that are genuinely jawdropping.

...AND 7 HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Love, Simon (92%)
A Star Is Born (90%)
A Simple Favor (85%)
Annihilation (88%)
Bad Times at the El Royale (74%)
Blockers (83%)
Hereditary (89%)

@TheFirstEcho

December 20, 2018

This ‘Edward Scissorhands’ Musical is an Alternative Holiday Treat


Tim Burton’s modern-day fable from 1990, Edward Scissorhands, is the latest contemporary classic to receive a musical makeover at L.A.’s Rockwell Table & Stage. From Executive Producers Kate Pazakis and Bradley Bredeweg of The Fuse Project, this gender-swapping stage adaptation is moving audiences with its cleverly integrated soundtrack, timely touches, and powerhouse performances.

Jordan Kai Burnett plays the titular role Johnny Depp made iconic, an artificially created human with scissor blades for hands who is taken in by an Avon door-to-door saleswoman named by Peg (the fantastic Emma Hunton) and falls in love with her teenage daughter Kim, played by Natalie Masini (Winona Ryder in the film). Meanwhile, Edward’s dearly departed Inventor (an electrifying Dionne Gipson) remains a presence throughout while the innocent young man makes an impact on a suburban community, particularly with the local ladies of the neighborhood — all played with delightful relish by Ryan O’Connor, Morgan Smith, and Carly Casey (pictured below).


When a horrifying misunderstanding sends Edward on the run, the story takes a gripping turn, and its climax is staged in a way that — intentional or not — eerily mirrors 2018 news headlines. Meanwhile, the production is imbued with over two dozen tracks that tie surprisingly well to the narrative. Among them: The Cranberries’ “Zombie,” a haunting rendition of Sia’s “Breathe Me,” Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman,” Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” and rollicking takes on Scissor Sisters’ “Let’s Have a Kiki” and Florence + The Machine’s “Shake It Out.” Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” also makes an appearance, and it’s sung by Keir Kirkegaard as Jim, Kim’s jock boyfriend, in a performance that becomes a hilarious excuse for the actor to lose his shirt (frequent Rockwell attendees should already be familiar with his abs from previous productions).


Says Pazakis, “This holiday treat has been a long time in the making, simmering inside our minds…and this being Hollywood during the holidays, we can only imagine who from the film cast might show up on any given night to celebrate with us!” The Fuse Project’s brand is to meld together pop culture icons, cinema, and digital classics into one intense, hilarious, and thought-provoking night of epic musical theatre (while audience members nosh on Rockwell’s tasty menu offerings and imbibe craft cocktails).


Adds Bredeweg, “I have always wanted to pay tribute to Edward Scissorhands, along with the idea of a female to play the lead. And today, when diverse casting has become so important, I’m excited to turn an already big-hearted iconic holiday movie into a unique and memorable immersive theatrical experience for a modern audience.”

By popular demand, Fuse Project’s Scissorhands run will be extended on Saturday and Sundays through the end of January. The hit show The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Stranger Things will come back on Thursday and Friday nights for January 2019 and then go back to four shows, Thursday – Sunday in February. Visit Rockwell-LA.com for times and tickets.

@TheFirstEcho

Spring Equinox 2019: So Much Pop Culture News in One Day

A lot happened on this rainy Spring Equinox... We found out the long-awaited third Bill & Ted movie has a release date: August...