December 17, 2018

Move Over, 'Die Hard': Why 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' Should Also Be a Christmas Favorite


Now that the overly drawn-out debate over Die Hard and its Christmas movie qualifications is finally wrapping up, it's time to present to the pop culture pundits another action-packed film for consideration: 1996's The Long Kiss Goodnight starring Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson.

Directed by Geena's then-husband Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4) and written by Christmas obsessive Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), the story about a schoolteacher and housewife with amnesia named Samantha -- who finds out she used to be an assassin named Charly -- should be placed in the Hall of Contemporary Holiday Classics.

The festive, yuletide backdrop in the film acts as a great juxtaposition to the brutal, violent plot. A snowy drive home from a Christmas party turns bloody when Samantha crashes into a deer and triggers memories from her past life (she later puts the deer out of its misery by snapping its neck). A group of carolers are terrorized by a one-eyed thug with a machine gun who tears up Samantha's cozy home. And a small town Christmas parade is interrupted by a car chase during which our heroine leaps off Santa's sleigh and onto an 18-wheeler carrying a chemical bomb.


That said, The Long Kiss Goodnight should be mandatory holiday viewing. (Sorry, Elf and Love, Actually.) This is one F-bomb-laden freeze-pack of fun that has aged considerably well 22 years after it was considered a box office disappointment ($33.4 million domestically).

In other words, it's one of the most criminally underrated movies of the 90s. It was also ahead of its time.

Back in 1996, men were dominating the box office, especially in the action genre (shocker). Will Smith became a bonafide movie star with Independence Day, Tom Cruise took on the first Mission: Impossible, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was still around, protecting Vanessa Williams in Eraser and later battling toy store shoppers in Jingle All The Way. However, a woman who knows how to handle a semi-automatic, beat up a bad guy to a bloody pulp, and detonate barrels of kerosine better than MacGyver was a hard sell back then. As Priscilla Paige at Birth. Movies. Death. writes:


The Long Kiss Goodnight came out 5 years before Jennifer Garner kicked ass on the small screen in Alias and Angelina Jolie swung from the rafters in the original Tomb Raider. It arrived in theaters 14 years before Jolie spied it up in Salt. And it also blew shit up two decades before Charlize Theron shaved her head for Mad Max: Fury Road and went platinum for Atomic Blonde.


Simply put, Geena Davis & Co. lit the fuse for modern-day action heroines with The Long Kiss Goodnight. And it's no surprise that, 8 years after paving the way for female representation in the genre, the actress founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which is working to "engage, educate, and influence content creators marketers and audiences about the importance of eliminating unconscious bias, highlighting gender balance, challenging stereotypes, creating role models, and scripting a wide variety of strong female characters in entertainment and media that targets and influences children ages 11 and under." Like, whoa.

So do yourself a favor. Find a copy of The Long Kiss Goodnight or stream it wherever you can. Consider it a Christmas gift from me to you.

@TheFirstEcho

December 11, 2018

The 2018 Review: My Top 10 TV Picks


The Peak TV bubble has yet to burst.

And with over 500 scripted shows that were in production in 2018, it has become an increasingly difficult task for TV critics and pop culture pundits alike to keep up with the amount of content that is made available nowadays. How does one just pick ten of the best shows by the end of the year? Is it possible? Can it be done?

I'll damn well try. Here are mine:


1. HANNAH GADSBY: NANETTE (Netflix) - Never has a stand-up act been able to transform into such a powerful wake-up call. But Gadsby's much-talked-about one-hour special is just that, a once-in-a-generation piece of work that (at the risk of sounding overly dramatic) should be mandatory viewing for all of humanity. It's a one-woman show that not only has the balls to challenge the conventions of comedy, it forces us to rethink our role as an audience in a much larger societal context. A lot of well-deserved praise has come her way since Nanette became available to stream this past summer; words like "brilliant" "raw," "devastating," and "daring" have been tossed around. But frankly, it is the most indelible, awe-inspiring experience on the small screen this year.


2. KILLING EVE (BBC America) - Creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge gave us the year's most exciting game of cat-and-mouse while subverting the spy-assassin genre, thanks to the talents of its two leads. Emmy nominee Sandra Oh plays the titular MI5 operative tracking down the deadly Villanelle (Jodie Comer, a revelation) throughout Europe, and each episode is a thrill, infused with a surprisingly wicked sense of humor and, yes, some slight sapphic tendencies.

3. ONE DAY AT A TIME (Netflix) - The multi-cam sitcom got better and wiser in its second season due to its tackling of topics other family comedies rarely touch. The chemistry of its cast, bolstered by the hard-at-work Justina Machado, is also stronger than ever. In a TV landscape now cluttered with reboots, this is one that sticks with you -- a reimagined story that deserves to be told in 2018.

4. BARRY (HBO) - Part hitman comedy (a hit-com?) and part showbiz satire, the first season of Bill Hader's out-of-nowhere series introduced us to an assassin who accidentally stumbles into something far scarier than a mob operation: the L.A. acting scene.

5. ATLANTA (FX) - The second season of Donald Glover's "comedy" was a series of closely observed vignettes that defied categorization. Whether skewing the music industry, American race relations, or the culture at large, Atlanta settled well into its weirdly fascinating groove.


6. HOMECOMING (Amazon Prime) - Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail directs every dread-filled, 30-minute episode of this throwback to the paranoia thrillers of the 70s and provides Julia Roberts with one of the best roles of her career. She's Heidi, a social worker helping American soldiers transition back into their civilian lives, yet something sinister stirs underneath the surface of the facility where these sessions take place.

7. BLACK MIRROR: U.S.S. Callister (Netflix) - The Emmy-winning first installment of the anthology's fourth season is a chilling indictment of extreme fandom, giving star Jesse Plemons a platform to create one of the most memorable characters on television this year.

8. THE HANDMAID'S TALE (Hulu) - The dystopia drama continues to excel across the board, expanding upon its source material with more devastating visuals, more superb acting, and bleak plot developments that make me question how much further we can follow June's journey. Or I can just stop wondering and savor every moment of this gripping series.


9. YOUNGER (Paramount Network) - The fifth season of the highly bingeable rom-com beautifully soared to new heights, thanks to its undeniably charismatic ensemble. Also: someone give Miriam Shor (whose fierce Diana Trout was given a tasty romantic subplot) a damn Emmy nomination already!

10. AMERICAN CRIME STORY: THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (FX) - The brutal shooting of the renowned fashion designer is only the tip of a multi-layered iceberg that is carefully exposed across nine chapters of Ryan Murphy's anthology series. Bolstered by a jaw-dropping cast and a shocking performance from Glee alum Darren Criss, Versace ultimately succeeds in taking a closer look at America's complicated relationship with homophobia and sexual identity in the late 90s. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Queer Eye (Netflix)
Will & Grace (NBC)
The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)
Pose (FX)
Big Mouth (Netflix)

@TheFirstEcho

December 10, 2018

The 2018 Review: My Top 10 Music Picks


2018 is officially the year pop music started getting into Y2K nostalgia.

While British pop tart Anne-Marie reminisced about "2002," Charli XCX teamed up with Troye Sivan and traveled back to "1999" with a fun music video for the single that revisited some turn-of-the-21st-century pop culture. And let's not forget that *NSYNC reunion on Ellen, the Backstreet Boys dominating in Vegas before announcing a new album, and the recent premiere of Ariana Grande's video for "thank u, next," chock-full of homages to early-aughts hits like Mean Girls, Bring It On, Legally Blonde, and 13 Going On 30.

Why the sudden urge to revisit the past? Blame it on the usual 20-year cycle of pop culture's hindsight...or the fact that this year's news headlines made everyone pine for pre-Twitter times, when no one ever dared to describe legitimate news as "fake" and stir the country into a heated frenzy.

But pop music did more than just look back at "better days." In fact, some of the best looked forward...

Here are my top 10 picks of the year:


1. Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae - "I am not America's nightmare, I am the American dream." So sings Monae in "Crazy, Classic, Life," the sparkling track that kicks off the stunning, retro-futuristic "emotion picture" that is Dirty Computer. The album unabashedly embraces its musical influences (Monae has listed Prince as her main muse) as well as its sex-positive sensibilities. Simply put, it is one of the best pop achievements in recent memory. Watch the entire 48-minute opus here.

2. "All The Stars" by Kendrick Lamar with SZA - This Grammy nominee for Song and Record of the Year (from the mega-blockbuster Black Panther) brings together a hip-hop master and a rising alt-R&B star for a hypnotic, enthralling, spacey jam.

3. "Surrender" by Walk the Moon - The group, known for their 2015 megahit "Shut Up and Dance," delivered a more mature-yet-soaring, neo-New Wave anthem (featured in the Love, Simon trailer) that deserves to be slotted on every playlist.


4. "Some Kind of Wonderful" by MOBS - The concept behind the Australian synth-pop group's EP, You Want Beauty?, is an act of why-hasn't-anyone-thought-of-it-before brilliance: a collection of earwormy, throwback tunes, each written from the perspective of a different character from an 80s movie. The result is glorious. While "Growing Up" name drops The Lost Boys, "Drive Away" channels Whitney's "How Will I Know," and "Say Anything" samples the Peter Gabriel track from the 1989 movie of the same name, "Some Kind of Wonderful" is the energetic standout that enhanced my summer.


5. Bloom by Troye Sivan - With his drowsy crooning and reflective lyrics, Sivan avoids the sophomore curse with this long-awaited encore, a mesmerizing, barrier-breaking compilation that gets better with each listen. In the dreamy "Seventeen," he revisits his first love, in "My My My!" he rejoices in all-consuming love, and with "Plum," he discovers how that love can quickly lose its luster. But it's the title track, with its provocative 2018 metaphors and 1988 production value, that soars.


6. "No One" by Jess Glynne - Leave it to the British songstress to make co-dependency sound uplifting. She returned stronger than ever with this rollicking, hand-clapping track from Always In Between.

7. "High Horse" by Kacey Musgraves & "Summer Fever" by Little Big Town - The Summer of 2018 will go down as The Summer Country Music Went Disco, and these irresistibly breezy singles are tailor-made for a nighttime backyard barbecue under the stars.

8. "Pink Lemonade" by James Bay - The catchy electronic rock track from the English singer-songwriter is, to borrow from Billboard's initial reaction, "delicious":


...For the rest of my list (and some honorable mentions), go to Bello Mag.

@TheFirstEcho

December 05, 2018

20 Years Before Ariana Grande Said "thank u, next," Alanis Morissette Had "Unsent"


Singing about past love is nothing new, and as much as I enjoy Ariana Grande's "thank u, next" (especially that 00s nostalgic video), I can't help being a nitpicky teen-from-the-90s and pointing out that Alanis Morissette nailed the whole "ode to my exes" thing back in 1998 with "Unsent," an underappreciated single from Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie.

The contemplative song is a series of letters to men who taught Alanis a few things about life and love. And the video itself is an intimate glimpse at each relationship in the form of vignettes with subtitled dialogue:

@TheFirstEcho

November 16, 2018

Review: 'Widows'


Earlier this year, Ocean’s 8 gave us a female-fronted heist story that was as frothy and fun as a champagne brunch in the middle of May. At least, that’s what it feels like compared to the riveting and razor-sharp Widows, an explosive collaboration between 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen and Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn.

In fact, “female-fronted heist story” are the only words both films have in common, and it may be unfair to utter the two titles under the same breath. While one is the epitome of delightful summer fare (with a killer wardrobe for Cate Blanchett), the other 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 two decades into the 21st century. And it features the best big-screen ensemble in recent memory.

Widows, a remake of an 80s British miniseries of the same name, is more than just another heist film. It’s so richly layered and skillfully assembled with so many puzzle pieces, nothing ever gets lost in the shuffle, and that is a testament to the talented and meticulous McQueen and Flynn...

For more of my review, head over to ScreenPicks.

@TheFirstEcho

November 01, 2018

An Open Letter to Christmas, From Thanksgiving


Dear Christmas,

Thanksgiving here.

I realize you may still be coming down from the sugar highs of Halloween (how great were those costumes?), but I wanted to take a moment to talk to you one-on-one, from one holiday to another.

For the past few years, I've noticed that some of your followers just love celebrating your season. I like to call them Christmas Enthusiasts, and I think it's great that you have so many loyal, dedicated fans. I really do. The moment November 1 rolls around, some of them are putting up your trees, hanging up those lights, and decking all the halls. I get it. They can't contain their excitement for all of the upcoming yuletide festivities.

But Christmas, could you do me a solid and tell them to ease up a bit? I mean, December is still a month away. And dude, November is my month. Can I just get my three-and-a-half weeks of pilgrim statues, cornucopias, and cartoon turkeys? That's all I ask.

Now, I understand that some folks have an issue with my origin story (hello PC Police). And while all of that business went down hundreds of years ago, Americans have claimed me as their own, redefining the meaning of, well, me. I'm the frickin' representation of gratitude, a time to be grateful for everything you have, a time to be surrounded by loved ones, filling your bellies with delicious goodness. Come on -- have you ever heard of anyone having a blue Thanksgiving?

I also understand that some folks think there's been a war waged on you, Christmas, but let me tell you, from where I'm standing, that's the fakest of fake news I have ever heard. If anything, I think there's been a war waged on me. I get one or two racks of the same yellow-orange-brown shit while YOU get an entire section of a store dedicated to you. You get radio stations playing songs about you 24-7. Where are my tunes? Where my carolers at? And I can't drive down any main street in any town or city without seeing red and green garland being wrapped around streetlights.

Halloween's got the whole month of October, and that bitch got his fans rolling in pumpkins on Labor Day who, by the way, won't complain because everyone already hates him for ending summer. So please, just give me these few weeks. For once, put yourself in my shoes. Think about how you feel come January when Valentine's Day is pushing those marshmallow Santas out of the way to make room for her heart-shaped boxes of chocolates.

I hope you can understand where I'm coming from.

Sincerely,
T-Giv

P.S. - Hanukkah says hi.

October 25, 2018

TRICK'd: The Halloween Sessions


When some people think of Halloween party music, they think "Monster Mash" or "Purple People Eater."

But this ain't some cheesy episode from an 80s or 90s sitcom. 

Yes, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" makes an appearance on this special playlist -- twice in fact, thanks to Steve Aoki's awesome remix of the 1983 classic -- and yes, Walk the Moon's rendition of "Ghostbusters" is in here, but that's it. The rest is designed to keep your party going well into the wee hours of the morning, loaded with hits from the 90s, 00s, and today (cue the corny radio disc jockey spiel). And it will certainly be playing at one particular party this weekend here in L.A...

See some of you there.

@TheFirstEcho

September 18, 2018

Song of the Month: September 2018


2018 is proving to be The Year I Fell in Love With Australian Pop Artists.

After discovering the awesome retro sounds of MOBS and the harmonies of Sheppard, it's official: Australia has been churning out some great talent this year.

More proof can be found in Future Jr., the indie artist from Down Under who's been wooing me with his single "Changing." (Also worth listening: "Forget About Me" and "Half Past You")

Give it a listen:

@TheFirstEcho

September 16, 2018

What I Did On My Summer Vacation (Most of Which Wasn't a Vacation)


NAME: Hiko Mitsuzuka
SUBJECT: Summer Vacation
HOMEROOM: 7C
DATE: Sept. 16, 2018

The Summer of 2018 was a busy one.

I kicked it off with a 10-night journey through Europe. You can read about my first six nights in Berlin and Paris here, here, and here.

I read Crazy Rich Asians before seeing the movie and fell in love with Astrid long before all of y'all did.

I consumed an adequate amount of ice cream; shout-out to Talenti gelato.

I treated my parents to a weekend in Vegas. Along with a Jennifer Lopez concert.

I had many strong feelings about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, mostly about how the franchise is losing its luster.

On the other hand, I saw and reviewed the fantastic Eighth Grade. It is being slotted in my Top 10 of the year.

I was transported back to high school when I saw TLC headline a music festival in South London. I also fell in love with London all over again.


I binged Season 2 of the brilliant Atlanta and Season 4 of the criminally overlooked You're The Worst.

I gave my MoviePass a run for its money (six movies in June, five in July) before those damn restrictions kicked in.

I attended a wedding in Santa Monica and realized not all wedding bands suck. (Kudos to the singer who pulled off Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody" and Whitney's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody.")

I got a little tipsy in Palm Springs during the extra-long 4th of July weekend. (Okay, I got a lot of tipsy.)

In Berlin, I ate schnitzel for the first time. And my God, it was delicious.

My father was soon thereafter diagnosed with prostate cancer, so I flew to Florida to help my parents reach a decision on treatment: he is scheduled to receive radiation treatments this fall. My family is currently doing well. Therefore, #fuckcancer.

I saw The Spy Who Dumped Me. My reaction: NO ONE TOLD ME GILLIAN ANDERSON HAS THREE SCENES IN IT!

I went to the Saved by the Bell-themed pop-up diner, Saved by the Max, in West Hollywood. The food was expectedly...okay. There were plenty of Instagram ops to be had.

My company was awarded Global Agency of the Year. NBD.

I finally read Ruth Ware's The Woman in Cabin 10. This book is screaming for a Reese Witherspoon-produced adaptation.

I bought a new pair of glasses.

I was absolutely floored by Hannah Gadsby's Nanette on Netflix.

In Paris, I ate escargot for the first time. The copious amounts of garlic butter helped.

Oh, and I signed with a lit agent before finishing the first draft of my YA horror novel, Slasher Movie Girl. (To clarify: my agent isn't actually lit; she's a literary agent, someone who reps authors. Duh.) Publishers, keep your eyes peeled this fall...

@TheFirstEcho

A Breakup Poem for MoviePass


Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Dear MoviePass,
I'm breaking up with you.

For most of this year,
We've had a good time.
10 bucks for so much,
It felt like a crime.

Blockers was cute,
Tully was great,
And who could forget,
The fun of Ocean's 8?

I bragged to my friends,
A glowing testimony,
Never feeling I wasted dollars,
On that shitty Acrimony.

But then you changed,
Like the elusive Don Draper,
Charging me extra,
To go see Skyscraper.

I gave that a pass,
Not knowing what you'd do,
And then you forced my hand,
To check out Mamma Mia 2.

Your rules and restrictions,
Gave me a bad rub,
Testing my patience,
Asking for ticket stubs.

But like an abused spouse,
I came back for more.
But going to the movies,
Shouldn't feel like a chore.

Like many, I'm frustrated.
We're all getting quite pissed.
That's why we're now eyeing,
AMC's A-List.

Best of luck,
H

@TheFirstEcho

September 10, 2018

Fox's Marketing Team Sure Knows How To Commemorate September 11


Like, yikes.

I know the season premiere of the Fox drama involves an earthquake in Los Angeles, but this billboard...oh wow.

Move Over, 'Die Hard': Why 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' Should Also Be a Christmas Favorite

Now that the overly drawn-out debate over Die Hard and its Christmas movie qualifications is finally wrapping up , it's time to pr...