Twenty13: Sounds of a New Year

Once you've returned that hideous scarf your aunt Gertrude gave to you on Christmas, rest assured that there's a brand-spankin' new year waiting just around the corner. For many of us, 2013 couldn't have come any sooner, and with much to look forward to after January 1, I wanted to provide you with a soundtrack that will get you adequately amped up for what's to come in the next 365 days.

We start with my favorite track from Unorthodox Jukebox, transition into an empowering Kelly Clarkson bonus track that (I pray) will be released as an official single, and then soar into an eclectic mix of EDM-driven wonders peppered with some alt-pop.

You can sample each track over at my Spotify channel.

1. "Moonshine" by Bruno Mars
2. "People Like Us" by Kelly Clarkson
3. "Just Give Me A Reason" by Pink feat. Nate Ruess
4. "Euphoria" by Usher
5. "Silver Lining (Crazy 'Bout You)" by Jessie J
6. "Be A Boy" by Robbie Williams
7. "Woman's World" by Cher
8. "On The Metro" by Girls Aloud
9. "Scream & Shout" by will.i.am feat. Britney Spears
10. "Watch You" by Clinton Sparks feat. Pitbull and Disco Fries
11. "Anna Sun" by Walk The Moon
12. "Mountain Sound" by Of Monsters And Men
13. "Just Can't Help Myself" by Ne-Yo
14. "What About Us" by The Saturdays
15. "Drinking From The Bottle" by Calvin Harris feat. Tinie Tempah
16. "Here With You" by Asher Monroe
17. "Nobody's Business" by Rihanna feat. Chris Brown
18. "Supernatural" by Ke$ha
19. "Trojans" by Atlas Genius
20. "Apollo" by Hardwell feat. High Spies and Sarah Tancer
21. "Last Night" by Pitbull feat. Havana Brown and Afrojack
22. "What You've Done To Me" by Samantha Jade

Start out clean in 2013,

@TheFirstEcho


That Time I Stared Down Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, and Paul Rudd


I spent my holiday season watching a lot of movies.

So many, in fact, I got to interview some of the people behind them for ScreenPicks.

My interviews with the casts of This is 40 and Parental Guidance (including my reviews on Jack Reacher and Django Unchained) are available over HERE.


Blog of the Year: A 2012 Review


By the time you read this, the world may be bracing itself during its final hours during the Mayan apocalypse...or you'll be cozied up on a couch enjoying some eggnog while waiting for Santa to deliver a shiny new iPad. Either way, it's a time to look back on the endlessly entertaining sideshow that was 2012.

Once again, the year flew by faster than a speeding train heading into the Capitol of Panem. It feels like it was just yesterday when I was commuting 32 miles each way to a temp job deep in the Valley. Then, all of sudden, I had another birthday, Desperate Housewives ended, The Avengers assembled, I left Palm Springs with my Best Suntan Ever, Comic-Con provided several personal nerdgasms, I yee-hawed my way through Dallas, Ricki Lake shoved a microphone in my face -- and before you know it -- I'm gorging on candied yams and turkey on November 22 and trimming my Christmas tree for my sixth annual holiday cocktail party while refiling for (gulp) unemployment. Where did it all go? Where?

While you dwell on that, allow me to share my most memorable morsels that pop culture has produced this year...

FILM PICKS OF THE YEAR


So...The Hunger Games thankfully didn't suck. The Twilight Saga finally ended. Joss Whedon became a savior for fanboys around the world. And Ben Affleck proved that he wasn't a one-trick pony (behind the camera, that is). Elsewhere, a dark knight rose, Disney-Pixar got Brave, and Channing Tatum had one hell of banner year (wooing Rachel McAdams, stripteasing for millions, and firing guns with Jonah Hill). *NOTE -- Not viewed at press time: Zero Dark ThirtyLife of Pi, The Sessions, and The Master.

1. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel -- John Madden's gorgeous travelogue not only gathers the best acting talent from the UK, it beautifully taps into the fears and insecurities of Baby Boomers, a generation that is now entering its "final act" and admirably discovering ways to establish new leases on their lives. And when you put Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in the same movie, you're guaranteed a bloody good time.

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild -- It simultaneously works as an environmental cautionary tale, an unflinching yet whimsical portrait of America's invisible class, a study on a fractured father-daughter relationship, and a much-needed call to action concerning the nation's impoverished.

3. Cloud Atlas -- The Wachowski siblings deliver their most ambitious project to date, a cornucopia of genres skillfully woven together in a majestic tapestry that covers an array of metaphysical topics. Watching Cloud Atlas is like witnessing a dream flourishing before your eyes. It's one of those rare movies that speaks to the subconscious. You either get it and appreciate it for what it is, or you dismiss it as a hot mess -- a gorgeous and meticulously detailed one at that.

4. Skyfall -- Possibly the best Bond flick ever, Sam Mendes's thoughtful actioner is both an ingenious origin film and a clever reinvention. It's also the most personal entry in the franchise. Javier Bardem's villain is one of fearsome flamboyance (you can almost understand where the guy's coming from), Daniel Craig's 007 delivers the requisite gravitas, and Judi Dench, in a meatier role as M, conveys a vulnerability we've never seen before. From its gorgeous cinematography to its exquisite script, it's Grade-A all around.


5. Argo -- Ben Affleck's nail biter of a movie is so ludicrously plotted, it had to have been a true story. Part Hollywood satire, part heist saga, and part history lesson, Argo is a tightly paced crackerjack thriller with one of the finest ensembles seen on the big screen this year. Casting directors, feel free to put Alan Arkin and John Goodman together in everything from now on.

6. Django Unchained -- Quentin Tarantino moves from Nazi Germany to the down and dirty South of a pre-Civil War America to flesh out another revenge fantasy, this time involving slaves and their masters. Foxx is a welcome player to the Tarantino universe, strutting through most of the movie with a quiet rage that explodes during the inevitable climactic bloodbath.

7. Les Miserables -- Despite being a blatant piece of Oscar bait, Tom Hooper's adaptation is a  rousing and innovative production (the actors actually sang on set; no pre-recorded tracks here). This is the Lord of the Rings of musicals and will undoubtedly collect several shiny trophies come February. During the guild screening I attended, the audience applauded for Anne Hathaway in a way I hadn't witnessed since Jennifer Hudson finished "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" in Dreamgirls six years ago.

8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower -- Coming-of-age movies usually fall into the traps of cliches and syrupy sweet resolutions, but not this one. Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his original novel may be a Catcher in the Rye for GenY, but it's also a poignant period piece (it's set in the ancient time of 1991) that delicately paints a portrait of the artist as an outcast and can resonate anywhere anytime with anyone who's ever attended high school.

9. Silver Linings Playbook -- A Hollywood film without pretense (read: doesn't rely on complete star wattage or Teen Vogue-friendly faces) that delivers on all levels: great script, fantastic performances, and a surprisingly original romance. (who knew those still existed?)

10. The Cabin in the Woods -- A horror flick that twists, turns, and annihilates the traditional tropes of the genre while satirizing the hell out of its stereotypes, this much-delayed film from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (shot in 2009!) was well worth the wait.

...AND 10 VERY HONORABLE MENTIONS: Looper, Liberal ArtsRobot and FrankRuby Sparks, Celeste and Jesse Forever, The Dark Knight Rises, Hope Springs, ParaNorman, The Impossible, and Wreck-It Ralph.

TV PICKS OF THE YEAR

Who knew, in 2012, a little 6-year-old named Honey Boo Boo would teach us the fine art of dumpster diving and introduce "redneckognize" to the nation's lexicon? In other news, Ricki Lake came back from the 90s, Elena became a bloodsucker on The Vampire Diaries, the Ewing brothers returned to primetime (R.I.P. Larry Hagman), and Gossip Girl signed off for the final time. And oh yeah, a little thing called the London Olympics happened (go Gabby Douglas!). Here are just some of the titles that heated up my DVR and sucked me in:

1. Girls (HBO) -- Those who have ignorantly labeled or dismissed Lena Dunham's polarizing comedy about entitled twentysomething white chicks living in Brooklyn as a GenY version of Sex and the City should be pitied for their lack of open-mindedness...and the huge sticks they have up their asses (Those diversity arguments? Trite). Because they apparently haven't scraped away the surface to see that underneath the whiny, woe-is-me sensibilities is an acutely observed portrait of post-collegiate life, packed with embarrassing mistakes and complaints we've all been guilty of making but never wanted to admit -- or remember. Many comedies and dramas have attempted to paint the Twentysomething Experience with no real resonance, accuracy, or success. What this show has that others didn't is a creator at its helm who's actually living it in real time (note: writer-director-star Dunham is 25) as well as a female lead who actually looks like she's torn through an occasional pint of Ben & Jerry's. Now put that in your silver spoon and eat it.

2. Homeland (Showtime) -- A game-changing second season added more jolts, twists, and butt-clenching tension to this Emmy-winning drama and continued to break the narrative mold most shows get chained to. Cheers to the addition of the irresistible Rupert Friend as a Black Ops agent with a secret agenda up his sleeve.

3. Breaking Bad (AMC) -- Shortly after the grisly saga of Walter White started its final season, viewers witnessed the inevitable: Walter finally embracing his dark side and succumbing to a life of treachery. Watching one of TV's most morally ambiguous protagonists evolve into a Big Bad has never been this scary, funny, and utterly compelling.

4. Southland (TNT) -- I avoid most cop shows because of their formulaic premises and by-the-book cases. This one proudly shatters all of those conventions and offers insightful looks at the lives of the men and women of the LAPD when they're in and out of the uniform. The always riveting drama, which starts its fifth season this winter, brilliantly balances the procedural and the serial and puts characters before plot, which is always killer. That said, may I be put in charge of the Emmy campaign for Regina King? Because whoever was doing it before certainly doesn't realize how much she deserves that golden statue.

5. The Walking Dead (AMC) -- After a frustratingly uneven second season, Dead delivered eight episodes -- a first half that introduced new blood (Hello, Governor and Michonne) and raised the stakes like never before. Episode 4, entitled "Killer Within," proved to be the most intense piece of scripted television I had ever seen in a while.

6. Last Resort (ABC) -- The Crimson Tide-meets-Lost comparisons weren't enough. This short-lived thriller (it ends this winter) briefly showed promise, indicating that major networks are willing to take risks with high-profile concepts, produce outside the box, and compete with those award-hogging cable dramas by delivering high-quality material to an increasingly sophisticated and evolving television audience.

7. NBC's Thursday Night Line-Up -- Liz Lemon & Co. aren't holding back as they set sail into their farewell season on 30 Rock (neither are those Office workers). Parks and Recreation has a lot of comedic weight to carry once those two are gone (as does Community). And Up All Night is the possibly most enjoyable rom-com on TV today.

8. Downton Abbey (PBS) -- The most amazing thing about this period soap is how it has managed to turn seemingly stuffy British costume shenanigans into utterly juicy drama for American audiences. Besides, as we all know, love affairs and verbal jabs are exponentially more enjoyable with British accents. Season 3 cannot come any quicker.

9. Happy Endings (ABC) -- These 21st century friends have hit their stride in their third season, and by now, if you haven't jumped on the wacky bandwagon, then you're probably one of those sticks-in-the-mud chalking up this comedic ensemble to acquired taste. My favorite moment thus far:




10. The New Normal (NBC) -- More heartwarming and cute than funny -- although Ellen Barkin steals every scene with a biting soundbite -- Ryan Murphy's version of Modern Family is so...Ryan Murphy. Kudos also go to the casting of the insanely adorable Bebe Wood as Shania, a wiser-than-her-years fourth grader who knows how to put on a killer tribute to Grey Gardens.

BEST SUMMER ADDICTION: Political Animals (USA) -- Equal parts campy family soap and Sorkin-esque potboiler, this "limited series event" featured a delicious ensemble. Sigourney, you're welcome to come back to TV whenever you want.

BEST SHOW I'M NOT WATCHING (so get off my back already): Parenthood (NBC)

BEST GUILTY PLEASURE THAT DIDN'T QUITE LIVE UP TO ITS NAME: Smash (NBC) -- Yes, this musical about Broadway musicals was uneven during its first sprint out of the gate, but I have to hand it to NBC for its ambitious gamble on such a lofty concept. Season 2, thanks to a newly crowned showrunner, looks like a major improvement.

BEST GLEE PERFORMANCE OF 2012: "The Scientist" -- The Fox comedy grew up in its fourth season, particularly in the episode titled "The Break Up," during which every character sang his or her heart out in a closing number that saw the end of every couple's relationship on the show. Heartbreaking, nostalgic, and most importantly, necessary. See it HERE.

BEST SHOW I DIDN'T REALIZE I'D LIKE: Don't Trust The B in Apartment 23 (ABC) -- Consider me happy for James Van Der Beek rejuvenating his career. Well done sir.

BEST FLASH-IN-THE-PAN: The Rosie Show (OWN) -- O'Donnell's short-lived return to the genre that put her on the map went through several formats before settling down on one-on-one interviews that proved to be surprisingly riveting, personal, and thoroughly watchable.

MUSIC PICKS OF THE YEAR


Before you could say "Call Me Maybe," there was a slew of EDM-driven tunage that invaded American radio stations at an unprecedented rate. Who knew these kids today would be listening to the same kind of high-energy dance tracks some of us were already listening to ten years ago? Also in 2012, not only did we lose icons named Whitney and Donna, we lost the man who brought them to us, the inimitable Dick Clark. Taylor Swift broke records (again). Adele tapped into her inner Shirley Bass for 007. Christina was as horny as ever. And oh yeah, Madonna dropped a new album (yawn). In other news, a pudgy Korean man named Psy delivered a "Macarena" for the 21st century (the ubiquitous "Gangnam Style") while folksy bands like Mumford & Sons, Imagine Dragons, and The Lumineers marked their territory in the land of Top 40 (however, if I hear "It's Time" one more time on the radio, I will rip the steering wheel off my Prius). Here's what I thoroughly enjoyed on my iPod this year:

1. "Watching You Watch Him" by Eric Hutchinson -- The acoustic guitar and bouncy hand claps may disguise this as a happy-go-lucky little ditty, but in all actuality, it's one sad song that perfectly expresses the pain and melancholy that comes with unrequited love. Too bad the poorly executed video has absolutely nothing to do with the heartbreaking lyrics. Still, it's a simple sleeper of a tune that'll come in handy when all you'll want to do is scream, "Choose me! Pick me!" when the person you've fallen for falls for someone less deserving.

2. "We Come Running" by Youngblood Hawke -- My theme song from August could also double as the perfect playground anthem for elementary schools everywhere (and don't we need a little cheering up nowadays?). It's also for anyone who appreciates celebratory alt-pop that specializes in big choruses and tubular bells. Recess will never sound more awesome. Teachers, you're welcome.

3. Unorthodox Jukebox by Bruno Mars -- The crooner from Hawaii proves he's a force to be reckoned with on his super sophomoric effort. Bravely experimenting with styles that may not seem so "now," Mars continues to impress, either when he's soulfully pleading for forgiveness or channeling his inner Sting circa 1984. Must listens: the mesmerizing "Moonshine" and "When I Was Your Man," a piano-driven anthem that would do Billy Joel and Elton John proud:



4. "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye feat. Kimbra -- The single that haunted radios throughout much of 2012 is a minimalist tune about heartbreak that's magnified once he bellows out that emotional chorus. Speaking of Kimbra...

5. "Warrior" by Kimbra -- The New Zealand songstress teams up with Mark Foster and A-Trak for this electrifying, synth-filled gem. Not to be confused with the glittery trash that is Ke$ha's title track from her new album.

6. Next-Gen DJs (Madeon, Zedd, and Nicky Romero) -- 2012 was the year that saw a fresh crop of fresh-faced spinmasters come on the club scene and give veterans like Guetta and Harris a run for their money. France's 18-year-old Madeon killed with technotronic masterpieces like "Finale" and "The City," Germany's 23-year-old Zedd climbed up the dance charts with "Spectrum," and Dutch DJ Nicky Romero continues to make his mark with mesmerizing tracks and collaborations like the euphoric "Like Home."

7. "Next To Me" by Emeli Sande -- The hypothetical love child of Alicia Keys and Leona Lewis delivers a catchy piano footstomper that's all about rejoicing. It's one of those songs designed to give you a new lease on life.

8. The Truth About Love by Pink -- Pop's rebel-princess keeps growing and showing us that she's aging like a fine wine. And with that comes a catalogue of tracks full of wisdom, insight, and a kickass sense of humor. Who knew the Pepto Bismol-haired R&B thugette from 2000 would evolve into such a relevant powerhouse? Must listens: "Try" and "Just Give Me A Reason" featuring fun.'s Nate Ruess.

9.  "New Lands" by Justice -- If 1982 had sex with 2002, it would feature a soundtrack like this.

10. "Give Your Heart A Break" by Demi Lovato -- The most irresistible and unabashed pop song of the year (take that, Carly Rae Jepsen) is also the most surprising with its unique twist (Is she breaking up with him, or...oh wait, she's relieving his heart of pain!)

BEST TRACK OF 2012 THAT WAS RELEASED IN 2011: "Midnight City" by M83

BEST BONUS TRACKS OF 2012 (If you don't have these, visit your local iTunes Store now): "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men, "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Capital Cities, "Dark Side" by Kelly Clarkson, "Runnin'" by Adam Lambert, "Sweet Nothing" by Calvin Harris featuring Florence Welch, "Sunlight" by Bag Raiders, "Brokenhearted" by Karmin, "Only The Horses" by Scissor Sisters, "Perfect World" by Gossip, "Silenced By The Night" by Keane, "Feel Like I Feel" by Marcus Collins

MVP OF THE YEAR: The bow and arrow (The Hunger Games, The CW's Arrow, NBC's Revolution, Hawkeye in The Avengers)

That all said and done, during these emotionally sensitive times, I leave you with something I picked up from the adventures of two gentlemen from San Dimas, California...

"Be excellent to each other."

See you in 2013,

H.P.M.
@TheFirstEcho


In Light of Today's Tragedy in Newtown, CT


Since I'm sickened by what CNN has been feeding me all morning -- and by how we as a country refuse to learn from past horrors -- I'm feeling a little soapboxy and just had to voice my thoughts as I'm watching a 10-year-old boy recall how he had to hide in a closet from gunfire during gym class.

Please, everyone, don't let this be another national tragedy we eventually let fall to the wayside until another one comes around. There are preventative measures that are not being implemented here in this country -- for psychological purposes and otherwise (accessibility to weapons, etc).

To those who passed "the right to bear arms" in 1791 (the era of the single-shot musket), you clearly didn't have any foresight because, 221 years later, nowhere -- movie theaters, shopping malls, elementary schools -- is safe. And to those who turn a blind eye on behavior that could result in such devastation: wake up, unplug your ears, and find a way to resolve such instability before it's too late. 

One of today's lessons/reminders: It's very easy to blame the weapon. But there's also blame in the culture that lacks resolution needed to ease the mind that uses the weapon.

@TheFirstEcho


Judd Apatow vs. J.J. Abrams

This week, I spent my Monday morning in a room at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills with the cast of Judd Apatow's This is 40.

Four things: Albert Brooks is incapable of not being funny. Megan Fox has now earned MILF status. Paul Rudd is more pocket-sized than I thought. And director Judd Apatow (pictured here with his wife-actress Leslie Mann) knows how to work a room.

Alas, my interview for the folks at Screenpicks is now available HERE.

@TheFirstEcho


My Friends: An Early 'Auld Lang Syne'

My friends are awesome.

They inspire me. They make me laugh. They look out for each other. They console me during my downs, and they celebrate my ups.

They give me a rides to the airport. They have great tastes in clothing. They write books. They direct TV shows. They travel around the world. They're really good cooks.

Some of them look like the hotter, younger siblings of celebrities. Some of them are celebrities.

My friends know my weaknesses. They motivate me to exploit my strengths. They're brave. And talented. They don't stand for bullshit. They have blogs. They know people who know people. They put me on lists. They hook me up with DVD screeners so that I don't have to pay $12 for a movie that will inevitably be nominated for an Oscar.

Other friends of mine call them "good people."

They treat me to coffee. They exhibit outstanding hospitality. They surprise me in the best ways possible. They call me out of the blue...just because. They leave me texts that make me smile. They trust me (and vice versa). They're my second family. And they are unforgettable.

My friends are awesome.

@TheFirstEcho


My Interview with the Vampire: Paul Wesley

The Vampire Diaries star Paul Wesley graces the cover of Bello Mag's holiday issue (now available in the iTunes Newsstand), and during my interview with him, I was surprised to find out that he's a Jersey boy (his family's okay after Hurricane Sandy).

He's also a huge geek for anything Stanley Kubrick. Who knew?

Also in this month's jam-packed issue: my Apocalypse Mixtape, our list of Entertainers of the Year, and my interview with Mehcad Brooks.

Check out a preview of my piece with Paul below:


All I Want For Christmas

1. Roundtrip airfare and a six-night stay in London.

2. Daniel Craig's arms.

3. A $1,500 gift card to Target to get me through the next three months.

4. Lunch and afternoon cocktails with Kate Winslet.

5. A second-season pickup of 666 Park Avenue by SyFy.

6. Payoffs on all three of my credit cards.

7. Payoffs on all three of my student loans.

8. The seventh and final season of Melrose Place on DVD (to make my collection complete).

9. A three-year development deal with a certain network television studio.

And, oh yeah, world peace.

@TheFirstEcho


How Many Calories I'll Consume Back Home During the Holidays


There's no avoiding it. When I go back home for the holidays, my life will be one enormous smorgasbord of indulgent eating. Although I'll try my best to tame my gluttony (good luck with that), I have a feeling I'll be saying "F**k it" every time a sweet or savory morsel stares me down from across the table.

Here's just a sample of what I expect to ingest during my three weeks (yes, 3) in the winter wonderland that is the East Coast...

1. A late-night meal after landing at JFK at midnight.

2. Coffee and cake while visiting my mom's best friend.

3. The lone candy cane I'll suck on while watching afternoon talk shows on the couch.

4. The potato chips and onion dip to keep me satiated before Christmas dinner.

5. The eggnog latte I'll buy at Starbucks while doing some last-minute shopping at Target with my mom.

6. The hot cocoa I'll purchase near Rockefeller Center to keep me warm.

7. The fabulous lunch I'll eat with my best friend.

8. The fabulous lunch I'll eat with an old college friend in Boston.

9. An oversized dinner with my parents at the Port Chester Diner.

10. My grandmother's creamed onions.

11. Four slices of pizza...because I'm in New York.

12. Those cocktail wieners on New Year's Eve.

13. A vanilla roasted coffee from Dunkin Donuts for my commute into Manhattan to visit friends.

14. Chocolate. Just because.

15. A bagel with creamed cheese. Again, because I'm in New York.

16. Chinese take-out (in three weeks, it's inevitable).

17. My aunt's anisette cookies.

18. My other aunt's stuffed clams and linguine with clam sauce on Christmas Eve.

19. Pecan muthaf**kin' pie.

20. A bag of popcorn for the matinee of The Guilt Trip I'll be seeing with my parents.

21. Sparkling cider.

22. Antacids.

@TheFirstEcho


My 12 Songs of Christmas

Over the past couple of years, it has come to my attention that listening to Christmas songs is a great way to relieve stress and brighten any downtrodden spirits because they tend to provoke reminiscences of holidays past. They also make me long for those days when my heart skipped a beat at the sight of big, wrapped package -- not only from Santa, but from any one of my many relatives.

Holiday songs not only bring good cheer to any party with mistletoe, they simply exist for the sake of nostalgia. Therefore...

I've collected a dozen yuletide tunes that have a special place in my heart. Behind each one is a particular memory of mine, either from the first time I heard it or from a random moment from my past. Who's ready to hop on a sleigh and take a ride with me?

1. "All Alone On Christmas" by Darlene Love (1992) -- Hard to believe it's been 20 years since I first heard this jingle, easily the best part of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (besides Tim Curry's scenery chewing). I remember blaring this in my father's Camry while waiting in the parking lot of a Radio Shack somewhere in Long Island (my dad was attempting to return a "defective" TV antenna he most likely broke himself):


2. "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey (1994) -- I was a freshman in high school when Mimi dropped her first holiday album and delivered this yuletide treat that would go on to become the most popular modern-day Christmas single. And who knew, 17 years later, she'd tarnish it all by remixing it with a certain tweenybopper named Justin Bieber.

3. "Jingle Bells" by Barbra Streisand (1967) -- My mother made it a tradition to play Babs's A Christmas Album -- on vinyl -- every Christmas morning when I was little. Whenever I hear those rapid-fire lyrics, visions of clove-infused hams and gift-wrapped boxes dance in my head. That reminds me: I'll have to check matinee showtimes for The Guilt Trip when I go home for the holiday -- you know my mom is just dying to see it.

4. "Sleigh Ride" by Debbie Gibson (1992) -- Perfect. Christmas. Pop:

5. "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 (Instrumental)" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra (1996) -- Soaring guitars. Pounding drums. It sounds like something that would be featured in an over-the-top trailer for a holiday-themed action flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Santa Claus is coming to town -- with hundreds of bullets and hand grenades.

6. "Last Christmas" by Wham! (1984) -- Nothing says Christmas like watching a bunch of Europeans frolic and play at a mountaintop chalet while a then-closeted homosexual uses a silver garland boa to flirt with an unsuspecting single white female. And yes, I own four of the many remakes of this song, courtesy of Jimmy Eat World, CascadaSavage Garden and the cast of Glee.



7. "The Christmas Song (Thunderpuss/Holiday Mix)" by Christina Aguilera (2000) -- Long before she was mentoring wannabes as a judge on NBC's The Voice, Xtina pumped out a holiday disc the year after her debut album and scored with this classic, remixed for all the club-hopping boys and girls of the new millennium...and played several times on the road home from Boston during my junior year of college. Sounds quaintly vintage compared to the high-energy EDM that's now dominating Top 40 radio:



8. "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays" by NSync (1998) -- Since we're on the subject of late-90s teen pop, why not include this happy-go-lucky track from the splendiferous year that was 1998? Relive its cheesy, low-budget glory -- Gary Coleman cameo and all -- HERE.

9. "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" by Brenda Lee (1958) -- 40 years before the aforementioned boy band took a sleigh ride on MTV, a 13-year-old made Christmas music history. The oldest track on this playlist is also the most timeless.

10. "The Night Before Christmas" by Amy Grant (1992) -- Carly Simon may have sung (and written) the original, but it's this rendition that takes me back to the time when a little 12-year-old boy from New Rochelle, New York was obsessed with a certain Christian-singer-turned-pop-star and bought his first Christmas album...on a cassette tape.

11. "My Grown-Up Christmas List" by Monica (2000) -- Composed by David Foster back in the 90s, this is one of the earliest remakes, and it gets me every time. "No more lives torn apart, that wars would never start, that time would heal all hearts..." If you're having a blue Christmas, grab some Kleenex, sit on the floor of your bedroom, and let it all out.

12. "X-Mas (Let's Do It Again)" by Alphabeat (2012) -- Naturally, I had to include a brand-spankin' new favorite. This merry original comes to us courtesy of my favorite band from Denmark. Everything about it is wonderful, from its Wham-like production to its carefree vocals. I dare you to not crack a smile after pressing play. A new classic in the making?



@TheFirstEcho


Nerdgasm of the Month: 'Star Trek Into Darkness'

There are some movie trailers that make you as giddy as a schoolgirl who just got hug-raped by One Direction...and then there's this.

J.J. Abrams's Star Trek Into Darkness doesn't come out until May, but the movie trailer gods have given us a gift Santa only wishes he could've delivered.

What we get: Chris Pine's baby blues, some killer voiceover from Benedict Muthaf**king Cumberbatch (Sherlock), a roughed-up Spock (Zachary Quinto), and a nice shot of a CGI-altered Century City in L.A. being blown to smithereens.

Let the geek squealing begin:



@TheFirstEcho


I've Seen 898 Movies in 16 Years

Since November of 1996 I have kept a written log of films I've seen in theaters. It's something I've shared with a close few since a) it makes me look like a completely anal retentive film geek and b) it makes me look like a completely anal retentive film geek.

As I write this, I have seen 898 movies. I know what you're thinking: that's a crapload of popcorn. To which I reply: I've also enjoyed many a bag of Skittles.

If you're wondering, my 898th film was Les Miserables. On Saturday afternoon I attended a guild screening of the epic musical at the Mann Chinese 6 in Hollywood (another item to add to my What I'm Thankful For List: industry friends in unions). When the movie's Oscar-winning director, Tom Hooper, introduced the film, he thanked his cast, crew, and friends, one of whom was sitting in the row in front of me -- Helen Mirren. Needless to say, the audience turned their heads in awe and ogled the Academy Award-winning GILF who was sitting with her husband, Taylor Hackford, the president of the Directors Guild of America. After another minute of thanks and gratitude, the film began. And it was brilliant (it's going in my top 10 of 2012).

Like I said, my movie log only consists of films I've seen in theaters, and this includes regularly paid admissions, premieres, reissued films, repeat viewings, and private (free) press screenings. The number per year has steadily increased since I've become both a film reviewer for several websites and magazines and a press badge holder for a couple of film festivals over the years. 2011 was a record-breaking year for me; I saw 82 flicks from January to December, 47 of which I had seen for free.

FYI: 2012 is coming close to breaking that record (the proof is in my collection of ticket stubs).

And if you look closely at the top image, you'll see symbols I've written next to some movie titles. Half of these are now irrelevant. The only ones I continue to use are dashes (to represent movies I've seen by myself), small squares (for free special screenings), and check marks (favorites). Yes, I'm that particular.

That said, let's take a trip down movie memory lane...

July 22, 1997 - Face-Off: I saw this with my mom somewhere in Connecticut as we made our way back to New York after touring colleges in Boston.

April 9, 1999 - Go: The film that introduced me to the godfather of electronica, BT, and the underground club culture of Los Angeles. I was obsessed with this movie at the turn of the 21st century.

April 14, 2001 - Bridget Jones's Diary: I saw this during a weekend trip to Brighton, England while studying abroad in London for a spring semester. It was the beginning of my nurturing the Anglophile inside me.

June 28, 2002 - The Bourne Identity: The first movie I saw as a resident of Los Angeles. I was homeless, jobless, and carless, but I sure enjoyed the hell out of seeing Matt Damon kick major ass.

Dec. 14, 2003 - Big Fish: I remember going to The Grove with several coworkers (back in my Carsey-Werner days) and balling my eyes out during the final scene when Billy Crudup carried Albert Finney to the river. Nine years later, it still turns me into a blubbering mess.

April 30, 2004 - Mean Girls: A memorable night out with friends after which we'd scream lines to each other like, "You can't sit with us!" and "You go Glen Coco!"

Aug. 18, 2006 - Snakes on a Plane: The movie that inspired my Halloween costume two months later.

Feb. 19, 2007 - Children of Men: When my father visited L.A., I took him to the Arclight to see this for a second time. I was blown away by the camerawork during Julianne Moore's death scene in the speeding car.

May 30, 2008 - Sex and the City: Opening night. With a group of 12. Smiles all around.

Dec. 13, 2009 - A Single Man: That score, that cinematography, and that performance by Colin Firth. Tragic and beautiful all at once.

June 10, 2011 - Super 8: That time I fell deeper in love with J.J. Abrams. His homage to E.T.The Goonies, and Close Encounters was everything and more I wished it could be.

Sept. 24, 2012 - Looper: When I realized how f**king awesome Joseph Gordon-Levitt is.

Nov. 24, 2012 - Les Miserables: When Anne Hathaway gave it her all during "I Dreamed a Dream," the entire theater erupted in applause. I hadn't experienced a reaction like that since Jennifer Hudson finished "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" in Dreamgirls six years earlier.

And the list shall go on...

@TheFirstEcho


The Apocalypse Mixtape: The 2012-13 Winter Playlist

Not only is this my final playlist of the year, it could also be the final playlist -- ever. If those silly Mayans were right, then by all means, let's party and dance until the world comes to its fiery end. Because this season, Santa Claus isn't the only one coming to town. Mr. Fire-and-Brimstone is on his way -- with a big bag of catastrophe.

Here are some tracks that will keep you busy from now until the apocalyptic poo hits the fan on December 21.

It was nice knowing y'all...

1. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Ester Dean -- It's what you'll be telling your crush right before you see him fall into a pit of fire during those mega earthquakes. Yes, it's a cover of the Bonnie Raitt classic. Sung by the lesbian chick from Pitch Perfect:
2. "Let There Be Love" by Christina Aguilera -- An anthem for all the sinners who'll be raging on when the End comes:
3. "I Found You" by The Wanted -- May these boys forever kick the asses of those wimps from One Direction (Yep, I said it):
4. "When Can I See You Again" by Owl City -- The answer: never again. Because the world will have ended. But still, this sugary-sweet theme from Wreck-It Ralph will get you bopping along as if nothing else matters. Get it HERE.

5. "Young Girls" by Bruno Mars

6. "Candy" by Robbie Williams

7. "Black Widow" by Booty Luv:


8. "Closer" by Tegan and Sara

9. "Kill Your Heroes" by AWOLNATION

10. "Ready or Not" by Bridgit Mendler

11. "Va Va Voom" by Nicki Minaj

12. "Right Now" by Rihanna feat. David Guetta

13. "Feel This Moment" by Pitbull feat. Christina Aguilera -- The sampling of A-Ha's "Take On Me" was inevitable. And leave it up to Mr. Worldwide to rape the musical memories of the 80s and straddle Xtina along for the ride:


14. "Like Home" by Nicky Romero feat. Nervo
15. "212" by Azealia Banks feat. Lazy Jay
16. "Brand New Me" by Alicia Keys
17. "C'Mon" by Ke$ha
18. "Forever Now" by Ne-Yo
19. "We've Only Just Begun" by Michael Woods feat. Ester Dean
20. "Powerless" by Linkin Park
21. "We Got The World" by Icona Pop
22. "2 Reasons" by Trey Songz feat. T.I.

*Coming Soon: "Twenty13: Sounds of the New Year" (just in case we all in fact survive)

@TheFirstEcho


18 Things I'm Thankful For This Week

For my family. For my L.A. family, those who inspire me, support me, and remind me how much love I have in my life. For my health. For my abilities. For Trader Joe's pumpkin pancakes. For Instagram. For the opportunities I've been given. For the motivation I need to go through those open doors. For The Actors Fund. For blessings in disguises. For BBC America. For the chance to hang on to my youth as I stare down my age. For Diddy Riese Cookies. For the luxury that is cable, Internet, and a car. For my Twitter followers. For the Madeon remix of Martin Solveig's "The Night Out." For the food coma I will induce upon myself this Thursday.

For life.

@TheFirstEcho


10 Things I'll Miss in 2013 (If The World Ends Next Month)

Should the Mayan calendar actually end on December 21, 2012 -- along with the rest of the world -- I will miss many of the pleasures that 2013 promises to deliver. Sure, I'll also miss my friends and family, but hey, at least the Apocalypse will help wipe out my student loan debt. Too bad the last installment of The Twilight Saga wasn't scheduled for next year...I would've loved to have seen the countless pissed-off virgins and their overweight mothers cry over never getting to see Edward and Bella kiss for the umpteenth time.

But if those ancient ones were wrong, then I can still look forward to the following (in no particular order)...

1. The Rest of Revenge - Who the hell got killed on Jack's boat in the middle of the ocean? And how in the world does Emily's mother not recognize her? Or does she, and she's just keeping up Emily's charade...?

2. Oz, the Great and Powerful - Because James Franco could squat on the corner of San Vicente and Santa Monica and drop a shadoobie in the middle of traffic, and I'd still pay to go see it (March).

3. Lady Gaga's Artpop - Her highly anticipated fourth album features the usual roster of EDM producers, including at least one track from French wunderkind Madeon, who's opening for her Born This Way Ball in L.A. this January.

4. World War Z -- Brad Pitt is a family man thrust into a fight against a global zombie uprising. Although I'm wary of the first half of that sentence, my moviegoer heart skipped a beat when I saw trailer footage of those ravenous cadavers climbing over each other to breach a barricade (June 13):



5. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones -- I read this book over the summer and was instantly drawn into this urban fantasy series about a teenaged girl who becomes a pawn in an epic battle (what other kind is there?) amongst supernatural beings who exist in an unseen parallel world. Poised to be the next Twilight (and better). Hits theaters in August.

6. Joss Whedon's S.H.I.E.L.D. - It's basically a spin-off of the enormously bankable The Avengers, custom-made as an adventure thriller for ABC, the network that recently axed genre favorites 666 Park Avenue and Last Resort. In other words, don't f**k this one up, ABC.

7. The fourth season of Hot in Cleveland - Because I'm curious to see how they'll write out Betty White, who's in need of retiring those 91-year-old bones of hers...and I just really enjoy the seasoned ensemble of this TV Land sitcom.

8. The 20th Anniversary of Jurassic Park - I'm ready to party like it's 1993 and reminisce about the moviegoing experience that left an indelible mark on my 13-year-old self. Steven Spielberg's gargantuan adventure still holds up after all this time, and I can't wait to see it in theaters again (yes, in 3D) next April:



9. The grand opening of Topshop at The Grove - It's like a classier H&M, and this British retailer will finally be coming to L.A. next spring. As much as The Grove has become a nuisance to navigate (thanks tourists...and Mario Lopez), I will practice wallet restraint as I browse the store when it opens.

10. My next birthday - I plan to continue celebrating my 30s with a reasonably low-key night at home with good friends, bottles of wine, and a board game or two. Oh, and gifts. Many, many gifts.

Have yourself a Merry Apocalypse,

@TheFirstEcho


I Was on 'The Ricki Lake Show'

...and apparently there was no way you could miss me in my purple shirt -- which Ricki liked, by the way.

I attended a taping of her "Ambush Makeover" show last month, and it felt as if I had been transported back to 1995 (running home from school, turning on channel 9, chanting "Go Ricki! Go Ricki!"). Who knew, 17 years later, that friendless, Knots Landing-obsessed bookworm from New Rochelle, New York would be standing next to Miss Lake and shooting the shit with her during a commercial break inside the studio of her reincarnated show in sunny Los Angeles?

If you happened to catch Monday's broadcast, you may have spotted me right before they revealed the makeover results in the final segment. And from the looks of it, it seems as if I had inhaled several burritos from Chipotle...along with the entire Chipotle franchise.

I was the only audience member selected by producers to ask a question. I was also one of five males in the audience, so perhaps they were looking for a little diversity...

This is what went down:



@TheFirstEcho


The 10 Greatest Sitcom Theme Songs from the 80s

I still find it reprehensible that today's generation is being robbed of the enjoyment of proper TV sitcom theme songs. Therefore, while going over my iTunes playlist of classic TV jingles I've collected over the years, I couldn't help but climb on board the Nostalgia Express and reminisce about each of the following. What makes them so great is the way they left an indelible mark on a generation, perfectly encapsulating the sensibility and tone of their respective shows.

They truly don't make 'em like they used to...

1. Perfect Strangers - Covering the parallel origin stories of cousin Balki's journey to America and cousin Larry's big move to the big city, this is possibly the most epic (and inspirational) sitcom openings of all time. What network has the time (and budget) to shoot such a grand intro anymore? Apparently none.


2. Who's the Boss? - A perfect track for any romantic comedy, including Christopher Cross-like, easy-listening vocals (courtesy of country singer Steve Wariner from 1986 to 1990) and an enchanting arrangement that practically induces warm fuzzies:


3. The Facts of Life (post-Season 5) - The amped-up rendition of the theme to this seminal Reagan era classic was a much-needed, peppy, and upbeat upgrade:


4. Growing Pains - "Show me that smile again..." And we all did, thanks to this saxophone-driven, family-friendly tune. Week after week:


5. The Golden Girls - And you would see the biggest gift would be from...this gentle ode to friendship:


6. My Sister Sam - Sadly, this sitcom lasted two short seasons (remember the murder of star Rebecca Schaeffer?), but this theme stands out because of its then-innovative way of breaking down the fourth wall by having star Pam Dawber and Schaeffer chat with the camera before Kim Carnes's catchy "Room Enough for Two" kicks in. Check it out here.

7. The Cosby Show - Kudos to the producers for changing the arrangement of this Emmy-winning sitcom's theme song every. Friggin'. Season. Standouts include that operatic Season 5 opener, Season 2's funky number, and Season 7's bluesy rendition. Awesome all around.

8. Charles in Charge - One of those theme songs that explains the premise of the show. While the opening lyrics may raise a couple of eyebrows ("The new boy in the neighborhood lives downstairs, and it's understood...") What's understood exactly? That he's not a pedophile? That he's TV's first manny? "I want Charles in charge of me!" exclaims all dirty-minded Scott Baio fanatics. Listen here.

9. Saved by the Bell - A theme with just the right amount of rebellious spirit.

10. The Hogan Family - Thank you, Roberta Flack. Life is indeed "such a sweet insanity."

Honorable Mentions: Just the Ten of Us, Head of the Class

@TheFirstEcho


Review: Christina Aguilera's 'Lotus'

The album doesn't come out until Tuesday, but I couldn't wait...

First things's first: Perhaps this album should have been called Hubris. Like Christina's past pop contributions, this 17-track disc -- I'm going with the Deluxe Version here -- is an ambitious effort. The girl sure loves to deliver a meaty musical package. Every heavily-produced track is as confident as that questionable album cover. She clearly doesn't give a shit, especially after two colorful decades in the business. Read any current interview of hers, and you'll see that she still prides herself on unabashedly expressing herself no matter what anyone says. It seems as if she gets off on spitting back at her critics, particularly her haters. But one has to ask: Why bother? Why continue to be on the defensive?

Maybe someone should tell Miss Aguilera that subtlety is in. Yes, she has that voice -- and no, I'm not talking about the talent competition show that has redirected the spotlight on her after a rough start to the new decade (Bionic and Burlesque anyone?). But as strong and impressive as those pipes are, there's something very late-90s about them now. Her voice is like a supercharged racehorse that hasn't stopped sprinting since that bottled genie was rubbed the right way (kudos to her for keeping those chords intact). However, maybe it's time to reign them in a bit and take the following to heart: "less is more."

The reason why I dare critique my favorite pop diva is because I fear we live in an age where rampant Auto-Tuning has desensitized ears. It seriously bugs me when listeners can't tell the difference between actual talent and synthesized vocals nowadays. Everyone now seems to assume that all voices are given a heavy polish (with the exception of Adele, of course). That said, combining high-energy production values with a powerhouse vocal that needs no tweaking, Lotus may be a bit much for today's ears. In other words, it is my opinion that Aguilera is trying to find her place in a world that contradictorily favors glittery trash (Ke$ha), neo-soul (Adele), candy-coated concoctions (Katy Perry), and performance art (Gaga, Rihanna). Make no mistake: Lotus is still an effective pop album despite some of its formulaic choices.

Highly touted for their "concepts", Christina's albums aren't really known for their narrative prowess. Critics have been tough on her, complaining about the schizophrenic nature of her discography. What's with the angry shout-outs in one song, followed by a love ballad promoting peace? What's going on, girl? Who are you angry at, and why tell us to "Shut Up" after commanding us to "turn down the hate"? Has being a divorced mom been rough for you? Where's the song dedicated to your adorable son Max? I thought this album was supposed to be representative of what you've been through since "Not Myself Tonight"...


Here's my breakdown:

1. "Lotus Intro" -- M83 fans, back down. Yes, she samples "Midnight City," but it's a harmless, ambient track. I barely recognized it. Why Miss Aguilera insists on presumptuous openings like this one -- in which she (and her production team) pound the album's supposed theme into our brains -- I will never know. 5/10

2. "Army of Me" -- Christina's ode to multiplicity; betray her and she'll come back with a shitload of clones to take you down. So says this slightly bland dance floor stomper.  6/10

3. "Red Hot Kinda Love" -- Christina attempts to defy pop conventions with this sprawling romp. Gwen Stefani would be proud. 8/10

4. "Make The World Move" -- Her brassy collaboration with Cee-Lo is a battle cry, urging listeners to "turn up the love, turn down the hate" and move to their "future sound." High school pep rallies, you've got your next theme song. 8/10

5. "Your Body" -- Back in August I wrote about this ode to one-night stands and how I had put it on repeat throughout an entire weekend. By now you should know how I feel about this one. 10/10

6. "Let There Be Love" -- Upon a first listen, pop purists may mistake this as a recycling of Madonna's clunker of a single, "Girl Gone Wild." If this is indeed Christina's second single (it has yet to be announced), she'll undoubtedly have a hit on her hands. It's a rousing number that adopts all of the trendy, if cliched, trappings of a high-energy club banger. If "Your Body" is her "Hold It Against Me," then "Let There Be Love" will undeniably be her "Till The World Ends." 9/10

7. "Sing For Me" -- The first ballad on Lotus. Perfect for a promo for one of those inspirational flicks on Lifetime Movie Network. 7/10

8. "Blank Page" -- The best of her ballads, this track proves what this girl can do if you just give her a piano, lyrics by Sia, and some -- some -- restraint. It's the only track that comes close to reflecting her personal life from the past two years. In short, it's the "Beautiful" of the Lotus era. 9/10

9. "Cease Fire" -- Drums act like gunfire in this transparent song about a nasty breakup disguised as an anti-war anthem. Old-school beats accentuate her pleas for weapons to be dropped, for defenses to be torn down. 6/10

10. "Around The World" -- What sounds like Beyonce B-side from 2006 is a chance for her to spout out international locales as if she were a horny travel agent looking to christen every hotel room from here to Ibiza. And yes, she rhymes Japan with Milan. More laughable than blasphemous. 6/10

11. "Circles" -- The one where she tells us to sit and spin on her middle finger and manages to incorporate the word "motherfucker" into a nursery rhyme-like chant. Whoa. 5/10

12. "Best of Me" -- One of those you'll-never-bring-me-down pieces that doesn't really go anywhere. 5/10

13. "Just a Fool" -- If released, this duet with her Voice co-judge Blake Shelton would do her wonders on the country and adult contemporary charts. Classic, tasteful, and begging for a country line dance. 9/10

14. "Light Up The Sky" -- An inspirational, rule-the-world theme that'll lift any downtrodden spirits. 8/10

15. "Empty Words" -- A gentler version of 2002's "Fighter" with stirring drums, strings, and piano. 9/10

16. "Shut Up" -- Possibly the most unnecessary track on Lotus. A waste of iPod megabytes. 4/10

17. "Your Body (Martin Garrix Remix)" -- A shitty retooling of a hot song, Garrix strips away most of Xtina's vocals and trades them in for obnoxious dubstep beats that sound as if a trash compacter is being raped by a jackhammer. 4/10

Overall: 7/10

@TheFirstEcho


Save the Date for the Apocalypse!


After the pumpkin's been carved, 
After the turkey's been cooked, 
There's another event,
That's about to be booked. 

It's an annual tradition. 
It's about that time. 
Another silly chance, 
For me to break out a rhyme. 

I'm requesting your presence. 
You won't want to wait. 
All that I'm asking, 
Is that you save this special date.

*I was going for a Santa-and-His-Reindeer-meets-The-Four-Horsemen-of-the-Apocalypse theme for my annual holiday cocktail party. That said, let's hope the Mayans were misinformed. My grandmother's 91st birthday is on December 21, and that would suck if the earth exploded before she got to blow out her candles.

@TheFirstEcho


Some Halloween Required Reading

For all you youngin's out there who have their noses stuck in the pages of any novel featuring characters named Katniss, Bella, or Dumbledore, I implore you to listen to your bookworm elders and focus your attention on the literary oeuvre of R.L. Stine.

The book to your right is the eighth in a series called Fear Street. Each installment focuses on the horrific goings-on in a stateless town called Shadyside. In the fall of 1992, I happened upon this book and was introduced to its murder mysteries and supernatural mayhem when I was 12. Since then, I couldn't get enough, and I stuck with the series up until its 10-part miniseries finale in 1999 (you should see my bookshelf). I wrote about my obsession four years ago here.

Anyway, Halloween Party is about a girl who invites a particular group of her classmates to her spooky house on the titular street for a party they'll never forget. There's a dead body or two (or three) and one hell of a plot twist by the end that's reminiscent to the plot of ABC's Revenge.

And once you're done with that, check out Stine's non-Fear Street titles below. I may be a full-grown adult now, but I may just crack open one of these paperbacks tonight for the sake of 90s nostalgia.

Trick or treat, people. Don't get killed.


@TheFirstEcho


Why I'm Digging 'Cloud Atlas'

I knew it had the potential to be messy in some parts. I knew some of the makeup was going to be questionable. But after sitting through 3 hours of Cloud Atlas, a movie I had been anticipating ever since I laid my eyes on that oversized, M83-fueled trailer, I feel satisfied, appreciative, impressed, and grateful.

Grateful for Hollywood allowing this production to happen. Impressed that there are filmmakers who can lure big names to a risky, big-concept film. Appreciative of a movie that can speak to my emotions by daring to explore the very abstract concept of an afterlife, of human connectivity, of past lives, and of a journey one soul can take through time and space. Satisfied that a film has tapped into our collective subconscious in an attempt to explain the metaphysics of our world.

The multiple role-playing in Cloud Atlas, while a great and exciting challenge for all of the actors involved, isn't gimmicky at all. The pacing is sharp and crackling, weaving the six stories together within the epic runtime (Believe it or not, I could've watched more). Needless to say, a repeat viewing is in order; there's bound to be more that can be discovered within its intricate narrative. While there are many philosophical nuggets embedded in each story, none of them feel heavy-handed.

I'm still debating whether or not this film will be slotted in my Top 10 list of 2012, but right now I can't shake it. The score is exquisite and haunting. The set pieces are impressive. And it is a mess...but it's a mesmerizing mess, a giant puzzle that admirably mashes up genres and ties them beautifully together. If you're one of those moviegoers who doesn't want to be bothered with a film that challenges you and requires you to use your brain, then by all means, buy your tickets in advance for the final Twilight flick.

My filmmaker friend, David Kittredge may have put it best:

CLOUD ATLAS is visionary, varsity-level Cinema with a capital C that aims for the profound and hits more often than not. You can quibble, but it's smart, passionate and at times even transcendent. It not only values the viewer's intelligence, it requests active participation. I really loved it. If you're interested in supporting cinema that's risky, smart, personal and unbelievably audacious, get off your butt and buy a ticket this weekend. See it on the big screen - you won't be sorry.


@TheFirstEcho


Superstorm Sandy Bitchslaps Halloween

Thankfully I picked the right time to leave New York after last week's visit to see friends and family.

As I write this, my parents are without power (and water), a tree has fallen on my father's Nissan, and a rollercoaster I used to ride during summer vacations in Seaside Heights, New Jersey has been washed away by the Atlantic Ocean (below).

The incoming pictures are horrifying, and although a part of me wishes I could be there to rough it out with loved ones, I'm counting blessings (no one I know has been injured).


To my friends in Manhattan, stay safe, help each other out, and be patient. I know your city's been through the ringer, but a wise American Idol winner once sang, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

To the countless kids who were excited to go out trick-or-treating tomorrow, I'm afraid Halloween might be cancelled this year. Stay inside. You're better off watching watching horror movies (if you don't have power, work those imaginations and tell ghost stories around a flashlight) and guilt-tripping your parents into letting you eat ice cream sundaes for dinner -- before it melts -- and all-you-can-eat chocolate for dessert. And hey, you may not have school the next day! Try to look on the bright, dryer side.

To those TV viewers on the East Coast who watch NBC's Revolution, I hope you took notes on how to survive a massive blackout; who knows when the power will be turned back on? I hope you're well stocked. If not, at least you'll enjoy a nice sugar rush from all the Halloween candy you bought for those trick-or-treaters who most likely won't be knocking on your door.


10 Hipster Halloween Costumes I'll Never Wear


Forget the sexification of ordinary Halloween costumes. Major cities like Los Angeles are starting to see a growing trend in costumes catering to those who love all things alternative. To those of you who wish to take a break from the flannel shirts and skinny jeans, I'm sure you'll come up with something that perfectly expresses your disinterest in the holiday. But in the meantime, here are a few outfits I won't be surprised to see should I find myself driving through Silverlake, Echo Park, or Los Feliz this year...

1. Intelligentsia Coffee Barista -- Comes with a shot of sarcasm and a dollop of biting rhetoric.

2. Any Character from a Wes Anderson Film -- Because hipsters like their heroes despondent and consider Anderson to be their Scorsese. And the slightly obscure reference will ironically make them popular with their own kind.

3. Pabst Blue Ribbon Truck Driver -- Even better if you make good on your disguise and deliver a few six-packs to that underground party in Williamsburg.

4. A Meta Meme -- Made from scratch, this costume not only has the lifespan of your average tweet (7 seconds), it's an exercise in ultimate irony, poking fun at one's self.

5. Any Character from Sesame Street -- Hipsters are most likely to go retro and don a colorful outfit from their favorite childhood program despite Big Bird's place in the mainstream spotlight after Mitt Romney's unfortunate comments in 2012.

6. Daria -- Green wool jacket. Black pleated skirt. Doc Martens. And a pair of black-rimmed glasses. Otherwise known as any random items pulled from the closet of a hipster who's suffering from a case of 90s nostalgia.

7. Waldo -- Yet another character whose clothes won't be hard to find...because they're probably on sale at Urban Outfitters. Where's Waldo? He's in the back smoking a joint while criticizing the new Mumford & Sons album.

8. Leftover Outfit from Burning Man -- It may still reek of patchouli, but it'll do.

9. Vegan Police -- Bravely defending the world from meat eaters and promoting the benefits of a dairy-free diet.

10. Lena Dunham/Zooey Deschanel -- If you're a guy, this is your chance to become the drag queen you were destined to become.

Happy Halloween,

@TheFirstEcho


I'm with the DJ

Last night was the annual Halloween Havoc bash, this time in Santa Monica, and yours truly provided some tunage for the costumed masses. As you can see, I decided to go for a Doctor Death kind of look. Or perhaps you could call me a spin doctor. Get it? Spinning records...even though I didn't touch single piece of vinyl.

It was another successful event. Once again, I got a kick out of standing behind my little station, grinding with the cardboard cutouts behind me, and watching friends and strangers throw their hands up in the air like they just don't care.

 

There's nothing quite like the experience of watching a crowd react when you start blaring the Crooklyn Clan remix of Faith Evans's "Love Like This" followed by some "How Many Licks" and "Dirrty."

Good times.

@TheFirstEcho


What I'm Reading: 'Red Rain'

A travel blogger survives a wicked hurricane off the coast of South Carolina and stumbles upon twin orphan boys in the wreckage. She adopts them, bringing them back to her home and family in Long Island, New York. Bad idea -- these innocent-looking, fair-haired kids got some evil tricks up their sleeve...

And so kicks off Part 1 of Red Rain, R.L. Stine's thrill-a-chapter novel. That's right -- R.L. Stine. The man known around the globe for terrorizing kids and teens with his Goosebumps and Fear Street series (I've read the first 16 of the former and own all 80-plus titles of the latter). This time he's clearly catering to all of his readers who came of age during the 1990s, his golden era, by penning a horror novel for them. Packed with adult themes, naughty words, and sexual overtones, this book is one that should be kept, as the cover states, "far, far away from your kids."

In all actuality, it's an easy-breezy read with just the right amount of gore, quick chapters to keep you hooked, and an ensemble of expendable characters. Perfect to please the masses.

My 12-year-old self would've never believed that this author was still prominently featured on my bookshelf 20 years later.

@TheFirstEcho