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