The Teaser Trailer for 'The Conjuring' Scared The Crap Out Of Me

Well done, movie trailer editor. Well done.

Without giving away the entire frickin' movie, this trailer for The Conjuring, starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, and Lili Taylor, only reveals two key scenes that lure viewers in right away. I made the mistake of watching this while home alone -- with the blinds closed. And yes, I screamed.



@TheFirstEcho


Because This Picture Is Worth Reposting and Speculating Over The Words Exchanged Here


Something tells me the camera (or the person behind it) may have spontaneously combusted shortly after taking this historic shot of Barbra Streisand, Adele, and Shirley Bassey at the Governor's Ball after Sunday's Oscar ceremonies.

@TheFirstEcho


Pop Culture Rant of the Week: 10 Things That Make Me Lose My Faith in Humanity

As much as I try not to dwell on the negative in life -- I mean, seriously, trying to stay positive was a full-time job I did not apply for -- there are times when you just need to let it all out and hold a mirror up to the world to expose all the frustratingly absurd things that are happening around you...

...This is one of those times.

1. Kellogg's Special K recalls their Red Berries cereal due to shards of glass found in boxes. Just when you thought breakfast was safe...Hey kids, you might as well just dive into that Halloween candy before your parents get to it. Wait, who am I kidding? What right-minded child eats Special K? Consider this a warning to soccer moms and any single woman with a gym membership.

2. The headline, "Rihanna Gets Mysterious Butt Tattoo For 25th Birthday."

3. This picture:


4. The fact that there are talented filmmakers who attended the Oscars...and thought the original Woodstock is still in session. In fact, I just don't get guys who grow their hair this long. I get the whole free-to-be-you-and-me thing, but still. Friends don't let Oscar-nominated friends attend the Academy Awards without a decent haircut.


5. Michael Bay continues to make films while contributing to the growing problem of male body dysmorphia in America with his latest, Pain and Gain:



6. Nothing lasts forever: Josh Brolin and Diane Lane are getting divorced. That's it. I give up. Why even bother setting up an OKCupid profile?

7. ABC has gone ahead and spent money to produce a reality show in which Louie Anderson participates in competitive diving:



8. Kris Jenner is considered a bestselling author. Make that: a New York Times bestselling author.

9. The fact that Safe Haven has grossed more than the new Steven Soderbergh film and Maggie Smith's recent outing -- combined -- at the box office.

10. And after all of that, let's end on a high note: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II won the most awards at the Razzies, including Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actress, Worst Ensemble, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Remake/Rip-Off/Sequel.

Perhaps there's still hope.

@TheFirstEcho


A Recap of the 2013 Oscars...Via Text Messages


The following is text message exchange between yours truly and fellow blogger-commentator (and unforgiving critic) Garytt Poirier during the ABC broadcast of the 85th Annual Academy Awards. Cupcakes were consumed, wine was imbibed, and eyes were rolled during this viewing. Read at your own risk...

G: Solid opening jokes so far by Seth MacFarlane.
H: These bitches My friends are making me pause the DVR. May have to catch up during the first commercial break.

G: Best Oscar opening in years.
H: Watching Charlize and Channing ballroom dance.
G: Jesus Christ, you are ruining this whole thing.

I catch up to the live broadcast.

H: Okay, yes, best in a while. And we will be editing this.


Christoph Waltz wins Best Supporting Actor. Again.

G: To be honest, everybody in that best supporting actor category deserved a trophy, but somebody had to win it.
H: Any could've won.

H: Look, it's Jack Nicholson! Someone should check if he's still breathing.
G: No Lakers home game. That's the only reason why he's there.

Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy present Best Animated Short.

H: Melissa is a dame.
G: I'm pretty sure the Academy didn't see any of these animated movies this year. That's the only way Brave could have won.
H: Paperman was pure magic.
G: Paperman deserved it. But Wreck-It Ralph or ParaNorman should have won.

Reese Witherspoon arrives to hand out an award people will forget ten minutes later.

H: Reese really likes to wear blue....My friend says he thought Life of Pi was an instructional film about making dessert pastries.

Life of Pi wins Best Cinematography.

H: Damn, I should've put Pi down for cinematography in my Oscar pool!
G: You were dumb not to...I have Ang Lee as the upset win for Best Director.

And we get the first acceptance speech of the night to be cut off by the orchestra. And Channing Tatum comes out with Jennifer Aniston to present Hair and Makeup.

H: The Jaws cue was great.
H: Channing Tatum can't read the Teleprompter. Not surprised. Oh, and you can see the spray tan on Aniston.
G: The costume designer lady is my favorite new person. Short sweet. Knows her place.
H: Chopsticks lady must be the hairstylist.

Halle Berry comes out on stage to celebrate the James Bond franchise's 50th anniversary.

H: Yay! Pussy (pause) galore!
G: I think I'm already drunk. Not sure though.
H: Downing red wine as I type. Sing it, Shirley!
G: Same here. Shirley Bassey just gave me a boner.

One minute into the performance...

G: Just peed while belting out the 007 theme.

G: Why do I get the feeling that Liam Neeson is scolding me? I don't know what I did, but I'm sorry!
H: He will find you, and he will kill you.
G: Or train me to become Darth Vader or Batman.

The cameras cut to a seated Amy Adams and her husband/date.

H: I said DAMN. Hello, Mr. Amy Adams.

A tribute to contemporary musicals kicks off.

G: I giggle every time someone says Les Miserables.

H: This Chicago piece is sending me back to 2003. And that ain't a bad thing.
G: When Gangs of New York was robbed?
H: Yes.

H: Jennifer Hudson just sent me to church!
G: She's married to a WWE wrestler. Google David Otunga. Curious to see you drool.
H: Hmmmm. We'll see.

The cast of Les Mis comes out to perform and close out the tribute to contemporary musicals.

H: Where's the Jaws cue when Russell Crowe came out?
G: It was out of respect...I guess.

Mark Wahlberg presents with Ted from...Ted.

H: Am I drunk, or is Ted a real animatronic and not CGI-ed?

Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty both win for Sound Editing, and it's the first time in a long time where the same film didn't sweep both this category and Sound Mixing (that went to Les Miserables).

G: A tie?!
H: WTF?
G: What is this? Hockey?
H: Sonofabitch...Is that William H. Macy's brother?

Christopher Plummer comes out after Seth MacFarlane makes a well-played Sound of Music joke.

H: Why is Plummer's nose purple?

Anne Hathaway, to no one's surprise, nabs the Oscar for her role as Fantine in Les Miserables. Her speech is surprisingly tame, dull, and safe (someone didn't want to come off as pretentious again).

G: So we pretty much gave Anne Hathaway an Oscar for getting a haircut.
H: Michael Ian Black had the best tweet: Did you just see Amy Adams tug her ear to activate the Al Queda sleeper cell?

A group of college students get pulled out on stage. The future of filmmaking, ladies and gentlemen!

H: The Oscars got a diversity program now?
G: Hey, one of those guys is my intern. Seriously.

Adele begins to perform "Skyfall" while surrounded by an orchestra.

G: #TeamAdele

G: Kristen Stewart is the most boring person ever. But I bet she's dynamite in bed.
H: She should never be invited to the Oscars. Even if she ever gets nominated, which would happen when pigs grow wings.
G: Opening second bottle of wine.

Salma Hayek presents.

H: So is Sofia Vergara the poor man's Salma Hayek?
G: I'd argue the opposite.

The "In Memoriam" segment begins. Dead people montage!

G: I still want to cry when I honk about Tony Scott.
H: Honk?
G: Think! I meant think!

Barbra Streisand comes out to sing a tribute to longtime collaborator Marvin Hamlisch. Big surprise: It's "Memories."

G: Barbra Streisand looks great...surprisingly.
H: She be 70. Just sayin.

The performance ends. The show fades to black in silence.

H: Did Babs just cause an Oscar blackout? Take that, Super Bowl.

A commercial for ABC's new reality competition series, Splash, airs during the commercial break.

H: Really ABC? So You Think You Can Dive? #Splash

G: Richard Gere had a spectacular performance this year in Arbitrage.
H: I heard.
G: I opened my second bottle of wine.
H: You told me.

Ang Lee wins for directing Life of Pi.

G: I told everybody Ang Lee would win best director!

Jennifer Lawrence wins for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook.

H: Katniss!
G: I would have liked to have seen Jessica Chastain win. But congrats nonetheless.

Daniel Day-Lewis wins Best Actor and acknowledges his wife in his acceptance speech.

H: You hear that Hollywood? Daniel Day-Lewis's wife is versatile.

Jack Nicholson appears to present Best Picture, but he has some help from...

G: Michelle Obama? Something tells me Lincoln may win.

It doesn't. Argo takes the top prize of the night.

G: I cannot be happier for Ben Affleck.
H: Argo Oscar yourself. And Chastain didn't impress me in Zero.
G: You're dumb.
H: Hostile much?
G: I bet you watched it on a screener and not on a big screen.
H: I did see it on a big screen, bitch.
G: OK. OK.
H: Thank you for participating. This Oscar text session has expired.

@TheFirstEcho

Me & Mexico: Day 1.5

Back in January I was honored to be invited to attend an all-inclusive stay at the Hard Rock Resort in Puerto Vallarta. I was one of seven writers chosen to experience some VIP treatment, eat amazing food, and even receive a free full-body massage (my travel feature for Instinct Magazine comes out later this summer). The following is the first installment of my personal chronicles in Mexico. 

WRITER'S NOTE: All water consumed during this trip was from bottled sources. (I mean, haven't we all seen the Sex and the City movie?)

February 7 - LAX

The pumpkin scone I picked up at a Starbucks in Culver City at 6 in the morning leaves an odd aftertaste in my mouth as I sit at the gate. Since this is my first trip to Mexico (and my first time outside U.S. borders in eight years) I go over a mental checklist of all the advice and warnings people have given me throughout the past week: Never go exploring alone. U.S. currency is accepted in most places. And again, don't drink water from the tap.

After boarding the Delta plane that's supposed to fly me to my connecting flight in San Francisco and situating myself in a row I have all to myself, the captain tells us the flight has been delayed an extra hour due to heavy fog in the Bay Area. Apparently this is common with SFO, and it has earned them the title Second Worst Airport when it comes to delayed flights.

We're allowed to walk off the plane and wait at the gate -- again.

I've been spoiled with the luck I've had with traveling, so any road bumps or detours tend to make me anxious. So imagine my anxiety when I learned that my flight was being delayed another hour, guaranteeing a missed connection in San Francisco. I call the publicist who booked my flight; she's out of the office. I get transfered to someone else; they'll have to contact their travel agent. In the meantime, I befriend the agent at the gate, and by "befriend," I mean bat my eyelashes and pretend to be sympathetic to his just-turned-shitty workday. He looks up alternative flight options for me. My best bet is a flight that leaves 14 hours from now and connects in Mexico City at 4am local time. It's safe to say this crappy development calls for a #FML.

Lesson learned: Never book (or have someone book for you) a connecting flight in San Francisco. Ever.

February 8

I am flying the friendly Mexican skies on my Aeromexico red-eye to Mexico City, sitting next to a young woman who's taking Italian lessons on her iPad. Across the aisle is an elderly woman who has neglected to turn off her overhead light. While the rest of the plane is muted in darkness and resting peacefully, I get the annoying glow of her spotlight. Needless to say, I get little sleep.

An indeterminate number of hours later, I find myself in the giant, concrete-and-steel halls of Mexico City's international airport. I go through customs and utter my first "Buenos dias" to the stone-faced man who stamps my passport (more of those to come). I then walk off in search of my next gate. I consult my second boarding pass and discover something to my dismay: I've been issued the wrong pass back in Los Angeles. Last time I checked, my name isn't Antonio Malvaes (you can see the misprint on the bottom pass in the above picture).

I let out an appropriate-for-this-moment "Oh shit" and try not to panic. Another small bump in the road to Puerto Vallarta.

I immediately get it straightened out at the Aeromexico ticket counter. I say "Buenos dias" several more times to smiling airport employees who walk by. When they attempt to prolong the conversation, I'm all like, "Oh, sorry. No habla espanol. Where's Gate 60?" My history with the Spanish language involves three years of lessons in high school back in the late 90s.

When I finally reach the gate for my connecting flight, I realize I'm surrounded by couples. Makes sense: tropical getaway, etc. And me? Romantic destination, party of one.

I strike up a conversation with a lovely couple from Salt Lake City (yes, you read my mind: probably Mormons). They're the only fair-haired white people within a 50-foot radius. While the wife runs to the restroom, I chat with the husband and ask him if he's on his way to Puerto Vallarta for a vacation. I ask because I know he'll return the question and ask me. I think about telling him I'm traveling for business, writing a travel story on a new resort, which is true -- and sounds more impressive. And he is impressed. Turns out he and his wife, Mrs. Mormon, are seasoned travelers of Mexico. They're meeting up with other middle-aged friends of theirs in PV.

Finally, the plane is ready to board and I am ready to reach my destination.

There's a complimentary breakfast and a glass of champagne waiting for me...

NEXT UP - Day 2 in Mexico: A little road trip to the beach town of Sayulita, I face my fear of farting during a "relaxation massage" at a spa, and I witness one hell of a sunset.

@TheFirstEcho


Fire & Ice: The 2013 Winter Playlist, Vol. 3

Hey kids.

Valentine's Day is over, and you know what that means: the countdown to spring (and my birthday) begins. But before we hang up the parkas and abstain from drinking hot cocoa, there's some winter left in my iTunes library, and it wants to be let out. Below are 20 tracks that are keeping me toasty -- for the next few weeks at least.

We've got a beautiful piano ballad, some 90s throwbacks, a country duet with a "Dirrty" girl, and Jordin Sparks channeling her inner dancefloor diva.

If you're just dying to sample each track, click over here to visit my Spotify channel. And enjoy.

1. "Change" by Churchill
2. "Carry On" by fun.
3. "Nuclear" by Destiny's Child
4. "When I Was Your Man" by Bruno Mars
5. "Just A Fool" by Christina Aguilera feat. Blake Shelton
6. "Almost Home" by Mariah Carey
7. "That Love" by Darin
8. "Is This Love" by Alex Gaudino feat. Jordin Sparks

9. "Love Into The Light" by Ke$ha - The opening sounds like a sample of Phil Collins's "In The Air Tonight," but it turns out to be the most unexpected track from the glitter wench's new album.

10. "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark" by Fall Out Boy
11. "Perfect Replacement" by Example:



12. "Miss Atomic Bomb (Felix Cartal Remix)" by The Killers
13. "Suit & Tie" by Justin Timberlake feat. Jay-Z
14. "E.V.O.L." by Marina and the Diamonds
15. "Rest of My Life" by Ludacris feat. Usher
16. "What About Us" by The Saturdays
17. "Go Missin'" by Usher
18. "Foolish Games" by Jewel feat. Kelly Clarkson
19. "Army (Club Mix)" by Sultan & Ned Shepard feat. Omarion
20. "Rebel Beat" by Goo Goo Dolls

@TheFirstEcho


What That 'Downton Abbey' Finale Says About British and American TV

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

The reactions to last night's third season finale of Downton Abbey clearly demonstrate the difference between British and American television (and some of their audiences). Yes, that final scene was heartbreakingly frustrating. How could a beloved television drama kill off a beloved character moments after cradling his newborn son and kissing his star-crossed lover? (If you've ignored my above warning and haven't guessed by now, Matthew Crawley kicked the bucket).

But exec producer Gareth Neame recently explained to Entertainment Weekly how and why things had to unfold they way they did.

Any follower of British TV should know by now that the actors on these international shows generally don't stay on for long; their contracts are just written that way. It's the standard for television actors across the Pond. Just look at BBC Three's Being Human (I still strongly believe the American version pales in comparison). The first three seasons made me fall in love with adorkable werewolf George, sexy vampire Mitchell, and saucy ghost Annie. Then, by season 4, they were all gone, replaced by two new werewolves and a bad-boy bloodsucker. Despite my sadness to see them go, I offer kudos to the writers for making the transition easy and logical and the casting director for choosing worthy heirs.

Then there was the sexually charged Footballers Wives, a scintillating soap that practically saw the cast change every frakkin' season. Characters came and went through a revolving door faster than any given plot twist on ABC's Scandal.

And if this were an American show? Perhaps actor Dan Stevens would have accepted a higher salary to stay on for another season, because that's the way U.S. shows work: throw more money at the players and keep the show running for as long as possible. If you think about it, that kind of makes us look greedier and certainly less humble than our U.K. counterparts. Perhaps the Brits just have a better sense of when to back off and not let things burn out into oblivion.

Therefore the recent departures on Downton Abbey kind of make sense -- from the British cultural standpoint at least. And had they dispatched Matthew in any other way, it would've been even more unacceptable -- and unbelievable. Just think: now that he delivered a new heir and set the house on the right path, what other purpose did he carry on the show? How else could they have written him off?

I still have high hopes for Downton. Most of our favorite characters are still alive and kicking: Mrs. Patmore is still cheeky, Mrs. Hughes will continue to expose Mr. Carson's softer gooey side, Mr. Bates can keep on kissing Anna, and even Thomas has found a straight ally in golden boy Jimmy. We even caught a glimpse of what's to come with the arrival of the nymph-like Rose, who heralds the Abbey's continued movement forward into those flap-tastic 1920s.

That all said, Dowager Countess, please stick around for a little while longer. Please. And thank you.

Oh well. I guess it's Branson's time to shine now. After all, there's only room for one fair-haired, sensitive heartthrob in this house.


What Valentine's Day Means in Social Media

Happy Valentine's Day everyone.

Tis the day when my eyes turn into cartoon hearts at the sight of a box of truffles and a chilled bottle of Chardonnay.

It's also a day for funny memes for anyone who finds February 14 to be a ludicrous Hallmark-produced holiday designed to make people feel insecure about their social status.

I actually celebrated last night by treating myself to a bed of roses and some sexy music....and by "bed of roses and sexy music" I mean "sitting on my couch covered in popcorn while watching Skyfall on Blu-ray."

@TheFirstEcho


Janet Jackson's 'If' Turns 20 This Year

13 is such an impressionable age.

My first year as a teenager didn't involve any experiments with drugs or booze. I wasn't traumatized by a family scandal. I didn't hang with "the wrong crowd." I just watched a lot of TV.

Turning 13 also heralded a big change in my life: I had been given my first CD player. Suddenly, my musical horizons broadened. Gone were the days of listening to cassette tapes of my mother's Michael Bolton, Kenny G, and Carly Simon albums. I was finally able to transition myself out of jamming to adult contemporary hits and start listening to some of the more popular tunes my peers were blaring on their headphones.

In the summer of 1993, Janet Jackson released her highly anticipated new album -- and her highly sexualized new image. Janet, her fifth disc, churned out several iconic hits that helped musically define the 90s. "That's The Way Love Goes" became the eptiome of bedroom slow-jams. "You Want This" was an empowering, rump-shaking anthem, one of the first of its kind. And "Again" was the ballad that earned Miss Jackson a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song (Poetic Justice anyone?).

But then there was "If."

The music video was a piece of pop culture that left its imprint on my impressionable 13-year-old mind. It was perhaps the first time I saw abs on a female singer. Who knew women could flaunt them just as much as the guys? Six-pack stomachs didn't just belong to Marky Mark and any given hunk on Melrose Place anymore. Janet oozed sex, and most of it came out in this provocative visual treatment.

"If I was your girl, ooh the things I'd do to you..." Grammatically incorrect lyrics aside, the song was packed with suggestive and hypothetical situations that was made manifest when our pop diva thrust her hips into the face of a shaved-headed dancer in the video. I remember my inexperienced 13-year-old self asking, "Is this even allowed on VH1?"

Next was the choreography. The tightness of each move, especially during the intensive bridge that sampled Diana Ross and the Supremes' 1969 hit "Someday We'll Be Together," was something that every child of the 90s tried to mimic in his or her living room. Back in the day, one critic from Slant Magazine had written that the song "seems to exist for the sole purpose of providing the impetus behind one of the great dance-break routines in music video history"...which happens to take place at the 3:07 mark in the video below:


They just don't dance in music videos like they used to, amiright?

The video, directed by Dominic Sena, holds up surprisingly well compared to the rest of the stuff that had come out at the time. Futuristic Asian nightclubs? Voyeuristic back rooms? Someone was ahead of his or her time.

Happy anniversary, Janet.

@TheFirstEcho


Tis the Oscar Season...


Speeches are being drafted, red carpets are being shampooed, and Hollywood Boulevard is about to be shut down. Brace yourselves.


Just Me, A Bottle of Merlot, and 'The Muppet Movie' on Netflix

After hosting my 16th Monthly Movie Night (tonight's double feature: Pitch Perfect and Bring It On -- I was aiming for a Girls Just Wanna Have Fun theme), I find myself having survived my first 24 hours without cable TV.

It is nearing 1am, and after loading up the dishwasher and putting away the tortilla chips and salsa, I find myself staring at a freshly picked Netflix queue on my TV. No more late night talk shows. No more channel surfing until I land on a random reality show on Bravo about loud bitches and the gay men who love them. No more scrolling through my DVR recordings and debating whether or not to watch Sophie's Choice for the first time...or that BBC America drama I could never get into.

There's a bottle of merlot sitting on my coffee table. There's a movie from 1979 starring Kermit the Frog that I haven't seen since grade school...

And my finger is about the pull the trigger (on the remote control, not a gun...sheesh).

Good night.

@TheFirstEcho