TWENTY16: Sounds of the New Year


Here it is, my brand-spankin' new playlist to help you properly kick off 2016.

Granted, I'm a little late to the party on some of these. For instance, Rudimental's "Lay It All On Me" featuring Ed Sheeran (track 2) somehow flew past my radar back in September, but this hypnotic collaboration is currently on repeat, a definite shoo-in for January's Song of the Month.

*And be sure to check back because I'll be adding more tracks as we move further along into the winter. (Breaking these out into separate volumes is now a thing of the past - why not have all of the season's goodness in one place, right?)

@TheFirstEcho


Nerdgasm of the Month: It's Like 'Downton Abbey' Meets 'Scream'


One of my all-time favorite murder mysteries, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, is finally getting a new remake, courtesy of BBC One and co-producer Lifetime. (!!!)

I first read the novel back in in middle school at the prodding my mother, a huge Christie fanatic. I was immediately intrigued because it took on the format of a traditional slasher flick. (Ten strangers isolated from the outside world being picked off one by one.) And as a kid raised on countless Friday the 13ths and any other horror movie I could watch, this book seemed like great middle ground, a compromise between a son and a mother who wanted him to read more "classics."

And Then There Were None is also the OG when it comes to large ensemble murder mysteries. I guess it's no surprise that movies like Clue and Murder by Death, which lampoon the genre, appear on my Top 10 All-Time Favorite list.

Some pop culture pundits have said that Hitchcock's Psycho is the Original Slasher Film, but really, ATTWN should be crowned that title. And for those of who have never read the book or have never seen one of its many adaptations (see below), let me sell it to you this way: It's like Downton Abbey meets Scream.


Ever since catching an Agatha Christie double feature at the New Beverly two months ago, I've been pining for someone to produce a really compelling remake after the 1945 black-and-white original (above), the 1965 camp classic, the 1974 European remake, Russia's bleaker and more loyal 1987 adaptation, and the little-seen 1989 version that starred Frank Stallone and Brenda Vaccaro (I shit you not).

That day has finally come.

Check out the 30-second promo of the miniseries that just aired in the UK (We Americans will get to watch it on cable sometime in the new year.)

@TheFirstEcho


The Top 10 Douchiest Instagram Accounts of 2015 (I Could Find)


Narcissism is the name of the game when it comes to most Instagram accounts. And most of us fall for them -- hard. That's why we click "follow." We feed each other's egos, and the result is an endless supply of snapshots, selfies, and sycophantic posts that would make our ancestors collectively bow their heads in shame. (Seriously, someone should do a study on the correlation between the number of followers and the amount of skin one displays in photos.)

Here are just some of the ridiculous, over-the-top accounts I've come across this year.

You're welcome.

10. @itslavishbitch / @lavishyabitch


Buzzfeed called this 19-year-old prick The Worst Teenager on Instagram. And after scrolling through his posts, you'll see why. "My life is like Louis Vuitton, everyone wants it," says this so-called "entertainer."

9. @albertogestoso


How do you promote peace after a horrific terrorist attack makes headlines around the world? Paint a symbol on your chiseled torso, of course. The caption for this shameless post? "STOP TERRORISM," followed by three angry-faced emojis. Proceed to roll your eyes.

8. @socalitybarbie


Who said plastic dolls couldn't be douchey too? Enjoy this satirical account that skewers hipster millennial culture while it lasts -- its creator, Portland native Darby Cisneros, has recently quit posting.

7. @its_the_jackhammer1988


A mirror selfie can say so much. Like, "I'm from Chino Hills, baby! Give it up for the 909! Even though I'm wearin' a Yankees cap! Woo hooooo!" #swoll #yolo

6. @afflictionclothing


It's the brand that practically birthed the modern-day dickwad, and it celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. So thanks, Affliction, for a decade of deafening douchebaggery, giving us a line of clothing that makes it easier for us to weed out society's less-than.

5. @hipsterista


Sorry ladies, you too can fall under this category. And this fashion-heavy account encourages people (mostly young women, I assume) to tag their friends in photos of granola-yogurt bowls, size-zero peasant skirts, ripped jeans, and overpriced coffee. This virus must be stopped.

4. @millionaire.surroundings


Superficiality just got an upgrade! "But babe, I wanted the red one!"

Oh yeah, I just got political on your asses. Because when you get compared to Hitler in multiple thinkpieces, spew hate speech on a regular basis, and add fuel to a dangerous witch hunt, the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1950s...then you might be a giant douche.

2. @douchebags

The name says it all. (wink)

And now...

Drumroll please...

1. @yotta_life


This one takes the cake.

There's this European couple who lives in the Hollywood Hills. The guy is tall and ripped like some kind of Aryan supersoldier. His wife has more plastic in her than a Barbie factory. Good luck finding a pic that doesn't objectify her or show off every sculpted inch of their torsos. Together, they are the epitome of Los Angeles shallowness, posting workout photos and shots of ridiculously luxe scenarios -- pool parties, private jets, designer workout gear -- all accompanied by faux self-help quotes that are supposed to inspire their 347,000 followers to live their best lives. It's no surprise that they've earned the title "wannabe Kardashians" across the interwebs.

Take the above photo. The caption for this particular display of wealth (and cleavage) is as follows...incorrect grammar and all:

When you wake up from a dream state, traveling deep within the layers of subconciousness, you are free from the confines and stressors of the world. You are at a yotta state of mind. You bring that innocence and freedom from the subconscious state to the conscious being. Imagine when we dress as superheroes, we evoke an imaginary state of superbeing. In actuality, the reality is we are the superheroes for who we are inside to the outside. We want to insipire the supermen and wonderwomen outthere. Take your cape. Take your magic sword. Awaken the superheroe within and let's conquer the world. We need more superheroes and less victims in the world then we have the power to make the world a better place. #yottalife will not rescue the world but shows the world how to rescue itself.



In a word, vomit.

@TheFirstEcho


The 2015 Review: A Totally Critical Look Back


Updated 12/18/15

It's hard to resist turning this into a rant about some stuff that went down this past year. But if you ask me, 2015 was like any other year in recent memory. It was also over before you could scream "Kim Davis, give me my marriage license!"

There was some bad, there was some good, and there was plenty of same-shit-different-day business that went on. So I'm doing my best to avoid sounding like one of those basics who either declare "I'm so over you, 2015!" or "2015, thanks for the great times!" The year was many different things for many different people, and if I were to distinguish 2015 from other years, I'd say it was the year my tolerance for hypocrisy and bullshit hit an all-time low, both in my personal life and in the world around me. (Ahem, certain presidential candidates and other public figures who don't deserve the attention -- or legislation control -- they've been granted.) Wow, what's next? Me yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn?

The year started with a death (Rest in peace, Grandma) and ended with a birth (Welcome to the world, Brooks Morrison Borkovitz! Love, Your Unofficial Uncle.) With that, I say to the Universe, "I get it. You're all about balance and symmetry. Well done."

If I sound like one of those end-of-the-year letters you get from friends and relatives you haven't seen in years, then please allow me these opening paragraphs.

True, every year comes with its bad, but instead of focusing on what you think made it so bad, how about focusing on all the good that happened in these past 50 or so weeks? I could be a Debbie Downer and make my complaints, but honestly, in the grand scheme of things, I had it good. From the Outer Banks of North Carolina and pools of Palm Springs to the beaches of Singapore and neon-lit streets of Tokyo, I have the pictures to prove just how good it was. And let's not forget the time I made a fool of myself on national television. Therefore I have to remind myself to make a conscious effort to be grateful for all of that goodness.

And speaking of good things, once again, I present to you what impressed the crap out of me in 2015.


MOVIE PICKS OF THE YEAR

By the time this gets posted, I will have watched 68 films at the theater this year  -- believe it or not, a record low for me -- and I will have yet to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Joy. So please refrain from comments scolding me for being too impatient with publishing this list.


1. Tangerine - Also known as "the movie that was entirely shot on an iPhone," director Sean Baker's electrifying and unintentional love letter to Los Angeles is more than just a filmmaking gimmick, shattering conventional casting while chronicling the Christmas Eve of a pair of transgender working girls (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) on a near-real-time mission that culminates at a Hollywood donut shop where unexpected paths cross. It's funny, heartbreaking, unapologetic, and unlike anything I've seen in recent memory.

2. Inside Out - Quite possibly the best Disney-Pixar collaboration in the past decade, this immensely appealing tale about a girl and her conflicting emotions -- personified by the likes of Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and the incomparable Phyllis Smith -- shall be studied in future child psychology classes around the world.

3. Room - Brie Larson earns some well-deserved Oscar attention as a young woman who endures the unthinkable and goes above and beyond what it takes to protect the child (wunderkind Jacob Tremblay) to whom she's bonded for life. It's one of those rare survival stories that feels painfully raw, honest, and ultimately life-affirming.


4. Carol - The definition of exquisite filmmaking, Todd Haynes's gorgeous, mesmerizing, and devastating romance brings out the absolute best in stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Read my full review for ScreenPicks HERE.


5. Spotlight - The true story about a team of Boston Globe journalists blowing the lid off a decades-spanning Catholic Church cover-up in 2002 gets retold in Tom McCarthy's gripping drama that pulsates with every scene without ever coming off as one long, soapboxy diatribe (Take note, Aaron Sorkin.) It's been a while since investigative journalism felt this suspenseful.


6. Sicario - A white-knuckle, unflinching and timely morality tale in which Emily Blunt gets down and dirty with a Mexican drug cartel...and a stellar Benicio Del Toro (his best role in years). Director Denis Villenueve continues to prove himself as a master at crafting tension, the kind that makes a movie truly unpredictable. I, for one, had no idea how it was going to end.

7. The End of the Tour - For those who love nothing but intellectually stimulating conversation between two characters, this tribute to late novelist David Foster Wallace (played here by Jason Segel in a revelatory role), who was documented by Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), is hypnotically staged and directed by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now).

8. Mad Max: Fury Road - Talk about cinematic spectacle. Sure, George Miller's grand desert opus is one glorified, 2-hour car chase, but it's that rare action film that genuinely leaves you in awe and "rattles and roars with fierce beauty" (according to my friend Adrienne). The movie may be named after the hero of the rebooted franchise, but it's Charlize Theron's fiery Furiosa who's really at the wheel, driving this large and gorgeous epic into the cinematic sunset.


9. Grandma - Lily Tomlin may have gotten attention for her turn in Netflix's Grace and Frankie this year, but the real praise belongs to her role as a veteran feminist in Paul Weitz's progressive meditation on the aging Baby Boomer generation. Where else are you going to find a film about a 70-year-old woman taking her teenaged granddaughter on a journey to find money to fund her abortion? 

10. Kingsman: The Secret Service - Matthew Vaughn's full adrenaline rush of an action film kicked off what will hopefully be a kickass franchise about a bunch of sharply-dressed Brits protecting the world from baddies. Perfectly over-the-top, always surprising, and featuring the most jawdropping fight ever staged inside a church, this spy flick accomplished its mission and then some.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: It Follows, The Gift, The Last Five Years, and Goodnight Mommy.


TV PICKS OF THE YEAR

This was a tough one as 2015 marked the year I found myself frustrated by HOW MUCH good TV there was to enjoy in just 365 days. With over 400 scripted shows available at my fingertips in today's on-demand-streaming world, there were some I simply couldn't get to...and some I had no interest in sampling (and for good reason -- for they're now cancelled). Here's what I couldn't get enough of. (And for the 744th time: I don't watch Game of Thrones.)


1. Master of None (Netflix) - According to E. Alex Jung over at Vulture.com, Aziz Ansari's truly groundbreaking show "has deftly tackled the issues of race: Its easy, conversational tone belies how cleverly it dismantles racial tropes. Moreover, it manages to acknowledge systemic racism toward people of color while refusing to be defined by it." And not only has this 10-episode first season so brilliantly tackled other issues like gender discrimination, rape culture, parenting, and online dating, it has finally given Ansari a well-deserved spotlight to shine. While some moments aren't perfect, there is no other show that feels so necessary for today's American culture. And chances are, if you're a first-generation American, no other TV show resonated as hard as Master of None.


2. Togetherness (HBO) - This observational slice of L.A. life from the Duplass brothers is full of charm, wit, and authentic moments of perfect imperfections, thanks to its highly charismatic cast (Mark Duplass, Amanda Peet, Melanie Lynskey, and Steve Zissis).


3. Mr. Robot (USA) - Star Rami Malek is a true breakout in this paranoia-driven thriller that hums with an unsettling energy you can't quite get out of your system after watching its brilliant first season. Each episode is like a Fincherian short film, cinematic and sinister with every carefully staged shot and subtle development. Binge with caution.

4. Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central) - The third season of this sketch series cemented its status as a legit force of serious funny business. And it picked up an Emmy in September, mostly in part for its standout episode, a biting spin on Twelve Angry Men.

5. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW) - Not since the first season of Glee has a show demonstrated pure unadulterated joy. Star and co-creator Rachel Bloom is destined for breakout status, bringing depth and likability to the often debated title role.


6. The Jinx (HBO) - Call it the Serial Effect. True crime junkies got their fix with this highly addicting docuseries that studied the bizarre and mysterious case of millionaire Robert Durst.

7. Broad City (Comedy Central) - It's what HBO's Girls wished it could be, a hilarious, near-satirical take on the Millennial Experience in a New York City we rarely see portrayed on television.

8. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) - Leave it to a British nerd to break down how truly screwed up things are in the world, particularly here at home in the States. In this second season, the Daily Show alum found his groove and delivered viral-worthy segments filled with deliciously worded rants.


9. Please Like Me (Pivot) - Creator and star Josh Thomas continues to paint a poignant and so-real-it's-funny portrait of a twentysomething coming to terms with his challenging family, his eclectic friends, his new love, and most importantly, himself. The most charming show on TV you're probably not watching (because you can't be bothered to find Pivot).

10. Empire (Fox) - Not since Melrose Place has Fox delivered a crazy-sexy-ridiculous sudser like this. Toss in a hot soundtrack of original tunes and Taraji P. Henson giving us 2015's best new character, and it's a no-brainer why this dishy drama is giving EVERYONE life. That said, I give it a few more episodes before it loses its fire.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Younger (TV Land), Difficult People (Hulu), Catastrophe (Amazon) and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix).

A MYSTERY WORTH OBSESSING OVER: How To Get Away With Murder's edge-of-your-seat Who Shot Annalise?

A MYSTERY WORTH DELETING FROM YOUR DVR: Scream Queens's cartoonish Who Is The Red Devil?


MUSIC PICKS OF THE YEAR


1. I Cry When I Laugh by Jess Glynne - Between her summer collaboration with Tinie Tempah (the retro jam "Not Letting Go") and previous appearances with Clean Bandit, the British songstress promised -- and completely delivered -- something to call her own. From the 90s-throwback grooves of "Hold My Hand" and "Don't Be So Hard On Yourself" to the 80s-tinged R&B tracks like "You Can Find Me," Glynne blew me away with her soulful, stirring debut from start to finish.

2. "Feeling Electric" by Parade of Lights - Electro pop was never more anthemic and epic in 2015 when it came to this L.A.-based group's collection of tunes from their debut LP, particularly this feel-good track that soars every time you play it:


3. "Body Talk" by Foxes - The singer-songwriter delivered this breezy, mid-tempo number that's irresistible from start to finish, the kind you wish would never end:


4. "King" by Years & Years - Smooth synth-pop with an emotional core realized by frontman Olly Alexander's lithe vocal delivery. Another must-listen: the Gryffn Remix of "Desire."


5.  "Water Under The Bridge" by Adele - Both Entertainment Weekly and I agree that this is the best track on the superstar's blockbuster 25. See for yourself HERE.

6. "Postcard" by Jukebox The Ghost - These piano rockers are America's answer to the now dormant Keane. And this made-for-a-rom-com love song is the musical equivalent of a joyride in a convertible at Martha's Vineyard on a sunny day.

7. "I Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd - Those Michael Jackson comparisons exist for a reason, and the proof is in this definitive summer jam...along with the equally fun "In The Night."

8. Caracal by Disclosure - From the epic opening of "Nocturnal," featuring The Weeknd, to the hauntingly seductive, Lorde-supported "Magnets," Disclosure's sophomore effort provided a luscious soundscape designed for any occasion.

9. "Over" by GOLDHOUSE - This Chicago-based DJ-vocalist, who needs to gain more traction in 2016, gave us the most energetic breakup song of the year. Never did a kiss-off sound so...danceable. Listen HERE.

10. "Back Together" by Robin Thicke feat. Nicki Minaj - This highly repeatable jam is the best Rick Astley throwback Rick Astley never released. Plus, bonus points for the best Nicki lyric ever: "Used to call me Hillary, cuz I Rodham."

HONORABLE MENTIONS: 

Blue Neighbourhood by Troye Sivan - This just-released album is a smooth electro-R&B collection of mesmerizing tunes that needs to dominate 2016.

Badlands by Halsey - A welcome new member to the Alt Pop Girls Club. Think: Lorde and Tove Lo's long-lost sister. She's already made an impression with the Gen Z anthem "New Americana."

And if you'd like to hear the rest of my favorite tunes from 2015 there's this (in chronological order of discovery):


Happy holidays y'all. Here's to a fantastic 2016.

@TheFirstEcho


Song of the Month: December 2015


He made his American television debut last week on The Tonight Show, and his mesmerizing debut album, Blue Neighbourhood, dropped earlier this month.

Troye Sivan, the 20-year-old YouTuber-turned-recording artist from Australia, seems poised to dominate 2016, but before radio stations put him in their rotation, you need to sample his smooth electro-R&B sounds in "Wild," a song that is working quite nicely as a closer for 2015. (And once again, Entertainment Weekly agrees with me -- check out their Must List in the current Best & Worst of 2015 issue.)

Don't let the boyish looks fool you.


And if you want to be totally blown away, be sure to check out the rest of this gorgeously produced music video trilogy.

@TheFirstEcho


The Santa Sessions 2015: A Holiday Playlist


It's the most wonderful time of the year. And such a time deserves a most wonderful playlist to go with it. 

From me to you.


@TheFirstEcho


Another Day in America, Another Mass Shooting


At this rate, I'm assuming every American will eventually, at some point, know someone who's either been injured or killed by a gun.

So, what can we do? Seriously, I'd like to know what each and every one of us can actively do.

Because a hope-for-the-best status update won't fix it.

Tweeting out thoughts and prayers for the victims' families of the 355th mass shooting OF THE YEAR won't fix it.

Carelessly blaming a faulty system won't fix it.

So I ask again: besides feeling like shit and feeling helpless for a few minutes before resuming our everyday lives (and holiday shopping), what can we do? Wait until each and every one of us becomes a "friend or family member of a victim" to warrant a nationwide rallying cry? What can we do to prevent this sickening "new normal"?

I'd like to know.

That said, Igor Volsky, take it away:

@TheFirstEcho