June 11, 2018

"Too Many Friends" by Hearts & Colors Might As Well Be My Theme Song For Life


Sweden sure knows how to crank out some pop.

Hearts & Colors, a duo from the northern European country, has come out with "Too Many Lovers," a seductive, mid-tempo track that is resonating with me a little too much with its lyrics about empty beds and the dead-ends of one too many platonic relationships. And never mind that these guys resemble a more ripped version of early 90s twin rockers Nelson.

And after befriending a stranger from Stockholm during my recent visit to Berlin, I'm taking this as a sign that I need to take a trip to the northern European country in the near future.

Enjoy:

@TheFirstEcho

June 08, 2018

Review: 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?'


Ever since the trailer for director Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? dropped earlier this spring, fans of the beloved kids’ show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, have been sharing their reactions to the emotionally powerful preview that has undoubtedly stirred up countless childhood memories. As for the documentary itself, which looks back on the impactful legacy of Fred Rogers, the man behind the long-running TV program, it is guaranteed to open even more floodgates of nostalgia.

“Although Fred Rogers was an ordained minister, he didn’t preach when he was on TV,” the Academy Award-winning Neville states. “He was far more interested in asking questions and offering ideas that could help guide his viewers on their own journey in life.” And with this sterling doc, the filmmaker succeeds in taking Rogers’ lead and exploring the groundbreaking and powerful ideas that were subtly communicated within the show throughout several decades.

As a result, Neighbor is a beautiful tribute as well as a testament to the power of empathy. It’s the soothing balm we need for this divisive Era of Outrage. It’s also one of the best movies I’ve seen this year thus far...

For more of my review, check out Bello Mag.

@TheFirstEcho


May 22, 2018

EUROSUMMER '18: A Playlist for Sunburn Season


Before I jet off to Berlin, Paris, and London to kick off the Summer of 2018 -- while acknowledging how obnoxious this sentence actually is -- I want to bestow upon you the playlist you'll need to accompany your season of sunburns, sandcastles, and barbecues.

If I had to pick some highlights out this compilation of 40+ tracks, they would be: Troye Sivan's "Bloom" (an anthem for bottoms!), Anne-Marie's nostalgic "2002," and the excellent "Some Kind of Wonderful" by MOBS, the Australian pop group that has been churning out irresistible bops ever since they beeped on my radar several months ago.

@TheFirstEcho

May 17, 2018

12 Questions with Elephante


I may be heading to Las Vegas this weekend, but sadly, I will not be attending EDC where Elephante (a.k.a. Tim Wu) will be taking the stage for the first time at the dance music festival. (Instead, I'll be treating my parents to dinner at Gordon Ramsay Hell's Kitchen and the Jennifer Lopez concert for their birthdays.)

But the DJ recently took some time to answer a few questions for me at Bello Mag.

You can check out my interview with him here.

@TheFirstEcho

May 10, 2018

Early 2000s Nostalgia Is Already Here, Thanks to Anne-Marie


It was inevitable. But who knew it would happen so quickly?

There's now a segment of a generation that is not only throwing it back to the 90s -- they're straight-up reliving the early aughts. Anne-Marie, the British pop singer, released "2002," which was co-written by Ed Sheeran and is loaded with plenty of Britney Spears, Jay-Z, and *NSYNC references to make your heart long for simpler, pre-YouTube times.


If you want to check out the official video, which is packed with visual homages to the aforementioned pop artists, watch it here.

And if that isn't enough to convince you that 00s nostalgia is starting to become a thing, then take a look at this Ellen clip from last week:

@TheFirstEcho

May 03, 2018

#TBT: Tweets from the 90s


There are times when I am thankful for having survived my adolescence before the advent of social media. But there are times when I think to myself: What if? What if I had all these platforms at my fingertips? What would my posts look like? 

Probably something like this:


And this:


And then this...



Of course I would have to include this:


...along with music videos that defined most of the decade for me:

Christina Aguilera's "Accelerate": A Transcription of My Reaction


Recorded at 6:31am PST

6:31am - Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod... [goes on YouTube, finds the "Official Video"] Oh, there's a video already?

Oh, it's featuring Ty Dollar $ign and 2 Chainz? Hmmm...

6:32am - So, before I play this, I just want to say that I had a dream about this, about listening to her new single, and it's what woke me up at the buttcrack of dawn. The excitement, like, woke me up, knowing a new Christina Aguilera song was debuting today. And in my dream, it sounded good! You ever dream about songs that don't exist yet? It was like a really good banger. Pulse-pounding beat. Powerful chorus. God, I hope this could be a summer jam. Okay, let's just press play.

6:33am - Okay, she's lapping up some milk with her tongue. Um, does no one remember "Not Myself Tonight" from 2010?

The beat...Are these what they call 808 drums?

Oh, okay.

6:34am - The video looks like leftover, repurposed footage from her Paper magazine photo shoot.

Okay, lips covered in glitter. I just know someone's gonna call her out for mimicking what Miley did for her Dead Petz album cover.

6:37am - Okay, um, I need a minute to digest.

6:38am - This can't be the official single. I do like the cooing near the end with the hint of synths. It's very 90s. But this is not what I expected. What the f**k is she doing?

And yes, I'm all about her aesthetic for this era. She's not piling on the makeup, and she's so pretty without it. But this isn't about her looks.

And first of all -- and I know this is gonna sound like I'm defending her because she's my number one and all -- but I'd just like to say that Christina now represents an era long gone. When pop stars actually had vocals and didn't sound like moody ghost girls trying to haunt a house (I'm looking at you, Halsey and Lorde). Yes, come at me. Come. At. Me.

That said, this track does nothing for her vocals. Where does it go? Nowhere. I hate to say it, but it sounds like a B-side. Does anyone do B-sides anymore? Ugh, I don't even think this is worth replaying, and I was planning on having this on repeat all weekend while I'm in Palm Springs and lounging by the pool and everything. Ugh. Talk about anticlimactic.

6:40am - Why is she letting me down? Wait, she's not letting me down. She does have more. Liberation is coming out June 15. This CANNOT be representative of what the rest of the album sounds like, right? She'll for sure have a power ballad. God, Top 40 nowadays hasn't had a good power ballad. Because no one can do them. No one does them really.

What. Is. She. Doing?

6:41am - 8:04am - [gets sucked into a YouTube wormhole]

8:09am - [searches Internet for other reactions]

8:32am - Okay, Perez Hilton is saying it may just be a buzz single. Please, God, let it be that.


@TheFirstEcho

April 23, 2018

Jessie J Apparently Won a Chinese Singing Competition and We Need to Talk About Her Performances


Jessie J competed on Singer, a popular competition show in China that is apparently open to professionals with recording contracts because...hello, it's Jessie J.

And before we get to her outstanding, show-stopping, jaw-dropping performances, I'd just like to ask: Really, J? Is your management and publicity team not getting you enough gigs in your native U.K. or here in the States? Because what are you trying to prove here, girl? We already know you got the pipes and ability to flaunt some melisma. How is this possible?

Anyway, the finals concluded this past weekend, and she became the first non-Chinese and international singer to win the competition in its six-season history. She was also the first singer to rank in the top three during all of her performing weeks throughout the season.

And now...watch in awe as she covers Celine's 1997 hit from that little movie about a sunken cruise ship:


And then, witness her tackling Whitney...


Twice.
 

FYI, it was "I Will Always Love You" that earned her the crown.

In a word: Wow.

@TheFirstEcho

April 20, 2018

The 'Roseanne' Revival and the Sad Side of Nostalgia


I was eight when my mother and I caught a teaser for a new sitcom "coming to ABC" called Roseanne. It featured Roseanne Barr and John Goodman cuddling up to each other and making some caustic comment about their kids ruining their alone time. I remember my mother chuckling to herself. She then turned to me and said, "That looks good, doesn't it?"

Back then, in 1988, a blue-collar family sitcom with overweight parents and a home that was often in disarray was, simply put, revolutionary -- especially for a generation of TV viewers raised on the polished glean of shows like Growing Pains, Who's The Boss? and Family Ties.

Roseanne promised something different.

And it delivered just that. And more. (*NOTE: the below teaser is not the promo I'm referring to.)


"They're just like us."

That was my mother's reaction during the early years of the show. In fact, this was undoubtedly a similar remark made throughout millions of homes in the late 80s and early 90s -- hence the sitcom's warm reception and immense success. But we didn't consider ourselves blue-collar. We were squarely middle-class, and both of my parents worked hard to make ends meet and provide a comfortable childhood for me. (My mom's reaction was more about our family's plus-sized figures and boisterous demeanors.) And even though I never had siblings and grew up straddling two kinds of cultures on account of my mixed heritage, I still found Roseanne to be a TV show that closely resembled a family dynamic I was very familiar with.

The groundbreaking, Emmy-winning comedy went on to become a contemporary classic as well as one of the definitive sitcoms of my adolescence. Only in hindsight do I realize how much I related to the character of Roseanne and Dan Conner's middle child, Darlene. She was the one who was into creative writing and had dreams of leaving Lanford, Illinois to attend art school and create a life of her own in the big city (Chicago). For me, New Rochelle, New York wasn't far from Manhattan, so my aspirations weren't so different.

Now, after a 21-year "hiatus," we have the revival series. And despite Roseanne Barr's divisive, right-wing political advocacy, I was cautiously optimistic yet interested in seeing how the Conner clan was doing in 2018. Also? I am easily nostalgic and will revisit any book, film, or TV series that takes me back to a time before I had to pay rent and deal with other stressful challenges that come with adulting.


The new Roseanne kicks things off with the unemployed 40-year-old Darlene moving back into her childhood home with her sullen teenage daughter, Harris, and gender non-conforming son, Mark. Widow Becky, now 43, is a waitress at a Mexican restaurant, hoping to earn money by faking her age and being a surrogate. And the little-seen DJ is back from serving a tour in Syria, taking care of his young mixed-race daughter. As for Roseanne and Dan, they're still struggling -- financially and physically.

Going in, I knew I wanted to soak up enough episodes to make a fair assessment of this "tenth" season. And five episodes in, I started to notice something...disheartening.

Episode 5, titled "Darlene v. David," sees the return of Darlene's estranged husband and father of her two children (played by Johnny Galecki). David first appears in the window of Darlene's old bedroom. After climbing in, he looks around and says, "Aw, they kept everything exactly the same as it was when you guys were kids." To which Darlene retorts:


Cue the laughter from the live studio audience. It's a great punchline. Funny and painfully true.

The two then attempt to reconcile for the sake of their teen daughter's birthday. But after one night together, they realize they can't recapture what they had 20 years ago and agree to go their separate ways.

As for the rest of the family this season: Becky finds out she can't bear children, sees her dreams of buying a home get crushed, and casually mentions that she has a drinking problem. (Um, what?) Roseanne relies on pain pills for her bad knee and uses a motorized chair to go up the stairs. And Jackie and Roseanne's mother, Bev (the great, still-kicking Estelle Parsons), gets booted from her nursing home for being too sexually active. Great sitcom material, no?

Overall, it appears as though the Conners are still the same. And while that may provide joy for some, it's where I'm struggling with this reboot.

For me, watching these new episodes evokes contradictory feelings. At first, I am comforted to be reunited with this TV family that left an impact on me during my formative years, but I am also sad to see that not much has changed for them. Darlene continues to mope around in her plaid flannel shirts because apparently, her dreams of starting her own life in the city never became a reality. Roseanne and Dan apparently never had it in them to sell their home once their kids had flown the coop -- or even invest in a new couch (hence the above decorating joke). Meanwhile, Jackie apparently has no love life. (Also: where's her son Andy?) And as a result, the Conners apparently voted Republican in the 2016 Presidential election because the desperate, socioeconomic circumstances of their lives forced them to choose a wealthy, brash, reality TV star with no experience in politics whatsoever. (Which is heartbreaking, but also confusing; see Bill Maher's response in the below video.)

In other words, after two decades of being away from the Conners, it's somewhat depressing to see that their lives have had little or no improvement. And don't we all wish to see happy endings for our favorite TV characters? With this reboot, we're told this family never achieved that. Therefore, for the sake of producing more episodes, they are still in progress. Still scraping to get by. One could then argue that their current situation leaves room for a discussion on the widening economic gap within the United States and how it continues to keep families at near-poverty levels.

I also realize that my view on the new Roseanne has much to do with where I am in my own life. I no longer live in my hometown; neither do my parents. I swapped Main Street for Santa Monica Boulevard. I moved to a big city to start a career and create a life my family has always wished for me. That said, even though I am still scraping to get by in my own way, the new Roseanne may no longer reflect who I am. It doesn't resonate as much, but I understand and appreciate that it still does for a significant portion of the country.

Maybe it's also a matter of having been fed a steady diet of TV shows like Modern Family, Glee, black-ish, Will and Grace, and even The Real Housewives of New York City over the past decade. My taste in comedy has evolved and so have the storytelling methods and sensibilities on TV. Small-screen entertainment is more aspirational than ever, and Roseanne was never that. It was always written and produced to reflect the very real lives of Americans who prefer a six-pack of beer over a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Any conflicts or problems faced by characters on a show like the aging Big Bang Theory or the critically-acclaimed Master of None seem superficial compared to what the Conners have to go through on a weekly basis.


Right now, my conflict lies within how to consume and enjoy this revival. At times, I find myself basking in the glow of nostalgia -- that harmonica-tinged theme song gets me every time -- but then it's clouded by the harsh reality of the circumstances that surround these characters. And as I write this, I realize my sadness may come off as pity for these characters, which is, in itself, a reflection of who I am at this point in my life.

Like Darlene and David, I may be trying to recapture something that reminds me of a time long gone, but like most trips to the past, it's a futile attempt. And if looking back at your life is supposed to help you measure how far you've come, then looking back at the Conners of 1988 doesn't provide that much distance from the Conners of 2018.

@TheFirstEcho

April 19, 2018

Review: 'I Feel Pretty'


Amy Schumer’s brand has always been about being real and, of course, being relatable AF.

The hallmarks of this can be seen and heard during any given talk-show interview in which she shares a self-deprecating story about her love life or a sly anecdote that doubles as skewering commentary on one of the many women’s issues her Comedy Central show already satirizes in sketch form.

That’s why the broad but fairly enjoyable I Feel Pretty feels right in her wheelhouse (as opposed to last year’s misfire, Snatched). Schumer plays Renee, a New York City single gal with low self-esteem who gets knocked out during an awkward SoulCycle class, only to wake up with a skewed vision of herself; she thinks she’s the most beautiful and capable woman on Earth. (Blame this psychological short-circuit on a wish made during a thunderstorm after being inspired by a late-night viewing of Big.)

...For my full review, check it out at ScreenPicks.

@TheFirstEcho

April 12, 2018

I'll Just Leave This Paul Rudd Movie Trailer Right Here...


Paul Rudd plays Steve Coogan's husband in the upcoming Ideal Home.

And that's all you really need to know, am I right? The Australian-produced, modern-family comedy looks to deliver some laughs and warm fuzzies (as seen in the trailer below).

And no, you would not be wrong for mistaking the above photo for hot Schneider from Netflix's present-day reboot of the fantastic One Day At A Time.

@TheFirstEcho

A Thirtysomething Walks Into an EDM Festival...


It’s been a whole decade since I attended my last music festival.

In June of 2008 I made the brief trek to Exposition Park near downtown L.A. to attend Electric Daisy Carnival, an event that involved ferris wheel rides, a few vodka Red Bulls, and seeing one of my favorite artists, BT, take the stage long after midnight. (This was before the entire production moved to Vegas.) By the end of it all, my eardrums were sufficiently numbed.

Now, in my late thirties, I approach music festivals with cautious optimism – especially those of the EDM kind (it's not a rave!) featuring headliners I have a peripheral knowledge of. Why?

Hmmm...It’s not about staying up until the wee hours of the morning and keeping up with the crowd, most of whom were born while I was in high school. I like to think that I can still hang – maybe til 3am? – under substance-free conditions of course (and we all know how I can get after just two cocktails).

And it’s not a matter of the relentless bass that’s constantly dropped throughout the night and accompanied by psychedelic visuals flashing across massive HD screens. Despite any "Get off my lawn" tendencies that I may have, I still take pride in being open to sampling new artists and discovering new tracks that are not often heard on the radio. Oh wait...who listens to the radio anymore?


I approach these events with cautious optimism because...oh, who am I kidding? I'm in my late thirties and value sleep more than ever. But I am also all about The Experience and making sure one's comfort zone is regularly stretched. I'm also in it for observational purposes. Music festivals are more than a feast for the senses; they're ripe for people-watching.

Beyond Wonderland in San Bernadino (roughly 60 miles east of Los Angeles) took place over St. Patrick's Day weekend at the NOS Events Center. I was fortunate enough to get in with a media badge (check out my 8-hour chronicle at Bello Mag here) that granted me access to several VIP areas to watch DJs take to the stage, blare remixes, and pump out their own original tracks for thousands of bouncing fans. If I wasn't raising my hands in the air to the beats of R3hab, Alesso, Tritonal, or Yultron, I was taking advantage of every amenity inside the roomy VIP lounge, getting my face glittered up, and munching on free pastries at a large table designed to look like the one from the Mad Hatter's tea party in Alice in Wonderland.

I hate and love this hat at the same time.
And since the event welcomed guests 18 and over, there was a wide range of EDM enthusiasts to observe.

There were the sexually fluid Gen Z Pleasure Seekers, showing off their personally designed wardrobe and colorful accessories, their trigger fingers ready to live stream their experience at the drop of beat.

There were the Maverick Millennials who could afford a few cocktails at the bars while in search of the perfect hashtag to commemorate the night.

And then, if you looked very carefully, there were what I like to call the Vivacious Veterans, an older crowd of those still young at heart and still curious enough to check out the scene, having attended nearly a dozen of these fests since the turn of the 21st century. They're most likely fellow singletons and child-free couples. They’re the ones who embrace the current EDM moment while claiming to have loved EDM before it was called EDM. They remember names like Digweed, Orbital, and Paul Van Dyk, artists they played on repeat on their WinAmp players back in college (i.e. me).

I have the same unicorn onesie!

As for the merch? Thirty bucks will get you a souvenir hat. Ten dollars will get you a commemorative pin. I refrained from any retail purchases and was satisfied with my free souvenir poster and "Kandi" bracelet I made inside the VIP lounge. And the food! Beyond Wonderland is heaven for anyone with the munchies (go figure). I ended up inhaling some pork belly fries from a food truck, and then three hours later, consuming the gooiest grilled cheese sandwich I've ever tasted. I washed it down with my refillable bottle of water. (To make a long story boring, I only had one cocktail and then guzzled down water throughout the night to stay sober and hydrated.)

You see, I've always been fascinated by this culture ever since I was in high school, staying up late on Saturday nights listening to DJs spin their mixes on the local dance station back in New York. (Shoutout to KTU.) In college, I discovered movies like 1999's excellent Go (from Doug Liman, it still holds up) and 2000's Groove and Human Traffic. I fell in love with their soundtracks.


Back then, even though I was a ginormous bookworm who didn't look the part, I felt as if I could participate in the festivities. I knew I wasn't a total "raver" or "club kid," but I enjoyed the music and appreciated a damn good remix when I heard one.

So I experimented a bit.

I bought a packet of mini glow sticks to place in your mouth. I impulsively purchased a shirt with an outline of a dragon emblazoned on the back. I spent some of my summer job money on a double-CD compilation called Club Hits 97. And I dropped fifty bucks on a pair of black, wide-legged nylon pants, the early 2000s equivalent of bell bottoms. They were purchased at a store called Bang Bang inside the White Plains Galleria. It was a retailer full of clothing racks for the club kids of Westchester County who liked to party in the Bronx or hop on the Metro North rail to Manhattan on weekends. I wore these pants twice. They're currently stored in a trunk in my closet. Because you never know.

But what would 2018 Hiko wear? If you couldn't tell from the top photo, my Beyond Wonderland wardrobe consisted of sneakers, black jeans (straight fit), and a camouflage hoodie that partially covered my yellow Golden Girls t-shirt.

Because I was all about comfort. And being myself.

@TheFirstEcho

April 10, 2018

I Watched 'Tyler Perry's Acrimony' So You Didn't Have To


I'd like to preface this review by saying I am not well-versed in the complete oeuvre of writer-director-producer-actor (and Oprah squad member) Tyler Perry.

But I am familiar with his rise to self-made mogulship due to his string of modestly-budgeted films primarily produced for an underrepresented segment of the American population. He has done his own thing, telling stories that weren't being told, and employing individuals both in front of and behind the camera long before Frances McDormand uttered the words "inclusion rider" during her acceptance speech at this year's Oscars. And as a result, Mr. Perry has earned buckets and buckets of money, nearly single-handedly contributing to Georgia's economy with his booming movie studio just outside Atlanta.

Creating his own entertainment empire and consistently pumping out big-screen titles almost every year is an outstanding achievement. But does it necessarily mean his product is any good? 

When it comes to his latest effort, Acrimony (I won't use his name in the film's title because, like similarly monikered movies, I find it obnoxious), I can answer that question with a resounding ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Before jumping into this, I had heard not-so-great things about Perry's skills as a director and screenwriter. I have also heard African-American friends of mine, mostly female, negatively express how they feel about his work, particularly with regards to the way he portrays black women, which -- if one were to dig deep -- has arguably been influenced by his painful past. However, that is an op-ed for another day. I came to this movie simply to critique it like any other movie I have an interest in.

And?

I can't remember the last time I felt so insulted as a moviegoer after walking out of the theater. Acrimony might as well describe what I felt after being subjected to horrendous writing, embarrassing production values, lazy direction, and one of the biggest plot holes ever witnessed on the big screen.


How could I have been suckered into seeing this? Well, I frequently get what I call The Psychological Thriller Itch, and a few months ago, I felt as if Acrimony could scratch it, especially after catching its exquisitely edited trailer. I then had my interest piqued even further when Perry and his star, the magnetic Taraji P. Henson, started doing their press tour, hitting the talk show circuit and hitting these talking points:

1. Ever since Perry worked on 2014's Gone Girl, he wanted to do his own female-centric thriller. (Even though the whole woman-scorned-gets-revenge thing has been done to death.)
2. He wanted to give Taraji her own Fatal Attraction moment for a new generation.
3. He only had 8 days with Taraji to shoot her scenes. I guess that's an impressive feat?

In other words, I was sold. I took the bait. And I'm ashamed of it. What I had hoped to be a trashy-fun revenge flick turned out to be one of the worst movies of 2018 thus far.

Needless to say, SPOILERS AHEAD...

Taraji plays Melinda, who, in the opening of the movie, is being court-ordered to stay away from her ex-husband and his new wife. Melinda appears to be a woman scorned, and Henson nails Simmering Rage beautifully (those of you who've seen at least one episode of Empire already know this). Melinda is also ordered to attend therapy sessions where she sits on a couch, chain smokes, and vents to an off-screen psychiatrist while dropping the occasional "this motherfucker" while describing her ex, Robert Gayle (the dashing Lyriq Bent).

And here's where the entire first third of the movie turns into one, way-too-long flashback telling us how Melinda and Robert met in college. He's a poor-but-intelligent engineer (and former felon) who's working on an invention, a rechargeable battery called the Gayle Force Wind (wink). And she's a virgin with two sisters who serve as a Greek chorus, occasionally popping up to tell Melinda she shouldn't spend so much time (and her inherited fortune) on a loser like Robert. But he woos her anyway, and they become a couple, going for walks along the river in Pittsburgh in a couple of scenes that are so blatantly green-screened, it actually prompted me to sit up in my seat, look around the theater, and ask, "Is anyone else seeing this?" (Exhibit A: this screencap taken from the trailer)


But when Robert sleeps with another coed named Diana? Something inside Melinda snaps, and she drives her Jeep into Robert's mobile home (remember, he's poor) while the two are having sex inside. The collision causes uteral damage in Melinda, and she is incapable of bearing any children. Robert apologizes, promises he'll never do it again, blah, blah, blah...and the two not only remain a couple -- they get married. And she pays for his grad school tuition. And she pays for everything else. Her fat bank account gets drained, and we know this because we see the calculations appear as graphics on screen, y'know, to make watching someone go broke more fun.

The young Melinda and Robert then move into her dead mother's home that she's inherited, and she ends up supporting him for 18 years while he obsessively tinkers away on Gayle Force Wind like a mad-but-good-looking scientist. (Goodbye actors who played Young Robert and Young Melinda -- you will not be missed.) Grown-ass Melinda busts her ass day and night while grown-ass Robert attempts to get his foot in the door at a company owned by a Generic Rich White Guy who could potentially buy his invention. Robert sends letters and emails to this company every day (yes, for 18 years), which prompts security to put him on the company's shit list. His dream is crushed because apparently there are no other companies or investors that would be interested in a rechargeable battery that looks like an eighth grader's science project. But -- what a coincidence! -- Diana, the hot chick he banged in college, works at the Generic Rich White Guy's company and could give him the in he needs. They meet for coffee (off-camera), and she conveniently leaves her wallet in his delivery truck. (Forced Plot Point Alert!) Oh yeah, I guess I should mention Robert's now a driver for some seafood delivery service, a business run by Melinda's brothers-in-law who give him the job as a favor.

Now, this might seem like we're watching The Robert Show right now, and you would be correct in that assumption because Melinda is hardly around -- now the whole we-shot-Taraji's-scenes-in-eight-days is starting to make sense.

Anyway, Robert gets a meeting with Generic Rich White Guy, causing him to bail on an important seafood delivery for a big client (Melinda's family gets pissed). GRWG makes him an offer of $800,000 for his rechargeable battery. This kind of money could help Melinda pay back the mortgage she took out on her house to support Robert's dreams as well as the money she spent on his education. But no. Robert declines the offer, thinking he deserves more, and walks out. At this point, someone in the theater let out a "What the fuck, man?"


Meanwhile, Melinda finds Diana's wallet in Robert's truck (because of course she does), but she doesn't crash her car into anything this time. She simply sits back, smokes a cigarette, and waits for Robert to come home. Before she can confront him about Diana, he tells her that he walked away from an $800,000 offer he basically waited 18 years to receive. This gives Melinda more reason to say, "I wanna divorce your ass." Robert swears he never slept with Diana (for a second time) -- they only got coffee! -- and begs Melinda to forgive him, but it's too late. She could never stay with a man who has let her down so much after giving him so much. Boy, bye!

Melinda and Robert get divorced...and what perfect timing! Robert then hooks up with Diana, and GRWG comes back with an offer of seventy-five million dollars for that fucking battery thingy. Robert's dream comes true! Financial problems solved! So, in an attempt to reconcile one last time, he delivers a ten-million-dollar check to Melinda, pays off her mortgage, and thanks her for all that she did for him. A pleasantly surprised Melinda is like, "Ooh, you rich now? And you got that waterfront penthouse we talked about buying? And that yacht you dreamed about? Let's get back together!" But Robert's like (and I'm paraphrasing), "Sorry, I'm engaged to Diana now, and she's pregnant with my baby...y'know, the child you could never give me."

Ouch.

Well, this is the proverbial last straw for Melinda. She tries to sue Robert for the money she spent to invest in his dreams, and the judge is like, "Lady, your ex wrote you a check for ten million dollars and voluntarily paid off your mortgage. Get outta my courtroom." Melinda freaks out on Robert and Diana in the courthouse lobby, giving everyone a taste of her crazy. She then holes herself up in her dead mother's house, drinks a shitload of wine, and like any good movie psycho (or Melrose Place-era Marcia Cross), she scratches out Robert's face in a bunch of photos. Her family and one concerned coworker realize she's off her rocker and try to intervene. They're like, "I guess we should do something." So what do they do? They gather at Melinda's house to make sure she doesn't run off and do something stupid. A defeated Melinda gives in.


Meanwhile, a now-married Robert and Diana set sail for their honeymoon on Robert's fully-staffed yacht. They're out in the ocean at night, toasting to their future. Kissy, kissy, smooch, smooch.

Cut back to Melinda's house: one of her sister's discovers an open window with its screen cut out. Melinda is gone!

And what happens next is for the Movie Plot Hole Hall of Fame: While Diana gets ready for bed on the yacht, Robert lounges on the top deck...and is confronted by a gun-toting Melinda who's decked out in a white gown, her hair frizzed out. Um...how did she get here? Where did she get a gun? And how did she get past the eight-man crew stationed throughout the boat? Is this the Glenn-Close-in-Fatal-Attraction moment Tyler Perry was building up to? Because this ain't that. This final showdown is so blandly staged, it feels like a tame Real Housewives confrontation. During this ridiculous denouement, Melinda shoots Robert, and when the crew finally shows up, she forces them to jump overboard, leaving her alone to finish off Robert and his new bride. A bloody Robert saves Diana by pushing Melinda overboard, but we know that crazy bitch is coming back, and when she does, she gets her foot tangled up in chains connected to the anchor that Robert eventually releases, dragging Melinda down into a watery grave.

When the closing credits began to roll and the lights came up, I found out I wasn't the only one with the burning question. I heard several people in the theater ask, "How did she get on the boat?" YES, TYLER PERRY. CARE TO EXPLAIN? Were you and your editor out sick when they taught continuity in film school?

Besides this glaring error, Acrimony is extremely problematic when you look at the overall picture. Never are we given the slightest explanation for Melinda's mental health problems. At one point, her never-seen therapist briefly mentions "borderline personality disorder," which sets off Melinda even more, but a proper diagnosis is never given. The neglectful way in which mental health is treated in this movie is not only shocking, it's an insult to real-life patients dealing with similar problems.

Early on, Melinda also brings up how unfair the stereotype of "the angry black woman" is, but Acrimony fails to make any effort in exploring why that is or why Melinda is so easily triggered. Instead, it gives us a confusing, convoluted, and unbalanced story about a short-tempered woman who just...cracks.

What has been marketed as a scorned-woman revenge flick turns out to be a movie in which the audience isn't sure who to root for until the last act. And that's NOT a compliment. Perry & Co. aren't crafting some kind of morally ambiguous saga about the politics of marriage. On the contrary, the only thing Acrimony succeeds at is further proving the writer-director's frustrating inability to put together a coherent and entertaining story.

@TheFirstEcho

April 04, 2018

Melissa McCarthy as a Dowdy Writer in a Literary Crime Dramedy? Yes Please.


After we get the broad comedy of this summer's Life of the Party, we get to see star Melissa McCarthy in a role that award nominations are made of: a makeup-free, frumpy writer with first-world frustrations. Introducing: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

I'm not sure I can forgive the writer who decided on this title.

The movie is about a washed-up celebrity biographer who resorts to fraud in order to reboot her fledgling career. As much as I would eat up a film like this ("based on a true story," no less), it seems more award-adjacent. Meaning, it doesn't quite seem like an award contender -- even though it has a few Oscar-baity elements attached to it.

But it's only the beginning of April. Who knows how this'll turn out when Fox Searchlight releases it into a nominal amount of theaters this fall.

Check out the trailer and decide for yourself (and yes, that's Kate & Allie's very own Jane Curtain in a blink-or-you'll-miss-her scene):


And yes, I realize Jane Curtain is known for kicking off SNL back in the 70s and co-starring in the 90s hit comedy 3rd Rock From the Sun, but if you know me...well, you know me.

@TheFirstEcho

March 23, 2018

Passport Alert: I'm Going to Berlin (and Paris and London)


It's been 17 years since I stepped foot on European soil, and that's about to change.

A few things before I hop on a red-eye at the end of May:

I look forward to meeting up with some friends in these cities. I'll need a crash course on speaking German. I'm ready to f**k up some crepes in front of the Eiffel Tower like a basic American tourist. And the Anglophile in me can't wait to revisit the South Kensington neighborhood where I lived as a Boston University student during more innocent, pre-9/11 times.

@TheFirstEcho

March 20, 2018

I'm Not Crying: The 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?' Trailer is Here


I can't remember the last time I got a little choked up watching a movie trailer.

But here it is, the preview for Won't You Be My Neighbor? a documentary about Fred Rogers, the man behind the beloved children's show Mister Rogers Neighborhood. The film, from director Morgan Neville, is being released theatrically this summer, and I can't think of a better way to counterprogram all of the loud and obnoxious blockbusters that will be vying for everyone's attention. 

In other words, anyone who ever grew up watching the King of Empathy and Kindness (I just came up with that title) should support this doc. Because this is the kind of film we need nowadays.

@TheFirstEcho

March 13, 2018

LUSH: The 2018 Spring Playlist


OUT: Spring cleaning.
FIVE MINUTES AGO: Spring training.
IN: Spring listening.

Hop aboard the Spring Express with these 30+ tunes that should help you welcome the new season with open arms (and lighter jackets).

@TheFirstEcho

February 27, 2018

Pilot Season 2018: Representation Matters


Thanks to the incomparable Xaque Gruber, who sent me this Facebook message over the weekend, it looks like my name could be immortalized on the small screen.

That is, if a certain pilot gets picked up by a certain network...

Stay tuned.

@TheFirstEcho

February 22, 2018

Obsession of the Week: Janelle Monáe's "Make Me Feel"


Take some art direction from Black Mirror's "San Junipero," inject it with some very Prince-esque funk, and you get the gorgeous music video for Janelle Monáe's "Make Me Feel," a single that is already being hailed as a "bisexual anthem." (The fact that Janelle's alleged boo, Tessa Thompson, also appears in the video only adds fuel to the rumor fire.)

And, regarding certain recent Prince homages, a coworker recently quipped, "Justin Timberlake should take note."

@TheFirstEcho

February 09, 2018

20 Things That Turn 20 in 2018


1998 was a good year. How good? The proof is here in these pop culture relics...

1. Can't Hardly Wait - See future Client List and Ghost Whisperer star Jennifer Love Hewitt play the prettiest girl in school while surrounded by a dozen actors before they hit it big on procedural dramas and milquetoast cable TV movies! Seriously, there are so many familiar faces in this movie...and right now, it is hitting me hard in the gut to think that I was graduating from high school at the same time as these characters. Sheesh.


2. Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine" - An unrivaled R&B-pop duet that should never be remade. But if both singers want to reunite for a sequel, then by all means: Have. At. It.


3. Armageddon - It's the mind-numbing Bruce Willis blockbuster that gave us Aerosmith's then-ubiquitous "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" and one scene that will never make us look at animal crackers the same way again.


4. Madonna's Ray of Light - Arguably her best album of this decade. It was experimental, it was existential, and it won four Grammys.


5. Felicity - The WB drama about a college freshman chasing her crush across the country and adjusting to life in New York City gave audiences one of television's best love triangles (FYI - I will always be #TeamNoel) and became one of the most endearing coming-of-age sagas at the turn of the 21st century.


6. "...Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears - It was the music video that launched a pop megastar and millions of schoolgirl Halloween costumes.


7. The X-Files: Fight The Future - Mulder and Scully's first big-screen adventure was a big-budget thrill ride that bridged the fifth and sixth seasons of the sci-fi series. And apparently that "truth" is still "out there" considering they're back on Fox solving more cases and still dealing with that damn conspiracy. Sigh.



8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling - Four years before everyone bought tickets to see Harry & Co. on the big screen for the second time, fans devoured this bestseller.

9. Semisonic's "Closing Time" - The anthem for every graduation party across the country.

10. Sex and the City - 20 summers ago, the world was introduced to Carrie Bradshaw, Charlotte York, Miranda Hobbs, and Samantha Jones.

11. Deep Impact - The superior giant-meteor-destroys-the-Earth movie of the two that came out during the summer.

12. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - Bow down to one of the best albums of the 90s.

13. Charmed - The pitch for this Aaron Spelling fluff probably went something like this: "What if you gave Charlie's Angels a book of spells?"

14. Disney's Animal Kingdom - The theme park in Orlando, Florida opened its gates. Yours truly experienced the magical wonders later that summer.

15. The series finale of Seinfeld - The price for a 30-second commercial during the final episode was a cool $2 million.

16. Dawson's Creek - #TeamDawson4ever


17. Alanis Morissette's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie - If Jagged Little Pill helped me get through a year of high school, then this follow-up helped get me through a year of college.

18. Fear Street Seniors: Let's Party by R.L. Stine - This installment marked the beginning of the end of a long-running series of horror novels that left a significant impact on my young adulthood.

19. Saving Private Ryan - "All that just to find Matt Damon???"

20. My high school graduation cap and gown - Gulp. I'm learning how to cope with this harsh truth. (More on this later...)

@TheFirstEcho

February 08, 2018

I Was a Guest on 'A Special Presentation'


ICYMI: I was a "special guest" on A Special Presentation, a podcast about "the ghosts of television and pop culture past." I had the nerdgasmic opportunity to share some of my TV expertise, particularly on the seminal 80s primetime soap Knots Landing.

Hosts Jonathan Bradley Welch and David Crabb welcomed me with open arms (and a box of doughnuts) over at the Nerdmelt Showroom on Sunset Boulevard.

Listen to my episode (#27) wherever you get podcasts (like HERE) and enjoy listening to me ramble on about kidnapped babies, corrupt politicians, and other cul-de-sac convolutions.

@TheFirstEcho

February 02, 2018

Song of the Month: February 2018


There must be something in the water over in Australia because the Nation Down Under has been delivering some impressive pop lately. This is the second month in a row in which I've showcased a song from a group of Ozzies.

Sheppard's "Coming Home" is a feel-good bop that any smart music supervisor will want to include in a TV commercial for Coke or some millennial-targeted lifestyle ad campaign. (Or maybe that's just the copywriter in me.) Either way, it's a track that should be added to everyone's playlists as we trudge through another wintry month that needs some sparkle.

Initial Thoughts on Justin Timberlake's "Man of the Woods"


Okay, here we go...

I'll start with some positive: I love "Montana." (Listen HERE.) It's the perfect retro-smooth track that Bruno Mars never released in 2013. It's the musical equivalent of a post-coital cruise in a black Cadillac Fleetwood Coupe at midnight somewhere in 1984. ("Breeze Off The Pond" is a close second.)

Upon listening to the entire album, I've come the conclusion that this thing screams "PLEASE GIMME AN ALBUM OF THE YEAR GRAMMY IN 2019!"

The 30-second bridge in "Supplies" is what the entire song should have been.

The older I get, the more I realize my pop idols are gradually slipping into self-important Adult-Contemporaryhood.

"Young Man" -- as adorable and well-intentioned as it is -- is a ripoff of Christina Aguilera's intro, "My Heart," on 2010's Bionic. Just sayin'. (Both tracks include cameos of each pop star's toddler offspring.)

I could've done without the Jessica Biel-voiced interludes.

"Midnight Summer Jam" is trying so hard to be a cookout anthem.

The following lyric in "Sauce" is a jawdropper: "I love your pink, you like my purple." Say what? Um, no.

And really, was "Filthy" just a leftover from FutureSex/LoveSounds or what?

@TheFirstEcho

February 01, 2018

#TBT: Writing for the Ladies of 'Claws'


Finally getting around to sharing a fun, little teaser I wrote for TNT's Claws last year. Produced by the awesome team at Stun Creative (shameless workplace shoutout), this was, ahem, shot last spring down in New Orleans with Niecy Nash and the rest of the fierce female cast.

Check it out:

@TheFirstEcho

January 11, 2018

Oh "My My My!" Troye Sivan Drops a New Single


The Australian YouTuber-turned-popstar (and subject of my inaugural HuffPost piece) whose devastatingly gorgeous Blue Neighborhood was one of the best albums of 2016, has dropped a new single and music video.

"My My My" is the track, and it's an adequately catchy electro-pop number about young passion...and intertwining one's tongue with the teeth of a lover. "I die every night with you" goes the chorus, and it's a line that will undoubtedly launch a thousand memes, GIFs, and various posts among the singer's 7 million-plus followers.

As for the video, Troye sings and shakes his hips in an abandoned warehouse that could arguably double as an underground sex club. It's an artsy, black-and-white piece with enough strobe lights to warrant a seizure warning at the top. Enjoy:

@TheFirstEcho

January 05, 2018

Song of the Month: January 2018


Properly kicking of the new year requires a proper track.

And that track is "Say Anything" from Australian quartet MOBS. The single takes its name from the beloved 1989 John Cusack movie that was written and directed by Cameron Crowe and even incorporates a few sampled notes from the film's signature song, Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes."

The result is an irresistible slice of electro-pop that feels nostalgic and fresh all at once.


Then, once you've fallen in love, try their latest, "Growing Up."

@TheFirstEcho

January 03, 2018

An 'American' Theory


Is it me, or has there been a sudden surge of the word "American" in the titles of movies and TV shows over the past 20 years? Seriously, take a look...

American Gigolo 
An American Christmas Carol
All-American Christmas Carol
American Graffiti 
An American Tail
American Beauty
American Pie
The American President
American Gangster
American Psycho
American Hustle
American Ultra
American Sniper
American Dreamz
American Heart
American Splendor
My All-American
American Violent
American Ninja
American Idiots
American History X
American Made
The American
American Satan
American Vandal
American Ninja Warrior
American Gods
American Assassin
American Crime
American Crime Story
American Horror Story...

I ask this question because I have a theory. Hear me out...

I believe the increasing appearance of the word "American" in titles is a result of a growing sentiment in the United States, pride, which is, in itself, a result of an increase in nationalism. We're living in a time when the rest of the world is portrayed as scary, unwelcoming, and harmful, a time when "globalism" has become a dirty word. And when something is "American," certain people will invest their time in buying it, consuming it, experiencing it.

One could then argue that blatantly slapping on the word as an adjective is a lazy marketing exercise, an attempt to lure in a certain group of people that won't bother consuming content that appears to be foreign or unfamiliar. Throw in the word "American," and people will know what they're getting. This was made here in the US of A, dagnabbit! This is for the red-blooded citizens of The Greatest Country on Earth!

In other words, this could very well be another example of the dumbing down of consumer culture -- or society -- selling something in the most digestible, accessible, approachable manner.

I can't think of any other country that exhibits its nationalistic pride in the titles of its own film and TV shows to this extent. There's no German Horror Story. No Australian Beauty. Not even a Brazilian Psycho. So what gives, America? Why the need to label "American" so much? Do you feel compelled to mark your property, to make it clear that America makes the best stuff? Huh?

*This was written in a drunken stupor last year.

@TheFirstEcho

The 'Slender Man' Trailer Is Just As Terrifying As You'd Imagine


The trailer for the long-awaited big-screen adaptation of the myth behind the Internet's most popular boogeyman, Slender Man, has dropped.

It's an eerie mood piece that sets the tone nicely. Little dialogue. No gratuitous title cards. Just pure, dread-filled imagery that promises a horror blockbuster for 2018 (and of course, a frightening, new franchise for Sony).


P.S. - Congrats Sarah!

@TheFirstEcho

January 02, 2018

TWENTY18: The Winter Playlist


Not only is January a time for people to preoccupy themselves with resolutions that will fall apart by Valentine's Day, it is also a time for post-holiday doldrums, continuously dreary weather, and for Hollywood to dump crap movies into theaters. That's why you need to inject some fresh music into your life.

Starting with these (check back for new additions throughout the season)...

@TheFirstEcho

"Too Many Friends" by Hearts & Colors Might As Well Be My Theme Song For Life

Sweden sure knows how to crank out some pop. Hearts & Colors, a duo from the northern European country, has come out with "Too...