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The 2018 Review: My Top 10 Film Picks

If anything, 2018 was the year movies felt more inclusive than any other year in recent memory (or ever). One could attribute it to the efforts of artists, writers, and filmmakers who have been given the opportunity to tell stories that are rarely distributed to mass audiences, with characters that are not often found on the big screen. Titles like Sorry To Bother You, Crazy Rich Asians, The Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Hate U Give, BlackkKlansman, SearchingHearts Beat LoudTo All The Boys I've Loved Before, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Love, Simon made their presence known and struck a chord.

And with critical faves like Romaand The Favourite not yet screened as of December 31, here's what left a mark on me this past year:


1. EIGHTH GRADE (RT Score: 99%) - Bo Burnham's directorial debut may be the first (and best) movie about Gen Z capable of resonating across all age groups. Elsie Fisher, a true revelation, plays 13-year-old Kayla, a girl on the verge of gradu…

This ‘Edward Scissorhands’ Musical is an Alternative Holiday Treat

Tim Burton’s modern-day fable from 1990, Edward Scissorhands, is the latest contemporary classic to receive a musical makeover at L.A.’s Rockwell Table & Stage. From Executive Producers Kate Pazakis and Bradley Bredeweg of The Fuse Project, this gender-swapping stage adaptation is moving audiences with its cleverly integrated soundtrack, timely touches, and powerhouse performances.

Jordan Kai Burnett plays the titular role Johnny Depp made iconic, an artificially created human with scissor blades for hands who is taken in by an Avon door-to-door saleswoman named by Peg (the fantastic Emma Hunton) and falls in love with her teenage daughter Kim, played by Natalie Masini (Winona Ryder in the film). Meanwhile, Edward’s dearly departed Inventor (an electrifying Dionne Gipson) remains a presence throughout while the innocent young man makes an impact on a suburban community, particularly with the local ladies of the neighborhood — all played with delightful relish by Ryan O’Connor, M…

Move Over, 'Die Hard': Why 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' Should Also Be a Christmas Favorite

Now that the overly drawn-out debate over Die Hard and its Christmas movie qualifications is finally wrapping up, it's time to present to the pop culture pundits another action-packed film for consideration: 1996's The Long Kiss Goodnight starring Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson.

Directed by Geena's then-husband Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4) and written by Christmas obsessive Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), the story about a schoolteacher and housewife with amnesia named Samantha -- who finds out she used to be an assassin named Charly -- should be placed in the Hall of Contemporary Holiday Classics.

The festive, yuletide backdrop in the film acts as a great juxtaposition to the brutal, violent plot. A snowy drive home from a Christmas party turns bloody when Samantha crashes into a deer and triggers memories from her past life (she later puts the deer out of its misery by snapping its neck). A group of carolers are terrorized …

The 2018 Review: My Top 10 TV Picks

The Peak TV bubble has yet to burst.

And with over 500 scripted shows that were in production in 2018, it has become an increasingly difficult task for TV critics and pop culture pundits alike to keep up with the amount of content that is made available nowadays. How does one just pick ten of the best shows by the end of the year? Is it possible? Can it be done?

I'll damn well try. Here are mine:


1. HANNAH GADSBY: NANETTE (Netflix) - Never has a stand-up act been able to transform into such a powerful wake-up call. But Gadsby's much-talked-about one-hour special is just that, a once-in-a-generation piece of work that (at the risk of sounding overly dramatic) should be mandatory viewing for all of humanity. It's a one-woman show that not only has the balls to challenge the conventions of comedy, it forces us to rethink our role as an audience in a much larger societal context. A lot of well-deserved praise has come her way since Nanette became available to stream this past …

The 2018 Review: My Top 10 Music Picks

2018 is officially the year pop music started getting into Y2K nostalgia.

While British pop tart Anne-Marie reminisced about "2002," Charli XCX teamed up with Troye Sivan and traveled back to "1999" with a fun music video for the single that revisited some turn-of-the-21st-century pop culture. And let's not forget that *NSYNC reunion on Ellen, the Backstreet Boys dominating in Vegas before announcing a new album,and the recent premiere of Ariana Grande's video for "thank u, next," chock-full of homages to early-aughts hits like Mean Girls, Bring It On, Legally Blonde, and 13 Going On 30.

Why the sudden urge to revisit the past? Blame it on the usual 20-year cycle of pop culture's hindsight...or the fact that this year's news headlines made everyone pine for pre-Twitter times, when no one ever dared to describe legitimate news as "fake" and stir the country into a heated frenzy.

But pop music did more than just look back at "…

20 Years Before Ariana Grande Said "thank u, next," Alanis Morissette Had "Unsent"

Singing about past love is nothing new, and as much as I enjoy Ariana Grande's "thank u, next" (especially that 00s nostalgic video), I can't help being a nitpicky teen-from-the-90s and pointing out that Alanis Morissette nailed the whole "ode to my exes" thing back in 1998 with "Unsent," an underappreciated single from Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie.

The contemplative song is a series of letters to men who taught Alanis a few things about life and love. And the video itself is an intimate glimpse at each relationship in the form of vignettes with subtitled dialogue:

@TheFirstEcho

Review: 'Widows'

Earlier this year, Ocean’s 8 gave us a female-fronted heist story that was as frothy and fun as a champagne brunch in the middle of May. At least, that’s what it feels like compared to the riveting and razor-sharp Widows, an explosive collaboration between 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen and Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn.

In fact, “female-fronted heist story” are the only words both films have in common, and it may be unfair to utter the two titles under the same breath. While one is the epitome of delightful summer fare (with a killer wardrobe for Cate Blanchett), the other is a prime example of intelligent, impactful drama for grown-ups that not only taps into the zeitgeist, it holds a mirror up to it and dissects the sociopolitical and socioeconomic problems that continue to challenge American society two decades into the 21st century. And it features the best big-screen ensemble in recent memory.

Widows, a remake of an 80s British miniseries of the same name, is more th…

An Interactive Musical Version of ‘Stranger Things’ Exists. And It’s Awesome.

The folks behind L.A.’s Unauthorized Musical Parody Of… series is at it again, this time with a spoof of the hit supernatural drama Stranger Things.

Having already covered parodies of popular big-screen titles like Home Alone, Scream, Jurassic Park, and Clueless, this appears to be the troupe’s first time dedicating a production to a TV series. And like its pop-cultural predecessors, it’s a rockin’ good time.

Written by executive producer Kate Pazakis and directed by Nathan Moore, who last appeared as Rhodes in UMPO: Bridesmaids, this pop-cabaret show (at Rockwell Table & Stage) brings to life the first season of the Duffer Brothers’ critically-acclaimed Netflix drama that takes place in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana during the 80s.


And you know what that means: a song list chock-full of Reagan-era pop-rock is inevitable.
Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” becomes an anthem for frantic mom Joyce (powerhouse Emma Hunton of Freeform’s Good Trouble), who sear…

Great L.A. Eats: Fall 2018

Now that we’re well into fall and less concerned with swimsuit selfies, it’s time to indulge in some good grub, some tasty bites, some delectable goodness…After all, ’tis the season for eating. Luckily we’ve manage to pinpoint some highlights from our culinary escapades during the past couple of weeks. Get those forks and knifes (and stomachs) ready… BEST SLICE OF BROOKLYN
Finding “authentic Brooklyn-style pizza” in Los Angeles may sound like an impossible quest, but Lupetti is making it possible. The pizzeria, which opened earlier this year in downtown’s booming Arts District, serves up delicious thin crust and comes with a delightful surprise: In Sheep’s Clothing, the speakeasy-esque, Japanese-kissa-style, hi-fi bar that is open from morning (for a fresh brew) to night (for a strong cocktail).
BEST WAKE & BAKE
Alfred, which recently opened its newest location in Brentwood, has partnered with VYBES to up the ante on all your favorite drinks. From matcha to their famous vanilla lat…

An Open Letter to Christmas, From Thanksgiving

Dear Christmas,

Thanksgiving here.

I realize you may still be coming down from the sugar highs of Halloween (how great were those costumes?), but I wanted to take a moment to talk to you one-on-one, from one holiday to another.

For the past few years, I've noticed that some of your followers just love celebrating your season. I like to call them Christmas Enthusiasts, and I think it's great that you have so many loyal, dedicated fans. I really do. The moment November 1 rolls around, some of them are putting up your trees, hanging up those lights, and decking all the halls. I get it. They can't contain their excitement for all of the upcoming yuletide festivities.

But Christmas, could you do me a solid and tell them to ease up a bit? I mean, December is still a month away. And dude, November is my month. Can I just get my three-and-a-half weeks of pilgrim statues, cornucopias, and cartoon turkeys? That's all I ask.

Now, I understand that some folks have an issue with m…

‘Murder on the Orient Express’ Arrives in Southern California

If the success of Kenneth Branagh’s big-screen remake of Murder on the Orient Express was any indication last year, audiences are still craving for a well-crafted whodunit loaded with a long list of suspects. (Case in point: a remake of Death on the Nile is also in the works at 20th Century Fox.) That’s probably why Southern California is the place to find the West Coast premiere of the first-ever stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s seminal mystery, thanks to the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and Executive Producers Tom McCoy and Cathy Rigby (of McCoy Rigby Entertainment). This new take on Murder, which has been adapted by two-time Olivier Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig and directed by Sheldon Epps, the Artistic Director Emeritus at Pasadena Playhouse, should thrill and surprise Agatha Christie loyalists. The thrill comes from seeing a recreation of the titular train on stage, particularly two cars in which a majority of the action takes place. Stephen Gifford’s impres…

TRICK'd: The Halloween Sessions

When some people think of Halloween party music, they think "Monster Mash" or "Purple People Eater."

But this ain't some cheesy episode of a 90s sitcom. 

Yes, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" makes an appearance on this special playlist -- twice in fact, thanks to Steve Aoki's awesome remix of the 1983 classic. The rest is designed to keep your party going well into the wee hours of the morning, loaded with hits from the 90s, 00s, and today (cue the corny radio disc jockey spiel). And it will certainly be playing at one particular party this weekend here in L.A...

See some of you there.

@TheFirstEcho

The Mayfair Hotel: A New Staycation Spot for L.A. Creatives

Most writers in Los Angeles will tell you that it’s sometimes hard to find the perfect spot to get the creative juices flowing, to finish that script, to meet that deadline. Of course, said place needs to have decent coffee, free wi-fi, and comfy seating, but cafés throughout the city are becoming increasingly flooded with laptops, bloggers, and any old-school scribes who still prefer pen and paper. That’s why The Mayfair Hotel in downtown L.A. is becoming the next great getaway for local artists looking for an environment that can facilitate the creative process. (History lesson: this was a writing spot for legendary novelist Raymond Chandler nearly 80 years ago — so you know this place is legit.) Last month, The Mayfair celebrated its reopening with an epic party that attracted the best and the brightest in the L.A. art scene. While attendees were treated a smorgasbord of treats, tunes from DJ Muggs, and live performances from Mickey Avalon and London McNamaraothers were introduced …

Song of the Month: September 2018

2018 is proving to be The Year I Fell in Love With Australian Pop Artists.

After discovering the awesome retro sounds of MOBS and the harmonies of Sheppard, it's official: Australia has been churning out some great talent this year.

More proof can be found in Future Jr., the indie artist from Down Under who's been wooing me with his single "Changing." (Also worth listening: "Forget About Me" and "Half Past You")

Give it a listen:

@TheFirstEcho

‘Bridesmaids’ Gets the Unauthorized Musical Parody Treatment

Bridesmaids, the 2011 comedy blockbuster starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and a slew of funny ladies who are now household names, has landed for an encore run at L.A.’s famed Rockwell Table and Stage as part of the venue’s Unauthorized Musical Parody Of… series. Actress Natalie Lander takes on the role of Annie, originally played by Wiig, the manic maid of honor whose life unravels as she leads her best friend, Lillian (a pitch-perfect Molly Stilliens), and a group of colorful bridesmaids (Ashley Argota, Nohely Quiroz, Aynsley Bubbico, and Desi Dennis-Dylan) on a wild ride to Lillian’s wedding. Along the way she crosses paths with the adorkable cop Rhodes (here played by the charming Nathan Moore) while trying to unwrap herself around the finger of sleazy douchebag Ted (Michael Deni). The intimate, cabaret-style production is an inspired romp, especially with its surprising mash-ups that manage to make the movie’s memorable scenes even funnier. (Case in point: the iconic, food-poiso…

What I Did On My Summer Vacation (Most of Which Wasn't a Vacation)

NAME: Hiko Mitsuzuka
SUBJECT: Summer Vacation
HOMEROOM: 7C
DATE: Sept. 16, 2018

The Summer of 2018 was a busy one.

I kicked it off with a 10-night journey through Europe. You can read about my first six nights in Berlin and Paris here, here, and here.

I read Crazy Rich Asians before seeing the movie and fell in love with Astrid long before all of y'all did.

I consumed an adequate amount of ice cream; shout-out to Talenti gelato.

I treated my parents to a weekend in Vegas. Along with a Jennifer Lopez concert.

I had many strong feelings about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, mostly about how the franchise is losing its luster.

On the other hand, I saw and reviewed the fantastic Eighth Grade. It is being slotted in my Top 10 of the year.

I was transported back to high school when I saw TLC headline a music festival in South London. I also fell in love with London all over again.


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...and then #TLC closed out @mightyhoopla. . . . . . #whataboutyourfriends #diggino…