December 31, 2018

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 Roma and 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 graduating from middle school. And every awkward, humiliating, joyful, devastating, and mundane moment leading up to that transition is captured and conveyed with gorgeous poignancy and tender nuance. Burnham proves himself as a keen observer of adolescent life in the late 2010s. Welcome to a world of sniffing markers, shooter drills, and adults pathetically attempting to dab. When Kayla puts herself out there at a mean girl’s pool party — in an unflattering green swimsuit — we follow her along that tense, unbearable walk until she submerges herself, hiding among a group that doesn’t acknowledge her. We see her pain. We feel her pain. We know her pain. Eighth Grade never comes off as an indictment of Kids These Days. It’s a beautiful snapshot of youth and the culture that is rapidly shaping it, whether we like it or not.

2. WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (RT Score: 99%) - Morgan Neville’s sterling doc looks back on the impactful legacy of Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, simultaneously opening the floodgates of nostalgia and exploring the groundbreaking and powerful ideas that were subtly communicated within the show throughout its decades-long run. It is a beautiful tribute as well as a testament to the power of empathy. Soothing balm we need during our divisive Era of Outrage.


3. CRAZY RICH ASIANS (RT Score: 91%) - In an marketplace dominated by superheroes and YA adaptations, we almost forgot what rom-coms can be capable of -- despite the fact that the term "rom-com" has devolved into something cliched and easily mockable. But Jon M. Chu's vibrant and groundbreaking adaptation of Kevin Kwan's delicious bestseller reminded us of the magic of these films (when done properly, of course). Sure, CRA covers every trope in the genre (scene-stealing sidekick, exotic locales, a fashion-music montage), but it does so with unabashed gusto, uplifting and inspiring audiences when we needed it the most.

4. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (RT Score: 98%) - Melissa McCarthy wisely trades in her comic chops to inhabit the life of down-on-her-luck celebrity biographer Lee Israel in early-90s New York City, and thanks to Marielle Heller's restrained direction, what almost becomes another movie-about-a-writer turns into quiet yet engaging literary caper.

5. GAME NIGHT (RT Score: 83%) - The plot (a murder-mystery game goes horribly wrong for a group of competitive friends) is deceptively simple. The jokes (that squeaky toy gag, Jesse Plemon's creepy cop) are unexpected and clever. And the writing and direction is razor-sharp, carefully crafted, and surprisingly polished for a modern-day, R-rated laugher. A well-cast (and rewatchable) reprieve from the ad-lib-heavy joke machines that have forgotten what a great comedy is supposed to be.

6. TULLY (RT Score: 85%) - Forget the publicized gimmick touting Charlize Theron's weight gain for her role in writer Diablo Cody's tender ode of motherhood. Instead, focus on the actress's subtle choices and Jason Reitman's beautiful direction in this domestic drama that offers a brilliant twist on movies about nannies.


7. WIDOWS (RT Score: 91%) - An explosive, visceral collaboration between director Steve McQueen and writer Gillian Flynn, Widows is more than just a female-fronted heist story. It 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. Featuring the best big-screen ensemble in recent memory, it is tight, tense, and tricked-out with twists that never feel contrived -- a manifesto for the demise of the American dream.

8. BLACK PANTHER (RT Score: 97%) - Even those suffering from the worst cases of Superhero Movie Fatigue couldn't resist the power, charisma, and genuine wonder of the latest installment within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. More than just another fantastical epic, Panther brought much-needed black excellence to the big screen in a way that felt effortless -- all while offering a fascinating look at an alternate world in which such excellence is allowed to soar beyond its potential.


9. SEARCHING (RT Score: 93%) - This is the second year in a row in which John Cho appears in my Top 10 (last year he starred in the beautiful Columbus), and this time he plays a father of a teenage girl who goes missing. What makes this familiar story so bracingly original is its execution: the increasingly tense narrative unfolds across computer screens, text messages, surveillance footage, and news reports -- never losing its momentum, rising above the tropes of the found-footage genre -- only to drop one of the best plot twists in years.

10. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT (97%) - Tom Cruise & Co. have successfully defied the odds, keeping a 22-year-old franchise as fresh and thrilling as ever. This sixth entry is a reminder that not all action flicks need capes and intergalactic battles to keep audiences engaged. This one has both brains and brawn, giving us one breathtaking sequence after another with twists and turns that are genuinely jawdropping.

...AND 7 HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Love, Simon (92%)
A Star Is Born (90%)
A Simple Favor (85%)
Annihilation (88%)
Bad Times at the El Royale (74%)
Blockers (83%)
Hereditary (89%)

@TheFirstEcho

December 17, 2018

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 by a one-eyed thug with a machine gun who tears up Samantha's cozy home. And a small town Christmas parade is interrupted by a car chase during which our heroine leaps off Santa's sleigh and onto an 18-wheeler carrying a chemical bomb.


That said, The Long Kiss Goodnight should be mandatory holiday viewing. (Sorry, Elf and Love, Actually.) This is one F-bomb-laden freeze-pack of fun that has aged considerably well 22 years after it was considered a box office disappointment ($33.4 million domestically).

In other words, it's one of the most criminally underrated movies of the 90s. It was also ahead of its time.

Back in 1996, men were dominating the box office, especially in the action genre (shocker). Will Smith became a bonafide movie star with Independence Day, Tom Cruise took on the first Mission: Impossible, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was still around, protecting Vanessa Williams in Eraser and later battling toy store shoppers in Jingle All The Way. However, a woman who knows how to handle a semi-automatic, beat up a bad guy to a bloody pulp, and detonate barrels of kerosine better than MacGyver was a hard sell back then. As Priscilla Paige at Birth. Movies. Death. writes:


The Long Kiss Goodnight came out 5 years before Jennifer Garner kicked ass on the small screen in Alias and Angelina Jolie swung from the rafters in the original Tomb Raider. It arrived in theaters 14 years before Jolie spied it up in Salt. And it also blew shit up two decades before Charlize Theron shaved her head for Mad Max: Fury Road and went platinum for Atomic Blonde.


Simply put, Geena Davis & Co. lit the fuse for modern-day action heroines with The Long Kiss Goodnight. And it's no surprise that, 8 years after paving the way for female representation in the genre, the actress founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which is working to "engage, educate, and influence content creators marketers and audiences about the importance of eliminating unconscious bias, highlighting gender balance, challenging stereotypes, creating role models, and scripting a wide variety of strong female characters in entertainment and media that targets and influences children ages 11 and under." Like, whoa.

So do yourself a favor. Find a copy of The Long Kiss Goodnight or stream it wherever you can. Consider it a Christmas gift from me to you.

@TheFirstEcho

December 11, 2018

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 summer; words like "brilliant" "raw," "devastating," and "daring" have been tossed around. But frankly, it is the most indelible, awe-inspiring experience on the small screen this year.


2. KILLING EVE (BBC America) - Creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge gave us the year's most exciting game of cat-and-mouse while subverting the spy-assassin genre, thanks to the talents of its two leads. Emmy nominee Sandra Oh plays the titular MI5 operative tracking down the deadly Villanelle (Jodie Comer, a revelation) throughout Europe, and each episode is a thrill, infused with a surprisingly wicked sense of humor and, yes, some slight sapphic tendencies.

3. ONE DAY AT A TIME (Netflix) - The multi-cam sitcom got better and wiser in its second season due to its tackling of topics other family comedies rarely touch. The chemistry of its cast, bolstered by the hard-at-work Justina Machado, is also stronger than ever. In a TV landscape now cluttered with reboots, this is one that sticks with you -- a reimagined story that deserves to be told in 2018.

4. BARRY (HBO) - Part hitman comedy (a hit-com?) and part showbiz satire, the first season of Bill Hader's out-of-nowhere series introduced us to an assassin who accidentally stumbles into something far scarier than a mob operation: the L.A. acting scene.

5. ATLANTA (FX) - The second season of Donald Glover's "comedy" was a series of closely observed vignettes that defied categorization. Whether skewing the music industry, American race relations, or the culture at large, Atlanta settled well into its weirdly fascinating groove.


6. HOMECOMING (Amazon Prime) - Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail directs every dread-filled, 30-minute episode of this throwback to the paranoia thrillers of the 70s and provides Julia Roberts with one of the best roles of her career. She's Heidi, a social worker helping American soldiers transition back into their civilian lives, yet something sinister stirs underneath the surface of the facility where these sessions take place.

7. BLACK MIRROR: U.S.S. Callister (Netflix) - The Emmy-winning first installment of the anthology's fourth season is a chilling indictment of extreme fandom, giving star Jesse Plemons a platform to create one of the most memorable characters on television this year.

8. THE HANDMAID'S TALE (Hulu) - The dystopia drama continues to excel across the board, expanding upon its source material with more devastating visuals, more superb acting, and bleak plot developments that make me question how much further we can follow June's journey. Or I can just stop wondering and savor every moment of this gripping series.


9. YOUNGER (Paramount Network) - The fifth season of the highly bingeable rom-com beautifully soared to new heights, thanks to its undeniably charismatic ensemble. Also: someone give Miriam Shor (whose fierce Diana Trout was given a tasty romantic subplot) a damn Emmy nomination already!

10. AMERICAN CRIME STORY: THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (FX) - The brutal shooting of the renowned fashion designer is only the tip of a multi-layered iceberg that is carefully exposed across nine chapters of Ryan Murphy's anthology series. Bolstered by a jaw-dropping cast and a shocking performance from Glee alum Darren Criss, Versace ultimately succeeds in taking a closer look at America's complicated relationship with homophobia and sexual identity in the late 90s. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Queer Eye (Netflix)
Will & Grace (NBC)
The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)
Pose (FX)
Big Mouth (Netflix)

@TheFirstEcho

December 10, 2018

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 "better days." In fact, some of the best looked forward...

Here are my top 10 picks of the year:


1. Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae - "I am not America's nightmare, I am the American dream." So sings Monae in "Crazy, Classic, Life," the sparkling track that kicks off the stunning, retro-futuristic "emotion picture" that is Dirty Computer. The album unabashedly embraces its musical influences (Monae has listed Prince as her main muse) as well as its sex-positive sensibilities. Simply put, it is one of the best pop achievements in recent memory. Watch the entire 48-minute opus here.

2. "All The Stars" by Kendrick Lamar with SZA - This Grammy nominee for Song and Record of the Year (from the mega-blockbuster Black Panther) brings together a hip-hop master and a rising alt-R&B star for a hypnotic, enthralling, spacey jam.

3. "Surrender" by Walk the Moon - The group, known for their 2015 megahit "Shut Up and Dance," delivered a more mature-yet-soaring, neo-New Wave anthem (featured in the Love, Simon trailer) that deserves to be slotted on every playlist.


4. "Some Kind of Wonderful" by MOBS - The concept behind the Australian synth-pop group's EP, You Want Beauty?, is an act of why-hasn't-anyone-thought-of-it-before brilliance: a collection of earwormy, throwback tunes, each written from the perspective of a different character from an 80s movie. The result is glorious. While "Growing Up" name drops The Lost Boys, "Drive Away" channels Whitney's "How Will I Know," and "Say Anything" samples the Peter Gabriel track from the 1989 movie of the same name, "Some Kind of Wonderful" is the energetic standout that enhanced my summer.


5. Bloom by Troye Sivan - With his drowsy crooning and reflective lyrics, Sivan avoids the sophomore curse with this long-awaited encore, a mesmerizing, barrier-breaking compilation that gets better with each listen. In the dreamy "Seventeen," he revisits his first love, in "My My My!" he rejoices in all-consuming love, and with "Plum," he discovers how that love can quickly lose its luster. But it's the title track, with its provocative 2018 metaphors and 1988 production value, that soars.


6. "No One" by Jess Glynne - Leave it to the British songstress to make co-dependency sound uplifting. She returned stronger than ever with this rollicking, hand-clapping track from Always In Between.

7. "High Horse" by Kacey Musgraves & "Summer Fever" by Little Big Town - The Summer of 2018 will go down as The Summer Country Music Went Disco, and these irresistibly breezy singles are tailor-made for a nighttime backyard barbecue under the stars.

8. "Pink Lemonade" by James Bay - The catchy electronic rock track from the English singer-songwriter is, to borrow from Billboard's initial reaction, "delicious":


...For the rest of my list (and some honorable mentions), go to Bello Mag.

@TheFirstEcho

December 05, 2018

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

November 16, 2018

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 than just another heist film. It’s so richly layered and skillfully assembled with so many puzzle pieces, nothing ever gets lost in the shuffle, and that is a testament to the talented and meticulous McQueen and Flynn...

For more of my review, head over to ScreenPicks.

@TheFirstEcho

November 01, 2018

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 my origin story (hello PC Police). And while all of that business went down hundreds of years ago, Americans have claimed me as their own, redefining the meaning of, well, me. I'm the frickin' representation of gratitude, a time to be grateful for everything you have, a time to be surrounded by loved ones, filling your bellies with delicious goodness. Come on -- have you ever heard of anyone having a blue Thanksgiving?

I also understand that some folks think there's been a war waged on you, Christmas, but let me tell you, from where I'm standing, that's the fakest of fake news I have ever heard. If anything, I think there's been a war waged on me. I get one or two racks of the same yellow-orange-brown shit while YOU get an entire section of a store dedicated to you. You get radio stations playing songs about you 24-7. Where are my tunes? Where my carolers at? And I can't drive down any main street in any town or city without seeing red and green garland being wrapped around streetlights.

Halloween's got the whole month of October, and that bitch got his fans rolling in pumpkins on Labor Day who, by the way, won't complain because everyone already hates him for ending summer. So please, just give me these few weeks. For once, put yourself in my shoes. Think about how you feel come January when Valentine's Day is pushing those marshmallow Santas out of the way to make room for her heart-shaped boxes of chocolates.

I hope you can understand where I'm coming from.

Sincerely,
T-Giv

P.S. - Hanukkah says hi.

October 25, 2018

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 from an 80s or 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 -- and yes, Walk the Moon's rendition of "Ghostbusters" is in here, but that's it. 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

September 18, 2018

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

September 16, 2018

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.


I binged Season 2 of the brilliant Atlanta and Season 4 of the criminally overlooked You're The Worst.

I gave my MoviePass a run for its money (six movies in June, five in July) before those damn restrictions kicked in.

I attended a wedding in Santa Monica and realized not all wedding bands suck. (Kudos to the singer who pulled off Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody" and Whitney's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody.")

I got a little tipsy in Palm Springs during the extra-long 4th of July weekend. (Okay, I got a lot of tipsy.)

In Berlin, I ate schnitzel for the first time. And my God, it was delicious.

My father was soon thereafter diagnosed with prostate cancer, so I flew to Florida to help my parents reach a decision on treatment: he is scheduled to receive radiation treatments this fall. My family is currently doing well. Therefore, #fuckcancer.

I saw The Spy Who Dumped Me. My reaction: NO ONE TOLD ME GILLIAN ANDERSON HAS THREE SCENES IN IT!

I went to the Saved by the Bell-themed pop-up diner, Saved by the Max, in West Hollywood. The food was expectedly...okay. There were plenty of Instagram ops to be had.

My company was awarded Global Agency of the Year. NBD.

I finally read Ruth Ware's The Woman in Cabin 10. This book is screaming for a Reese Witherspoon-produced adaptation.

I bought a new pair of glasses.

I was absolutely floored by Hannah Gadsby's Nanette on Netflix.

In Paris, I ate escargot for the first time. The copious amounts of garlic butter helped.

Oh, and I signed with a lit agent before finishing the first draft of my YA horror novel, Slasher Movie Girl. (To clarify: my agent isn't actually lit; she's a literary agent, someone who reps authors. Duh.) Publishers, keep your eyes peeled this fall...

@TheFirstEcho

A Breakup Poem for MoviePass


Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Dear MoviePass,
I'm breaking up with you.

For most of this year,
We've had a good time.
10 bucks for so much,
It felt like a crime.

Blockers was cute,
Tully was great,
And who could forget,
The fun of Ocean's 8?

I bragged to my friends,
A glowing testimony,
Never feeling I wasted dollars,
On that shitty Acrimony.

But then you changed,
Like the elusive Don Draper,
Charging me extra,
To go see Skyscraper.

I gave that a pass,
Not knowing what you'd do,
And then you forced my hand,
To check out Mamma Mia 2.

Your rules and restrictions,
Gave me a bad rub,
Testing my patience,
Asking for ticket stubs.

But like an abused spouse,
I came back for more.
But going to the movies,
Shouldn't feel like a chore.

Like many, I'm frustrated.
We're all getting quite pissed.
That's why we're now eyeing,
AMC's A-List.

Best of luck,
H

@TheFirstEcho

September 10, 2018

Fox's Marketing Team Sure Knows How To Commemorate September 11


Like, yikes.

I know the season premiere of the Fox drama involves an earthquake in Los Angeles, but this billboard...oh wow.

September 04, 2018

BITTERSWEET: The 2018 Fall Playlist


Before you pack away the SPF and hang up those flip-flops, familiarize yourself with these tunes I've begun to curate for your autumnal pleasure.

And FYI: No pumpkins were harmed in the making of this playlist.

@TheFirstEcho

September 03, 2018

Why The Fall TV Season Simultaneously Feels Like 1984, 1992, and 2000


Richard Newby's recent thinkpiece in The Hollywood Reporter, "What Happens When Fandom Doesn't Grow Up" (read it here), brilliantly discusses how modern nostalgia has presented itself across pop culture and what it means for today's audiences...as well as tomorrow's.

I expressed a similar sentiment a few years ago, basically saying that Hollywood doesn't want me and my friends to grow up. The proof is everywhere you look. Every month there's a familiar title from my childhood or adolescence playing at my local megaplex or unleashing new episodes on the small screen.

This is undoubtedly, as many pundits have argued, a result of the growing number of business-minded (read: less creative) execs at film and TV studios who are averse to high-risk investments (i.e. original content), enabling this rampant reboot fever that is affecting a generation of viewers that may never know what it's like to discover a true, original property they can organically grow to love and cherish.

It's a vicious cycle; as long as we keep consuming these things, the more this industry will keep making them.

Hence why the upcoming TV season is going to feel like 1984, 1992, and 2000 all at once, thanks to new versions of Magnum P.I., Murphy Brown, Charmed, and Roswell -- as well as the continuation of the Roseanne saga, now called The Conners, and the new Will & Grace.

In other words, we have one TV season that will allow me to relive my childhood, adolescence, and college years -- simultaneously -- during any given week. (And that's not all: reboots of Bewitched, The Facts of Life, Designing Women, Rugrats, and Party of Five are currently in development.)

Consider me 38 going on 18.

@TheFirstEcho

August 09, 2018

Nostalgic AF: 1980-2000


This is one helluva #TBT.

I know I'm getting old when I catch myself listening to the music of my youth more often than I have before (even though I still pride myself on discovering new tunes on a regular basis, not necessarily what's on the radio).

So it makes sense that I threw together more than 100 songs from the 80s and 90s to help me escape some of the present-day shittiness of adulthood. This is my audio comfort food. This is my time machine taking me back to those days when one of my biggest concerns was whether or not the VCR would record the latest episode of The X-Files.

Needless to say, I will be adding more to this playlist in the upcoming weeks...

@TheFirstEcho

July 12, 2018

Review: 'Eighth Grade'


First thing’s first: Elsie Fisher is, at the risk of sounding trite, a revelation.

She is the young actress starring in writer-director Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, a teen dramedy unlike any we’ve seen on the big screen in recent memory. It may also be the first (and best) movie about Gen Z that could very well resonate across all demos.

Fisher plays 13-year-old Kayla, a girl on the verge of a major transition: graduating from middle school to high school. And every awkward, humiliating, joyful, devastating, and mundane moment leading up to that is captured and conveyed with such gorgeous poignancy and tender nuance.

Burnham, mostly known for his stand-up and YouTube past, proves himself here as a keen observer of adolescent life in the late 2010s. Welcome to a world of sniffing markers, shooter drills (look out for a scene that is simultaneously funny, jawdropping, and heartbreaking), and adults pathetically attempting to dab and use words like “lit.”

It doesn’t take long to easily settle into Kayla’s world and realize just how much she is a product of it. She comes from a single-parent household (Josh Hamilton plays her dad to perfection). She mindlessly scrolls through Instagram, liking random posts, hoping to be liked back (a rabbit hole she often falls into, staged with a kaleidoscopic effect and a synth-dizzy score). She records weekly affirmations on YouTube that no one watches (a device brilliantly used to juxtapose her daily struggles at school). And all throughout, she so desperately wants to be cool...

Read more of my glowing review of a film that is easily falling into my Top 10 of 2018 so far - here.

June 27, 2018

(Bitter)Sweet 16: An L.A.nniversary


For my 16th L.A.nniversary I thought I would be waxing nostalgic on the life I’ve created for myself in this city, reminiscing and reflecting on the moments that have brought me to this point in time – like I usually do. I thought I would be celebrating 16 years of surviving a city that tends to chew up and spit out those who have – let's say – a more delicate constitution.

But unfortunately, I’m not feeling that right now. There is something about the sociopolitical climate we’re currently living in that is inspiring more bitter than sweet within me. And, for other reasons I’ll likely disclose at a later time, I’m feeling a little…vent-y (not the Starbucks kind). I’m ignoring the advice of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.” That said, I’m sure I’ll look back on this someday and say to myself: Sheesh. Get the stick out of your ass, Mitsuzuka.

In other words, #sorrynotsorry for what you’re about to read...


As I reach this 16-year milestone, I’d like to share some of my own words of wisdom.

If I had any advice for young hopefuls planning to move to L.A. in order to pursue their dreams and passions – or pursue the hot piece of ass they met on Bumble or Grindr – it would be this:

Don't come here.

Seriously. Don't move to this city. We've already got plenty of folks scrambling to achieve a number of #careergoals, #bodygoals, #couplesgoals, and whatever other goals are currently being invented by some 20-year-old intern who wants to "make it" as an influencer.

Trust me. You'll only clog up more boulevards and freeways (and our infrastructure is already fragile as it is). You’ll only crowd more gyms – and the hiking trails at Runyon Canyon. You’ll only create a longer wait at that brunch place Eater said had “killer gluten-free French toast.” You’ll only further inundate our inboxes and news feeds with invites to see your stand-up comedy, your one-man show, your gallery opening, or a table read for that indie drama you co-wrote with the college friend you’ll eventually lose touch with once she books a pilot and leaves you with nothing but a side gig writing TV recaps for a website no one reads.

You are basically the reason why La Brea Avenue, Hollywood, and downtown have been dominated by state-of-the-art condominiums and countless housing developments, why rent is skyrocketing, and why no one can afford anything north of the 10 Freeway.

In fact, I'll go one step further and say this: stop dreaming. The industry you're hoping to break into is already at its most competitive. By the time you read this sentence, a thousand wide-eyed YouTubers and Instagram models from New York and the Midwest will have already arrived in town with plans to “dominate,” “get some exposure,” or “not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Instead, move to another city that could use a boost in its economy. Go gentrify a neighborhood somewhere else where you can make a bigger splash, where you can get more recognition, where you can buy a three-bedroom house for the price of a studio in Silver Lake.

Sure, L.A. may look all glam and fabulous (and some of it is), but turn around, save your hard-earned money, and flourish in another place.

Don't come to Los Angeles. Really.

We’re good here. Thanks.

@TheFirstEcho

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

Fleur East's New Single is My New "Favourite Thing"

I've been an admirer of Fleur East ever since I fell in love with "Sax," an irresistible, energetic 2016 jam that was The ...