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 05, 2018

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 searches for her missing son Will (played to hilarious effect by…a felt puppet). Diana Ross’s “Upside Down” gets a wicked rap break when Dustin, Mike, Lucas, and Eleven enter the parallel universe of the same name. And Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” makes an appearance as a duet between teenage good girl Nancy (Pitch Perfect‘s Kelley Jakle) and ill-fated fan-favorite Barb (Tony winner Marissa Jaret Winokur). And speaking of Barb, this spoof benefits from an inventive twist: a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure feature allows members of the audience to roll a dice and determine the fate of certain characters. (According to our show, Barb lives!)


The show’s supernaturally talented cast also includes Eric Petersen (Kirstie, School of Rock on Broadway) as Sheriff Hopper and Garrett Clayton (King Cobra, NBC’s Hairspray Live!) who pulls double duty as Nancy’s boyfriend Steve and the lovable-but-goofy Dustin. Look out for his awesome rendition of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” in Act Two. And then there’s Damon Gravina as Mike and Lana McKissack as the telekinetic Eleven: the pair stops the show with a kickass cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.”

Says Pazakis, about the Unauthorized Musical Parody Of… series: “We always try and merge movies and musical theatre, and love revisiting and retooling popular films and series for the live audience…Our live band and slew of hit pop songs develop this cult classic story in a way that UMPO Rockwell audiences have come to expect – a night of great talent, entertainment and laughter!”

By popular demand, the run for UMPO: Stranger Things has been extended through Sunday, December 2. Get your tickets here.

@TheFirstEcho

November 04, 2018

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 lattes, you can add a dose of CBD (that’s Cannabidiol, or cannabis oil) to your daily pick-me-up (for just $4). CBD benefits include: reducing pain and inflammation and even helping curb anxiety…so why not drink your greens at Alfred? And no, you won’t get high from it, so carry on with your morning commutes.

BEST COMFORT FOOD REBOOT


Part of the Beverly Center’s revitalization includes the opening of Easy’s, a stylish, “new age diner” located at the Sixth Floor Entrance. From restaurateur Jeremy Fall, this open-space eatery and bar is a revival of the popular burger pop-up from Chinatown. Easy’s offers an all-day menu, from breakfast items (the Pork Belly Benedict is a must) and casual lunches (try their version of a Kentucky Hot Brown) to hearty dinners (two words: Duck Parmesan) and inventive cocktails (the Tang Julius is like an alcoholic creamsicle). After a brisk stroll throughout the renovated retail behemoth, stop by for a bite.

BEST ITALIAN NEW WAVE


No. 10 Restaurant on 3rd Street is a contemporary Italian-American fusion restaurant from Italian football legend Alessandro Del Piero. Chefs Fabio Ugoletti and Nick Parker join forces to craft multi-regional, seasonal cuisine served in a modern-yet-intimate space packed with ambiance. Ugoletti started his culinary career in luxury hotels and upscale restaurants, working under the likes of Daniele Sera and Massimo Spigaroli, while the self-educated Parker has worked in kitchens across the U.S. feeding his love for “molecular gastronomy.” Their Paccheri dish (chunks of lobster mixed with pasta pomodorini in a crustacean broth and basil pesto) is as indulgent as it sounds and worth your cheat day.

BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP FIX


“Life is short. Eat cookies.” That’s the motto hanging over the counter at Wilshire Boulevard’s Milk Jar Cookies, which continues to be our go-to when it comes to freshly baked treats, especially their chocolate chip cookies (the best in town, and we’re not the only ones who think so).

@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.

UNDER THE SUN: The 2019 Summer Playlist

Before everyone goes their separate ways for the long Memorial Day weekend, please direct your attention to the 40+ songs I've gather...