March 31, 2019

Nearing the End of My 30s


With age comes an increased indifference.

And during my birthday this year, I realized I am now old enough to have a kid college (But seriously, who wants kids these days? Why add another carbon footprint to the earth?) I am also old enough let certain things fall to the wayside.

Just how old? Allow me to illustrate...

I am fast-forward-through-the-musical-guest-on-SNL years old.

I am everyone-on-social-media-is-insufferable years old.

I am if-Pete-Buttigieg-gets-elected-there'll-be-a-POTUS-younger-than-me years old.

I am crushing-on-MSNBC-correspondents years old.

@TheFirstEcho

March 28, 2019

'Go' Turns 20: A Look Back at the Script, Soundtrack, and Timothy Olyphant's Abs


In the spring of 1999, my freshman year of college was nearing its end. My initial taste of dorm life resulted in being fifteen pounds heavier, experimenting with a goatee (I know), and getting my hands on any plaid button-down American Eagle had in stock (screw you, Abercrombie).

The spring of 1999 shall also be remembered as the time I was introduced to one of the few movies that left an impact on me as a young adult -- and no, I'm not talking about The Matrix, which opened on my birthday that year.

Go, directed by Doug Liman (Swingers) and written by John August (Big Fish), was released on April 7, 1999 during the height of drug-fueled raver films at the turn of the new millennium (Groove, Human Traffic, etc.), tapping into a nervous energy that permeated pre-Y2K America.


The movie's cast was a venerable who's-who of late-90s It Boys and It Girls: Katie Holmes (fresh off the first season of Dawson's Creek), Taye Diggs (fresh off Broadway's Rent and post-How Stella Got Her Groove Back), Scott Wolf (wrapping up five seasons on Party of Five), comedian and SNL alum Jay Mohr, Scream 2 suspect Timothy Olyphant, twink-adjacent Clueless vet Breckin Meyer, and Canadian actress Sarah Polley, who was making a splash on the indie scene. It also features a blink-or-you'll-miss-it appearance by a then-unknown Melissa McCarthy (a friend of August's at the time).

"Just so we're clear, you stole a car, shot a bouncer, and had sex with two women?" - Singh

The film is distinctly split up into three acts, each one following a character whose story is connected to the others. It opens with the young Ronna (Polley), a supermarket cashier who needs some quick cash to pay her rent during the holidays and comes up with a scheme to sell baby aspirin to Ecstasy-seeking ravers after a drug deal goes wrong. The next focuses on Ronna's British coworker, Simon (Desmond Askew), who takes a trip with his pals to Vegas where a strip club encounter also goes wrong. And then, in the last vignette, a pair of gay soap opera actors (Wolf and Mohr) go on an undercover drug bust with a cop (William Fichtner) that leads to a very awkward dinner with his wife (Jane Krakowski, taking a break from Ally McBeal at the time).

The moral of these stories: In life, things can go wrong. And they most certainly will.


To say Go hardly pinged on anyone's radar twenty years ago would be obvious. One could speculate this was because the film had the misfortune of opening in theaters a week after Keanu Reeves donned a leather trench coat and broke free from the chains of virtual reality in the blockbuster no one saw coming, The Matrix. Earning a total of $16.8 million during its domestic box office run, Go barely recouped its overall budget.

But the reviews from most critics were glowing and respectable. With its razor-sharp dialogue, crafty narrative structure, and Tarantino-lite sensibilities, the movie was considered a junior Pulp Fiction. The contained timeline -- all the action unfolds over the same 12 hours -- also gives everything an urgent tone. And on screen, three interconnected stories featuring a dozen characters get wrapped up in a tight 100 minutes. The most casual of moviegoers couldn't ask for more in a piece of high-octane entertainment.

"You know what I like best about Christmas? The surprises..." - Claire

Like Die HardGo also deserves to be considered for Christmas movie categorization. It's an alternative holiday treat with all the trimmings: beat-up jalopies covered in lights, a dance party called Mary X-Mas ("Mary, like a chick. Like her name is Mary. Not like 'you marry her,' you fucking moron."), classic holiday tunes sprinkled throughout, and a shirtless, Santa hat-wearing drug dealer who likes to quote The Breakfast Club.


The film arguably takes a page from Shane Black's Guide to Making a Christmas Crime Movie. It shows the grittier side of Los Angeles during the holidays, much like Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nice Guys -- all written by Black. “Christmas represents a little stutter in the march of days," Black told Entertainment Weekly in 2016, "a hush in which we have a chance to assess and retrospect our lives. I tend to think that it just informs as a backdrop...I also think that Christmas is just a thing of beauty, especially as it applies to places like Los Angeles, where it’s not so obvious, and you have to dig for it, like little nuggets."

With Go, Liman and August manage to convey what it's like to live in L.A. during a season normally associated with family gatherings, warm fuzzies, and friendly snowmen. The city is known for becoming a chilly ghost town between the twenty-fourth of December and the first of January, leaving behind its few natives and anyone else who can't afford to travel back to wherever they came from. Having Christmas in the background adds a weird yet effective counterpoint to Go's intertwining plots and not-so-family-friendly material.

"They can't evict you. You'd be ho-ho-homeless!" - Simon

Contributing to the frenetic vibes of Go is a kickass soundtrack that includes tunes from No Doubt, Natalie Imbruglia, Fatboy Slim, and Len, who scored a hit single with "Steal My Sunshine." Meanwhile, the movie's rapid-fire opening credits is accompanied by Lionrock's "Fire Up The Shoesaw," a stuttering track that sucks in the audience right away. The electronic artist who provided the throbbing score, BT (a.k.a. Brian Transeau), also contributed the pulse-pounding "Believer," a banger heard during the climactic rave scene in Ronna's storyline. (FYI: One year later, BT would release his third studio LP, Movement in Still Life, a seminal piece of work that remains on my top 10 list of all-time favorite albums.)


"I could leave something with you. Collateral."
"I already got a fucking Swatch."

So, how does Go hold up to today's Millennial-populated, social media-driven environment? Surprisingly well.

In fact, watching the film through a 2019 lens reveals something peculiar: a slight passing of the torch from Gen X to what was then called Gen Y (a.k.a. Millennials). The movie's cross-section of ages among its young characters arguably represents a shift in demographics that was felt in pop culture at the time. After all, 1999 was an interesting year for movies. Not only were filmmakers experimenting with the rules of cinema (as seen in Fight Club, The Blair Witch Project, Being John Malkovich, American Beauty, Magnolia, and The Sixth Sense, to name a few), there was also a popcorn-friendlier crop of titles appealing to an emerging, younger group: She's All That, Varsity Blues, Cruel Intentions, and 10 Things I Hate About You. In hindsight, Go perfectly falls somewhere in between, bridging both of those sides as well as a generational gap that seems to have grown wider the deeper we move into the 21st century.

I recently sat down with the hosts of We Watch Things, Jared Ruddell and Carolyn Wright, to talk about Go just in time for its 20th anniversary. They had watched the movie for the first time before we recorded, so it was interesting to get a fresh perspective from viewers (gulp) a decade-plus younger than me.

You can check it out (and feel old like me) here:


March 20, 2019

Spring Equinox 2019: So Much Pop Culture News in One Day


A lot happened on this rainy Spring Equinox...

We found out the long-awaited third Bill & Ted movie has a release date: August 2020. Excellent indeed. Bring on the mid-life crisis punchlines. (And who knew the Hollywood Bowl was the go-to rendezvous spot to make such an announcement?)


Speaking of things that come in threes, Netflix went ahead and dropped the trailer for Stranger Things 3, which takes place during the summer of 1985. It's chock-full of colorful, Reagan-era imagery (Geometric patterned clothes! Neon-lit malls! 4th of July carnivals!) and establishes how quickly these kids are growing up.


And then Lizzo goes ahead and drops a new single featuring Missy Elliot, "Tempo," a track tailor-made for twerking:


In casting news, the Twittersphere had a collective coronary when dreamy Netflix heartthrob Noah Centineo (if you don't know the name, you are clearly over 25 and have never watched a YA romance adaptation) was announced to be "in talks" to play the new He-Man. Yes, this guy. And all I have to say right now: The same schlubs who are bitching and moaning about this development will be the same ones watching the inevitable YouTube fitness trainer videos demonstrating how they too can get a jacked Masters of the Universe bod like him.


Finally, we got a sneak peek at Quentin Tarantino's ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which stars Brad Pitt as a stunt double for Leonardo DiCaprio's hotshot TV actor in the 70s. Margot Robbie is in there somewhere, and so is an actor playing Bruce Lee. I'm sure there will be a kickass score and plenty of showbiz skewering. I'm like, okay...

@TheFirstEcho

March 14, 2019

Lori Loughlin Reunites with Daughter Olivia Jade: A Dramatization


The following is purely speculative for the purposes of our general entertainment and my possible employment to write the inevitable HBO/Hulu/Netflix/Ryan Murphy limited series...



EXT. THE MOSSIMO ESTATE - DAY

A black SUV makes its way through a throng of news vans and a mob of reporters. Cameras flash. A proverbial media circus. The SUV pulls up to the gate as it slowly opens.


EXT. THE MOSSIMO COURTYARD - CONTINUOUS

The SUV makes its way up the driveway and stops. A shaken LORI steps out of the car. She's clearly had a rough night and glances up at the house, preparing herself for what's to come. Her assistant, RILEY, 27, an overly groomed twunk running on three Venti lattes, is right there with her. 

He attempts to guide her to the door, but she waves him away.


INT. THE MOSSIMO ESTATE - FOYER

Lori and Riley enter the quiet house, the outside chaos suddenly muted. No one is there to greet them.


RILEY
She should be upstairs in her room.

LORI
And Isabella?

Riley solemnly shakes his head.

Lori looks up at the top of the grand staircase. Afraid to take that first step. After a beat, she kicks off her Tory Burch flats.


INT. OLIVIA'S BEDROOM - MOMENTS LATER

OLIVIA is curled up in the corner of her Bali Wood Canopy King Bed. In one corner of her room: piles of boxes of Olivia Jade x Sephora Bronze & Illuminate palettes. Her pale face is aglow from her phone as she listlessly scrolls through.

Lori stands in the doorway and then makes her way to the foot of the bed. Her daughter doesn't give any indication that she hears her mother approach. 

LORI
Liv, baby...

Olivia doesn't move from her position.

LORI
I don't know where to begin.

More silence. Lori is near tears.

LORI
Can we please talk?

Nothing. She makes another attempt.

LORI
Looks like you had a nice time on Rick's 
yacht. I'm sorry it had to be cut short.

OLIVIA 
(glued to her phone)
Did they put you in a cell?

LORI
What?

OLIVIA
Did they put you in a prison cell for the
night? Did you have to sleep on a cot?

LORI
What? No, honey. They had me in this room--

OLIVIA
They should've put you in a cell. They 
    should've made you practice. Rotting away. 
 Considering that's what you'll be doing 
in Hell someday.

LORI
Honey, please. I know you must be hurting...

Olivia turns to face her mother. The rage begins.

OLIVIA
Hurting? Try humiliated. Try totally shunned
by all my friends. Try devastated because all
my sponsors just dropped me. Like that! Gone.
This is officially the worst spring break EVER!
I hate you! How could you do this to me? My
life is beyond over! How can I ever go back to
school? How could I ever make another video? I
have two-fucking-million subscribers who rely
on my beauty and lifestyle tips! Do you know
what they've been saying about me on YouTube? 

LORI
Honey, why don't you put the phone down--

Suddenly, Olivia throws the phone across the room. It hits one of her makeup palette boxes, and like dominoes, it hits another box; several tumble to the floor.

OLIVIA
Do you know how much I was making each 
month?

LORI
Olivia, baby--

OLIVIA
DO YOU?! I was making more than you'd
ever make in one episode of that flaming
piece of shit you call a Hallmark show.
And ironically? I was making enough to pay
for a semester at the school you and Dad
paid some old dude to get me into.

LORI
It's so much more complicated than that. 

OLIVIA
I can't stand to look at you.

Lori wipes away her tears. Regains her composure. There's a shift in her tone.


LORI
You have no idea how much we invested in 
you and your sister.

OLIVIA
Half a million apparently.

LORI
What did you think those fake crew photos
were for? You knew what we were doing.

OLIVIA
Is this where you tell me I'm an ungrateful
little brat? That I should be thankful
for everything you and Dad have given me?

Lori doesn't recognize the young woman in front of her. She's at a loss for words.

OLIVIA
Face it, Mom. You're fucked. What are you
gonna do now that everyone knows America's 
Favorite Aunt is a conniving felon?

LORI
I'm so sorry, Olivia. Please. Tell me...
Just tell me, what can I do?

OLIVIA
(daggers in her eyes)
You can get the hell out of my room.

And with that, Lori backs away. She nods, the tears coming back. She closes the door behind her.


March 02, 2019

LAUDERDALE: The 2019 Spring Playlist


Sure, there may be an arctic blast that is hitting most of the United States, but that doesn't mean we can't tap into some Spring Break feelings.

I've scoured the interwebs to find the perfect collection to get us all in a slightly warmer mood. So far, here's what I got: Lizzo is proving to be the Queen of Spring 2019 (she appears twice here). Hailee Steinfeld (track 3) has an 80s dance jam that Carly Rae Jepsen (track 10) wishes she released. Grammy darling H.E.R. covers a classic for the soundtrack to What Men Want (track 9) while Danish pop group Alphabeat makes a welcome return with "Shadows" (track 11). Speaking of comebacks, we have British boyband Westlife dropping in (track 6), and of course, Broadway crush Ben Platt shows up (track 5) with the first single off his forthcoming debut album.

As of this posting, there are 35 tracks waiting to be played, but as always, come back for updates to this playlist. (*As for the cover art, check out Yoko Honda's awesome retro designs here.)

@TheFirstEcho

March 01, 2019

My Pop Culture Saviors of 2018: A Belated List


2018 had its challenges -- but it also had some really good keepsakes. Here are some of the people (and things) who kept my year afloat.

1. Kevin Kwan - The author of Crazy Rich Asians and its two sequels became the subject of my Instagram fascination: a writer living a jet-set life, touring the globe on the merits of his writing, and seeing his creation turn into an international, Golden Globe-nominated sensation on the big-screen.

2. Cynthia Erivo - Her role (and singing chops) in the future cult classic, Bad Times at El Royale, caught my attention (along with anyone else who saw Drew Goddard's neo-noir crime thriller) and her fierce supporting role in Widows only cemented my fascination with this Broadway-trained actress.

3. MOBS - They're the Australian synth-pop group that has yet to make a splash in the States, and they hooked me in with their throwback tunes, specifically those on their EP, You Want Beauty, all written from the point of view of characters from 80s movies. But as of this posting, the group has switched record labels, which has led to a repurposed EP called Bad Love that is the only available piece of work now available on Spotify.

4. Roxane Gay - You haven't read her brilliant collection of pop culture essays in Bad Feminist yet? Or her collection of short stories in Difficult Women? Or her painfully raw memoir, Hunger? What are you doing with you life?

5. Dave Holmes - I read his so-relatable-it's-scary memoir, Party of One, two years ago and started listening to his podcast, Homophilia (co-hosted by the equally enjoyable Matt McConkey) last year. And I can't get enough of his insightful, witty, intelligent pop culture thinkpieces at Esquire. In short, I envy Dave Holmes, and I would like his career. Please.

6. Lucas Hedges - I wholeheartedly appreciate and respect a young up-and-coming actor who avoids taking a role on any given CW or Freeform show and opts instead for meaty, award-worthy indie fare.

7. Sideshow Books in L.A. - This small independent bookshop was previously located on Idaho Avenue on the Westside (around the corner from the Nuart Theatre). And when it closed in 2017, I was crushed, thinking it was another nail in the coffin of indie booksellers. But luckily, on one fateful Sunday afternoon, I drove down La Cienega and caught a nondescript sign that read BOOKS in painted letters. I pulled over, walked in, and discovered a new personal haven.

8. Queer Eye's Fab Five - The reboot of the makeover series has successfully recontextualized its format for a post-marriage equality era in America, thanks to the charisma of its lifestyle gurus, Antoni Porowski, Karamo Brown, Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France, and Bobby Berk. Taking the boys out of major metropolitan areas (i.e. NYC) and putting them in the small towns of the South certainly helped. And they helped me feel hopeful again for the future of this country.

@TheFirstEcho

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...