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Monday, August 20, 2018

Movie Music Monday: A.R. Rahman returns live to Southern California with old & new film favorites

Film Flam Flummox

Oscar®- and Grammy-winning composer/songwriter/musician/singer A.R. Rahman's return to the Southern California stage after three years didn't have a overarching theme unlike that last concert in 2015--"The Intimate Concert," leaning heavily on his ballad work and featuring a number of stripped down arrangements and orchestrations for most of the selections--but the more typically grab bag approach still made for a filling three hours of memorable melodies culled from various points in Rahman's decades-long career in music and film at his second 2018 North American concert tour stop yesterday, Sunday, August 19, at the Arena at the Anaheim Convention Center.

While such an enduring career with massively prolific output (all the greater, considering he works in all three of India's primarily film industries, Tamil/Kollywood, Hindi/Bollywood, and Telugu/Tollywood) leaves seemingly near-infinite options to fill a decidedly finite concert set list, as with any celebrated artist, there are certain hallmark works that are almost required to be covered. The two films most represented, as the case in the previous concert, were Subhash Ghai's lavish 1999 drama Taal and a tonal polar opposite, Mani Ratnam's dark 1998 romance Dil Se... While various tunes from both films have been staples in live shows, and indeed favorites such as "Taal Se Taal" from the former and "Dil Se Re" and "Jiya Jale" from the latter (though, as in 2015, not Dil Se..'s most known song, "Chaiyya Chaiyya") were performed, Rahman took the opportunity to give some of them some new twists. "Dil Se Re" was given an unexpectedly jazzy treatment in its instrumentation, particularly in interludes between verses; "Taal Se Taal"'s pulsing rhythms were lent a hard-rock edge; "Nahin Samne" from Taal, originally a solo male number, into a male/female duet for this show, as it was adapted into in English for the Andrew Lloyd Webber-produced stage musical Bombay Dreams. Given that twist given to that last song, I fully expected the performance of that song to at one point switch into the lyrics of that English language adaptation, "Closer Than Ever," but it never did--which leads to one disappointment this time as compared to the Intimate Tour. That time around, Rahman made the inspired decision to do multilingual mashup renditions of a few songs that were recorded in different languages, which given his roots and massive following in the southern region of India, was an inspired move of inclusion for his Tamil/Telugu base in a generally Hindi-leaning show. (It also led to some surprising and refreshing numbers, such as a beautiful blend of Taal's "Ishq Bina" with its English language Bombay Dreams counterpart, "Love's Never Easy.") This time, however, the tunes stuck to a single language, and that left those wanting a bit more balance between his North and South Indian output somewhat let down.

Also a bit of a letdown was the general underuse of the legendary Udit Narayan, who, along with Neeti Mohan, Jonita Gandhi, Haricharan, Javed Ali, and Linda Lind, were the featured vocalists on the show. Narayan's involvement would lead one to expect Rahman's work from his pre-Slumdog Millionaire international breakthrough, Ashutosh Gowariker's 2001 Foreign Language Film Oscar® nominee Lagaan, to be prominently featured, but alas that score was relegated to brief snippets in a general medley portion of the show; he also only got a couple of solo spotlight moments. Still, that was more than Ali and Haricharan, for the male singers in general took a back seat to ladies, namely Mohan and Gandhi. This did not make for any less of a show, for Mohan and Gandhi were electrifying performers in fine voice, and Lind held her own in the two big English language numbers of the night ("Shakalaka Baby" and, most unexpectedly, the Pussycat Dolls version of Slumdog's Oscar®-winning "Jai Ho," which naturally was the grand finale) but it would have been nice to hear, say, Haricharan tackle the power ballad "Ennodu Nee Irundhaal" from Shankar's 2015 science fiction romance i as he did in most cities in the Intimate Concert tour. (Sid Sriram, the original singer for the film, made a special guest appearance for that song at the Los Angeles stop at that tour, and it was a true showstopper.

But these quibbles, also including a sometimes curious set list that left some anticipated fan favorites glaringly absent, proved to be just that--quibbles, and minor ones at that, for even when the tunes were less familiar, Rahman, his singers, and the spectacular band never gave less than their all. Rahman's general stage demeanor remains fairly reserved as it always has been, but the voice still soars, as does his piano playing, and he does come out of his shell and to rousing life in the concert's final, upbeat stretch--especially on vintage Tamil selections such as the original"Humma" from Mani Ratnam's 1995 Bombay (not the more recent Hindi retooling of the tune, titled "The Humma Song," from last year's OK Jaanu) and "Mustafa Mustafa" from 1996's Kadhal Desam. But as in all his live shows, it's not so much Rahman the performer who is the star attraction, but those gorgeous, eternal compositions of his, and that one is left wanting so much more music after a packed three hours is a testament to his incredible gift--and what a gift he is to music and film fans the world over.

A.R. Rahman continues his tour in America through the rest of August to mid-September with stops in Atlanta (August 25); Washington, DC (August 31); New York (September 1); Seattle (September 7); Dallas (September 8); Chicago (September 14); and Houston (September 15). For more information, visit Prria Haider Productions.

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(Special thanks to GSA Music)

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Monday, August 13, 2018

The Smallfoot Yeti Village offers a cool blast in the heat of Hollywood

Film Flam Flummox

After successfully creating a blockbuster-building buzz last year for the Stephen King adaptation It with a free, immersive fan experience custom built in the heart of Hollywood, Warner Bros. is once again doing the same but for a wildly contrasting film: the animated comedy Smallfoot, featuring a voice cast led Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, LeBron James, Common, Gina Rodriguez, Yara Shahidi, and Danny DeVito. While the It Experience was a scary, haunted house/maze-esque attraction aimed at an adult audience, the Smallfoot "Yeti Village" is accordingly as family-friendly as Karey Kirkpatrick's film, offering a number of activities for the kids as well as photo opportunities and--perhaps most importantly--an Arctic-level blast of literal cool over its two-level structure in the late summer swelter of SoCal heat.

Unlike the It attraction, which was a bit more structured in that small groups were guided through the expanse of the space in fairly rigid intervals, after checking in at the Smallfoot Yeti Village at their scheduled time, each party has more or less free reign to explore the premises. That being said, there is a set route upon entry, as one is first led to go up a staircase, in which this evidence of the "Smallfoot" (that is, humans) is presented.

That sets the stage for the theme of the top level of the experience, that being the icy, isolated home of the not-so-mythical creatures. The first thing one sees is a big display of footprints for the various Yeti characters in the film.

Gwangi, the character voiced by James, is appropriately the biggest of the bunch.

This level is largely focused on photo op settings, such as that footprint display and this big set piece.

Smaller prop displays are also around, such as this taste of native Yeti news outlets.

The sole non-photo op attraction on the top level is actually also a (optional) transport system to the bottom level: a slide...

...which leads out to a display of a Yeti who made a less-than-safe landing.

The bottom level is the snowy home of "Smallfoot," or, rather, human beings, and appropriately this is the level where more of the activities are based. First visible is the "Yeti to Play" game room, featuring skeeball and other fun for the family.

This ball tub is the sole photo-op-focused attraction on the bottom level.

Kids can put their artistic skills to work at the "Yeti Museum," a coloring and drawing station...

...after which they can ask parents for various souvenir merchandise at the gift shop next door.

The last major stop is the iHeartRadio karaoke station, where the entire family can put on a tuneful show.

Inside the karaoke bar, as in other "outdoor" spots on this level, has a lot of amusing and clever decorative touches.

All in all, a fun and refreshingly air conditioned experience is awaiting any family, Yeti or Smallfoot, at Hollywood and Vine for the next few weeks.

The Smallfoot Yeti Village is now open daily at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles through Friday, September 14. Advance reservations are required at Smallfoot opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday, September 28, from Warner Bros.

(Special thanks to Warner Bros. and LeBron James)

The Movie Report wants to attend all your film special events for coverage! Please send any and all invitations to this address. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

F3Stage: Hollywood gets on its feet for Gloria & Emilio Estefan's On Your Feet! opening night

Film Flam Flummox

In what was far and away the most star-studded local theater opening I have ever had the privilege to attend, many luminaries and bona fide show business legends, especially from the music industry and the Latinx diaspora, showed up at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood last night, Tuesday, July 10, to support the Los Angeles premiere of the musical On Your Feet!--or, perhaps more accurately, the subjects and composers of the biographical piece, pioneering pop music icon Gloria Estefan and her equally accomplished husband, Emilio Estefan Jr. After a successful two-year on Broadway, the inspirational and downright infectious show is currently on tour across the country, and notable figures from the American and Latin American entertainment sectors gave the Estefan family and the production a warm welcome to the entertainment capital of the world.

Emilio Estefan Jr. & Gloria Estefan
(photo by Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shuttershock)

Christie Prades (Gloria Estefan) & Mauricio Martinez (Emilio Estefan Jr.)
of the On Your Feet! Los Angeles/First National Tour cast
(photo by Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shuttershock)

Emilio Estefan Jr. & Gloria Estefan with
their stage portrayers, Christie Prades & Mauricio Martinez
(photo by Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shuttershock)

Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds with Emilio Estefan Jr.
(photo by Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shuttershock)

Angélica María with Mauricio Martinez
(photo by Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shuttershock)

Rita Moreno
(photo by Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shuttershock)

George Lopez & Nadine Velasquez
(photo by Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shuttershock)

Lea Thompson
(photo by Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shuttershock)

Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias
(photo by Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shuttershock)

Michael Bolton
(photo by Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shuttershock)

Diane Warren
(photo by Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shuttershock)

Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan Jr. with
One Day at a Time star Justina Machado,
executive producer/writer Gloria Calderon Kellett,
and co-star Isabella Gomez
(photo by Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shuttershock)

On Your Feet! is now playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood in a limited engagement through Sunday, July 29; it then returns to the Southern California area at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, August 21 through Sunday, September 2.

Buy the On Your Feet! Original Broadway Cast album CD here.

(Special thanks to Hollywood Pantages Theatre)

The Movie Report wants to attend and cover all your live stage productions! Please send any and all invitations to this address. Thanks!

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Movie Report #972, June 8, 2018

The Movie Report

#972, June 8, 2018


  • Action Point zero stars
  • Bhavesh Joshi Superhero ***
  • Hereditary ***
  • Hotel Artemis ** 1/2
  • Ocean's Eight ***
  • Won't You Be My Neighbor? *** 1/2

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