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Saturday, September 28, 2019

F3Stage Review: Blue Man Group indeed is & will leave you Speechless--but is that good or bad?

Film Flam Flummox


Given what a familiar presence they've become in various forms of media, whether in their long-running, world-spanning live stage productions or on television in various shows and commercials, it's more than a bit surprising that the silent, blue, bald trio of alien performers known as Blue Man Group has never had one of its touring shows play in Los Angeles. And so what better way than to make their overdue, official SoCal splash than to kick off their latest sensory, slapstick spectacle, the aptly named Speechless Tour--and, to go for the easy, punny pull-quote, it definitely will leave viewers speechless, but whether or not that's a good thing is ultimately a simple matter of taste.

For the unitiated, the basic conceit of Blue Man Group is that they are three nameless, mute, almost indistinguishable bald, blue beings of presumably alien origin (played alternately by the quartet of Meridian, Mike Brown, Steven Wendt, and Adam Zuick) who spend the next ninety minutes or so creating music (composed by Andrew Schneider and Jeff Turlik) out of various do-it-yourself percussion instruments crafted out of PVC piping and other objects in their sleek industrial lab and silently, quizzically observing human behavior. The latter, of course, is a mere excuse for the Blue Men to venture into the audience with cameras and other instruments, staring with blank curiosity while invading patrons' personal space, and occasionally bringing a few (un?-)lucky viewers on to the stage for comic bits. And so goes the entire evening, with broad, deadpan comic skits, both with or without audience participation; and propulsive, percussive music set to colorful light shows. It's all very diverting to say the least, thanks to director Jenny Koons's brisk pacing and the real stars of the show, set designer Jason Ardizzone-West, lighting designer Jen Schreiver, and sound designer Crest Factor. But it is, to my personal taste, all a bit too undemanding to a fault. Being not-quite performance art, not-quite theater, not-quite concert, not-quite satire, but cranked-all-the-way-up flashiness and glitz (not for nothing has a production been a Vegas mainstay for nearly two decades), once the initial novelty wears off, the lack of "there" there underneath wears a bit thin after a while.

That all being said, even if not attuned to my tastes, Speechless speaks a lot as far as to explaining just why Blue Man Group has become the multimedia institution it now is. It plays far and wide in just about any demographic spectrum. It's all-ages friendly, so kids and seniors and all points in between can enjoy; and being driven solely through the force of its visuals and wordless melodies, its oddball charms require no translation. So to the many audiences that easily and understandably succumb to the siren spell, Speechless will indeed leave them so, out of awe. But to others such as myself, speechless is also the reaction, but with an admittedly amused but altogether indifferent shrug.




Blue Man Group with actress Busy Philipps
on the opening night blue carpet at the Pantages Theatre
on September 26, 2019
(photo by Michael Dequina)

Blue Man Group Speechless Tour is now playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through Sunday, October 6; the touring company then moves on to other cities across North America through 2020.

(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!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

F3Stage Review: LA Opera stages a darkly alluring & affecting La Bohème

Film Flam Flummox


Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème is one of the most widely known and, thus, widely produced operas around the world, and so it would be easy, and quite understandable, for a company to play it safe and traditional with its staging. But after mounting the same Herbert Ross-directed production no less than seven times (most recently in 2016) over the last 25 years, LA Opera revives Puccini's tale of bohemian bonhomie and tragic romance in a dark, striking, and different staging that director Barrie Kosky premiered in Berlin earlier this year.

The particulars of the plot remain as familiar as they have been to opera aficionados--and, for that matter, fans of Jonathan Larson's ever-popular La Bohème-inspired '90s musical Rent. In 1830s Paris, poet Rodolfo (Saimir Pirgu), "painter" (more on the quotes later) Marcello (Kihun Yoon), philosopher Colline (Nicholas Brownlee), and musician Schaunard (Michael J. Hawk) are starving artist roommates struggling to pay rent to landlord Benoit (who, in Kosky's big deviation, does not appear at all here, with the four instead play-acting his part); Marcello pines over lost love Musetta (Erica Petrocelli), has moved on to another; Rodolfo meets and falls for neighbor Mimi (Marina Costa-Jackson), but looming over their romance is the spectre of disease. Coincidental or not, one cannot help but see some echoes of Larson's work here, from the more youthful than the norm cast, to the Mimi here sharing Mimi Marquez's bright, forceful joie de vivre that only the absolute final stages of terminal illness can dampen, to making Marcello only a metaphoric "painter" and more literally working in film, namely early forms of photography.

But, make no mistake, this La Bohème is distinctly Kosky's own. Much of his concept springs from that shift in Marcello's art, with blacks, whites, and greys dominating the palette he crafts with scenic designer Rufus Didwiszus and lighting director Alessandro Carletti. While this choice falls a bit short in act three, where a static black and white, period photography-tech accurate street scene drop feels a bit too minimalist, it makes for an appropriately ominous atmosphere hanging over the entire proceedings and lends a darkly alluring sense of decadence and indulgence to the act 2 Cafe Momus. It is here that Kosky and his designers appropriately go the most grandiose, with the principal cast and a horde of chorus members young and old in Victoria Behr's striking costumes create a vibrant, bustling, constantly shifting scene on a revolve stage. The exuberance is in effective, sharp relief to more somber turn post-intermission and, of course, in the fourth and final act, where the tragedy is augmented by some truly stunning stage pictures, particularly the final images.

But images would only half serve Puccini's intended effect, and thankfully Kosky's cast is up to the task in lending the characters life. All of the principals are in strong, fine voice, but appropriately the pair of romantic leads make the strongest impression, with Pirgu and Costa-Jackson fittingly striking an immediate spark right from when Rodolfo lights Mimi's candle. Costa-Jackson especially resonates in both literal and character voice, and once Mimi takes her final breath, Kosky's untraditional approach lends the loss and the overall production a lingering and haunting sadness and shiver.


Saimir Pirgu as Rodolfo, Marina Costa-Jackson as Mimi
(photo by Cory Weaver)

LA Opera's production of La Bohème will have two more performances, on Wednesday, October 2, and Sunday, October 6, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in The Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles.

(Special thanks to LA Opera)


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Friday, September 20, 2019

The Movie Report #1037, September 20, 2019

The Movie Report

#1037, September 20, 2019


MOVIES:

  • Ad Astra ***
  • Downton Abbey ** 1/2
  • Pailwaan (Wrestler) **
  • Rambo: Last Blood ***
  • The Wedding Year **
  • Where's My Roy Cohn? ***

The Movie Report wants to attend and cover all your film events and press junkets! Please send any and all invitations to this address. Thanks!

Monday, September 16, 2019

F3Stage Review: Idina Menzel offers laughs & emotional truth in Skintight

Film Flam Flummox


When one thinks of Idina Menzel, the first thing that most likely, and quite understandably, comes to mind is her spectacular singing voice--to the unfortunate oversight of her no less impressive acting chops. This was never more apparent in her last major stage appearance in If/Then, a production that blessed her with a dual role that was even more dramatically demanding than it was vocally so; while earning her a much deserved third Tony Award nomination, still more attention was paid to the powerhouse pyrotechnics of her pipes than the tear-wringing tour de force of the totality of her turn. Menzel's pure gifts as an actress should never come close to being questioned with her richly wrought work in a change-of-pace straight play role in Joshua Harmon's funny and insightful Skintight, currently playing its west coast premiere engagement at the Geffen Playhouse's Gil Cates Theater in Westwood.

The production's key art being a close-up shot of Menzel's face being done up by the hands of an unseen glam squad is somewhat misleading for a couple of reasons, most notably for this being very much an ensemble piece, with Menzel's Jodi Isaac being one of four equally weighted central characters. Also, however, this is could not be less of a glamorous vanity project for Menzel, whose Jodi, a 40-something divorcé whose ex is about to marry a woman some 20 years their junior, is a raw, riveting mess of neuroses and insecurities. Her sudden presence at the posh and creepily sterile townhouse (scenic designer Lauren Helpern's two-level set is spot-on in its self-consciously clinical chic) of her wealthy fashion designer father Elliot (Harry Groener) for his 70th birthday is met with less than a warm welcome, not so much due to her frazzled state than the inevitable disruption she causes in his seemingly idyllic existence with his much younger live-in love Trey (Will Brittain). Strapping, studly southerner Trey is all of 20 years old, the same age as Jodi's rather effeminate eldest son Benjamin (Eli Gelb), who soon joins the would-be festive gathering from his queer theory studies abroad in Hungary.

That's about all there is as far as plot, but Harmon is less interested in straightforward narrative than exploring issues of aging, maturity, beauty, sexuality, family, and identity via the relationship dynamics within this contrasting quartet of characters. That description sounds heavy, but the proceedings are far from it, with Harmon spiking his genuine and sincere insight with biting, often hilarious, wit. Driving the piece more than the general and relevant themes are his words, which fly fast and furious right from director Daniel Aukin's rather sudden first act lights-up, catching Jodi and Elliot in the midst of what will not be their last heated conversation of the night. The actors are right on pace with the frenetic, full-steam-ahead wordplay, with Menzel's minutes-in, masterful mouthful of a hilarious rant setting a high early bar for the cast and the play as a whole. While the rhythms soon settles down to a less frenetic level, the entire cast's work only grows richer as the banter and barbs recede somewhat and they dive into the deeper dimensions of their characters.

Brittain and Gelb, who originated their roles alongside Menzel earlier this year in Aukin's world premiere Off-Broadway production, especially impress in this respect. They lend roles that both initially strike as contrasting comic stereotypes a complex, harder-to-categorize humanity beyond the more overt surface-level attributes and affectations. Menzel delivers a star turn in the best possible sense, a blazing stage presence whether precision-dropping Harmon's brash bon mots or mining Jodi's deep-seated pain from her tortured history with her father. She instantly wins one's heart over with the many laughs she elicits, and then she proceeds to pierce it with her soulful emotional range. Despite being the newcomer in the cast's core four, Groener, just recently seen on the Los Angeles stage in Indecent, fits right in with the returning trio, forging believable and individually unique rapports with each of his castmates. His is perhaps the hardest role of the piece, not only being the calmer, centering presence amid the more comic counterparts but also generating some empathy and understanding for a character who could be taken as overly cold, shallow, and vain.

And that is right in line with Harmon's overall interest here, inviting and challenging the viewer to find some level of understanding for, though not necessarily agreement with, various viewpoints on the play's key issues as expressed and embodied by the quartet. Much like the characters, with just as much food for thought offered as laughs over the play's two hours, the audience is left to mull over and figure out how one personally handles and navigates such a mental minefield in their own day-to-day, even if it may not be as extreme as seen in the Isaac home. If the psychological and emotional Pandora's box opened by the convergence and collision of these characters doesn't come close to being tidily tied up by night's end, such is exactly the tightly achieved point of the deceptively loose-in-structure Skintight.


Will Brittain as Trey, Harry Groener as Elliot,
Eli Gelb as Benjamin, Idina Menzel as Jodi in Skintight
(photo by Chris Whitaker)

Skintight is now running at the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood through Saturday, October 12.


(Special thanks to Geffen Playhouse)


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

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Movie Report #1036, September 13, 2019

The Movie Report

#1036, September 13, 2019


MOVIES:

  • Another Day of Life *** 1/2
  • Chhichhore (Flippant) ** 1/2
  • The Goldfinch ** 1/2
  • Hustlers ***
  • Monos *** 1/2
  • Ne Zha *** 1/2
  • The Sound of Silence **

The Movie Report wants to attend and cover all your film events and press junkets! Please send any and all invitations to this address. Thanks!

F3PR: 9th annual Catalina Film Festival returns September 25-29

Film Flam Flummox

PRESS RELEASE

9th ANNUAL CATALINA FILM FEST
RETURNS TO SISTER CITY BY THE SEA --
LONG BEACH LAUNCH & LANDING BOOKENDS
ISLAND FEST WITH PREMIERES, PARTIES & EVENTS
AT THE QUEEN MARY SEPT. 25-26 & 29

Chartered Boats Available Daily to and from Catalina
for the Island Fest Sept. 27, 28

Oscar-Winning Actress, Mira Sorvino,
Among Honorees Slated to Attend

Los Angeles, CA (September 10, 2019)-Catalina Film Festival (CFF) is excited to announce its return to Long Beach, capturing the best of both coasts and iconic, historic film venues for its 9th annual film fest. The continued partnership connects the island festival’s experience to the mainland Sept. 25-29, 2019, bookending CFF with “launch” and “landing” premieres, parties and panels Wednesday-Thursday and Sunday in Long Beach. Catalina Island will play host to CFF Friday and Saturday, with Festival-chartered party cruises to and from the Queen Mary Terminal daily.

Just a few highlights of 9th annual Catalina Film Festival include:

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 25- OPENING NIGHT ABOARD THE QUEEN MARY
The Opening Night feature film is the comedy Babysplitters. When two couples with mixed feelings about having kids hatch a plan to share one baby, it seems like the perfect compromise until things spiral out of control. Written and directed by Sam Friedlander, Babysplitters stars Emily Chang (The Vampire Diaries), Danny Pudi (Community), Mark Feuerstein (What Women Want) & Maiara Walsh (The Last Ship). Filmmaker/Cast Q&A after the screening in the Queen’s Salon.

THURSDAY, SEPT. 26-THURSDAY THRILLER: WORLD PREMIERE OF DARK HARBOR, STARRING JOEL MCHALE & JESSICA SIPOS
Thriller Thursday takes over the Queen Mary with World Premiere screening of Dark Harbor, starring Joel McHale (Community, The Soup) and Jessica Sipos (Chesapeake Shores, Wynonna Earp), directed by Joe Raff. Cast confirmed to attend: Jessica Sipos, Xander Berkeley, Meagen Fay, Connor Trineer, Jillian Armenante, Reiko Aylesworth, Sterling Hurst, and Nick Wolf.

Thriller Thursday also includes the annual Wes Craven Horror Block at 6 p.m. – CFF is the only competitive Festival to have an award sanctioned by the king of horror himself – plus, The Talk, directed by Kevin Alejandro (confirmed to attend), best known for his role as Detective Dan in Netflix’s Lucifer. Catalina Film Fest’s Film & New Media Summit also kicks off Thursday on the Queen Mary featuring two panels: Film Finance: Hands on Workshop (10 a.m.) and Making your First Feature Film (12:30 p.m.)

FRIDAY, SEPT. 27 & SATURDAY, SEPT. 28 : SET SAIL TO CATALINA FOR THE LIONS DEN, RED-CARPET PREMIERE AND TRIBUTE TO ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING ACTRESS MIRA SORVINO
The Festival heads to Catalina Island for two full days of premieres, panels and events. Daily roundtrip cruises are available from Long Beach. A few highlights of the island action include:

  • The Lion’s Den Pitch Panel. Stacked with prospective film investors, this pitch-fest matched accredited investors with filmmakers seeking funding for their projects on Friday.
  • CFF honors Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite, Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion), and spotlights World Premiere of Badland, starring Sorvino, Kevin Makely (Big Legend), Bruce Dern (The Hateful Eight), Trace Adkins (I Can Only Imagine), and Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans)

SUNDAY, SEPT. 29-BEST OF FEST ON THE QUEEN MARY IN LONG BEACH
Best of Fest winning films announced Saturday night on Catalina Island will be screened on the mainland in the Queen’s Salon all day. NEW THIS YEAR: CFF launches a new streaming channel, featuring 67 official selections in competition for the 2019 Film Festival. Streaming passes to the Catalina Film Channel are available September 1 – 30, 2019 for only $7.99. Passholders have 30 days from the point of purchase to watch films in competition and vote for their favorites.

For more info, visit filmfestivalflix.com/festival/catalina-film-channel/

Full schedule and to purchase tickets, visit www.catalinafilm.org.

ABOUT CATALINA FILM FESTIVAL & FILM INSTITUTE
Catalina Film Festival is an annual celebration of film in Southern California with coastal screenings and events in Long Beach and on Hollywood’s island, just 22 miles off the Los Angeles coast. Past CFF honorees include Nicolas Cage, Jon Favreau, Stan Lee, Kevin Hart, William H. Macy, Andy Garcia, Sharon Stone, Emmy Rossum, Richard Dreyfuss, and more. CFF is a competitive festival with awards in multiple U.S. and International categories, including the prestigious Stanley Kramer Social Artist Award, Charlie Chaplin ICON Award, Wes Craven Horror Award, Ronald Reagan Foundation "Great Communicator" Award and the Island's Conservation Award. 2019 sponsors include The Cafaro Group, Building Image Group (BIG), Bogart Spirits, REED’S INC, REZ – Recovery Brands, BANDERO Tequila, Catalina Express, ABK BEER, Horseshoe Bend Vineyards, and Sprint.

Follow @CatalinaFilm, #CatalinaFilm , www.catalinafilm.org.


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

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Movie Report #1035, September 6, 2019

The Movie Report

#1035, September 6, 2019


MOVIES:

  • Before You Know It ** 1/2
  • Bennett's War **
  • Don't Let Go ***
  • The Fanatic * 1/2
  • It Chapter Two ** 1/2
  • Killerman **
  • Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice ***
  • Official Secrets ** 1/2
  • Saaho ***
  • Tod@s Caen (Everybody Falls) ***

The Movie Report wants to attend and cover all your film events and press junkets! Please send any and all invitations to this address. Thanks!

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