Almost a week after the worldwide premiere of the new film version of West Side Story, astounding reviews continue to pour in from critics, fans, movie lovers and thespians everywhere. West Side Story has long been one of my all-time favorite Broadway musicals, although my very first exposure to the work was through the 1961 movie starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn and George Chakiris, followed by a viewing of the Broadway revival production in New York eleven years ago in 2010. I became even more appreciative of the story and its message of unity and acceptance when I was personally involved in an international production of the musical in 2017 with the Jakarta Performing Arts theatre group. When I learned that the great director Steven Spielberg was going to bring the musical back to the big screen, I was beyond thrilled that a new generation of movie and theatre fans gets to experience the West Side Story magic.
What I have seen is truly timeless, bold and fresh that I find myself gravitating towards this 2021 update even more than the original film. It truly is a wonderful and important piece of cinema. The plot, the cast, the music, the return of Moreno – who played Anita in the 1961 version and won an Academy Award for the role – as Valentina, and the overall production are really solid. Rachel Zegler is destined to be a movie star, and I’m so happy her talent is finally recognized globally with her graceful portrayal of Maria. Ariana DeBose is the perfect Anita, while Mike Faist and David Alvarez gave electric, scene-stealing performances as the leaders of the Jets and Sharks Riff and Bernardo. They both were as great as Tamblyn and Chakiris, and I’m glad to add both Faist and Alvarez to my list of new favorite actors.
One thing I notice about the film is it has a unique flavour in that it’s still West Side Story but with a touch of Steven Spielberg. As a Spielberg fan, I appreciate all the added scenes, alternate dialogues and gritty cinematography that brings a high level of realism to the movie. The Jets and Sharks’ intro scene feels like a real-life gang war. Also, while the original film presents itself more like a traditional stage production with isolated scenes, this one has a vibrant, realistic vibe. We could see regular New Yorkers passing by in the background and market stalls on the streets. It definitely feels like a New York story in the exact era where the story is set. The “America” number has a La La Land vibe to it, and setting it on the sunny streets of New York is simply perfect. It captures the spirit of the Puerto Rican community. Riff being there for the entire “Jets Song” is truly a delight, and the Mambo scene remains energetic and glorious. I enjoyed seeing more background stories from all the characters that enable viewers to understand why they do what they do.
Overall, West Side Story remains as iconic and cinematic as ever, and in 2021, it is still an important viewing. In multicultural places like America, racism never dies, but with West Side Story, there’s always hope for unity, acceptance and appreciation for diversity – there’s a place for us.
Special thanks to Mr. Spielberg and the entire cast and crew for keeping the timeless story and music going. And here’s to the influential Stephen Sondheim, who recently passed away, for helping give audiences all over the world such an impactful musical.
As 2021 comes to an end, Spotify users worldwide begin to get a personalized recap of their year in music with the annual Spotify Wrapped that includes popular highlights such as their top songs, genres, songs they listen to on repeat, and one of the most unique features ever… their audio aura. According to Mashable, “your Audio Aura feature focuses on the mood of the music you listen to”, and “your customized Audio Aura is a vibrant visualisation of your top two moods in 2021. Each Audio Aura is a combination of the auras, or colors that represent these moods.”
Once you view this feature on your screen, you’ll see colors that reflect your musical mood as well as two words that describe the type of music you listen to. Spotify tells me that I gravitate towards “happy” and “wistful” tunes with Tate McRae’s “you broke me first” playing in the background. Other music listeners have varying results based on their personalities and individual tastes in music, from “bold” and “focused” to “calm” and “hopeful”. How about you? What’s your audio aura, and what’s the one tune you can hear in the background as you learn about your musical mood?
Below is a short list of songs out of millions that can be found on a group of Spotify users’ Audio Aura sections based on what I saw on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram and also what my own friends got. Feel free to add yours in the comments.
Yes, the wind blows a little bit colder, and we’re all getting older, and the clouds are moving on with every Autumn breeze.
It’s the first anniversary of Frozen II. This time last year, the much-anticipated sequel to the hit Disney film based on the classic Snow Queen story premiered in cinemas worldwide, inviting us to follow our favorite Arendelle sisters Elsa and Anna as they journey “into the unknown”, entering the Enchanted Forest beyond their kingdom by way of a mysterious call from afar with Kristoff, Olaf and Sven joining them.
Digital streaming service Disney+ has recently released Into the Unknown: Making Frozen II, a six-episode documentary series that highlights the behind-the-scenes process of the movie at the Walt Disney Animation Studios. We get to witness directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck offer their insights and notes at every production meeting while also gain access to interviews with the mega talented team of animators in addition to watching stars Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad and Jonathan Groff lay down their vocals and hit songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez craft new music that has the same if not bigger impact than the original movie.
For dedicated fans of the franchise, this documentary is definitely a treat and packed with rich information about how Frozen II came to be. It covers everything from pre-production to the premiere.
It’s Wicked meet La La Land in a magical arctic universe featuring musical wolves and other animals. Here’s a preview for an animated feature film I’m working on called Blue Moon.
Drawing inspiration from the jazz standard “Blue Moon”, as popularized by Billie Holiday, I have crafted a story about personal goals, friendship and diversity with anthropomorphic animals. While this is part of my final project for my Children and Media class at the The New School – wonderfully taught by writer and creator P.G. Kain – I plan on finishing it and adding it to my portfolio. Also included is a short demo of one of the original songs used for the screenplay.
Feel free to take a look at the illustrated treatment with plot synopsis, character profiles, early concept art and the first few pages of the script.
Meerkats are always fascinating to explore, and I’m very excited to present my writing project on them as part of my Animals as Media course with Dawnja Burris at The New School University’s School of Media in New York. Here is the Power Point presentation version. It will also be published on the Animal Instances online magazine in a couple weeks. Meerkat Universe – Presentation
From the African wilderness where they roam free as part of a mob to the world of media and human interconnectedness, meerkats are known as social animals that are often portrayed as unique and cheerful. In Afrikaans, the word “meerkat” means marsh or lake cat, although they are a family of mongoose.
With their lively nature, ability to walk on all four legs and also to stand tall like humans while observing their surroundings, plus endless curiosity that motivates them to investigate any event that catches their attention, meerkats are often shown in films, TV shows, books and commercials as anthropomorphic animals who value interactions. This enables humans to relate to the anthropomorphic meerkats they see on the screen or read about in modern literature, as the meerkats display human-like personalities like the actual animals.
Meerkats have also found their way into the human world. The most common “venue” is the zoo environment, where they are exposed to human visitors on a daily basis. In certain countries like the UK, Japan and Russia, they are able to form interactions with humans as pets, given it’s legal for them to be domesticated. There are also meerkat cafes where humans can enjoy their favorite beverages and snacks in the company of meerkats.
With my writing project, I aim to provide an exploration of the universe of meerkats, highlighting the way these non-human animals are represented in a number of media works, their characteristics in their natural habitat versus zoological and domesticated settings, how they are being viewed “as media” by humans in various environments as well as on social media, where they are being labeled as warm, welcoming creatures that makes humans want to be best friends and make connections with them, thus decoding their magic.
One of my favorite sections to compile has been “Meerkats on Media”, where references to Timon in The Lion King 1 1/2, the Animal Planet series Meerkat Manor in collaboration with the Kalahari Meerkat Project and Aleksandr the Meerkat are made.
Kieran, dim the lights. This is the best music competition on TV. This… is American Idol! Third time is truly a charm for the ABC version of the show. Not only are Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan returning as the network’s trio of judges. A new batch of hopefuls are displaying their vocal and songwriting talents. Plus Ryan Seacrest is always there to link viewers to the greatness of the Idol brand with his iconic presence as a host.
After giving us a number of unforgettable talents like Maddie Poppe, Catie Turner, Michael J. Woodard, Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, Uche, Alejandro Aranda a.k.a. ScaryPoolParty, Laine Hardy, Evelyn Cormier, Laci Kaye Booth, Walker Burroughs, Dimitrius Graham and Madison Vandenburg, ABC still proves that incredible music is everywhere and worth supporting with last week’s Season 3/Season 18 premiere episode.
Here are some of the fascinating things about this brand new season that makes the show worth tuning in:
American Idol in February? That’s right! It has been a while since the series was given an early premiere (usually January during the FOX years). ABC has always favored a March debut. After the first two seasons, this is the first time we get Idol a month early on the network. Cheers!!!
I’m glad we’re back to the golden years of Idol where voting starts during the Top 20/24 semifinals.
His audition made him the ultimate standout from last week. With that rawness in his vocals and a genuine personality, this guy deserves a recording contract right away. Lionel Richie was right that this is the story that American Idol needs to tell. Truly authentic!
Kind, humble, loves her grandma and an immense passion for singing. These qualities make her easy to adore. Look out for more Sam in Hollywood as she continues to inspire us.
Ever since she sang “Shot” by Lawrence last season, Margie became an instant favorite – and rightfully so! With originals like “Magic in Me” and “Over Again”, she’s the unique voice that today’s mainstream music industry needs. Let’s welcome her back in tonight’s episode. Bonus: she’ll also be bringing her bf Jonny West based on the latest promo. Gotta love a musical duo.
Twas the night of the Academy Awards, another celebration for the latest achievements in the world of cinema at the iconic Dolby Theatre. What was fascinating about this year was the variety we were treated to in terms of the nominees. Despite the lack of female directors on the list like Greta Gerwig, the disregard for The Farewell and the absence of Taron Egerton (Rocketman) in the Best Actor category, the 2020 Oscars still turned out to be a fine awards show thanks to the love for favorites like Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917 and the Korean masterpiece Parasite.
Great surprises were bound to happen with Parasite making history as the only non-English language film to have won Best Picture in the history of the Oscars with a Best Screenplay and Best Directing win for Bong Joon-Ho plus an extra treat: Best International Feature Film. Laura Dern has always been captivating in all her roles, and her Best Supporting Actress win for Marriage Story was very well-deserved. The fact that Adam Driver also received a nomination for Best Actor was truly wonderful. Florence Pugh, who played Dern’s daughter in Little Women, the scene-stealing Amy March, was another favorite as she made the Best Supporting Actress nominee list. Although Saoirse Ronan was very commanding as Jo March and Cynthia Erivo also got nominated for her portrayal of Harriet – in addition to giving us a powerful performance of “Stand Up” – Renee Zellweger deserved the Best Actress win as Judy Garland in the Judy biopic. Also deserving a mention was Billie Eilish’s stunning rendition of “Yesterday” to remember the filmmaking greats who have recently passed away. How To Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden Worldbeing considered for Best Animated Feature really thrilled me, andToy Story 4representing the category was a marvel.
Overall, the biggest takeaway of the night is that film is a universal medium and that we can learn a lot about life, acceptance and compassion from worldwide narratives and languages other than our own.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Disney’s timeless hit The Lion King, and the new live action version is now roaring at cinemas worldwide. With all the remakes of classics that have turned into an ongoing trend, is The Lion King 2019 worth your money, especially when the 1994 original that impressed 5 year-old me the first time I watched it in the theater is still a box office king?
As a massive The Lion King fan who has dedicated my time to devouring the entire trilogy countless times, drawing fanart, writing fanfics and collecting tons of merch, I was one of those viewers who initially doubted this remake but later found it surprisingly fresh, stunning and compelling. Simba and friends are definitely worth revisiting in CGI format thanks to director Jon Favreau and his vision to use technology to create real talking animals with stunning African shots. The key is to treat this new, updated film as an additional version that complements the original, just like the theater production that has become a Broadway sensation it even has international tours.
Plot wise, The Lion King 2019 bears a closer resemblance to Hamlet, the Shakespearan tragedy that inspired the 1994 movie, with Scar’s murderous nature being shown since his very first scene. Such a commanding acting by Chiwetel Ejiofor. He can easily hold his own against the great James Earl Jones, who makes a grand comeback as King Mufasa. The design for Scar also enhances his villainous quality, giving him that dangerous look from the get go.
I never thought I’d be saying this, but I’m super impressed by the new voice cast. To me, these names are as great as the original. Donald Glover makes the perfect Simba, and both his line deliveries and singing voice are pure magic. He has demonstrated his acting prowess with his roles in Atlanta, Solo (my personal favorite) and many other prominent projects, so I’m definitely all for him as Simba. Beyonce as my top favorite character Nala is another inspired casting, and I completely understand why she got picked – she is fierce and daring like Nala is. Alfre Woodard makes a wonderful Sarabi. Very commanding and queenly. I appreciate the extended scenes Sarabi was given. Her interactions with Scar during his reign at Pride Rock provided some backstory elements that we didn’t get to see much in the original version. John Oliver as Zazu is as entertaining as the marvelous Rowan Atkinson.
The biggest surprise of the movie for me and many others on social media is the casting of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as the iconic meerkat and warthog duo Timon and Pumbaa. In my opinion, both are the best Disney duo to have ever existed and my personal favorites. Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella will always be irreplaceable, and I’ve been obsessed with them ever since, but Billy and Seth have proven that they’re equally fantastic, and together they create compelling comedy. I’ve seen a lot of Billy’s works on TV, but Timon is his best role to date, and I honestly think The Lion King should be a vehicle for him to get even more film roles. The guy is hilarious but also charismatic. He even has Oscar buzz! Plus his singing voice is really stunning he should sing in more movies or even make an album. Note to Disney: can we have both The Lion King 1/2 and Simba’s Pride turned into remakes? We want the entire trilogy. And on top of that, it’s about time we get a new Timon and Pumbaa TV series. More Billy and Seth, please. I love how closer to the actual African animals the CGI characters are in terms of movement and behavior. Timon mostly uses his four legs to walk compared to the original animation, and that is super adorable to see.
All in all, The Lion King is a majestic cinematic treat and captures the regal quality of the original 1994 film. By far Disney’s best live action remake along with Aladdin. Get your tickets now and be transported back to Africa to witness the universe of Pride Rock in an all-new way.
It’s here. It’s now. It’s the grand finale of American Idol. The hit TV show’s 17th season – or Season 2 on ABC Network – is about to hit the final note tonight with one of the Top 3 that include the incredibly talented singer-songwriter Alejandro Aranda, Season 1 comeback king Laine Hardy, and powerhouse voiced Madison Vandenburg being crowned the new winner.
Expect the return of our finest group of Top 10 finalists – Wade Cota, Laci Kaye Booth, Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, Walker Burroughs, Alyssa Raghu, Dimitrius Graham and last but certainly not least Uche – and special guests that include famous Idol alum Adam Lambert who was also invited to mentor during Queen Night, Weezer, Dan + Shay and Idol‘s trio of judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. Note to Idol producers: WHY did you deny Season 1 champion Maddie Poppe a slot at the finale especially since she has a wonderful debut album Whirlwind that is charting high on iTunes!? Don’t you want to support your winners!?
Here I present you my Season 2 highlights in the form of my favorite Top 10 and Top 20 performances and brief notes on Season 2 itself.
Having Alejandro, Laine and Madison as the last three contestants standing is actually an inspired choice by America. If we look at the bigger picture, each win would give the show credibility. Alejandro and Laine are not only bringing the best of their musicality and natural charm onstage but also diversity, and either one of them winning would change the game in the American Idol universe. Laine has been a personal favorite of mine from last year besides Michael J. Woodard, Catie Turner and Garrett Jacobs (who got in over Laine back in the Top 24 announcement), so his transformation was truly impressive to see. Alejandro’s originals are testament to his massive talent and artistry. From “Out Loud” to “Cholo Love” and “Blesser”, he’s making music that his idol Bach would’ve been very proud to see, and America and the world are embracing him. Madison may only be 17 but she does have a stunning voice that’s suitable for today’s pop industry. Here are my favorite performances from the Top 3.
Laci Kaye Booth ~ This stunning lady always has a voice like crispy waffles. Delightfully raspy and all about the story in every lyric she conveys. So underrated! A modern Stevie Nicks. “Dreams” was one of my many Laci favorites. Ethereal, divine and out-of-this-world lovely.
Wade Cota ~ Wade has a very special voice and story. A unique performer, he always sings with so much sincerity. That signature rasp is one only he can pull off. He also shows a lot of support and appreciation for his fellow idols, and that shows how great he is as a person. Twas a pleasure seeing his transformation from his audition all the way to “Rocket Man” and his other Top 5 performances.
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon ~ Divine and timeless voice! We’re all very lucky to have him on the show. A truly dedicated artist who always tells a story with every song, be it a cover or his own original “Almost Heaven”. One of the biggest robberies in the history of the show, but he is bound to be a success story. Even Sir Elton John has showered him with praises. He has a jazz EP on iTunes that I recommend. It showcases his versatility.
Walker Burroughs ~ Charming guy with a charming voice that’s reminiscent of the golden years of Idol, where males with velvety voices reigned. Idol viewers seem to have a problem with talented gingers, because eliminating Walker and Jeremiah within the span of a week was a big mistake. Need your Walker fix? I recommend his luminous original “The Moon Song”. Simply magical!
Alyssa Raghu ~ Like Laine, Alyssa has always been a fan fave dating back to Season 1, which made her return very inspiring. She did display a more intriguing side of her this year and really fought for her place on the show. The ultimate comeback queen and such a pop star!
Uche ~ Electric, exciting and enjoyable to watch. Mr. Uche’s performances pack a lot of punch. Bonus point: he really knows how to rock the stage. Him not making it to Queen Week was a travesty but he will prove America wrong, because he’s the entertainer the music industry needs.
Dimitrius Graham ~ He should always be in our hearts, ’cause he always puts his heart and soul in every performance. Plus Dimitrius is such a star name. The only way for him is up. Meechi gang forever! Look out for his duet with Adam Lambert at tonight’s finale.
Evelyn Cormier ~ She’s got the voice of a goddess. Haunting, magical and ethereal. With a mix of Cher, Florence Welch and Alison Sudol, Evelyn truly has a divine and timeless sound. Personally, she’s my favorite female voice from this season. What a kind, divine personality too. She always finds a way to keep in touch with her supporters and treats them like friends, which is a wonderful bonus. I invite you to give her Ghost EP and other originals a listen.
Shawn Robinson ~ There’s something super special about Shawn’s voice. His acoustic version of “Who You Are” from the audition rounds was lovely, and his other performances like “Don’t You Worry About a Thing” and “Jealous” showed how versatile he can be. Had he been given the chance to advance to the Top 14, his growth arc would’ve been compelling to see. Still, he’s such a pop star, and I’m so ready for a Shawn record.
Ashley Hess ~ I’m sure we were all charmed by Ashley’s Idol debut: her Norah Jones cover that she sang in her audition – “Don’t Know Why”. Her voice is like syrup and honey, and there’s a singer-songwriter quality to her like Sara Bareilles. Honestly, she should’ve made it way farther than the Top 14. Like Sara, she will do big things in music. I would want a Sara x Ashley collab.
Ryan Hammond ~ One of the best male vocals out there. Ryan’s powerhouse voice sets him apart, and he always sings from his heart. Inspiring story as well. You can tell he’s got a big love of music, and his passion shows in every performance. I would want him (and Shawn) to be the comeback kings in the next Idol season, but no matter what, his talent is undeniable.
Kate Barnette ~ So refreshing, unique and relaxing. Kate is an original and deserves more appreciation. Her tone is delightful and gives you that blissful feeling. You can download her EP on iTunes and enjoy her original tunes.
Margie Mays ~ Miss Margie is mesmerizing. Her lively audition and her quirky personality have made her an instant fave. That talent got her into the elite Top 40, though her journey was short-lived when she did not make the Top 20, Margie is so unforgettable that it’s not a question why she gets an invite to tonight’s finale. Be sure to look out for her appearance.
* My overall favorites: Jeremiah, Laine, Walker, Shawn, Alejandro, Uche, Wade, Dimitrius, Ryan, Evelyn, Laci, Ashley and Kate
* This season had one of the best Top 20 in American Idol history and is still one for the books. It all became a mess when America started to vote, but at the end, it still gave us a solid Final 3.
* No tour for this season, which is disappointing, especially considering most of the finalists are fan faves. Plus they can capitalize on Alejandro’s massive fanbase with him being the only contestant with tons of followers, more than anyone in the last five to six seasons.
* Like last year and the final FOX season, a rushed format with double eliminations per week didn’t give audiences enough time to get to know contestants. Hopefully with the budget they are saving for next year, we’ll be able to get longer live shows with single eliminations and proper farewell packages for all finalists.