Welcome to [art]seen!

Our [art]seen bloggers are University of Michigan students who review arts events on and near campus, sharing their thoughts and experiences on live music, film screenings, dance performances, theatre productions and art exhibitions.
If you’re a U-M student interested in becoming a regular blogger, there may be a position available to get paid for your writing! Read more about Blogging Opportunities here… We review applications and hire twice a year, in September and January.
Email us at arts@umich.edu with any questions.

REVIEW: You Will Die At 20

Recently I’ve been thinking more about mortality; I guess I’m not old, but everything these days feels like a crossroads. They are each so definite, a fixed point in time that demands a decision, either by me or whatever fate or force controls me. For Muzamil, all other paths have been eliminated; it’s just a short, straight path to a certain end. It feels like there are a million hidden stops along the way; they come out of nowhere, they hinder, they allow you to pass. I don’t know what that is, but in the context of You Will Die at 20, I guess it’s the townspeople, everyone preventing Muzamil from living without severe restrictions on where he goes, what he does.

Having only a little time on Earth is supposed to increase the value of life. Knowing that it will end, likely before we want it to (or more precisely, before we’re adequately prepared for it to), should free us from monotony, allow us to respect each day as something special. But thinking about the ending inserts countless checkpoints, countless worries: are you eating healthy, exercising, getting your teeth cleaned regularly, had your flu shot, checking that your car mirrors are positioned correctly, getting your oil changed often, making enough money, making enough money to retire before you die, making enough money in case of an emergency? The stops expand a life, drawing out its borders infinitely. Now it’s too long, too much. Sakina numbers the days in chalk on the walls of a sunlight-slashed room, waiting for her child to die. The main difference in opposing views of mortality is the degree to which one accepts their end, no matter how untimely. There is mourning, and there is apathy. With each there is some ratio of fear to happy passiveness, the very worst kind of Punnett square. There’s not necessarily one option that’s the best, or least likely to ruin the psyche, but when something forces you into extremes, like a sheikh prophesizing your early demise, it can seriously alter your mental state for a startling amount of time.

 

The village, much like its residents, is almost totally austere: rather neutral tones but harsh surfaces, little life able to grow, stark. The amount of calm, steadiness, in the characters and their surroundings was unsettling, but of course that’s where the movie’s power is.Where there are richer colors, the contrast with their surroundings hurts to look at, makes you feel like crying no matter the subject of the scene. Excitement was always paired with doom, at some point down the line; there was always worry behind the beautiful points.

Most of the movie covers Muzamil’s 19th year, his last-ditch efforts at individualism, or just proving he’s alive. Early-onset death throes, the last dregs. If we lived more like that, tried to feel more, all of the time, would we be better or worse? As people, friends. Citizens, leaders. I’ll invite you to watch this movie and try to think about that. You can access it for free until March 17th.

You can find both in-person and at-home showtimes for the Michigan and State theaters here.

REVIEW: Unsettling Histories: Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism

Although it might be tempting, or even the norm, for arts institutions to uphold the veils that American and European art so often hold just for the sake of fitting aesthetics, the Unsettling Histories exhibit at the University of Michigan Museum of Art does just the opposite. Assistant curator Ozi Uduma has put together a remarkable collection of works that spark discussion- who is shaping the narrative, and what messages are they explicitly or subconsciously trying to portray?

When I first entered the gallery space, the exhibit seemed fairly conventional, with portraits lining the walls and several works occupying the floor space. The real impact of the exhibit stems from the descriptions alongside each work, each deliberately including the harsh realities faced by marginalized communities at the time, and forcing the viewer to reconsider the way they take in the work.

One such example is the oil painting Mount Hood from The Dalles by John Mix Stanley. From afar, I saw a simple idyllic landscape scene, which turned out to be not so innocent after all. The caption acknowledged how the stereotypes used in many of Stanley’s paintings played a role in encouraging removal of Indigenous communities to promote Western expansion. I remember feeling taken aback after reading the description and surprised that the painting could do so much harm, which just goes to show how effective the exhibit was in revealing the darker side of such works and the ways in which narratives can be exploited for harm.

 

The entire collection was created in response to a work new to the museum, Flay (James Madison) by Titus Kaphar, which held the central position in the room, rightfully. To me, this work was the most impactful because it directly addressed the hypocrisy of America’s Founding Fathers in their mission to fight for freedom while they simultaneously owned slaves. The portrait of James Madison is cut into strips at the bottom, a reference to his position as a slave owner. Although I knew of the dark history of most of America’s founders, seeing it explicitly conveyed in a visual manner served as a powerful reminder about the truth of America’s history. This exhibition was an intense and compelling experience that I would highly recommend, and I feel like I walked away with a greater appreciation of the power of art and how it has been used to harm others in the past.

REVIEW: Moxie

Moxie, directed by Amy Poehler, is a Netflix film about 16-year-old Vivian and her feminist awakening when she opens her eyes to the misogynistic culture of her high school. Vivian finds her mom’s old collection of ‘90s feminist punk zines and decides to make her own, anonymously printing copies and putting them in the school bathrooms. A cult following then amasses–a small group of girls get together to start taking larger action against sexism and gender inequality at their school.

I may have came in expecting too much from the film. I’ll try my best to judge it as the lighthearted teen dramedy it was meant to be, but I have to criticize Moxie for its ambitiousness and subsequent shortcomings.

Overall, Moxie felt like it was trying too hard to be too many things, and the end result was a messy and underwhelming teen rom-com. Too often I felt the issues being touched on in the film were important, but not given enough attention or screen time. Moxie tries to cover heavy topics like sexism, racism, transgender issues, sexual assault, and immigrant issues, along with mother-daughter conflict and healthy teenage relationships, all while tossing in a bit of barely-there LGBTQ+ representation and disability representation.

Vivan (left) and Lucy (right) in Moxie (2021)

While I’m happy that this film had representation of so many different identities and experiences, it was disappointing to see so many opportunities for nuanced coverage of these diverse topics disappear in the shadow of Vivian’s coming-of-age plot. As an important but unfortunate example, new student Lucy, a Black girl, is the one who inspires Vivian’s budding feminism by standing up against a sexist teacher and the aggressive school jock. However, Lucy and the other women of color in the Moxie group are basically relegated to the role of one-dimensional inspiration and backup for Vivian, while Vivan, a white girl, gets the privilege of a plot exploring the complexity of her budding political self, family life, young love, and teenage angst–which we don’t even truly get to invest in, because there’s simply not enough time to dive into character development with everything Moxie tried to squeeze into 2 hours.

Amy Poehler’s character, Vivian’s mom, makes a brief reference to the lack of intersectionality in the feminist movement back in her day as a ‘90s riot grrrl. Moxie also fails to fully be the feminism power statement it could be. I feel there simply wasn’t enough time in a feature film to cover intersectionality and discuss why and how misogyny affects women of color, or trans women, or disabled women, differently. And that there had seemingly been no push against the terribly misogynistic culture in the school before Vivian’s spontaneous feminist push is doubtful–but that’s all I’ll say about that.

As someone who was in the high school scene just a few years ago (though it seems longer), I will say I probably would have been inspired by this film as a 16-year-old. I saw some of my own Gen-Z high school struggles portrayed in Moxie, and I think Moxie is definitely more positive than other YA media that was being released in my teenage years (ex. 13 Reasons Why). I think Moxie was made in good intent, it just didn’t live up to its potential. Perhaps as a full Netflix series, Moxie could have been a lot more. 

Moxie was a cute modern-age girl-power flick, but it sure wasn’t anything groundbreaking or monumental. Worth the watch if you’re looking for something light–but don’t expect more than, as NYT’s Jeannette Catsoulis puts it, “a CliffsNotes guide to fighting the patriarchy.”

REVIEW: WandaVision

Is WandaVision the internet’s favorite TV show right now because it’s the best thing on TV, or is just the only thing on TV? WandaVision is a new Disney+ original series that follows the characters Wanda Maximoff and Vision, who had not been featured in their own solo MCU projects up until this point. Starring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, the series riffs off of TV sitcoms through the decades, depicting Wanda and Vision trying to fit in with suburban life, only to discover that not everything is as it seems.

What makes the series so enticing is that it provides a much-needed release from the worn-out Marvel movie formula. WandaVision sticks out from the rest of the MCU stylistically, but it simultaneously patches up pre-existing plot holes in the MCU canon. The series explores some of the direct effects of the events of “The Blip” in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, but mostly importantly, it proves Wanda and Visions’ each have a place in the MCU. Wanda and Vision have both been minor characters thus far, and their characters lacked personality and motivation as they were bounced around from director to director. I was excited when Wanda was first introduced as a new female character in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but she was subsequently pushed to the side and thrown into a seemingly rushed romance with Vision, who had just as little development. However, creator and head writer, Jac Schaeffer, has dug into the characters’ messy foundation, revealing their complexity and prepping them with compelling characterization for their future in the MCU.

Although Wanda and Vision are both fantastical individuals with extreme, otherworldly abilities, Schaeffer has highlighted their sense of humanity in this crazy fictional world by crafting a heart-breaking story about their bond. This transforms Wanda and Vision into characters that audiences can empathize with rather than dismiss as lovebirds that were thrown into the film franchise as an afterthought. Episode 8, “Previously On,” delves into Wanda’s past, explaining her choices that were previously glossed over, and provides context for her connection to Vision. The episode is seemingly specific to Wanda and the toll Vision’s death in Infinity War took on her, but the episode also acts as a general representation of grief. The episode is timely, showing that even something as silly as a sitcom can provide some sense of comfort during troubling times.

That being said, the penultimate episode of a miniseries is a strange place to insert a backstory episode. If the episode had not been so beautifully written or if it had not provided the much-needed backstory for the series’ titular characters, I would have been more upset with the pacing of the show. The show’s plot is rather slow most of the time with a sudden cliffhanger at the end of each episode. This has been upsetting for some fans, who have spent the past seven weeks developing elaborate theories, only to be underwhelmed by the show’s conclusion. However, I have come around to the way the series progressed – but only after I realized exactly what the show was about. The show is about wise Vision, who is an android created with artificial intelligence, yet he is the character who best understands human emotion and empathy. And it is about loving Wanda, who is not an object in need of protection, but someone who discovers strength in emotion.

PREVIEW: Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon is Disney’s newest film, set to drop on Disney+ Premier Access tomorrow, March 5th. The film has been marketed as inspired by Southeast Asian culture, and stars Star Wars’ Kelly Marie Tran.

Raya’s story takes place in the fictional world Kumandra, a land where dragons used to roam and live in harmony with humans. 500 years later, Raya is tasked with tracking down the last dragon to stop the sinister monsters that wiped out the dragons in the first place.

I’m excited to see that this film is based on a culture Disney has not explored yet, but I am wary they are just checking off a box on their diversity quota list. The voice cast is primarily East Asian, which is disappointing given that Southeast Asian actors have been presented with fewer opportunities than East Asians actors in Hollywood. That being said, I have seen a lot of positive buzz and excitement towards the character designs in the film, and I’m generally glad Disney is making some sort of an effort to represent more of its audience.

Raya and the Last Dragon will be available to stream to those with a Disney+ subscription for an additional $29.99.

PREVIEW: Moxie

Netflix’s new film release, Moxie, directed by Amy Poehler and based off of a book by Jennifer Mathieu, has been all over the news for me lately. Netflix even sent me an email, saying “We think you might like this! Coming in early March.” I’m excited to see what Amy Poehler brings to this story.

Described as a “sweet, clear-eyed Gen-Z female empowerment story,” the film follows 16-year-old Vivian as she and other girls at her school push back against the misogynistic culture of their educational institution and eventually create the titular underground zine, “Moxie.”

I’m excited to see how this film handles feminism and politics in the high school setting of Gen Z. While I’ve heard the film does its best to be intersectional and inclusive of many different identities, I have read that the film’s shortcomings in this area can be distracting and disappointing.

Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, arguably the most well-known and iconic female-driven high school movie of my generation, came out in 2004. Even though I’m in college now, I think it’s time for a new girl-power film anthem, one that’s updated to better fit the high school experience of Gen Z and include broader representation.