REVIEW: DOGFIGHT

This weekend, the Arthur Miller Theatre buzzed with ecstatic energy and uncontainable pride during a three-night run of DOGFIGHT. I have never witnessed a musical with such raw emotional power. Set in San Fransisco in the 60s, DOGFIGHT explores the peaks and pitfalls of human experience through a realistic lens— love, death, war, and naivety culminate in a final theme of the capacity for human growth. While much of the subject matter is heavy, effortless wittiness provides balance, eliciting echoing laughs from the audience. It’s impossible not to audibly react to DOGFIGHT— you don’t realize how immersed you are until a shock pulls you back to reality.

The environment of the Arthur Miller theatre may be the perfect venue for this show— each wall lined with just a few rows of seats, the experience is intimate no matter where you are. Old televisions are perched above the rows, creatively displaying videos that draw the audience into the setting, but not in a way that overwhelms the performance. The cast of students clearly adopts their roles like a second skin. Their microexpressions and tender moments feel genuine and the chemistry between characters elevates the realism of the relationships. On top of the gut-wrenching and heartwarming theatrics, the orchestra visibly playing at the back of the stage adds another degree of genuine talent. It was refreshing— to say the least— to witness so much passion and dedication in one place.

DOGFIGHT doesn’t drag on, but rather allows just enough time for the dynamic characters to fulfill their arcs. It’s equal parts satisfying and saddening; after all, DOGFIGHT is bluntly realistic in its portrayals of war and life’s unfair battles, refusing to glaze over the grittiness of the 60s and the social dynamics of that era. The way the men talked, their speech packed with misogynistic jabs and self-absorbed ignorance, tinged with an obsession with violence, is a powerful social commentary on masculinity and war; is it an outlet? A solution? Or just a masked attempt at proving one’s worth? On the other side of the gender binary, DOGFIGHT analyzes the woman’s dilemma; can men ever be trusted to be unconditionally and honestly loving? The leading female character, Rose, is often treated as an extension of the leading male character, Eddie. I wish her character’s aspirations and confidence had been explored more outside the bounds of reactions to Eddie. However, the love story takes reasonable precedence as DOGFIGHT builds a vulnerable relationship.

DOGFIGHT was an exhilarating ride of a musical. A fervently emotional portrait of war-torn America and tough love proves that even the dark and deeply flawed is worth working for. This was one of the best free experiences I’ve had at Michigan, and I look forward to seeing more University of Michigan productions in the future.

PREVIEW: DOGFIGHT

Although I’m typically not a fan of musicals, there’s something intriguing about DOGFIGHT. The admission is free, which already provides a decent incentive for college students lacking funds, but the premise of the musical is particularly interesting, and watching talented UMich students pour their hearts into a performance is guaranteed to be an awe-inspiring experience.

Based on a film, DOGFIGHT takes place in the 60s and follows the story of marines preparing to be sent across the sea. They celebrate their last night of freedom by placing bets on who can find the ugliest girl to bring to a party. Questionable and immoral, I know, but the plot focuses on one couple and has a romantic twist that brings out the soft side in us enemies-to-lovers trope enjoyers. The play examines old-fashioned beliefs, war, vulnerability, and how traumatic events can change our perspective on the world and ourselves.

The performance will be held at the Arthur Miller Theatre, a small and intimate venue. I’ve never attended an event at the venue, but I’m interested in how the small space will transform the experience. Witnessing the talent of fellow students with this degree of closeness is bound to be spark pride in my status as a Wolverine and elevate the emotionality of the performance exponentially.

Once again— tickets are free! Tomorrow is the third and final show, so show up early to support the performers of UMich and be part of a wild ride.

REVIEW: Fight Club

On yet another numbingly cold night in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Theatre stood dazzlingly bright amongst the empty streets, promising warmth and the excitement of another cult classic in its Late Nights at the Michigan series. If you have a pulse and live in America, you either know about Fight Club or you’ve seen it. Regarded as David Fincher’s directorial masterpiece, or at least undeniably his most popular film, the 1999 dramatic thriller offers everything that other films don’t: a seemingly insane and ripped Brad Pitt, a smoker who attends meetings for cancer patients, and a plot twist that leaves you analyzing every scene of the film for days on end. The plot can’t be explained without ruining the fun, but be aware that every scene packs a punch and leaves you breathless.

Also revered for Gone Girl and The Social Network, David Fincher’s distinct style is what makes Fight Club a masterpiece. Sharp monologues and witty dialogue inject life into the characters, somehow sculpting believable people that are so bizarre and morally corrupt that the concept of hero versus villain goes out the window. Once you become fully invested in the unpredictable lives of these troubled people, Fincher draws you in with clever shots and action sequences, balancing bloody fists with genius cinematography and a bold anti-capitalist war cry. The plot never stays in one place, constantly escalating and spinning, but the ride is exhilarating and somewhat relieved by clever deadpan humor. Each shot is a stunning puzzle that offers perfectly placed hints.  Fight Club is a total psychological riddle garnished with tasteful edginess and outright fury— a dangerous recipe that Fincher does best.

My admiration grows with each movie screening I attend at the Michigan Theatre. Historic and timelessly elegant, the theatre somehow still feels cozy, offering a sense of community through the collective anticipation that all moviegoers feel. There is something especially magical about an energized group experience in the midst of a lonesome pandemic. Throngs of students chatting and munching popcorn on a weekend night is an almost forgotten spectacle. The Michigan Theatre’s elaborate COVID-19 precautions ensure that the experience is free of anxiety, allowing a couple of hours of carefree escapism into a world untainted by COVID numbers and homework deadlines. If you find yourself longing for a temporary vacation from the burdens of college life, or you’re noticing that your Friday nights could use more excitement, check out the Late Nights at the Michigan series. Upcoming screenings include Princess Mononoke, Star Wars: Episode II, and The Princess Bride. Student tickets are only $8.50, so get them while you can!

REVIEW: The Shining

As the night grew cold and the streets of Ann Arbor became quiet, horror enthusiasts and casual moviegoers alike herded into the beautiful interior of Michigan Theatre. The theatre’s 10 pm screening of The Shining was a part of their Late Nights at the Michigan series, promoting one-time screenings of classic films across all genres. I was particularly drawn to The Shining; I’d seen it before, but I’d never had the chance to watch the film in theatres, where it was intended to be viewed in all its horrifying glory. The theatre’s vast open spaces and elaborate antique decor mirror the atmosphere of The Shining‘s infamous Overlook Hotel, in which the film takes place; a troubled family lives in the vacated hotel for a long winter, falling victim to the effects of isolation and the hotel’s dark history. In addition to the actual venue drawing me into the movie, the experience of the big screen and immersive sound made the viewing experience infinitely better than the other times I’d watched The Shining on small screens at home.

One thing I’ve noticed about moviegoers at Michigan Theatre is that they truly love movies. The crowd reacted collectively to the scariest moments and even laughed at parts, appreciating the film’s quality while keeping a lighthearted attitude. After the two and a half exhilarating and exhausting hours, applause echoed throughout the room, moviegoers excitedly discussing the experience. If you’re looking for a passionate group to appreciate artistry with, the Michigan Theatre is the place to go.

The Shining was a wild ride; Jack Nicholson’s warped facial expressions are infinitely more terrifying when his face is twenty feet tall, and the huge screen has the same effect on the empty hotel’s menacing interior. I love The Shining for its simplicity relative to other popular horror flicks; it relies on psychological manipulation, incredibly slow build-up, and just enough context clues to keep the audience scared of the mysteries that lurk behind each corner, rather than constant jump-scares and disturbing imagery. The few scenes that revolve around actual violence and horror, rather than the threat of it, are so powerful and wisely executed that they are all timeless images ingrained in pop culture. Even the cast is minimal; all three main actors deliver incredible performances, so the film never feels phony— sometimes Shelley Duvall’s terror felt too real.  From Jack Torrence’s cold “Kubrick stare” to the motif of the axe and a blood-filled hallway, The Shining has found a way to be beautifully simple and avoid horror overkill while reigning as the king of horror for forty years, scaring generations to come.

Although this screening was a one-time event, Michigan’s Late Nights at the Michigan series continues through February. Tickets are only $8.50 for students, and they’re selling fast, so be sure to check out upcoming screenings for an exciting way to spend a Friday night!

PREVIEW: The Shining

On January 21st, Michigan Theater offers a very special and spine-chilling event: a one-time late-night screening of The Shining. When it comes to psychological thrillers, no film will have your heart racing like this cult classic.

Loosely based on a real setting, the 1980 film follows a family that moves into the snowy mountains to act as caretakers for a seasonally empty hotel. Without much to keep them busy, the family encounters an array of sinister forces, falling victim to the darkness of the hotel’s history; from psychic powers to hallucinations to isolation-induced insanity, the horrors accumulate as the winter progresses.

The film has gained a large following since its release, bits and pieces of it permeating pop culture. From the quote “Here’s Johnny!” to the image of two ghostly-looking girls standing in an empty hallway, each moment of The Shining offers a memorable piece of artistry that stands the test of time. Everything is intentional; after watching this film a handful of times, I still notice delicately placed details with each watch— and the electrifying acting (or was it even acting?) of Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson will never fail to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Experiencing a cult classic and visual masterpiece on the big screen is a rare opportunity that can’t be passed up. The lavish interior of Michigan Theater slightly parallels the elegant atmosphere of the film’s infamous hotel, adding another dimension to the immersive experience. If you enjoy horror, snowy days, big hotels, and human villains who convey demonic evil, you’ll love seeing The Shining at Michigan Theater. Grab a couple of friends and spend your Friday night celebrating an old gem.

REVIEW: Don’t Look Up

Filmmaker Adam Mckay ditches all subtlety in Don’t Look Up, weaponizing comedic satire to lunge straight for the throat of his target— which is, seemingly, almost everyone with media power. Don’t Look Up follows the story of two astronomers, played by Leonardo Dicaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, who discover a deadly comet speeding straight toward Earth and desperately attempt to convince the world of the event’s urgency. Facing the insurmountable obstacles of political corruption, corporate greed, and the happy-go-lucky culture of the celebrity world, the two struggle to make sense of the media’s ignorance as inevitable death approaches.

Don’t Look Up has an impressive range of talents under its belt, demanding the attention of anyone who previews it. Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, and Ariana Grande, to name just a few, bring to life an array of caricatures. Bubbly talk show hosts, self-absorbed celebrities, and money-hungry politicians take turns looking science in its fiery, unyielding eyes and denying it outright, engaging in nonstop arguments with the only two voices of reason— and somehow always coming out unscathed.

 

The film is fast-paced and blood-boiling, ensuring that you want to tear your hair out and scream at Meryl Streep’s uncharacteristically smug face for the entire 138-minute runtime. The dialogue teeters between over-the-top ludicrosity and sobering realism; it clearly points fingers at real-life media personalities and politicians that exhibit similar attitudes and refuses to water down their ignorance. Some scenes lean too much into the caricatures and come off as corny, but the premise remains intact and believable. The plausibility of the “comet” situation and media reaction mirrors the harrowing reality we live in; as an obvious allegory for the accelerating climate crisis, Don’t Look Up reminds us of exactly how and why the environment is heading towards total decay and which systemic problems are to blame.

 

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rotten and pitying 55%. To be fair, Mckay’s Don’t Look Up lacks nuance and bold ideas, instead infusing what we already know with a sense of existential dread and powerful anger. The comedic route is also a less effective form of delivery than a more serious satire that could delve even deeper into its criticisms. However, my agreement with the critics’ ratings ends there; as designed for a mass audience, rather than an audience of knowledgeable film enthusiasts, Don’t Look Up is a perfectly accessible and entertaining vessel for an urgent message. Grim comedy and familiar faces make the plotline easier to digest, easing the anxiety of the catastrophe. Overall, Don’t Look Up is not intended to be an innovative cultural masterpiece, and that’s okay. At its best, it is a sobering and well-scripted analysis of the twisted hierarchy of power that we live in, given credibility by its parallels to reality and a star-studded cast. At its worst, its comedy detracts from its effectiveness and the film leaves us feeling hopeless.

 

Don’t Look Up pleads for the world to listen to its vindication of America as we know it, and I believe it should be listened to. Packed with enough cynical cleverness and lively dialogue to keep you on your toes for the whole two and a half hours, it’s undoubtedly a worthy watch. Grab some popcorn and a few friends and check it out exclusively on Netflix.