REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty

This past week, in collaboration with U of M, the American Ballet Theatre brought their hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary production of Sleeping Beauty to Detroit. Featuring the original choreography by the legendary Marius Petipa and a solo by the one and only Misty Copeland, Sleeping Beauty was beautiful, exquisite, and energetic. From the intricate and absolutely decadent costumes, to the beautiful, sweeping music and majestically towering sets, Sleeping Beauty transported me to another world—one in which a two and a half hour-long ballet can feel as sweet and fleeting as a daydream.

The feeling in the Detroit Opera House was electric, enchanted. I’m normally not a huge fan of the ballet; I grew up a musical theatre geek, so I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around how people could find a show without words interesting. Saturday night, though, I finally understood.

I also was incredibly struck by the fact that this production featured the original choreography by Marius Petipa. Here were movements originally executed in St. Petersburg in the 1800s, now on a stage in Detroit in 2016, unfolding before my eyes. I felt both small and like a thread woven into a much larger tapestry. I felt connected to history, to the humans who lived in that other place in that other time. And that kind of connection is magic. It is an honor to be a part of it.

Everyone knows the story of Sleeping Beauty, so I was less intrigued by the storyline as much as the dancing itself. The ballerinas and ballerinos leaped and twirled across the stage—executing perfect entrechat after perfect entrechat—like this was what they were born to do. They made it seem effortless; even their faces were part of the dance, expressions reflecting whatever emotion they wanted to convey at any moment, rather than showing the immense concentration and effort it must take to dance in such a manner.

All of the dancers were wonderful, and it’s clear why they’re part of one of the best companies in the world. The ballerina playing Aurora (Hee Seo) practically defied gravity—and, of course, Misty Copeland was spectacular as well. After waiting through the first two acts to see her, the crowd broke into applause and cheers when she appeared onstage, finally, in the third act. Everything about her was singularly focused and in the moment, precise and delicate and full of emotion. It was breathtaking to witness.

Altogether, American Ballet Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty showed me how much dance connects us and how gorgeous stories can be—even (and especially) the ones we think we already know. The ballet about sleeping made me feel somehow like I was both in a luscious dream and beautifully wide awake.


REVIEW: Allegiant

(Please note: This review is written in such a manner as to not spoil the film for those who have yet to see it and/or who are yet to read the book.)

The film adaptation of the concluding novel in Veronica Roth’s bestselling YA dystopian trilogy, Allegiant, hit theaters on March 18th. However, the Divergent film franchise isn’t ending here–a fourth film, Ascendant, is scheduled for summer 2017. And this is disappointingly obvious when watching Allegiant.

Starring Shailene Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars) as Tris, Theo James (Downton Abbey) as Four, and directed by Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler’s Wife), Allegiant follows its protagonists as they leave their isolated, dystopian Chicago behind in order to explore the (possibly even more sinister) world beyond.

More than anything else, Allegiant feels like a prologue to Ascendant, which seems as if it will be comprised of almost entirely new material, diverging the film franchise from the course previously trodden by the books (if you don’t mind the pun). This could be a good thing since–I’ll come right out and say it–Allegiant (the book) is not very good. However, the film preceding this one in the Divergent franchise (Insurgent) is also not very good. So the only hope, really, for Allegiant (the movie) was that it would find a way to surpass its predecessors and get the franchise back on track for this all-new, concluding fourth installment.

In some ways, the filmmakers do accomplish this. They’ve remedied a number of the weaker plot points of the book while also (thankfully) moving away from the worst of the cheesy cinematic elements introduced in Insurgent. Likewise, the generally talented cast continues to do the best they can with the material available, and a number of set pieces are detailed and stunning in such a way as to make it clear that the crew cares a lot about this story.

Despite all of this, however, Allegiant cannot seem to help being weak. Even with the shakiest plot points and some of the cheese eradicated, a lot still remain. (In particular, a long-take of James broodily showering under mood lighting cheapens the tone more than it feels artistic.) Additionally, the CGI that seems to populate half the movie looks like something from a decade ago and, despite the cast’s best efforts, they cannot mask how melodramatic and lazy the writing is.

Really, the chief problem of Allegiant seems to be that it thinks it is one thing (artistic and introspective and deep) while in reality, at best, it is something else entirely (fun and action-packed and tongue-in-cheek comedic). What both the book and the film versions of this story seem to have forgotten is what made the Divergent series so good in the first place: not political messages, but snarky banter; not deep philosophical concepts, but a plethora of twists and nerve-wracking stunts.

Ultimately, this film feels like what a bunch of old guys probably think teen girls like, rather than anything that actually reflects this target demographic. Add to that the fact that Allegiant feels like it’s mostly just build-up for Ascendant, and the film is a disappointingly weak installment in an increasingly disappointingly weak film franchise.

Of course, I do have to give Allegiant credit, though, for managing to get a commendable number of attractive people on screen at once. A+ job on the hot guys. If only they did a little less angsty-staring and a little more franchise-saving.

Allegiant is in theaters now. Tickets are available for showings at both Goodrich Quality 16 and Ann Arbor 20 (Rave).


PREVIEW: Allegiant

It’s time to go beyond the wall.

Allegiant, the third installment in the Divergent film franchise, came out March 18th. Based on the first half of the concluding novel to Veronica Roth’s mega bestselling YA dystopian trilogy, it follows Tris (Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars) and Four (Theo James, Downton Abbey) as they leave their isolated, dystopian Chicago behind in order to explore the world beyond. However, conspiracies and secrets abound and it’s not long before they and their friends realize that leaving the relative safety of Chicago might have been a terrible mistake.

Directed again by Robert Schwentke–who first helmed the lackluster sophomore installment of the series, InsurgentAllegiant will likely either make or break the film franchise. Insurgent saw an extreme shift in tone and quality away from the original film, and Allegiant the novel is by far the weakest of Roth’s trilogy. Allegiant the film will have to find a way to overcome both of these obstacles if the franchise wants any chance of redeeming itself in its fourth and final film (next summer’s Ascendant), based on the second half of the same novel.

Reviews of Allegiant so far have not been stellar. With phrases flying around like “unintentionally silly” (Ariana Bacle, Entertainment Weekly) and “egregiously padded piffle” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone), it’s difficult to be hopeful for this film. Still, as a longtime fan of Roth’s books, I am.

After all, Divergent has never been about deep messages or complex character development. The books thrive instead on their fast pace, fun action, and snarky banter. And with all of that in mind, I’ve got my fingers crossed that Schwentke, Woodley, James, & co. might just pull this thing off. (And even if they don’t, well–this should at least be entertaining.)

Allegiant is in theaters now. Tickets are available for showings at both Goodrich Quality 16 and Ann Arbor 20 (Rave).

PREVIEW: Sleeping Beauty

It’s been one hundred and twenty-five years since the ballet adaptation of Sleeping Beauty premiered in St. Petersburg to high acclaim. However, the classic fairy tale about Princess Aurora–cursed to sleep for years and years–still draws audiences today (probably in large part due to the fact that many of us wish we could sleep that long).

In celebration of the show’s big anniversary, the American Ballet Theatre is taking it on the road in a multi-city national tour. This production features many of today’s most talented dancers, including Isabella Boylston, Sarah Lane, Cassandra Trenary, Hee Seo, and Gillian Murphy, all of whom will be performing the role of Aurora in different performances.

Featuring the original choreography by the great Marius Petipa–considered to be one of the most influential choreographers in ballet history–this production of Sleeping Beauty is sure to do anything but put audiences to sleep.

The show will be at the Detroit Opera House from Thursday, March 31 through Sunday, April 3. You can read how the University of Michigan partnered with the Detroit Opera House to bring the production to Michigan here. Tickets are available now at

REVIEW: Deadpool

(Please note: This review is written in such a manner as to not spoil the film.)

The first superhero movie of the year crashed into theaters this weekend. However, the Marvel/Fox collaboration Deadpool is nothing like its predecessors.

I’m a huge superhero fan. I love everything from the cheesier, lighthearted fare of the Spider-Man films, to the darker, gritter movies Hollywood has primarily been pumping out more recently, such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With Deadpool, however, the genre goes where it has never gone before: rated R. And with it comes a film that is bolder, bloodier, more vulgar–and 100% funnier than anything we’ve seen so far.

Starring Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern) as the Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool essentially combines the irreverent humor of Guardians of the Galaxy with the fourth-wall-smashing of Ant-Man (with its own hefty addition of F-bombs and innuendos). The dialogue is witty and fast-paced, the jokes (and body count) fly, and the characters are lovable not for being good people, but for being unapologetically, outrageously awful (but still, you know, at least better than the antagonists).

It’s clear everyone involved with the project loved and understood it on an innate level. Every detail is polished to a shine, from the ridiculous opening credit sequence to Stan Lee’s perfect cameo (to, well, pretty much everything else). Without a doubt, this was the role Ryan Reynolds was born to play and it’s no wonder this was the first R-rated movie to surpass $100 million domestically in its opening weekend.

Of course, Deadpool‘s not perfect. The plot is so straightforward, it often feels like an afterthought beneath the pileup of comebacks and battles, and the constant back-and-forth of the storytelling style (flashback to present to flashback to present) gets a little tedious after a while. Plus, I’m concerned about the numerous cultural references (which carry many of the quips) growing stale in a few years.

The first two of these problems are minor in the grand scheme of things, though. The film is definitely more a comedy than a thriller, so the fact that the jokes work matters far more than the twisty-ness of the plot. (And they do work, really, really well.)

As for the cultural references becoming dated: Maybe we just need to get a Deadpool 2 in a couple years to make up for that?

Deadpool is in theaters now. Tickets are available for showings at both Goodrich Quality 16 and Ann Arbor 20. Grab them before someone spoils all the punchlines (both literal and metaphorical) for you.

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Warsss(Please note: This review is written in such a manner as to not spoil the film.)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens crashed into theaters this past weekend, breaking nearly every record it’s faced at both the domestic and global box offices—and it deserves it.

Episode VII of the Star Wars saga picks up thirty years after the end of Episode VI, but you wouldn’t realize it had been that long based on the fervor of the fans. Opening night, lines stretched around the theater. A merchandise booth took up the corner of the lobby. And so many cars clogged the theater parking lot and all the adjacent businesses’ lots that moviegoers had to park several away.

Director J. J. Abrams and crew got so much right with this film. It’s the return of the Star Wars with which the world first fell in love—better than the prequel trilogy (by far) and reminiscent of the original trilogy in all the right ways. More than anything, The Force Awakens shows that the filmmakers who have taken over the saga understand, respect, and love what made it so iconic in the first place. And that is exhilarating to see.

A big part of what makes the movie work is how Abrams masterfully blends the original and new cast. Going in, it’s easy to be invested in the lives of Han, Leia, and Luke—but by the end, the newbies feel just as precious and wonderful as their predecessors. In addition, it’s exciting to finally see a major franchise with a diverse primary cast. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) have amazing chemistry—both with the camera and each other—as an existential crisis-ridden Stormtrooper and Rebel pilot, respectively. Both are the kinds of heroes for whom I want to root.

However, more than either of them, the most incredible character to watch take over the Star Wars story is toughened scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley).

To put it succinctly: Rey is bae. She has a strength, independence, practicality, determination, and passion unlike anything we’ve seen on screen before. She is not a “girl” action hero, but rather an action hero who just so happens to be a girl. Her femininity is part of who she is, but it does not define everything about her; it’s a nonissue. And that is beautiful.

On the flip side of the Force, new antagonist Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) presents a different interpretation of the dark side than any we’ve previously seen, which is also to the benefit of The Force Awakens. He is not a ready-made villain the way his predecessors were. Rather, he is still figuring out who he wants to be and how to reach that point, and this makes him so much more interesting as a character. As excited as I am to watch our protagonists evolve and come into their own in the next two movies, I’m easily just as excited about Ren.

Of course, the movie’s not perfect. Some of the storytelling is clunky and I’m worried about how obvious this film made some of the twists that are sure to come later in the trilogy. Additionally, while The Force Awakens returns primarily to the model-based special effects of the original trilogy, it does still contain a couple CGI characters, a la the prequel trilogy. This is to its detriment, as the (honestly sort of cheap-looking) CGI stands out in starch contrast to the beautifully-puppeted and crafted models that populate the rest of the film.

Still, these are minor complaints in an otherwise very strong movie—one that reminded me (and clearly a whole lot of other people) how magical a movie can be. The Force Awakens is selling so many tickets not only because it’s Star Wars, but because it reminds viewers why films are worth loving and what it feels like to truly fall in love with a new one.

Really, if I have any true complaints about The Force Awakens, it’s that I don’t have my own BB-8 droid with whom to pal around.

Until the day that happens, I guess I’ll settle for being ridiculously excited for Episode VIII (and seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters a billion more times).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in theaters now. Tickets are available for showings at both Goodrich Quality 16 and Ann Arbor 20 (Rave). See it before a friend (who’s clearly been corrupted by the Dark Side) spoils you.