REVIEW: Jukebox the Ghost @ The Blind Pig

After waiting in line for half an hour (sold-out show), my friend and I finally got into the Blind Pig, just in time to catch the remnants of Cooper Anstett, one of the opening performers. Cooper Anstett was a duo and sounded like most opening acts that had one guy on drums and one guy on guitar–in other words, though they sounded nice, they were ultimately nothing special and easily forgotten. Not bad music to listen to while you wait for the joint to fill up.

The Elwins

Then there was the second opening act, The Elwins, who have been touring with Jukebox the Ghost on and off for the last several years. Their sound was distinctive–upbeat pop that likes to have fun–and is a clear complement to Jukebox the Ghost. The band also liked to have fun, and various members moved and danced all around the stage, They were in a surprisingly good mood considering, as they informed us, that their beloved van had broken down and they had to travel here in a uHaul. They were all even dressed in black to show their grief–and still they played with an infectious happiness. Towards the end of their set, they told us about how they and Jukebox the Ghost play this game called Brimball, during which they occasionally make crab hands and say “thanks for the Brimball.” After informing us of this pastime, they had the audience complete this motion and repeat those words and took a video to later surprise Jukebox the Ghost. Overall, their performance was engaging, dynamic, and upbeat, and properly warmed up the audience for the main act.

Speaking of audience, they were younger than the usual Blind Pig crowd. Typically, the Blind Pig draws heavily from college students and older Ann Arbor locals, but many members of this audience were high schoolers and I’d wager that more than a few got into the Blind Pig using fake IDs. Still, it wasn’t a bad crowd and had there been more room, there might have been dancing, but as it was, since we were crammed together, the dancing was limited to moves that only needed six inches of space.

In addition to this unusual audience, it’s always interesting to see pop and upbeat bands playing in the dark, cramped Blind Pig. Though the exterior does not take away from the music in anyway, it’s also not exactly the place one pictures a band like Jukebox the Ghost playing. It’s got major grunge vibes going on and one can easily see why Nirvana considered it one of their favorite places to play.

Jukebox the Ghost

Finally, Jukebox the Ghost performed, opening with their bombastic song, “Somebody.” Like The Elwins, they were playful with the audience, and at one point, when their keyboardist and lead singer pulled out a granola bar during a song due to his ravenous appetite, they announced that history had been made bey e. It was a memorable moment. Another instance that stands out is when they played “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which got everyone in the audience channeling their inner Queen. Their set list was long–they have four albums to choose songs from–and they played a substantial amount of songs. By the end of it, though the band kept its energy, the audience was clearly exhausted–still enjoying the show, but tired from standing around for four hours. Thankfully, their encore was brief. They played another cover (chosen from their wheel of songs) which they had to remember how to play first and then closed with “The Spiritual,” a slower, more gospel-like song that ends with the line “let me go in peace.”

PREVIEW: Jukebox the Ghost @ The Blind Pig

Do you want to go to a concert Friday night but don’t feel like shelling $40 out for tickets to see a rapper you don’t care for? Then come see Jukebox the Ghost at The Blind Pig this Friday. Their music is primarily upbeat pop, but has influences from other genres such as punk, gospel, and soul. It’ll be an interesting clash between their music and The Blind Pig’s grunge aesthetic, but nevertheless, I’m sure the band will utilize the intimate space to it’s full potential.

Tickets are unfortunately sold-out, but you can try to find some on Facebook or through other third-party ticket-selling sites.

REVIEW: M-agination Film Festival

After a brief delay due to technical difficulties, the festival was quickly underway. A total of sixteen student films were shown at this festival and the run-time was approximately three hours. There was a brief intermission, but transitions between films were otherwise kept short. M-agination board members only gave one little talk–the rest of the event was entirely films. Almost every film was fantastic and they covered a wide variety of  genres, so despite the lengthy runtime, the event was quite enjoyable.

Unfortunately, it would be impossible to give an individual review for each film shown, so I will stick to the highlights, and discuss some films that stood out to among an outstanding collection of films:

Cheater: This was the perfect movie to start off the festival. The plot of Cheater is that, well, a student is attempting to cheat on his exam, but the execution of this relatively simple idea is masterful. Things begin with an edge-of-your-seat-intensity that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie or spy thriller, and from there, the “action” builds and builds in both intensity and ridiculousness, until by the end of the film we’ve witnessed a mental breakdown, a phone chucked across the room, and a even a guy getting stabbed in the eye. Satire is a difficult art to master, but this movie hit all the right notes and the entire audience was laughing nonstop.

Jam: Taking us in another direction of ridiculousness, there was Jam, a movie which involved a man killing people so he could make jam from their blood. The film was entirely in black and white with the exception of the jam which provided a somber splash of color. It was well-shot and the narration was excellent. Although disturbing, it was too strange–cannibalistic jam eventually became a global obsession–to be threatening. The film filled it’s role as “that one super weird film” quite well.

Millenia: Many of the films at the festival were comedies or, at least, comedic. Dramas are a far more difficult feat, but Millenia pulled it off. The film revolved around two college students feeling isolated from their community and peers, who go around narrating their hopelessness until finally meeting at a party. Despite some moments of cheesiness (“welcome to the mind of me”), the film overall does a wonderful job of realistically depicting depression in college students. Furthermore, it was easily the most gorgeous film shown at the festival–it gives viewers a new appreciation for familiar Ann Arbor.

Anna Garcia Does a One Woman Play: This one was my personal favorite. For a film that has essentially one character (Anna Garcia), it does an amazing job at keeping viewers engaged. The premise of the film is that Anna Garcia arranges to do a one woman play, and to have a documentary about herself doing the play, and there’s just one little problem: she doesn’t have a script or any idea what her play will be about. Viewers watch as Anna desperately scrambles around Ann Arbor, trying to get other people to write her play. It’s funny, it’s meta, and it’s even got a bit of heart.

The Little Grebe: As the only animated film at the festival, this film immediately stood out. Though the animation was no Pixar, its painted style and simple movements made it beautiful. However, the real draw of the film was the narration. On screen we saw a little bird floating through the debris of a drowned city as we listened to the narrator telling its story as one that her mother once shared with her. The story of the bird was simple, but the emotional intensity of the actress playing the narrator elevated the piece beyond the confines of the story. It isn’t the story of the bird that makes this film great so much as it is this story of a girl who was told said story.

Low Expectations: Unlike the other things shown at this festival, this piece wasn’t a film but a pilot episode to a sitcom. The sitcom follows three college roommates as they navigate love and other hardships on a college campus. It was hilarious and real, but also hyper-aware of itself.

Overall, the festival (despite it’s length) was a great showcase of some amazing work. I plan on attending next year’s festival and I recommend it to everyone.

REVIEW: Claudia Rankine

Rackham Auditorium was nearly a full house for Claudia Rankine’s reading/lecture. She was introduced by a professor, who gave a wonderful recount of Rankine’s work, along with the state of race relations in America. On Rankine’s Citizen, which focuses on various incidents which might be described as “microagressions,” the professor commented that “the way racism structures our world, there is nothing micro about it.” This combinatorial discussion of both Rankine’s work and racism would be the status quo for the rest of the talk.

With images of Citizen projected behind her, Claudia Rankine began her talk. It consisted of readings interspersed with discussions about why she chose to do this or why she used this image or who this artist is. The audience got a feel for not only what the work consisted of, but how it came to be.

When she read, she sounded as if her voice was reaching out from the void, as if there was a great distance between her and you. It was like listening to someone speak from a underwater cave. By all means, it was fascinating simply to listen to listlessly–doubly fascinating when you considered the words she was speaking. She read a few sections from Citizen, which is made up of stories and anecdotes, some hers, some stolen, about being black in America. The end of one of these vignettes, which described her driving while her passenger said some offensive things, struck me as particularly beautiful: “it is also that you have a destination that doesn’t include acting like this moment isn’t inhabitable, hasn’t happened before, and the before isn’t a part of the now as the night darkens  and the time shortens between where we are and where we are going.”

One of the more interesting stories she told about how the artwork in her book ended up there was the story of the image depicted above. If you do not recognize it, this is an edited photograph and in the original, several black men were hanging from the tree. When Claudia Rankine first attempted to use the photo, she found the process not as easy as for other historical photos. The owners of the photograph do not allow for it to be republished and distributed just to anyone out of fear that those people will use it to condone lynchings. So, Rankine had to call them up and explain to them that she was not a white supremacist, and after some back and forth, they let her use the image. Then, when she called back to ask if her she could edit the photograph to take out the black bodies, they agreed readily–to them, the black men hanging were the sight, the point of the photo, but to Rankine, it was the white people gathered beneath that are the real sight. It is the celebration of death, not the death itself, which makes this image so awful.

To end her lecture, Rankine played this video (note: contains graphic imagery).

 

REVIEW: La La Land

The movie opens with a traffic jam on an L.A. highway which quickly turns into a song and dance performed by those stuck in the traffic, before settling quietly on our two main characters as they also wait in this traffic. This kind of grand outburst, followed by relative normality is the modus operandi for the film. Like most musicals, this singing is not commented upon, but otherwise, La La Land is not like most musicals.

Everything is vibrant. Every outfit is a color that pops. Every setting is swathed in bold hues. Nothing in this movie is ever dull. It can be harsh on the retinas–they don’t get a break for two hours–but otherwise this color madness works to La La Land‘s advantage. One of the great strengths of the film is how it manages to portray emotions not as some inner, personal machinations of the mind, but outside the body and into the world. In the first half of the film, what we see is how falling love feels. And though Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s acting is stupendous, the great, sweeping emotions of the film are portrayed in great, sweeping gestures. There is nothing subtle, nothing quiet about this work. It is like listening to a lovely scream for two hours straight.

But while wonderful to watch, this lack of moments where viewers can take a moment to breathe, to digest can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Worse, it can leave us feeling unattached to these characters. We are not a part of what is happening. This movie exists outside us, outside of our reality, in a world that plays by different rulebook. We are disconnected from it. This is Hollywood reality–this is where two people with big dreams can fall in love and continue to pursue, continue to work for their passions. The hopelessness of such pursuit never fully sets in, never becomes the main focus of the film. Though we might see Emma Stone crying about how she’s not sure she’s good enough to make it, we can only shake our heads and think Emma, you’ve already made it. It’s a movie about love and it’s a movie about dreams, but most of all, it’s a movie about Hollywood, and in true Hollywood fashion, this fact supersedes the rest. Ultimately, this film is a love letter to Hollywood…from Hollywood.

Your own reception of the film will probably depend on how much of a romantic you are. If you have fallen in love, truly fallen, or at least dream of such things, then you might find yourself swept along with the madness. If you haven’t, then well, be prepared to find yourself standing outside the hype.

The movie will continue to play at the Michigan Theater. Student tickets are $8.