PREVIEW: Lady Bird

Lady Bird is an indie film about a high school girl struggling with her relationship with her mother. So basically every indie film, however, this one currently has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (with over 100 reviews!) so if you’re going to see any indie film about teenage girls this year, make sure it’s Lady Bird. The film opens at the Michigan Theater today and student tickets are $8.

REVIEW: Dessa @ The Blind Pig

Tuesday night, which happened to be before my Math 481 midterm (a fact I did not realize until I had already agreed to review this concert), Dessa and crew came to town. Though I had been looking forward to this concert for sometime, I had also been counting on Tuesday to study. I ended up choosing the concert, but I might live to regret this decision (in approximately a week, when I get the exam back).

When I got there, the first act was already well underway though the crowd was still sparse. The song I could hear James Gardin playing as I entered the venue struck me as generic and ugly, but the next few songs he played were much better. His songs are shockingly well-produced for a local rapper, featuring soothing beats and rhythmic choruses. The lyrics, much like his stage presence, feature uplifting verses and a message for unity in times of trouble. Although the audience was clearly not there for him, he succeeded in getting people interested and vibing to his music. Furthermore, his crowd interactions demonstrated excitement and compassion for his audience, which helped to start the concert off on a positive note. At one point, he asked for two volunteers to say a bit about themselves and then freestyled based on what they told him–and as someone not often impressed by freestyle, he did quite well.

The next opening act (and also Dessa’s backing band) was MONAKR. Their music served as an interlude between Gardin and Dessa’s rapping. Their lyrics were either softly sung or gently wailed, depending on the tempo of the song. At times, there were rapid and impressive drum beats dragging the songs along, but others were almost entirely electronic, built from varied sounds slowly coming to crescendo. Either way, the tone of their set was distinctly different, and chilled the audience to a certain extent. Their stage presence featured a few too many jokes about their name (for reference, it’s pronounced the same as moniker) and didn’t have a clear speaker (both the singer and the guitarist would attempt to speak at the same time) designated to talk to the audience. Still, I would definitely recommend checking out their sound.

Finally, there was Dessa. Her performance was upbeat and her songs simultaneously rocked and soothed, featuring rapping and singing and tightly produced melodies. In between songs, she was clearly a performer who loved her fans, and the words she said seemed to come from an open and honest place, as if she were writing in a journal and not speaking to a room filled with a couple hundred. Though she played old favorites, much of her set was spent testing out new material for an upcoming album (still unannounced), and as a fan, there isn’t much greater pleasure than these concert sneak peaks. Overall, Dessa navigated her performance and dialogue well, and demonstrated a love and passion for her work, one that she has for over a decade in an often unforgiving industry.

PREVIEW: Dessa @ The Blind Pig

Dessa, a Minnesota rapper known for her work with the Doomtree collective, will be performing in Ann Arbor tomorrow at The Blind Pig. Her style is a blend of hiphop and soft-spoken singing, and entirely her own. She was recently featured on the Hamilton mixtape, and is hard at work on her next record.

Tickets are $15 and doors open at 8 PM.

REVIEW: Gook

Gook is a remarkable film, one that manages to balance both art and emotion. From the eerie beginning of Kamilla, the young black girl, dancing jerkily and strangely in front of what appears to be the burning shoe store, to the end of the movie, Gook is beautiful and poignant. It shifts tones deftly, and will go from making you laugh to inducing rage within seconds without any of that awkwardness one is used to feeling. Furthermore, the film explores the lives of poor Korean-Americans and the strife between their community and the black community whom they share the streets of LA with–in this way, the film already stands out from other films that focus on the lives of those in the ghetto and seeks to tell a story that hasn’t been told before.

Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is its characters. Each character has his or her own set of motives and desires that feel fully fleshed out despite having little if anything to do with the plot (such as one of the brother’s desire to become an R&B singer). None of them are stereotypes, and though viewers are going to be most sympathetic towards the brothers and Kamilla, the “villains” of the movie remain sympathetic, for the film shows how their anger comes from a place of hurt, how no one in this movie has been or will be capable of moving on from an unshown tragedy that happened years before this day, how grief and violence go hand in hand.

Though the movie describes itself as following this set of characters on the day of the Rodney King riots, the riots intersect with the characters only rarely. The drama of the movie is more personal than that. While the riots drone in the background, the characters rush towards their own startling and tragic confrontation, this sort of mirrored image of the riots. To use history in this way is a bold decision–it is easy to make films where the drama lies in a big event that everyone already knows the conclusion of–here, the historical elements are another layer to an already well-made film and not the substance of the story. Still, though the scenes we encounter that have to do with the riots are limited, they are impactful enough that no one would accuse this film as adding them in to give the movie more substance.

It is impossible to talk about Gook without comparing it to last year’s Moonlight. Both are films focusing on race and class matters, adolescence in the ghetto, and both have similar styles in scenes, preferring to hit viewers with dramatic images accompanied by violins, and each work well with their palette of choice. Gook, despite its black and white aesthetic, is probably more approachable for most people–unlike Moonlight, it has a cohesive and limited (the events of the movie occur in one day, instead of over a lifetime) plot and the artistic elements don’t detract from the emotional scenes. Unfortunately, Gook had a limited release and shows no signs of taking off like Moonlight did.

 

PREVIEW: Gook

Gook is a movie based on the Rodney King riots in LA, 25 years ago. It tells the story of two Korean shoe store employees and a young black girl they have befriended, as they attempt to navigate the day the riots broke out. The film is in black and white, and is supposed to have stunning cinematography. The movie will be playing at the Michigan Theater, Monday and Tuesday, at 9:45. Student tickets are $8.

REVIEW: Baby Driver

Baby Driver is not your average car or bank heist movie. In fact, it would be a stretch to consider it either of those things because although the plot revolves around robbing banks and driving away, the movie is so much more than that. It deals with a broad range of topics, from deafness to culture as a means of survival–if it weren’t labelled an “action” film, it would be up for a whole host of Oscars and have a good case for winning them.

Unlike most films dedicated to fast cars and grizzled criminals, is not dark, gloomy, nor a blur of speed. The movie is still nonstop, well choreographed, and has spurts of violence–but, like most Edgar Wright films, scenes are well-lit, vibrant, and show all their punches. Likewise, there is plenty of violence in the film but it isn’t brushed over. We see our main character, Baby, constantly confront his own role in the violence and destruction perpetuated by his coworkers–violence that is often directed at innocent bystanders, people in the wrong place at the wrong time. Baby Driver shows us not only how people are implicit in the violence around them, but also how that violence changes them (for better or worse) and creates a self-perpetuating cycle.

Of course, the movie isn’t always gloom and doom–more often than not, this film is hilarious. And the best part about this film is the soundtrack and how that music is incorporated into the plot of the movie. Lots of films using funky older songs to make their movies seem better, but music is not only background here. The music is essential to the film, as Baby uses music to drive. He needs a soundtrack to get away. Usually, you find a song to suit a scene, but here the scenes (even characters’ names) were written with specific songs in mind. So if you like action, humor, and a good soundtracks, Baby Driver will probably be the best movie you see all year.