Hidden Life of Trees

PREVIEW: The Hidden Life of Trees

I first picked up Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees over the summer of 2019 looking for something different to add to my summer reading selection. The book is a well-written exploration of the surprisingly complex social life of trees and forests and I couldn’t put it down. Even as someone who has spent a lot of time around trees, the notion of trees being able to “talk” to each other with such detail and depth and the concept of each forest acting as a community was surprising to me. Wohlleben did an excellent job conveying the majesty and scale of forests through the written word, but I think the big screen might be an even better medium to convey the awe they deserve.

Peter Wohlleben’s 2015 nonfiction masterpiece The Hidden Life of Trees has arrived for the big screen and will be showing this Tuesday (10/19) at 5pm at the Michigan Theater. This is currently the only showing scheduled in Ann Arbor, so grab your tickets now if you’re interested!

REVIEW: Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko is a sci-fi psychological thriller and coming of age movie starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal at the start of his career. The film follows a high-schooler who narrowly escapes being killed by a plane turbine crashing into his room when a giant rabbit-like figure convinces him to leave his home in the middle of the night. Feeling indebted to the rabbit for saving his life, Donnie is convinced to commit a series of crimes.

I was under the impression that the film would lean more towards the psychological thriller side and and delve into the horror genre, however the bizarre premise is translated into a surprisingly goofy film that my friend describes as a mix between Joker and Mean Girls: the character arcs of Donnie and Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker follow similar trajectories, and both Mean Girls and Donnie Darko feature high schools as primary settings with quirky teachers and humorous health classes and all-school gatherings. Despite the unusual nature of this pairing, the tone of the film is well-balanced between the darker subject matter and the dark humor. 

The strange plot itself is never too ridiculous, except perhaps the very end. Even so, the conclusion of the film is still satisfying, though it is a little confusing, which admittedly could be frustrating. However, I think the film does a good job of explaining what you need to know, and not leaving the entire storyline up for interpretation and therefore overly vague. I did not initially realize how sci-fi the film really was, but all of the sci-fi elements had a place in the overall story – the elements did not distract from the story, rather, they enhanced the plot. 

Gyllenhaal again shows that he is a great actor, but watching this film 20 years after it came out shows that he has always been a great actor. Gyllenhaal is eerily good at playing Donnie Darko. He plays the character as quiet and calm, but with something sinister lurking beneath – and a killer smile. The role of Donnie falls into the type of borderline deranged character Gyllenhaal often plays, however this performance sticks out because of the two-sided creepy and collected aura that the character possesses. Gyllenhaal expertly portrays Donnie’s inner conflict and nervousness, yet he exudes confidence and is menacing at the same time. 

Overall, with lesser directing or acting, Donnie Darko could have been a bizarre mess and over-ambitious effort, but it is clear director Richard Kelly and all of the actors in the film cared about the project and were fully committed. Donnie Darko was a surprisingly good watch, and a perfect film to kick off October. 

PREVIEW: Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko is a science fiction meets psychological thriller meets coming of age film. Set in October 1988, Donnie Darko is a teenager who has narrowly avoided a bizarre accident. He is convinced to begin committing a series of crimes by a mysterious rabbit-like figure who informs him that the world will end in just over 28 days. 

The film was released in October of 2001. Trailers featured a teenager firing a gun as well as a plane crashing, and due to recent events at the time, the film was subject to and suffered from little advertising. Given the subject matter and distribution troubles, Donnie Darko grossed just over $500,000 during its initial run, although it received high praise from critics. After reissues and a positive home media release, the film grossed over $7 million more, and developed a devoted fan base and cult following. 

I am a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal’s work, so I was excited for the chance to see him in one of his breakout roles. I have heard that the film is a little confusing and simply weird, but I am always interested to see how these kinds of films remain unpopular with mainstream audiences but become cult classics. 

Donnie Darko will be re-released on Friday, October 8 at 10pm at the Michigan Theater.

REVIEW: Titane

Disclaimer: this review includes vague spoilers/a fairly cohesive description of the basic plot of Titane, but this is not a film that I recommend you go and watch without possessing any knowledge of the subject matter. 

When you look up the film Titane, you may come across one of many synopses. For example, “after a series of unexplained murders, a man is reunited with his missing son.” Or, “a child has a titanium plate fitted to her head after being severely injured in a car crash.” There’s also the extremely vague, “titanium is a biocompatible metal, often used in prosthetics.” And how could I forget, “a woman is impregnated by a car.” All of these are plot points in Titane, a film director that Julia Ducournau describes as a love story. 

I agree that Titane is indeed a love story, as unconventional as it is. It is more so about familial love, from a woman who has been deprived of proper love and humanity growing up, who needs to be loved but also (desperately) needs to learn to love. Love in the film also comes in the form of a man who possesses an immense ability to love, but has nobody to give it to. This makes the film sound very warm and wholesome, but the film is extremely graphic in terms of violence and sexual content, and its gratuitous nature perhaps detracts too much from the heart of the film.

I personally think Ducournau succeeded in crafting two compelling character arcs that intertwined and concluded in an almost satisfying way, with the highlight being that the character development is clever above all. However, I make this claim after several days of reflection. In the moment, I was more so focused on the variety of bodily fluids in the film being replaced by black car oil, which made me wonder whether the baby would turn out to be Lightning McQueen or a Transformer. I should also mention that the pair sitting next to me got up halfway through the film and never came back. I sometimes find that it can be difficult for films to balance meaningful storytelling through gratuitous means without becoming a film that is simply gratuitous to be gratuitous. Given the abrupt departure of those two audience members, I think I can assume that I was not the only one that night that was failing to identify proper justification for the disturbing visuals and tone in the film. 

I understand the bit about the car in the film is to emphasize how dehumanizing the environment the protagonist, Alexia, has grown up in, but she is already a serial killer so why was the car necessary? Yes, it shows how far Alexia was willing to go to experience some kind of pleasure, but, again, she is already a serial killer. That being said, I thought the unexplained crimes aspect of the film was very engaging – the action fight sequences were thrilling and John-Wick-esque, set to upbeat music that made the audience exclaim in disbelief and twisted enjoyment.

Especially with a very reactive audience – and I think this film will easily extract audible reactions from most if not all audiences – Titane is a surprisingly fun film to watch. I would not discourage you from seeing this film. 

PREVIEW: The Alpinist

The Alpinist, starring extreme alpine climber Marc-André Leclerc, follows his death-defying solo adventures scaling huge mountains, with minimal equipment and a ton of raw skill. This movie has already gotten a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, after being released on September 10th. I am excited to see Leclerc’s climbing abilities, as well as the beautiful mountain landscapes he will be ascending. I also rarely get to see a documentary in a movie theater (especially recently due to Covid-19), so I am especially eager to experience this film.

The movie is currently showing at the State Theater, mostly in the late afternoons and evenings. Get tickets here! https://michtheater.org/the-alpinist


Titane, the most recent recipient of the Palme d’Or, has been declared by the BBC to be “the most shocking film of 2021.” The film follows an unconventional love story and a series of unsolved crimes, and falls under the horror genre – but specifically body horror. Titane is a French film by director Julia Ducournau (director of Raw), with the title’s English translation being “titanium.”

I’ve heard this film described as “kind of gross” which makes me a little nervous, but I am curious about how tasteful the film’s gratuitous nature is. The film’s description on several websites is accompanied by a blurb about how titanium is biocompatible and therefore often used in prosthetics, and I think I know what kind of body horror that would involve. I am simply not a fan of doctor montages and surgery scenes in films, but there is something about watching such a shocking and possibly controversial film that is a little exciting to me. Wish me luck!

Titane opens on Friday at the State Theater.