PREVIEW: Avengers: Endgame

Marvel fans, the time is finally upon us. A year after Infinity War, its follow-up, Endgame, is projected to mark the end of a very long Marvel era and the dawn of a new one. The transition has been going on for a few years now, with newer installments like Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Black Panther beginning to take over the stage from the original core band of heroes. Captain Marvel made history only last month as Marvel Studios’ first female-led superhero film, and the first female-led superhero film ever to gross over $1 billion worldwide. Captain Marvel, played by Brie Larson (Unicorn Store), is expected to play a vital role in Endgame as the remaining heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rally in a last-ditch effort to defeat intergalactic villain Thanos once and for all.

Endgame was directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who were also at the helm of Infinity War, and features an all-star ensemble cast. It comes out this Thursday, April 25th, and will be playing at the State Theatre, the Quality 16, the Ann Arbor 20 IMAX, and Emagine Saline.

REVIEW: Transit

Christian’s Petzold’s Transit is a sprawling, moral adventure that examines questions of loyalty, morality, and the modern global order in the face of fascism. Set primarily in the French seaside town of Marseille, the background to the drama is a façade of gorgeous pastel storefronts that police vans race past in a flurry of sound and light. The setting is noticeably modern; the outfits chosen by the characters, the ships in the harbor, the vehicles in the streets all clearly belong to the modern era, and it’s also clear that Petzold wants it that way. The ambiguity of eras is only one part of the ambiguity that Petzold has carefully constructed for his film, as he places grand amounts of trust in the viewer to think critically about and understand the messages he wants to send.

The ambiguous setting contains both undertones of the Nazi occupation of France, and the modern rise of fascism in Europe. Most of the characters in Marseille trying to flee are German, and although the identity of those occupying the country goes unsaid, references to Jews, “the occupation” and “cleansings” evokes strong similarities to the Nazi occupation of France during WWII. Yet there is also a modern twist. A family of African descent that the protagonist, Georg, befriends is described as “illegal”, living a careful life in avoidance of the authorities. Their entire apartment complex is revealed to be a haven for cautious, illegal families largely of African or Middle Eastern descent, mirroring the current refugee crisis in Europe. Petzold carefully draws the comparison between the historical threats we have learned to fear and the more modern ones we may have not.

The ambiguity stretches into the exposition of the characters and the choices they make. The narrator, who appears partway into the story, goes deliberately unnamed and largely unidentified for much of the saga, but he is identifiable as an outside observer, someone witnessing the events but not privy to the inner thoughts of the main characters themselves. Petzold also avoids the potential easy moralizing of his characters. They act in unpredictable and frequently selfish ways, given opportunities to act in a clear, ethical manner, they abstain for sometimes selfish reasons, and sometimes reasons wholly unclear and never explained. Petzold’s characters are constructed as complex, whole people, with rich, unexplained inner lives. And that is what makes Transitultimately worth seeing. The characters are rich, real people, with real, complex desires, who refuse to fall into the mold of action heroes or love interests. The film artfully touches on serious modern issues while simultaneously immersing the viewer in a carefully constructed world of drama and tension, the one the unexpected ending ultimately topples.

Two people dancing the yonna

REVIEW: Birds of Passage

The beginning of Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s Birds of Passage opens with a symbolism-laden new beginning: a young girl’s transition into adulthood. The Wayuu people at the center of the film celebrate this occasion with a festival of family, friends and dancing. But it is the dancing that provides the clearest window into the future of this sprawling clan. The daughter on the brink of womanhood, Zaida, is dancing the Yonna, a fast-paced give-and-take between her and another man. She is dressed in a flowing red garment, racing back and forth to the beat of a drum, the camera closely following their faces and imparting the dramatic feeling that you too are being chased in the circle, racing around and around in the ambiguous fear of what might happen if you stop. Her first partner, a young boy named Leonidas, eventually trips and falls to the ground. The dance stops, but not for long, as an outsider to the clan named Rapayet steps up and enters the fray, outlasting the drum, and making his first mark on the clan he will eventually join.

The clan is led by a powerful matriarch, Úrsula, who makes clear from the start that her power lies in her willingness to do anything to protect her family. Rapayet, a suitor intent on marrying Zaida, strikes Úrsula as a danger, but possibly even she does not realize the depth to which he will uproot her family and her culture. The Wayuu of northern Colombia had persevered through the rise of the modern nation by their adherence to their traditional practices that Úrsula is determined to protect. As Rapayet ventures into the marijuana trade to finance his dowry for Zaida, he finds himself sucked into a whirlpool of greed and desperation despite his best efforts to preserve the culture of honor. It is only a matter of time before the consequences manifest themselves.

Rapayet, Zaida, and their two children eventually move into a grand stucco villa in the middle of the barren desert, a visual metaphor for the isolation their wealth has granted them. The film is a deliberate exploration of the fine line between providing for your family and sacrificing them in pursuit of these provisions. It showcases the delicate tension between the traditional ways and the allure of 20thcentury wealth and luxury, and the mythic power of the dollar, propelling business and violence across the Colombian desert in an ancient blue Jeep.

Now showing at the State Theatre. In Wayuu, Spanish, and Wiwa with English subtitles.

Birds of Passage Poster

PREVIEW: Birds of Passage

Birds of Passage (Spanish title: Pajaros de Verano) is screening at the State Theatre this week (beginning Friday, March 22). An epic crime film that received the Colombian nomination for best foreign language film for the 91stAcademy awards and was selected for the December shortlist. The drama centers on a Wayúu indigenous family during the illegal drug trade of the 1960s and 70s, illustrating the moral costs of the all-encompassing pursuit of power and wealth. The film will be screened daily at the State Theatre, with audio in Spanish, Wayuu, and Wiwa, with English subtitles.

REVIEW: Climax.

With films like Black Swan, Suspiria, and now Climax, dance is a staple in horror, both sublime and dangerous. Some kind of magnetism exists to the art, an incredible fascination with the primal power behind the lofty, elegant institutions of dance. Climax is already a bit stripped down in this sense – there is no renowned ballet school, no classical compositions to be centered around. Instead, the film is focused on a diverse dance troupe, and the pace is set from the first major dance sequence to be erotic, sensual, and chaotic.

Climax feels like an amalgamation of limbs and sound, as if it were a strange animal pulsating with bass and red lights, with a feral energy that doesn’t stop until the party’s over. There isn’t really a script, and it was noted by the director Gaspard Noé that most of the scenes were improvised, shot linearly, over the course of only a few days. It feels organic and crude, surreal in some ways and too real in others.

The cinematography is unusual, with brutally long takes, and the camera primarily focused on the mesmerizing choreography and disorientating scenes that almost seem to amount to nothing. If there is supposed to be a story line, a significance behind everything that unfolds over the course of the movie – then it’s lost to a special echelon of hell that spills across the screen.

At first, the film starts off like any other onscreen party: a bit hedonistic, a bit messy, full of drama and gossip and dancing. The audience is exposed to the private problems and personal relationships between the members of the troupes through cuts towards the different characters at different points during the party.

Things are amplified when the group realizes that their sangria had been spiked with LSD, and all pleasures and desires reach unthinkable magnitudes before turning dangerous. Dance is melded with violence and paranoia, and the scenes turn into an unending, bizarre, sensory surge. While this feeling is nearly normalized by the end of the movie, a few scenes we see through the eyes of some of the only coherent characters are the realizations of the nightmarish reality.

Climax is a polarizing film, strange in composition and delivery, but undoubtedly powerful. It’s a movie that is difficult to make sense of with the traditional parameters of good film-making, and is probably most aptly described as a bad trip – perfectly filmed as such, and unforgiving in how far it takes the viewer down a path of indistinguishable pleasures and pains. The ending reveal almost feels insignificant in comparison to the trauma of the rest of the movie.

While beautifully shot and unmistakably special, Climax is difficult to watch and reads more like an abstract exploration of the moraless, raw side of the human condition than an actual plot. It’s interesting, it’s an experience, and it’s probably a masterpiece in its own genre, but it is definitely not for everyone – maybe not even for most people.

PREVIEW: Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land Film Screening

The CHOP Film series presented by the U-M China Ongoing Perspectives programs is presenting a viewing of Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land  (暗戀桃花源) with special guest, direct and writer Stan Lai. The warmly received movie was an adaption from Lai’s self-penned play of the same name, and was the Taiwanese Oscar submission in 1992. The comedy features a unique mix of tones and themes as it features on a single theater that is housing two different plays, both a modern romantic tragedy (Secret Love) and a historical comedy (The Peach Blossom Land.)  

Following the film will be a Q&A session with Stan Lai, who is one of the most prominent and acclaimed playwrights in Asia.  He was the first to receive the highest degree of Art Award in Taiwan, the National Arts Award, two times in 1988 and 2001 respectively.

The event will be hosted at the State Theater, Tuesday, March 16th at 7:00 PM.  It’s completely free and open to the public, so if you’re interested you have nothing to lose!

As a note- the event is titled “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land,”  However the movie is also sometimes translated as “Secret Love for the Peach Blossom Spring.”