PREVIEW: CatVideoFest 2019

Are you tired of manually scouring the internet for feline entertainment? Do you have an insatiable thirst for the more beloved, graceful, and heavily worshipped four-legged domesticated companions that don’t bark or beg to be walked on the daily?

The annual CatVideoFest, playing this Sunday at the Michigan Theater, may be the purr-fect solution to your cat-video-shortage woes! Be prepared for 70 minutes of an adorable audiovisual experience of a lifetime- back by popular demand, the CatVideoFest is an artistic curation of the world’s most prized, individualistic cat videos- ranging from music videos to animations. Not only is this a beautiful communal experience with fellow cat-lovers, but also a fantastic way to support local shelters and animal organizations, joining them in their battle to mitigate the suffering of cats all around the world. Join us in this gleeful celebration of the beauty and hilarity of our feline friends Sunday, March 10, at 4 pm in the Michigan Theater!

Tickets may be obtained here: 



REVIEW: Icons of Anime: Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

Every time I see a movie, I have a particular feeling afterwords, where I take on some of the characters’ attitudes, style, or mannerisms. Depending on how good the movie was, this can last for quite some time. For instance, I watched Billy Madison weeks ago and I still straighten into first position when I feel myself slouching. And though I have neither the time nor money to get into ballet lessons, my heart yearns to sign up for a beginner’s class.

The mood of absolute coolness is overpowering in Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. I regret forgetting to wear a shirt with a poppable collar; I felt beyond out of place amongst Spike Spiegel, Electra Ovilo, and Faye Valentine, lightyears behind them, fashion-wise (and name-wise of course). The landscape of the city made me feel small, but the characters walked through it with confidence: they owned the streets, moving in long strides, self-assuredly occupying space.

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The variety of color schemes was greatly influential in making the movie’s aesthetic unique. The different settings (Moroccan Street, the bounty hunter crew’s home, the warehouse, downtown, etcetera) were distinct in tone, the characters’ clothing standing out enough within these spaces but also blending in well. The omnipresence of shades of earthy brown is representative of the 1990s and early 2000s, but still allowed for a futuristic feeling. Though many of the colors were muted, they worked well in accentuating the artists’ highly contrasted shading technique.

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In terms of the movie’s concept, its originality brought new life to what could have easily been a standard, unremarkable action flick. The focus on fight scenes was thankfully minimal (for me at least, there is no greater sleeping pill than any of the Jason Bourne movies), instead there was more emphasis on the nature of the bioterrorism device. They actively developed the idea, including scientific details that fleshed it out more than I expected. It was a bit unrealistic that the researchers attempting to find out more about the biological agent came up with absolutely nothing, while the cowboy gang figured it all out so quickly. It would have been less distractingly odd had the scientists started to gain more understanding. This choice could have made the agent more complex, more terrifying in a more real way.

Throughout the movie, I found these places where small occurrences slyly slipped by. In the first hospital scene, a woman lies on a bed, reaching up at nothing, most likely in the process of dying. The shootout on the trains traveling over water has a moment where two trains pass each other just so, drawing darkness in and out so smoothly.

Also, the soundtrack was great. The music was as widely varied as the settings, and some of the song titles are as out there as the characters’ names. The whole soundtrack is by one music group (Seatbelts) on the album Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door: O.S.T. Future Blues. This would be the perfect album to listen to while cooking a fancy, complicated dessert, or an enormous bowl of homemade ramen.

The U of M Center for Japanese Studies is continuing this film series Wednesdays at 7PM at the Michigan Theater. The next movie is on March 13: Ghost in the Shell (1995). Be sure to mark your calendars!

REVIEW: Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers

Despite the passing of decades, our sense of humor has not changed so much since the silent film era. The fundamentals of what elicits laughter have stayed the same despite social, economical, and cultural change. The exaggerated facial expressions and body movements that are characteristic of silent film, theater, and modern movies and television work as well then as they do now. While the lack of sound is much of what necessitates the overacting, the introduction of audio later on did not make this style obsolete.

The six films presented Tuesday evening were a good mix of lighthearted comedy, poignant drama, and exciting action. While the ones that leaned heavily toward the comedy side (Mixed Pets, Mabel’s Blunder, That Ice Ticket) were at times a bit lacking in greater substance, they were well balanced by the others, forming a cohesive set of films.

I found A Fool and His Money somewhat problematic. Though it broke new ground in being the first film to feature an all-Black cast, in some aspects the characters were caricaturish. Also, though created by a woman (Alice Guy Blanche), the female lead was made out to be a flighty gold-digger with no additional substance.

Behind the scenes: the filming of A Fool and His Money (1912)

Perhaps it is due to my romanticization of the wild, wild west (despite my having never been to the western half of the United States, save for California) that my favorite of the bunch was A Daughter of ‘The Law’, made by Grace Cunard. It featured a smart, charming police chief with a plan to bust a ring of whiskey makers (as Prohibition was in effect at the time) living in a remote mountain community. Disguising herself as a wandering artist, she snoops around for clues. She uncovers the group of troublemakers, but in the process she falls in love with their leader! After her true identity is discovered, the townspeople set out to kill her, but her beau proves to be handy as a getaway driver. She doesn’t report him, and he sees the error of his ways, and leaves behind his life of crime. Though the themes of male saviorism and putting romance ahead of all else (here, major career success) are a little unsavory, the fact that the ex-whiskeyman is influenced by a strong female lead still places the movie ahead of its time.

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And of course, the show would not have been possible without our resident organist Andrew Rogers accompanying the films. For about two hours straight he played, creating the mood of each scene, adding drama, suspense, surprise. His timing remained impeccable, a crescendo growing just as the peak of the action hit, a cheerful staccato bouncing as a comedic scene arose. Rogers absolutely made the night!

If you are interested in seeing more features of women filmmakers, check out the lineup at the State Theater. On Tuesdays in March, they will be screening a great movie made by a female visionary. The schedule is posted at Don’t miss it!

PREVIEW: Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers

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There are so many spheres of this world in which womens’ acheivements went uncredited–film is no exception to the tragedy. Despite playing integral parts in countless productions, their work was and has remained hidden by a socially constructed obscurity we must now try to banish.

The Michigan and State theaters are hoping to do just that with their movie series Celebrating Women Filmmakers. They’re kicking it off with a special lineup featuring some of the earliest movies ever made: silent films. To further the authenticity of the experience, there will be live organ accompaniment from Andrew Rogers!

The films are:

  1. Mixed Pets (Alice Guy Blache, 1911)
  2. A Fool and His Money (Alice Guy Blache, 1912)
  3. Mabel’s Blunder (Mabel Normand, 1914)
  4. Hazards of Helen: The Wild Engine (Episode 26) (Helen Holmes, 1915)
  5. A Daughter of ‘The Law’ (Grace Cunard, 1921)
  6. That Ice Ticket (Angela Murray Gibson, 1923)

This one-night-only event will take place at the Michigan Theater on Tuesday, February 26 at 7 PM. The other features in the Celebrating Women Filmmakers series will be at the State Theater.

PREVIEW: Icons of Anime: Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

Do you like futuristic science fiction tales? Early 2000s anime? Movies with strange titles that give no information on what it’s about? If so, this event is for you!

The next installment of the Center for Japanese Studies’ Icons of Anime series is coming to the Michigan Theater this Wednesday, February 27 at 7 PM. Come on down to see the 2001 hit movie Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, complete with English subtitles. It’s a high-stakes story of bounty hunting, space travel, and looking real cool in a popped collar. Regardless of your taste in movies, there’s something for everyone: action, fantastic animation, societal collapse, cool character names…it’s got it all.

See you there!

REVIEW: Las Cafeteras

Having looked forward to this event for the entire week prior, I was thoroughly pleased by the impressive performance given by Las Cafeteras during the middle of last week. What I thought would be essentially another Latin pop performance was much more than that. The group experimented with vibrant, modern sounds while maintaining a traditional essence, and the aspect of their performance that was most meaningful to me was the social commentary that was emotionally striking throughout. After experiencing this performance, I couldn’t wait to write this piece and to explain how Las Cafeteras would give us a reason to listen to their music long after the curtains closed.

The style of their music was a perfect blend of modern sounds and a traditional essence. In other words, many of their songs gave a traditional Latin impression in terms of having upbeat tempos, uniform time counts, and classic instrumentation. In addition to these components, the group instilled some of their own personal flares into their songs that gave a revolutionized impression, such as rapping in some verses, filling up the auditorium with the hard and fast strumming of their guitars or ukuleles, or showcasing the baseline beat given by a full drum set. While these aspects of music composition may be more often seen in the rock genre, the group was able to utilize these techniques in their genre to make their music all the more well-rounded, far-reaching, and complete.

Part of what captivated me the most about the performance by Las Cafeteras were the personas of its members. Aside from being musicians, the three main performers were able to show us just how personable they were, expressing their vulnerability during songs about injustice or hard times and their utmost passion during songs about enjoying life and loving your family. When Hector Flores entered the stage, I immediately felt uplifted and attentive; he was the driving force behind the audience’s involvement in their performance. As Denise Carlos bellowed each song, she seemed to sing in a difficult range with ease, allowing us to feel like she could just be a passerby singing down the street. When Daniel French contributed to verses by rapping, he gave an impression that he could be my cousin or brother, writing and singing to address common social issues among our Latin community.

The most important aspect of their performance were the underlying messages in each of their songs. It was emotionally jarring when they talked about the hardships of immigration, the acceptance of diversified communities, and corruption in our nation’s highest influential powers. I believe that their attempt to bring light upon these issue was successful in the sense that everyone left the performance on the same page and forward in the same direction. In the end, what I left the performance with was a drive to achieve purpose in life. Throughout their songs, they continually asked us, “What would you do? Who are you? What are you here for?” and I will continue to support the idea that whatever we choose to pursue in life, it will only be worth doing if we make it meaningful to us.