REVIEW: M-agination Film Festival

After two years away due to the pandemic, the M-agination Annual Film Festival made a reappearance at the Michigan Theater this week. The film festival showcased 13 short films, all of them written, produced, and acted by students.

I was largely impressed by the range and quality of these productions. There were a good amount of comedy sketches, some of which fell flat and felt like a group of friends just messing around on camera. Some of them, however, had me laughing out loud in my seat. I particularly enjoyed “Buster,” a gruesome short film about a sentient pet rock, and “Dunked,” a well-executed comedy in which nothing really made sense. There were also a handful of more serious, dramatic pieces, including the spooky, suspenseful short “Familiar,” which I was surprised to find out was partially filmed in my campus residence. I was particularly struck by a piece called “Leisure Activities,” which told a story with no words at all about someone going into the woods to paint. The cinematography and coloring in this one in particular that made this one stand out to me as a masterpiece. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this film festival. The “short” nature of short films meant that we got to see 13 different stories, and there was something for everyone. M-agination created a fun night out–I hope they are able to host their festival next year as well! 

REVIEW: Compartment No. 6

Compartment No. 6, a film by Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen was the kind of film that really makes you forget you’re sitting in a theater. The majority of the film consists of two travelers sharing a cabin on a sleeper train, heading from Moscow to Murmansk, Russia. Laura is a Finnish academic coping with the inevitable dissolution of her relationship while Lyokha is a Russian working-class man headed to make some money in the mines at their destination. Laura is conversely headed to see a set of petroglyphs as a historic endeavor, a trip that her sort-of-but-not-quite ex-partner dropped out from.

 

It feels a little tired to follow the arc of “they can’t stand each other” to “they have a snow ball fight, giggling and red-nosed,” but there’s a sense of sincerity to this film that is impossible to shake. This could very well be due to the fact that I’m not familiar with Eastern European culture and the lived realities of these places, but the setting felt as though it was constructed with a careful and affectionate eye.

 

The train as a center of activity and plot development was fantastic. In such a small space there seems to be an entire world constructed, as the two characters venture throughout various locations within the train. This kind of claustrophobia also lends itself to an accelerated intimacy, both in terms of the visual framing of the characters and the actual plot.

 

I’m still trying to decide how I feel about the ending of this film. I suppose I really mean the final act, as I’m wondering if it was entirely necessary. This section leaves the train and thus shifts contexts in a way that, yes, wraps everything up, but doesn’t quite align with the rhythm of the rest of the film. I think I also would have liked more ambiguity to the way their relationship ends, but at the same time I can’t be mad that this part of the movie finished the story off in a satisfying and sweet way.

 

At the end of the day, though, this film consists of every beat you hope to hit when travelling: interesting and frequent new characters, a feeling of imminent change, and an understanding that everything is so bittersweetly temporary. This movie is well worth a watch, and is sure to remain in viewers’ minds as we all wait for our next train to catch.

PREVIEW: Reservoir Dogs

This Friday night, the Michigan Theatre is screening yet another cult classic— the grotesquely dramatic Reservoir Dogs, a 1992 Tarantino-directed tale of men committing bloody crimes in an experienced manner and turning on each other with machismo flair. I’ve never seen Reservoir Dogs, but judging from Quentin Tarantino’s typical style of writing and directing, I’m expecting dialogue ridden with deadpan jokes, bloody spurts of gunfire, and maybe a few close-up shots of manicured feet.

Reservoir Dogs is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year, so it comes as no surprise that the cult-classic-obsessed Michigan Theatre is giving the film a night to shine. The plot of Reservoir Dogs entails a diamond heist attempted by a group of thieves. One of the thieves tips off the police, unraveling a group investigation into which member of the group is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. My opinions on Tarantino’s works fall all across the spectrum— Kill Bill entranced me with its memorable characters and enthralling journey; Django: Unchained exhibited the thrill of revenge with beautiful violence; Pulp Fiction, however, fell short as an incohesive mess that tried to make up for its lack of plot with good chemistry and fresh edginess. Will Reservoir Dogs drone on aimlessly or reward itself with character arcs and a cleanly wrapped ending? My intuition leans toward the latter, taking the quiet cultural appreciation for the film as a positive sign. Regardless, it’s bound to be an adventure! I can’t say enough that student tickets are $8.50, so grab a ticket to a classic before the school year ends!

REVIEW: Groove Robs the Louvre

I admire Groove’s creativity.

On the night that the Groove declared that they will rob the Louvre(!), the Michigan theater where the viewers would be the witness this exciting heist was filled up with the crowd. The performance was highly enjoyable because, fundamentally, the performances sounded so good! Groove is a student organization known to create amazing beats out of untraditional percussion instruments such as trash cans, plastic buckets, or anything they can beat! It was amazing how the Groove used different percussion that did not sound the same – each has a different pitch, so instead of the sounds crumbling altogether, they came together to create an exciting harmony.

Yeah, everyone knows that Groove sounds amazing, but I was wondering from my prior experience from watching their shows consisting of short performances focused solely on sounds about how they will link diverse percussion performances into a 2-hour show with theme and storyline. As always, Groove’s creativity was way ahead of me. The general storyline was that Groove had decided to rob the Louvre as a bonding activity, and each performance represented what happened during the planning of the heist, the incident they had on France, and how they finally went through all the challenges and stole Monariza. As for the story, short dialogues were inserted between shows while the stage settings were being changed. This was a smart, strategic choice not only because it prevented the audience from being bored during the pause but also because it overcame the percussion performance’s difficulty to convey the story due to the lack of lyrics in the music.

The show was well structured: as the story unfolded, the scope of their performance became wider as well. The performance started with purely percussion sounds – the ones we would expect from a typical groove performance(wait, groove performance is never typical!). Also, the performance offered interesting visual scenes while the percussion was being played – my personal favorite was where they were making music in a kitchen scene where the icebox was used as the main beat while other small kitchen utensils and cooking process, including the popping of the egg as the highlight, were added on top of it. Both visually humorous and sonically exciting, this scene was truly enjoyable. Then the wider range of performances joined on top of the beat, such as dancing or the display of talents of the members including receiving a jelly thrown across the stage by the mouth. Then, the range of instruments widened to include strings and horns, returning to percussion performance in the end. This not only showed how talented each individual of Groove is but also proved that Groove’s ability to coordinate music is not bounded to percussion.

Alas, I almost forgot to mention the incredible stage design! Stage made out of iron bars that had fake Monariza on it definitely highlighted the ‘Louvre’ part while going so well with the exciting, raw vibe of Groove’s music. In all, I really appreciated the pure creativity that Groove had enchanted us with during the two-hour show.

PREVIEW: Oh, the Places Pops Goes!

On April 2nd, 7 pm, Michigan Pops Orchestra, the U of M’s student-run, student-directed orchestra, will present “Oh, the Places Pops Goes!” in the Michigan Theater. The program includes  Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2, Michael Giacchino’s UP, Yokota and Kondo’s Super Mario Galaxy, and John Williams’s E.T.

I’ve been to Pops Orchestra’s last movie-themed concert, and it was such a cute event. Pops Orchestra entertained the audience with humorous movies they have filmed themselves to accompany the music, and the music they chose were the ones that both classic-lovers and non-classic lovers could enjoy. Above all that, it was a local and heart-warming event comprised of Orchestra members and their family and friends. I’m expecting that this concert will also carry a similar warmth, so I’m excited about it.

Students with Passport to the Arts can get free entry! More information about where to find the Passport to the Arts can be found here.

More information about the event can be found here.

PREVIEW: Groove Robs The Louvre: A Percussive Heist

A great beat and an action-packed story of a heist have a commonality – it brings the thrill to the listener.

This combination, already promising excitement by the choice of word combination itself, will be performed as a percussion/dance show at the Michigan Theater, this Friday, April 1st, at 7:30 PM. The performance is designed by U of M’s student percussion-and-dance group, Groove. They have proudly stated that this show will be their “most action-packed, drum-tacular performance yet“. I’ve been to some of their shows, and they truly put the listener into a trance when they beat their non-traditional instruments-on the events that I attended, they used buckets, garbage cans, and metal drum cans. I’m really excited to check out how they had integrated their amazing beat with a thrilling story. Plus, It’ll be April fool’s day. I don’t mind getting tongue-tied at some great beats!

U of M students could get free entry to the show when they have a Passport to the Arts. Where to find them can be found in this link.