REVIEW: Detropia

DETROPIA

Detropia was screened last week at the Michigan Theater as a part of the semester series Motor City Movies: Discovering Detroit. There was a lot of buzz the film around town so naturally it peaked my curiosity. I went with three girls from my English class who all left feeling riled up by the portrayal of the city. The story covered several different characters who are struggling to live vibrantly through Detroit’s struggling state of affairs. A video blogger, a politician, a bar owner, a pair of hipsters, a union organizer are all cast as themselves in the tale of this ‘crumbling’ city.

From a cinematographic stand point, the documentary was beautifully shot, carefully organized, and visually intriguing. It revealed a colorful exposé of an urban landscape brushing up against decay and the simultaneous resurgence of nature in the form of fields and wild weeds. Furthermore, it high lighted aspects of the city that are integral and historic, like the Detroit Opera House and the Automobile Show. Yet while the picture was well crafted,  it lacked a lot of content that would otherwise make it more…accurate. For example, there were no Hispanic people featured and there is a long history of native Spanish speakers living in Detroit. Also, many of the African-American characters seemed to be parodies of themselves, caricatures even. This was part of the controversy that many viewers felt upon watching the film.

I agree that the directors missed the mark on many story lines that exist in and define Detroit. Perhaps they even perpetuated Detroits demarcated name by portraying it as a failed city. At the same time, I don’t feel personally critical  because I thought the documentary was a tightly knit and well worth my time simply because it was  a true piece of visual art.

Just before watching, I listened in on the first half of the ‘Detropia Panel’ in Angell Hall, hosted by Semester in Detroit. I left feeling the general consensus was that native Detroiters felt offended by the portrayal of the city whereas outsiders felt curious about the strife, or positively moved by the story line. Questions were raised about who this film was intended for and if the location of its screening altered its message in any way. One of the strongest criticisms was that the film ignored community organizations, non-profits, and other group efforts to revitalize the city that are alive, inspired, and current. This defiant voice was carried by students who participated in active internships as part of Semester in Detroit last year.

One of these grassroots orgs, for example, is a group of six U of M alums who graduated last spring and moved downtown to form a small company called Wedge Detroit. On Saturday September 22, they group broke a world record by hosting a four mile long hopscotch course as part of the Detroit Design Festival. The event saw huge success and celebrated the urban vitality that organizations are trying to re-inject into the city.

Ellen Rutt, TJ, Ajooni Sethi, James, Dylan Box, Laura Willming, Marissa, and Flaco at Hopscotch Detroit.

Get inspired and check out info about Hopscotch Detroit. They are proof that  Detropia did, indeed, gloss over the part about young people organizing their energy for the good of the city. For more about the film, check out the Detropia website and Facebook page or to see an interview with directors Rachel Grading and Heidi Ewing, click here.

REVIEW: Pina

The Oscars happened last Sunday and The Artist was a sweep. But this time next year, look out for the film Pina. See it in theaters now, remember it when awards season rolls around in a year. This spectacle is bound to be a hit.

Based on the life and work of German choreographer Pina Bausch, this 3-D film mixes an explosive combination of mediums: film, dance, choreography, set design, music, sound, lighting, language, graphics, special effects, cinematography. A sensational splendor.

Pina’s work in modern dance escalated in the 1970’s and continues to be influential today. Her role as a director is most prominent in Tanztheater, which translates to “dance theater.” She spearheaded a company in Germany by the same name, though throughout her career she worked with the gamut of cross-continental dance fame. In Tanztheater, Pina created celebrated pieces such as Rite of Spring (1975), and Café Müller (1978). Both are exemplary of her outrageous style: in the former, dancers move about on stage completely covered in soil and in the latter, they aggressively crash into chairs and tables on a café set. Both are reenacted beautifully in the film.

Image from Café Müller

Image from Rite of Spring

So thats the overview of who Pina is: a creative, expressive, and innovative movement artist. And now about this crazy movie that she inspired: Oscar-nominated film maker Wim Wenders has been a fan of Pina since the 80’s and decided to document her work in action. His crew followed hers long before the project took off, building artistic relationships between those in front and behind the camera. Unfortunately, days  before the shooting began, Pina died unexpectedly of a sudden cancer. The fim, therefore, began a tribute to her life more than just a portrayal or her work ethic.

The sets incorporated a wild combination of elements. Here, I mean earth elements: dirt, mountains, water, plant life. Some performances were filmed on a traditional stage, while others sought peculiar venues like rooftops, subway trains, swimming pool decks, or glass paneled houses in the woods.

The dance numbers were performed by professionals from Pina’s company. Their segments were separated by close- ups combined with voice overs in the variety of languages spoken by the worldly crew: Spanish, French, German, Portugese, Japanese, Chinese, English, and more. They talked of Pina as a guiding artist and all that her ingenuity and freedom of expression taught them about themselves, their bodies, and their work.

Counter to the common conception of dancers as always youthful, these workers ranged vastly in their ages. I found this point to be very curious. It spoke to the life long development of artists and how they become enriched as they ripen in their craft. Their ages may be have been evident on their skin, but the astounding strength and nimbleness of the dancer’s bodies far from gave them away. In fact, there was one piece in which dancers of various eras of life were dressed in identical outfits, confusing the audience about who was who. It was a number that could only have been performed for screen dance. I don’t see how this switching of characters could be performed live without the trickery of editing.

I asked my cousin, who works as a professional ballet dancer for the Boston City Ballet, his opinion on the work. “I thought it was beautiful,” he said. “She’s so unique in her choreography.”

And I agree! Watching Pina was one of the most visually pleasing experiences I have had in a long time.It was creative, stunning, marvelous, and inspirational beyond belief. I would feel badly for anyone who misses the opportunity to experience it.

Hurry up and see it! I’m serious, this was a very powerful artistic undertaking. The documentary has already swept up  The European Film Awards and German Film Awards, as well as receiving nominations or Official Selections from The Academy Awards, New York, Telluride, and Toronto Film Festivals. Pina is only playing at the Michigan Theater through this Sunday, March 4th. Check the Michigan Theater website for show times. Also, here’s and interview with director Wim Wenders from the New York Times. For more background on the production, check out the movie’s website .

REVIEW: Answer This!

Just as I expected, Michigan Theater was packed to the brim on Friday night for the sneak preview of Answer This! I arrived right at 7:30 pm after having some parking issues (as in, there were no parking spots left), and managed to snag two seats in the very last row of the balcony.  I felt like I needed binoculars to see the men speaking on stage.  Ralph Williams delivered a few opening words – I’ll never tire of hearing him talk.  The next to speak was Mr. Farah, father to the writing/directing/production duo Michael and Christopher Farah.  He told a few amusing anecdotes about his sons, then handed them the microphone.  They thanked everybody for coming many times over, and seemed genuinely blown away by all the attention this film has received.  I saw one of them taking pictures of the crowd at the end of the show, even as many members of the crowd were taking pictures of him on stage.  Both brothers refused to take all, or even most of, the credit for the movie – a large portion of their opening speech was dedicated to pointing out all of the actors in attendance and asking us to give each one a hearty round of applause.  Around 7:50 pm, the curtain was pulled back, and the movie started.

Even with all the press surrounding this event, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  Part of me wondered whether or not the Ann Arbor setting and Ralph Williams’ presence would be the only interesting aspects of the movie.  As it turned out, though, the recognition factor was only icing on the cake.  The script, while somewhat predictable at times, is nothing short of brilliant in most places.  A brief plot summary:  Paul Tarson (Christopher Gorham) is in his eighth year of grad school, and is being hounded by his father (the renowned Professor Tarson, portrayed by the renowned Professor Ralph Williams) to finally finish his dissertation and become a professor at U of M.  Paul has spent his entire life in Ann Arbor, and seems destined to spend the rest of it there, as well.  It takes a cute girl and a passion for a local trivia tournament to provide him with an adjusted outlook on life and his own potential.

Christopher Gorham did an excellent job as Paul, and Ralph Williams slipped into the role of Professor Tarson without a hitch, but the two standout characters were Naomi (Arielle Kebbel) and James (Nelson Franklin).  Naomi, Paul’s sort-of girlfriend, is charming, feisty, and spontaneous:  Paul’s complete opposite.  She gives him a lot to think about in terms of his own dreary, complacent way of stumbling through life.  She’s by no means perfect, but she has a lot more fun learning from mistakes than he does by not making any mistakes.

His best friend, James, is hilarious: he’s a pompous, highly intellectual man who teaches test prep and has a heart of gold.  And even amidst his complaining about his atrocious students, one can tell that he has a better grip on life than Paul does.  During the scene in which Paul yells at James and calls him a failure, I felt a strong urge to stand up and defend the man who was really a more likeable character than Paul.  (Don’t worry – I didn’t actually do it!)

The only character I didn’t appreciate was Paul’s peer, Lucas (Kip Pardue).  He’s nothing but a jerk, and not even a fully-developed one.  He shows up in several scenes, but never has much to say.  Where Naomi and James add depth to the script, Lucas seems like an afterthought.  I was left wondering what the audience was supposed to gain from Lucas’ interactions with Paul.

Overall, I thought the film was beautifully made.  For those of you who saw it, I hope you enjoyed it as well.  For those of you who didn’t get a chance, keep your eyes peeled!  It starts its festival run next year, and I imagine it will be pretty successful.  This won’t be the last we hear from the Farah brothers.

PREVIEW: Answer This

Tomorrow, at 7:30 pm at the Michigan Theater, there is a sneak preview of the new movie “Answer This.”  It’s a locally produced film by Christopher and Michael Farah, and features our very own Ralph Williams, along with Christopher Gorham, Arielle Kebbel, Nelson Franklin, and Chris Parnell.  It’s the story of a thirty-year-old University of Michigan graduate finally coming of age through his experience with the First Annual Ann Arbor Trivia Tournament.  It should be a good time, and not just because we’ll see some familiar faces!  As a senior myself, I’m looking forward to watching a story about someone coming to terms with their graduation from U of M – it’s hard to imagine leaving.

Given the excitement over this film, the 7:30 showing is sold out…but there was a second screening added!  Same night, 10 pm.  If you’re interested, here’s more info!

Review: Cyrus @ Sundance USA

Usually I’m running ten minutes late and only hoping to find a seat before the film starts – trying to find a red velvety chair rather than the lap of a stranger.  Thursday night at the Michigan Theater, however, was an event.  There are 1700 seats in the main theater because film going used to be an event – a night out at the cinema.  Unfortunately, Ann Arbor rarely packs the Michigan Theater full these days (recent sell outs have included Michael Moore’s Slacker Uprising and Fahrenheit 9/11 as well as a Lord of the Rings showing).  Thursday night held a sold out crowd, full of excitement.

Honored to be a part of the Sundance USA inaugural series, the crowd cheered Michigan Theater Executive Director, Russ Collins, announcement that we were making history as well as the pre-taped thank you message from Robert Redford.  Unfortunately, once the film started, the crowd’s energy quickly faded.

‘Cyrus’, a new movie from the Duplass Brothers (The Puffy Chair, Baghead), tells the story of Cyrus (Jonah Hill- Superbad, Funny People), Molly (Marisa Tomei- My Cousin Vinny, The Wrestler), and John (John C. Reilly- Chicago, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story).  Cyrus is the 21-year-old son and life partner of Molly while John is Molly’s first boyfriend since Cyrus was born.  ‘Cyrus’ tells the struggles of this love triangle.  It is only about this relationship as it takes place.  We never receive information about Molly’s past or Cyrus’ childhood- we never even know what city we are in, just a generic American suburb.  ‘Cyrus’ is, at its core, an in-depth analysis of the power struggles between the three.  It makes us question the Oedipal suggestions of Cyrus and Molly’s relationship, the honesty of a divorced and depressed John, and the nature of innocence.  The movie, however, is about a power struggle that has been played out and examined in culture too many times to count.

The Duplass Brothers did not want to make another crass, vulgar humor movie – Jonah Hill’s specialty.  In the mostly-failed attempt to appeal to a wider, more mature audience, the opportunities to laugh with the whole theater were few. Instead of full on laughs, the movie tried to feed us awkward chuckles.  When the movie finally finished, I felt drenched in the soppy relationship humor that plagued the movie.

Jonah Hill saved himself a few points when he came on stage wearing the traditional, maize & blue, block M fitted cap.  His girlfriend, a Michigan student, gave it to him- he told the curious crowd.  The Duplass Brothers saved themselves a few points as they introduced their editor and friend, Jay Doobie- a Northville native.  Sundance USA, the idea, seemed to thrive in the Michigan Theater setting- ‘Cyrus’, the movie, failed to match the hype.

A ridiculous week of arts events awaits us- The Bad Plus on Thursday night, University Dance Company’s (Re)Visionary Dance on Friday Night, and Só Percussion on Saturday Night. That is truly absurd.
When will I do econ, Bennett

‘Cyrus’ Trailer:

Sort of weird, Sesame St. mustache video:

Preview: Robert Redford+Co. Stomp The Yard

Robert Redford (Now-ish)

Actually, there will probably be no stomping.  Probably some clapping.  Maybe some hoots and hollers.  Our favorite Hollywood stud won’t be there either.  He’s also not the dude you remember from ‘Out of Africa’.  At 73, Robert Redford, the actor turned environmentalist and Sundance Film Festival creator, has decided to take his baby to the people.  On Thursday night, from a prerecorded video, Redford will address the 1700 seat, sold-out crowd at the Michigan Theater. For the first time in its history, Redford will introduce Sundance to the rest of the country.  As part of the new Sundance USA program, Sundance will leave its lush quarters in Park City, Utah and present films across the country.  On Thursday, Ann Arbor will join the ranks of Boston, New York, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, Madison, and Nasheville in welcoming a film from this year’s Sundance Film Festival- along with the film’s directors.

Thursday’s film is “Cyrus”, a new comedy from brothers Jay and Mark Duplass.  Sundance tells us to expect to feel “a tingling, irresistible experience of utter discomfort”.  This discomfort with the discomfort of trying to decide who gets the armrests in a sold-out theater only sounds comforting to me.

Thursday, January 28.  7:30 pm. More info here: http://www.michtheater.org/sffusa.  Tickets are sold out but, like anything in this fair town, you can find a way to get in.  Check the box office day of, talk to craigslist, do what you gotta do. Sold out movie theaters are too fun.  Until then,  Bennett