REVIEW: M-agination Film Festival

The M-agination Film Festival this year was, as always, long and full of many varied and excellent student films. Instead of reviewing all 15 films shown at the festival, I will select a few highlights.

Cereal Theft: What begins as a classic noir-inspired student film ends in a refreshing twist. No student film festival is complete without a pseudo-noir, and though usually these films are basic parodies, Cereal Theft manages to set itself apart from the crowd–if only because of the last ten seconds.

Dana: An unusual addition this year was Dana, a min-documentary about Dana Greene who kneeled in the Diag for 20 hours back in September. While this documentary does a good job at capturing the moment, it is unfortunately rather underwhelming. Viewers receive some additional information about Dana and his motivations, but it does not feel like there is enough there to justify the documentary–if you read the original letter and passed through the Diag on that day, this documentary won’t give you much more information. Still, it is nice to have this record for future generations.

Vine Addicts Anonymous: This film centers on an AA style support group for individuals addicted to vines. During the movie, the afflicted individuals tell their stories of vine degeneracy while the referenced vines are played. As someone who has never been much into the vine scene, I still found this short funny, though it was certainly carried by its actors.

Not Delivery: The story is simple: two stoned college students on a mission to get frozen pizza from a local liquor store. There isn’t a crazy twist or strange occurrence, just weed, pizza, and paranoia. It’s classic college. Funny, good-natured, and a decent PSA about the dangers of buying food when stoned. Enough said.

Planet Earth: Endangered Species Special: No student film festival is complete without a mockumentary and this year was no exception. This Planet Earth spoofed centered around the plight of pubic crabs, which face extinction (this is actually true). It’s a bit uneven and some scenes feel unnecessary or repetitive, but the concept is solid and they land a few good jokes now and then. Overall, a cute short.

Settle for Nothing: Now, this film was refreshing. I haven’t seen a student film tackle heists movies before, and Settle for Nothing not only pays homage to our favorite aspects of heist films, but does so in a way that feels very college. The plot revolves around three guys on a mission to retrieve a Settlers of Catan game from a vindictive roommate’s home. In the course of this short film, they face various setbacks and come dangerously close to being caught–the tension is mild, but there, and the film focuses on humor more than seriousness. Still, it’s pretty enjoyable.

Home Grown: The festival ended with a SAC Honors Thesis, Home Grown, which was the best film of the night. Home Grown is a pilot for a TV show centered on two queer persons as they return home after a failed stint in New York. Not only is it funny as fuck, but it also explores gender and relationships in a non-typical, non-trivializing way. Not to mention the high quality production that evidently went into this pilot–scenes are well shot and colors pop. Though it has a few rough patches, Home Grown almost feels like a real pilot for a TV show, and is far above the usual quality of student projects. Highly recommend watching this if/when it becomes available online.

PREVIEW: M-agination Film Festival

The best showcase of student films is back. This Thursday join M-agination Films for their 17th annual festival, where they will be playing 15 student films (including a SAC Honors thesis). As someone who went last year, I assure you these are not clumsy films you and your friends used to make for Youtube, but relatively high-quality shorts that students spent months writing, shooting, and producing. Furthermore, admission is free and attendees get free popcorn and t-shirt. The festival will take place tomorrow at the Michigan Theater. Doors open at 7:30 and films begin at 8:00.

REVIEW: Isle of Dogs

People describe each new endeavor by Wes Anderson as more Wes Anderson than the last–and well, they’re right. Although all his films are different (at least, superficially), they each have this distinct glaze, and with every new film he makes, this glaze gets thicker. This isn’t entirely a criticism, but it might constitute a warning–if you didn’t like the last couple of Wes Anderson films, you won’t enjoy Isle of Dogs either. The reverse is also true, if you like Wes Anderson, you’ll like his latest film. Though, in this instance, the glaze might be getting too thick, or perhaps I am merely getting tired of it. I enjoyed the film, as much as one can enjoy something they watch without attachment, but the movie did not move me. It did not make me feel any particular emotions. It lacks the imperfection, the slide into the raw, that is required for a movie to get its moviegoers. Every shot is perfect, is beautiful, is placed correctly–there is beauty but not life. And this is the track Anderson has been on, and while I do not know for sure, I feel as if it is almost what he is going for, that his end goal of his films is to cultivate this kind of pretty perfection shot by shot, to make a movie without flaws. He has a vision, and with every movie he gets closer to accomplishing it, but I am not certain it is a worthy vision.

But, let’s move on from Anderson to Isle of Dogs.

Here, Wes Anderson returns to familiar themes in an unfamiliar setting. Children in love, dogs, an exhaustive chase–these are all things Anderson has covered before.  But the Japanese setting of this film adds something new and forces familiar tracts of land into unfamiliar territory. Furthermore, Anderson does not use this setting on the surface only–this setting has an affect on the plot and how the audience understands the film, quite literally. Although the dogs are in English, almost every other character is Japanese and speaks Japanese. This Japanese is not subtitle, though in some situations it is translated by another character. The audience must understand the untranslated portions by other means and often there is no definite translation given (unless of course, one understands Japanese). There are portions of the film that go entirely untranslated, and though there is never any confusion about what is happening, this creates a certain disorientation, if not quite boredom. The audience finds themselves waiting and watching, paying closer attention to the available visuals of the film (of which there are plenty). It’s an interesting decision to make, and one Anderson uses sparingly.

Overall, it is a good movie, though more beautiful than emotionally impacting. It continues to play at the State Theatre. Student tickets are $8.

PREVIEW: Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson is back in his first animated film since Fantastic Mr. Fox (which was fantastic). Isle of Dogs showcases the typical Anderson cast, but this time, in a Japanese setting. The movie follows the story of a young boy who joins a crew of mutts in order to rescue his beloved dog stranded somewhere on trash island. There is going to be dogs, pubescent love, and tons of trash–what more could one want?

The movie is playing NOW at the State Theatre. Student tickets are $8.

REVIEW: A Fantastic Woman

A Fantastic Woman is a strange and sometimes uncomfortable film to watch, but one that is also often beautiful and moving. The film follows its protagonist’s Marina, a transwoman living in Chile, whose older male lover, Orlando, dies unexpectedly. His death brings the wrath of both the family and the state against Marina, though she had nothing to do with it. From that moment, viewers watch as she attempts to navigate the fallout, often alone and in peril, as again and again, someone questions or attacks Marina’s identity and intents. The film, though only a little over 100 minutes, feels long, because viewers are given little reprieve–Marina always seems to be moments away from danger. And for the most part, she is.

Though the plot of the movie revolves around the fallout surrounding Orlando’s death, the movie might better be described as a series of scenes showcasing the varied reactions different people have to Marina, and her reaction, in turn. While Marina is certainly not a stoic, she is powerless in many ways, and it is the other characters in a scene who determine how things play out. When Marina returns Orlando’s car to his ex-wife, she stands there and allows that woman to study her, to tell Marina how she thinks she is some sort of sex deviant; likewise, when a policewoman takes an interest in Marina’s role in Orlando’s death, she forces Marina to go to a police station and undergo an invasive physical examination. Marina does not tolerate these actions because she is weak, but because she has to, and again and again during the film, viewers are shown how resilient she is.

Not everyone reacts badly to Marina. She is shown to interact with many people at her job or on the street who either fail to notice or don’t care that Marina is trans. Refreshingly, there are also people in her life who support her, such as her boss, her sister, and of course, Orlando. Though the film could have shown a real hellish life for Marina, it does allow the audience to breathe every once in a while.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this film to everyone but the faint of heart. It showcases and important and very real identity that is often attacked (especially in Chile). The film continues to play at the State Theatre and student tickets are $8.

REVIEW: Thoroughbreds


From the opening scene to the final shot, Thoroughbreds is consistently off putting like yogurt you eat one day too late. Something isn’t right with these characters, any of them, who propel the plot forward with their antics. Scenes as mundane as a long walk in a hallway or a friend tutoring another friend become moments of high tension, not because there’s a killer on the loose, but because there isn’t. Suspense is not created through jump scares or off-screen suggestions, but by the slow way viewers have to watch these characters perform this strange and agonizing dance. This effect, though it is in part the brilliant actors, is largely the music and how the scenes are shot. We watch these scenes unfold like madmen, we are unable to step outside of the teenagers’ twisted vision. There is no avenue out of the insanity.

Though certainly not for everyone, the film is a refreshing, if uncomfortable, take on teenage amorality.  If you are at all interested in watching two girls crawl across suburbia’s secrets to the spilling of blood, then this is a movie you should watch.


There are two protagonists in this movie, Lily, the rich girl with a wicked stepfather, and Amanda, a “creepy” teenager who “feels nothing.” In contrast to the stoicness of Amanda, Lily is shown to be an emotional creature–she cries, gets angry, and panics almost every step of the way. Early on, it is revealed that Amanda is reviled in their suburb because she killed her own horse–but, later, when Amanda tells that story, she says she did it because the horse was injured and unable to walk, that though the deed was bloody, it was done out of mercy and necessity. It was, in other words, a moral decision. This is the approach Amanda takes to the murder of the stepdad: not something they should do because Lily hates him, but because it is “right.” For her cold and blunt attitude, and near-psychopathic levels of manipulation, Amanda is still a moral creature, perhaps not in spite of, but because of, her inability to feel. And at the end of the movie, it is Lily who murders her stepfather and frames Amanda for the crime (with Amanda’s permission because Lily convinces Amanda her life is not worth living–though she initially plotted to do it without telling Amanda). After committing this deed, Lily is shown sobbing in Amanda’s lap; although she cries (for either the murder or the betrayal she just committed–it is unclear) she still goes through with it, still betrays the friends who was just shown to have been willing to sacrifice her freedom for Lily. It is Amanda, numb to the world, who emerges at the end of this film as a martyr, and Lily, feeling every slight, who becomes the Judas.

Part of the reason this film has left many feeling uncomfortable is because it is partially an attack on emotions and a defense of traits we usually consider psychopathic. Our understanding of what makes us good or bad is being challenged and we should consider the points Thoroughbreds raises.

The movie will continue to play at the State Theatre. Student tickets are $8.