REVIEW: M-agination Film Festival

At the M-agination annual film festival last Thursday, student filmmakers, actors, directors, producers, photographers, and composers truly impressed. M-agination, a student-run organization, allows students to spearhead their own creative projects, producing 8 short films a semester, 16 total every year, that are showcased at an annual film festival held at the Michigan Theater. For student filmmakers, it was an incredible success and a culmination of everything they have accomplished over the year. For the audience – family, friends, and just interested students – it was an amazing viewing experience. 

M-agination left no parts of the human condition untouched. There was love. There was sorrow. There was partying. There was death. There were mobsters who believe in astrology. Although you could definitely tell that the short films were being run by students, I was awed at the creativity of some of the concepts. The audience certainly was too. After every joke, there was roaring laughter; after every sad scene, hushed murmurs. And with several people leaving after every short film finished, it was clear that some people were there to support friends who had been working on this project for a whole year. 

My favorite show of the night was a hilarious and truly touching depiction of a man after a breakup. Directed by the star actor, this unfortunate soul consults a rabbi (a 19 year old rabbi) for advice on how to turn his life around. After being dumped, he had posted a nihilistic tweet online – only to get more than 100,000 views. Realizing that social media was turning him into a pessimistic, likes-obsessed person, he deleted his twitter account. Denouncing religion itself, he sets off to form a new life. For a student creator, it’s a giant achievement to create a short film that’s funny, sad, and sincere all at once. 

If I had one piece of advice for M-agination student filmmakers: don’t shoot your movies in an echoey room. If you absolutely must, turn on subtitles. Other than that, congratulations on yet another year of making movies and taking names.

PREVIEW: M-agination Film Festival

Come join M-agination student filmmakers for a night of short films at the Michigan Theater this Thursday. As a premier student organization seeking to promote up-and-coming filmmakers, M-agination produces about 16 short films every year, 8 every semester, that are presented at the end of the year at Ann Arbor theaters. This Thursday will be M-agination’s 23rd annual film festival, marking 23 years of incredible achievements in the visual arts. In addition to free admission, there will also be free swag for anyone to pick up while it lasts! This is a great opportunity to see what your peers have been working on all year. 

Where: The Michigan Theater 

When: Thursday, April 20th. Doors open at 6 pm, show starts at 7 pm 

Tickets: free!

REVIEW: Michigan Pops Orchestra “A Night at the Popscars”

The featured image above was taken from their Instagram: @michiganpops

This semester’s Michigan Pops Concert has been my favorite out of all the concerts I’ve attended! There was a crazy line at the door and the crowd turnout was also the largest I’ve seen, so much so that the start time was postponed to accommodate more audience members. It’s always refreshing to see that both children and the elderly are present in addition to college students; it shows that this student organization is popular among locals too.

They had a large and impressive list of repertoire (most were already familiar to the audience thanks to the theme they chose) and I appreciated how well they balanced the amount and order of classical and contemporary music. My favorite and most anticipated piece was Howl’s Moving Castle, but I wished it was longer. I felt that the arrangement could’ve been better too, though that doesn’t mean the Pops Orchestra didn’t play it well.

It seemed like there were more featured soloists in this concert than in the previous ones, but I think it still showcased the orchestra as a group pretty well without being overshadowed. Unfortunately, there were some balance issues and at times it was hard to hear the soloists.

The winner of this year’s high school concerto competition was a Sophomore from Huron High School, which is so impressive since the winners have historically mostly been Seniors. She played the Lalo Violin Concerto, and she exuded so much power and charisma as she performed. Shoutout to the violist who gave an amazing show of Bohemian Rhapsody and the pianist who shined during La La Land! You can watch them on Youtube, but nothing will beat the live music so pull up next year!

As for the skits, the most memorable part for me was when some students wore paper swans on their heads as they performed swan lake. It impressed me how well-made the swans looked!

It appears lots of members will be graduating, which is a little sad, but I’m looking forward to what changes the remaining and new Pops board and members will bring us next year.


REVIEW: Cocaine Bear

To be completely honest, I was rather disappointed after watching this movie. Perhaps it was because my friends hyped it up so much or the comedy just wasn’t to my taste, but it had too many plotholes for it to be satirically viable. Having a comedy movie be understandable is a personal preference though, so I’m sure a lot of people didn’t mind that. There were certain scenes that I found funny since they caught me off guard (I won’t elaborate much to avoid spoilers), but most of the time I got upset about the character development and storytelling.

They use gore and of course, the consumption of cocaine, as their comedic selling point, so if you’re easily squeamish or not interested in that I don’t recommend this movie. Well, I don’t recommend it in general. There are also lots of jump scares, so beware if you’re startled easily! If I had to rate it on a scale of 1-10, I’d give it a 4.5; that may be a controversial statement though.

I did end up watching this movie twice to show others how ridiculous it is; I guess watching this with others could be a good bonding experience! The second time around I could understand more of what was going on. Many of the characters have Southern accents and there are a lot of characters in general that become hard to keep track of, so if you can watch it with subtitles it’d be super helpful.

To summarize, I don’t think this film was a must-watch.

PSA: I had mistakenly thought and questioned how much of the film was true but none of it is, which may have played a factor in my disappointment. Now that you know what you’re getting yourself into, give the movie a shot! Or don’t, it’s up to you.

REVIEW: In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love will rightly go down as one of the best movies of all time. The premise is extremely simple, but the glittery, rich layers of emotional complexity in the movie make it a true pleasure to watch. In 1960s China, a beautiful woman and handsome man move into the same apartment. They soon discover a terrible secret: both of their spouses are having an affair. There is sadness – romance has sputtered and come to a halt – but there is also a grim resignation. Here is an exploration into the unrelenting march of time, the betrayal of a loved one, and the ultimate failure that will meet too many love stories. It’s achingly sad, devastatingly true. 

Stung by their traitorous spouses, the two main characters start up an awkward romance themselves. Maggie Cheung is gorgeous and mysterious as Mrs. Chan, and Tony Leung is morose and dapper as Chow Mo-wan. Their romance is carried out in the most insignificant of places: in a sparse diner, where they order steaks for each other, taking a walk outside in the rain, over leftover noodles in a bare bedroom. In the Mood for Love could be interpreted as a revenge plot against two cheating spouses, but it doesn’t read like that for a second. It’s a beautifully understated analysis of two sad people making their way through the world. 

You can’t talk about In the Mood for Love without talking about its cinematography. Throughout the movies, the two main characters, who definitely aren’t slouches themselves, are bathed in warm, luscious red and orange and yellow lights. Walking in a dimly lit alley or working in a dilapidated office, there isn’t a second of the film that disappoints. It’s this humid, wavy, lush, luxuriant tone and cinematography that contrasts dramatically with everything the characters lack. They aren’t rich, they aren’t overly charismatic, and they aren’t stable in their lives. While they have beauty in abundance, they lack true love. 

A gloomy, bewitching cello score follows the two characters wherever they go, reminding viewers that this is, ultimately, a sad movie. While we may be hypnotized by the film’s lush visuals, we can’t be distracted from its subdued message. Notably, the two lovebirds remain platonic throughout the movie, despite their obvious chemistry. Although this may be frustrating for the viewers, it reflects a central truth to the movie: relationships aren’t always neatly packed up, perfectly ready for the big screen. They’re messy, ambiguous. The two aren’t taking revenge. They’re just trying to survive.

REVIEW: L’immensità

L’immensità translates to “the immensity” in Italian. This film is certainly immense – immense in the scope of its themes, in its emotional depth, and in its luscious score and cinematography. Thankfully, though, it is not immense in its runtime. I don’t know if I could have taken one more minute of heartbreak. 

The film is devastating from the get-go. We are introduced to a normal, Italian family. Penélope Cruz is dazzling in her role as Clara, mother to three beautiful children in 1970s Rome. The kids are doing what kids do: sneaking down into the sewers, playing games under the table at Christmas, and generally going where they’re not supposed to. The oldest, Adriana, played by Luana Giuliani, is especially poignant as a young girl coming of age. In the background is their father Felice, played by Vincenzo Amato, who looks fittingly swanky in tailored Italian suits and a flashy car. The furniture is mid-century modern, the coffee is strong, and the outdoors is lush. 

It’s the perfect nuclear family – until it’s not. We learn that Felice is an abusive husband, beating and raping his battered wife both under the cover of their bedroom and in front of their kids. Clara is a good mother, but she is buckling under the weight of her husband’s temper. Throughout the movie, she regresses into a child-like state, until Adriana takes on more of the parent role than her own mother. The three children struggle to survive as their two parents, their protectors, betray, neglect, and soon abandon them. To top it off, Adriana is struggling with gender dysphoria, but being transgender in a patriarchal, gender-segregated society is not an ok thing to be. The family’s dysfunction soon becomes the focal point of the movie. 

It’s a dark underbelly to a glitzy surface. A fight for survival, not a coming-of-age movie. Adri does what all kids do when faced with adversity in the home – get out of the house. He races through the reeds into the “bad side of town,” where he soon befriends a Romany girl named Sarah. Two outsiders, their friendship quickly turns romantic. They are at once two kids playing, two young adults exploring their sexuality, and two aliens looking for companionship in a dangerous world. 

We stay long enough to form an attachment to the characters, but we leave too soon to see their conclusion. It’s hard to envision anything but a downward spiral. Nobody is going to come to Clara’s rescue, nobody is going to tell Adri it’s ok to be themselves. This ultimately pessimistic message clouded the rich visuals of the movie, forcing me to even cover my eyes at certain scenes. It’s hard to watch such overt gender-based violence, especially when you know that despite the strides we have made since the 1970s, it is still pervasive. 

L’immensità is a beautiful movie. Just don’t ask me to watch it again.