REVIEW: Carmen: The Met Live in HD

The Metropolitan Opera hosts viewings of select operas in movie theaters across the country, under their series “Met Live in HD”. These performances on screen are marketed at an affordable price, to increase accessibility efforts in opera. The 2024 year premieres with Bizet’s Carmen, an iconic staple of Opera literature. 

Young Russian Soprano, Aigul Akhmetshina, takes the stage as the youngest ‘Carmen’ to perform at The Met. Her demanding presence is alluring, along with her spunk and sense of unpredictability. She was a force to watch on stage, equally expressive and keen to the role. She sings alongside Met Opera greats: Piotr Beczała, Angel Blue, and Kyle Ketelsen. This quartet was truly remarkable, each buzzing with personality and vocal virtuosity. Akhmetshina is contracted to sing ‘Carmen’ at opera houses and festivals around the globe until at least August 2024.

The story of Carmen’s success is quite a tragic one for the composer, Georges Bizet. Bizet struggled to get his work on stage, though a fresh winner of the Prix de Rome. 1875 Paris was not fond of his depictions of proletarian life, lawlessness, and a tragic ending with an aggressive on-stage death. However, the historically controversial themes have been embraced by modern viewers and the score has trickled into aspects of pop culture, making songs like “Habanera” one of the most well-known arias to date.

The Met revels in creating the most aesthetically unique productions of Carmen year after year. Director Carrie Cracknell makes her Met debut taking a stab at a modern adaptation of ‘Carmen’s’ adventures and escapades. This production is set in the 21st Century, with references to gun violence, systemic labor abuse, and female empowerment. Her directing choices were clear and concise, revitalizing a story seeping with stereotypes and sexism. 

I would recommend seeing a Met HD Opera in theaters. It is an intimate way to experience some of the most distinguished operas in the United States. 

 

 

235 minutes. Not Rated. Includes gendered violence, cigarettes, and sexual themes. Sung in French with English subtitles.

Synopsis and more on Carmen HERE.

Met Live in HD showings HERE.

 

Image thanks to New York Theater Guide.

REVIEW: Return to Seoul

Return to Seoul is a film that is resonant in its essential question of “how does one consolidate the roots of one’s own identity when they are foreign to oneself?” The movie follows the 25 y/o Freddie as she navigates the country of her birth and its foreign cultures and people. Originally traveling to Korea on a whim with her friend Tena, she decides to pay a visit to the Hammond Adoption Agency that facilitated her adoption. The creation of these international adoption agencies began from the large amount of Korean orphans resulting from the aftermath of the Korean War in the 1950’s. From this, she is contacted by her birth father, who has been separated from Freddy’s birth mother, and she makes the decision to go see him with Tena. However, her trip there is mixed with reluctance, the ambivalence is painted on her face to the point that you can feel her stomach churning. Her worries are justified when she comes up feeling even more disconnected to the family that revels in her return. While her father wants Freddie to stay in Korea, she cannot as she is a French woman with a home, friends, and family back in France. He cannot accept this, however, leaving her discomfort to culminate in an encounter where he follows her to a bar, and she rejects his drunken fatherly embrace, screaming “Don’t touch me!”

Freddie markedly does not fit in with the culture in Korea, and her experiences in her first trip to Korea certainly show this aspect of her the most. She is explicit in her defiance of cultural norms and etiquette, making sure that others know that she is a French woman, not Korean. To this effect, Tena’s translations fail to express the harshness of her words, and the language barrier between her and the Koreans in the movie further complicate her disconnect from the culture. Additionally, Freddie is simply an interesting character, for she swaps between lifestyles, partners, and friends throughout the entirety of the three-part movie. She is brazen, indulging herself in music, soju, and hookups.

One final thing I was intrigued about was the use of extended scenes of music with the stages of Freddie’s life in mind. In any capacity, the music plays an integral role in representing the different phases of her life through all of the different time-skips. It helps to describe how her freedom and independence manifests throughout different genres, characterizing Freddie through her different stages of life: as a young woman moving through adulthood. It’s an intensely resonant narrative device that creates beautiful juxtaposition with her coming of age.

The film screening of Return to Seoul was shown as a part of the Korean Cinema NOW: Diaspora Edition event. These movie showings are presented by the NAM Center on Saturdays in the Michigan Theatre throughout the Winter 2024 semester. If you’re interested in Korean cinema—especially as they relate to the Korean diaspora or diasporic identities in general—then there are still many more films being put on, and they all have free admission with catering from Miss Kim herself (I have to say that the food is really nummy! (˵ •̀ ᴗ – ˵ ) ✧). So, don’t hesitate to indulge in a fun Saturday outing these movie are worth it!

Runtime: 1 hr 59 min 

Rated R

Screenshot of the movie taken from the npr Article: “‘Return to Seoul’ is About Reinvention, not Resolution”

REVIEW: Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch

I loved Dr. Seuss’s books growing up but never watched the movies, so to celebrate the end of the semester and the coming of Christmas, I watched The Grinch at the Michigan Theater on Sunday, December 10th. I haven’t watched any of the previous adaptations, but they seem pretty different. The first version, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, came out in 1966 as a cartoon that’s 30 minutes long. The second version, also titled How the Grinch Stole Christmas, came out in 2000 as a live-action that’s 1 hour and 55 minutes long. The most recent one is what played at the theater: the 2018 animation that’s 1 hour and 30 minutes long, which is simply titled The Grinch.

This version is essentially the Grinch’s origin story and the audience gets to learn who the Grinch is as a person rather than a thief. The best part is we get to see his relationship with his dog Max, who is youthful and energetic in the film but old and weary in the book. Another character they redesigned was Cindy-Lou Who, the little girl who catches the Grinch in the middle of his act. In the book, she was less than two and only on a page or so; in the movie, she’s much older and one of the main characters.

The animation was fun and very fitting for a children’s Christmas movie. The palette was bright and the characters were cute, even the Grinch. I enjoyed hearing the narrator’s lines and rhymes because they added more of the book elements too. His voice surprised me though because he sounded relatively young when I was expecting an old man reminiscent of Santa, which I wish they went with instead. Because I knew the plot beforehand, it felt like a very long movie and some parts were dragging on, but I enjoyed it overall and would rewatch it again once it’s closer to Christmas.

REVIEW: The Boy and the Heron

Studio Ghibli has released multiple iconic works such as Princess Momonoke and Kiki’s Delivery Service, and they just dropped their newest film, The Boy and the Heron. Like TotoroThe Boy and the Heron is a semi-autobiographical fantasy story written by Hayao Miyazaki, one of the co-founders of Studio Ghibli. The main character’s name is Mahito, whose mother died in a fire. After a couple of years and still mourning her passing, he and his father move from Tokyo to the countryside. There, he meets a suspicious heron, and as suggested by the title, the plot thickens.

In my opinion, quite a few of Studio Ghibli’s works are rather abstract and The Boy and the Heron is no exception. However, I do think this movie was easier to understand and had more reasons for all the fantasy involved than some other films like Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away (both are still my favorite Studio Ghibli movies though). When I watched the films as a child, I was fascinated by the world-building and unexpectedness of it all, but once I grew older and re-watched the films, I wanted more background information and explanation. I think this movie includes both elements well and thus reaches a large demographic. Furthermore, there are themes of life, death, family, and friendship that anyone can learn from. 

I was surprised that Studio Ghibli released a new movie. Honestly, I thought the last animation they ever made was Ponyo in 2008, but they’ve been releasing works until 2014 with When Marnie Was There, which I’ve never seen or heard about. I would watch this film multiple times, and it’s showing at the State Theatre until December 14th with screenings in both Japanese and English. I watched the Japanese Dub with English subtitles version, and I noticed that the Japanese title is very different from the English one. In Japanese, the title is 君たちはどう生きるか (Kimitachi wa Dō Ikiru ka) and translates to ‘how do you live?’. I wish they hadn’t changed it, because I feel like the Japanese title has more meaning and inquisition to it. But now you guys know, so when you watch the film, keep in mind that the story is about more than just a boy and a heron.

REVIEW: Life on Planet Pops

On December 6, 2023, at the Michigan Theater, the Michigan Pops Orchestra presented “Life on Planet Pops.” I’ve been to every Pops concert since my freshman year, and I was especially excited for this one after seeing this semester’s poster that teased The Lion KingStar Wars (which they somehow manage to play every year), Princess and the Frog, and more. As the theme and poster suggest, all of the music they chose was related to animals, though there surprisingly wasn’t much classical repertoire. However, it was my favorite program out of all of the Pops concerts I’ve seen.

They opened with a medley of Beauty and the Beast and they sounded exactly like the soundtrack of it on Spotify. I loved the concertmaster’s solo so much it gave me goosebumps, and once the melody of Tale as Old as Time played, the strings all together really shined. The song they chose from Princess and the Frog was “Almost There” with a guest student singer from SMTD, and she was very talented. I loved how she opened with dialogue that transitioned into song and that she maintained her character’s cheerful flare throughout the performance.

After a brief intermission, they returned with Hoe Down, a piece with a fun syncopated tune. I’ve heard other orchestras play it before, but I loved that Pops included a good “Yeehaw” in the middle. To end the night, they played the William Tell Overture. I feel like it’s a piece everyone knows. Though I didn’t recognize the title, I immediately recognized the tunes, especially the latter half. 

As always, Pops includes movies to play alongside their music. This semester, they chose to film Pokémon and Jaws, and the way the actors portrayed the animals was hilarious. Pikachu was taller than Ash, his trainer, and the shark in Jaws crawled out of the fountain by the Michigan League. 

I highly recommend going to the Michigan Pops Orchestra concerts. They’re always amazing and enjoyable for people who aren’t well-versed in classical music and I always have a lot of fun at their events!

REVIEW: The Polar Express

On Sunday, December 3rd, as part of their free holiday classics series, the Michigan Theater had a showing of The Polar Express. It was my first time watching The Polar Express, and it was very different from what I expected. Since it’s based off of a children’s book, I was picturing something along the lines of Elf, a goofy and silly movie. Instead, the film features animated human characters that reminded me of the video game Detroit: Become Human. Furthermore, the colors were very muted and the background lacked vibrancy. Overall, it had a somber atmosphere unfitting for a children’s movie, especially a Christmas movie. However, it’s possible that the directors created it like that intentionally, because the movie is about a little boy who doesn’t believe in Santa.

Spoiler alert (but also not really): the main character comes to believe in Santa after riding The Polar Express to the North Pole. I thought they designed the North Pole beautifully; I really liked the layout of the city and although the colors were still muted, it was the brightest setting in the whole movie. It was also the most cheerful with what appeared to be hundreds of elves doing tricks like black flips and working hard to make Christmas a joyful holiday. My favorite part was the ending. I found it very bittersweet because it addresses how people eventually grow up to lose that childhood innocence. On the other hand, as the people around him grow older and stop believing, the main character never stops.

I didn’t find myself particularly enjoying the movie; there were a few moments where I was very frustrated. I’m curious how children like it, though, since I’m obviously not the target audience. Perhaps it’s the perfect tale to convince non-believers to continue believing.