REVIEW: Tales from the Realm of Pops

This semester’s Michigan Pops Orchestra concert, Tales from the Realm of Pops, has been my favorite concert of the past six I’ve attended. The theme this semester was fairytale and fantasy, and the repertoire was full of my personal favorites that are both famous in the classical world and familiar with most audiences: from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet to The Legend of Zelda to Sleeping Beauty, the orchestra certainly took us on a magic carpet ride.

The first piece to capture my heart was Tchaikovsky’s notoriously hard Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, performed by this year’s High School Concerto Competition winner Minji Kim, a Junior studying at Skyline High School. The past three High School Concerto Competition winners have all been violinists, but she’s left the biggest impression on me so far. The first movement of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto, the Allegretto, features intense lyrical runs up and down the violin, which Minji nailed each time. What impressed me the most were her double stops. Double stops mean two notes are being played at the same; this requires the bow to be completely evenly balanced on the strings while the fingers are to be a precise distance apart. It’s very easy to be out of tune when playing double stops, especially while shifting, but Minji made it sound incredibly easy with her crystal-clear tone and perfect intonation. This was my first time listening to this concerto live, and it couldn’t have been any better.

Right after came one of the unarguably best orchestral works to ever exist: Scheherazade, Op. 35 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Pops played the third movement, The Young Prince and the Young PrincessJust like the title suggests, it’s an incredibly romantic movement that passes the melody between the strings and winds, as if they were lovers conversing. The lyrical line evokes so many feelings, such as yearning and passion before turning into playful flirting when the tempo picks up. I highly recommend listening to all of Scheherazade. It’s truly a piece that shows music can weave a colorful story and brings out the violin’s full potential during the many concertmaster solos, which Katie Zhao did an amazing job of.

I’m so glad I got to attend this concert despite being busy with finals and the coming end of the semester. It whisked me away from my stress and worries and was the best refuge I could get. I’m now all the more excited to come back to another Michigan Pops concert next year, and I wonder if they’ll be able to top this semester’s amazing collection.

REVIEW: Oppenheimer (35mm)

Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer has received nothing but praise since its opening eight months ago. It boasted 13 wins at the Academy Awards and alongside Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, revitalized the cinema business with the “Barbenheimer” following last summer. The film is still making its round of appearances in theaters across America in its digital and 35mm film form. The Michigan Theater is hosting a unique opportunity to view the film in its intended 35mm film—I jumped at the opportunity to do so, as yes, I was also one of the “Barbenheimer” people back in July, and had to see it again.

35mm film is a type of film that has been used in photography and film for decades. It consists of a strip of celluloid with light-sensitive emulsion coated on one side, getting its name from actually being 35mm wide. This format became popular due to its versatility, offering high image quality and ease of handling in both still photography and motion pictures.

If you’ve somehow survived the relentless “Barbenheimer” memes of the summer and don’t know what Oppenheimer is about, I will save you some of the Wiki read now: The movie focuses on the life of (you’ll never guess) J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the Manhattan Project during World War II. It explores Oppenheimer’s complex personality, his role in developing the atomic bomb, and the moral dilemmas he faced with the consequences to humanity (accompanied by snippets from his journey to genius as well). Oppenheimer forces you to face the personal and historical consequences of scientific innovation and its impact on humanity itself.

The experience of watching Oppenheimer in 35mm was a little different than the digital medium usually used for movies. The movie became more beautiful from the subtleties the 35mm brought out. I noticed background action and unique set pieces were brought out from the clarity of the film. I also enjoyed the on-screen film crackle along with the deep saturated blues and bright yellows.

I adore biopics. They let you into a (highly dramatized) sliver of one significant person’s reality, often emphasizing their impact on humanity. In a way, it feels like you made a new friend, as you are allowed to watch a creative recap (…with one director’s perspective) of someone’s existence. Lives are so many things, and Oppenheimer presented the many corners of J. R. Oppenheimer’s life. The movie gives insight into some of his more personal struggles, surrounding his marriage with Kitty Puening and their two children and an affair with Communist USA Party member, Jean Tatlock. Although, Cillian Murphy (J. R. Oppenheimer) is careful about letting you in too close. He plays a closed and often mysterious man, who is difficult to read clearly. This made for an even deeper second part of the movie while Oppenheimer’s show trial with the US Atomic Energy Chairman, Lewis Strauss, was at it’s peak.

I enjoyed returning to the exquisite detail and existentialism this film so graciously offers. Christopher Nolan remains a master of weaving brilliantly complex stories into one fully fleshed-out portrait, and I find there is always something new and haunting to find inside his films.


Oppenheimer in 35mm film is at the Michigan Theater until April 2nd.


Rated R, 180 minutes.

Photo thanks to Physics World.

REVIEW: Poor Things

Welcome to the fantastical world of Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things. The 2023 film is based on the 1992 book by Scotsman Alasdair Gray, a riff of the well-known Frankenstein  with some rather venereal counterplots. With an abundance of Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, and Academy nominations, Poor Things has thoroughly charmed modern cinemas.

Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) is the culmination of a creepy science experiment by a uniquely kind mad scientist, Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), giving a woman driven to suicide a second chance—with the brain of her unborn infant. Bella matures quickly, first discovering her balance, gravity, and empathy, and eventually philosophy, sex, and personal fulfillment. Her developmental journey is natural, but odd perceived from a fully developed women’s body. Godwin maintains a careful grip over Bella’s freedom, supervising her alongside his collegiate assistant, Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef).

Bella ultimately winds up following the conniving lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) across Europe on an expensive bender, fueling Wedderburn’s desire for passive companionship and Baxter’s ache for adventure. The two create quite the disruptive pair, while Bella meets a selection of romantic partners and friends, and sees true inequality for the first time.

The narrative consistently intrigues with its quasi-realism, engrossing the reader completely in a sci-fi-coated London. Each character is extremely animated, like that of a children’s book. Stone effortlessly captivates Bella’s inner yearning for adventure and search for truth. She is curious and unafraid—a portrait of young women without society’s ruminating judgment. Bella has a fearless curiosity and confronts the world as such. It left me in a state of reflection watching a young woman discover life with (mostly) her own free will without the knowledge or care of society’s judgment placed upon her.

(Ramy Youssef (left) and Willem Dafoe)

The design presents a nod to the Victorian elements of Frankenstein while exploring fantastical sci-fi embellishments that separate our reality from that of Poor Things.  It brought home Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Best Design, and Best Make-Up and Hair, (as well as Stone for Best Actress)—an unsurprising selection of accolades, in my opinion. The Academy clearly agrees that Frankenstein never went out of style.


141 minutes. Rated R for nudity, lots of sex, and disembowelment. In theaters now.

Image thanks to The New York Times and Fast Company.

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.