REVIEW: M-Agination Films Festival

Usually student films are envisioned as earth-shattering ideas that will shake the world, only to end up on Youtube or Vimeo with 200 views.
Events like the M-Agination Film Festival allows films to transcend this by showcasing a collection of these films on the big screen in the Michigan theater for a much wider audience, in the best possible way to experience a film.

Before I go any further, I will admit that I am a producer on the board of M-Agination films. I am one of the ten students who sorts through dozens of scripts at the beginning of each semester, choosing a handful of scripts that we like enough to produce.

Consequently, I might be a little biased. I may be more apt to appreciate the work that goes into these films, but I am also more prone to see the wide range of errors that student films can make.

Despite a technical difficulty at the beginning of the festival, M-Agination is one of the best student film fests, if not the best overall film festival on campus. Compared to student festivals such as Lightworks, the venue of the Michigan Theater is a thousand times better than the cramped space of the Natural Science Auditorium.

On top of that, the films shown this year were consistent high-quality films—you can go to this festival expecting enjoyable films all night rather than a collection of hit or miss pieces. While the festival doesn’t quite match the Ann Arbor Film Festival, it’s free and you get a free t-shirt if you show up early.

Now on to the films themselves.

There was a nice diversity of films: comedy and tragedy, narrative and experimental, ancient and modern.

“Pinkie Promise” was a classic feel-good love story about a boy and a girl getting together after promising to do so when they were teenagers. “696” takes a polar opposite approach of a married man lamenting the death of his earlier love.

“Dream Girl” was an experimental piece on the simple premise of a guy seeing a cute girl at a party, while “Initiation” dealt with the grim subject of hazing of college athletes. This was especially powerful because it added overt messages offering help to those who may need it. As far as I know, it will be used as a powerful tool to show to students experiencing alcohol addictions.

“Price of Art,” about two women stealing artwork to make the headlines and finding out that no one cared, was an interesting commentary on the status of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The two films that truly stood out were “Calvin” and “Crook’d.” Not only were these films made by talented students, but they had professional filmmaking equipment at their disposal and Kickstarter dollars as well. With long steadicam shots, incredible sound mixing, and top-notch script writing, these films were phenomenal partially because they could almost stand alongside Hollywood films.

I have heard that this was one of the best years yet for M-Agination. If this festival keeps improving, then it will easily become one of the best film festivals in Ann Arbor, period.

Student Video

REVIEW: Coriolanus

Seeing Coriolanus at the Michigan Theater was definitely a good decision. The acting was spectacular, of course. A cast of greats including Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss left the little Donmar Warehouse with queues of people camping out overnight to buy tickets to the show. The audience in the screening of this production probably mirrored the Donmar’s usual audience for the show: half an older crowd who enjoy Shakespeare, and the other half a crowd of young women who enjoy Tom Hiddleston (I would like to include myself in both of these categories). Hiddleston’s portrayal of Caius Martius Coriolanus left nothing to be desired as his acting ran the spectrum of emotions: a ruthless soldier who would like nothing more than to add one more man’s blood to his sword, to a son pleading for comfort and compassion from his mother. He carried the show, and wasn’t afraid to get dirty.

The Donmar is a great example of the kinds of theaters in which I prefer to see Shakespeare performed. It is a thrust stage (the audience sits on three sides), and a small space with limited seating. Shakespeare, to me, is best seen and understood in an intimate setting, and I believe this held true for Coriolanus. For most people the language takes a little getting used to, but this was achieved quickly with a close-up view of the actors. The smaller stage is also able to take more risks. The set was minimal: the concrete brick wall of the theater painted red and black and littered with graffiti, a ladder permanently fixed on the stage reaching higher than the audience could see, chairs for the actors to sit in while not in the scene, and a red square painted freshly on the stage floor during every performance.

Red was the color of the show. It first appears as it’s being painted on the stage, and next when Martius returns from slaughtering hoards of Rome’s enemies. He’s covered in blood to the point of excess in my eyes, and to the point that he can barely speak or see because so much fake blood has been poured on his head and is dripping in Tom Hiddleston’s eyes. Naturally, to get that blood off of him, water falls from the ceiling onto the stage in a stream steady enough to clean him up so that his face is visible.

Photo via

This is the kind of risk a smaller theater can take that will pay off, and it is executed brilliantly. It has a strong impact, but also doesn’t require a big scene change to accomplish. Sure, the stage gets wet, but they can get some actors with squeegee-like mops to clean it off while another scene is taking place. The stage floor became a set piece in this production, constantly being redecorated with different red objects from flower petals to blood.

I was very unfamiliar with the story of the play upon arrival but the minimal set, the careful portrayals from the actors, and the close proximity of the action allowed me to come away from Coriolanus quite moved. It was an excellent production, and I’m glad that National Theatre Live was able to provide me and many others the opportunity to see it.

PREVIEW: Coriolanus

Photo from the National Theatre website

This Sunday, February 9 at 7:00PM the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Coriolanus will be shown at the Michigan Theater.

Broadcast by National Theatre Live, this Shakespeare play stars Tom Hiddleston (probably best known for his role of Loki in the Marvel franchise) as the title character who must defend the people of his city from imminent attack while also addressing their call for political change. This production is sure to be an intense spectacle not to be missed.

Tickets to see the recorded stage production at the Michigan Theater are still available and can be found through the University Musical Society here.

REVIEW: Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell delivers words of wisdom at the Michigan Theater.
Malcolm Gladwell delivers words of wisdom at the Michigan Theater.

Checking my phone before Malcom Gladwell’s talk at the Michigan Theater to learn of the snow day announcement gave me a slightly distracted demeanor in my seat half way up the main floor. Alas, I actively put my excitement aside to gain wisdom and knowledge from the best-selling author and contributor to The New Yorker. Last night, Gladwell explored the theme of what makes people stand up and fight in circumstances where fighting is unprecedented, unwarranted, and least likely to be successful. His exploration of what made the women of northern Ireland take up arms and fight back against the British army is featured in a chapter of his new book David and Goliath, from which the event was promoting and featured a book signing after the talk.

Gladwell introduced himself by explaining that while although it’s a great pleasure to be in Michigan in January, it’s also “deeply traumatizing,” as the Canadian used to be an avid Toronto Blue Jays fan until the Detroit Tigers crushed them two years in a row to take them out of the playoffs.  “So Michigan took away the sport that I love. But at the same I realized, as I thought about this even more, it also freed up thousands of hours, which I think I put to use writing books,” Gladwell comically lamented. Laughter aside, he interestingly explored the detailed and troubled history of Alva Vanderbilt, a prominent socialite in the late 1800s and early 1900s. “Nobody predicted on paper that she would become a powerful activist for social change,” Gladwell said. Through describing her upbringing, relationships with men and her beloved daughter Consuela, he tells a tale of an outspoken women confined and cornered in New York society because of mold women were expected to live in during her time. As ambitious as her goals were, all she could do was marry wealthy (which she did, to Sonny Churchill), and build extravagant estates to show off her wealth, participating in full-time conspicuous consumption.

Her story is used to answer what compelled her to act, and eventually lead, the woman’s suffrage movement. What made her want to “take up spiritual arms against forces more powerful than her?” asked Gladwell. Gladwell looked to legitimacy theory, which explains what makes us obey authority is how authority itself behaves based on fairness, trustworthiness and legitimacy. Alva felt society’s treatment of her was not trustworthy and she was denied legitimacy, and when people are denied legitimacy they get angry and will choose to fight back because the cost of disobeying the law outweighs the benefits of obeying it.

The most powerful lesson Gladwell shared through Alva’s story and relationship to the women’s suffrage movement was that “if you deny people legitimacy, they will, one day, by one means or another, come back and defeat you.”

Certainly stirring much thought in my head, I was grateful for the chance to listen a wonderful writer perform as a wonderful speaker. His ability to capture my attention for the duration of the program by following me along this very elaborate example was impressive and valuable. I look forward to reading David and Goliath with these themes presented in the back of my mind.



PREVIEW: Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath book cover

Who: Malcolm Gladwell
What: Reading excerpts from his new book David and Goliath
When: Monday, January 27 at 7 p.m.
Where: Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty Street
Tickets: $35 tickets are available on the main floor as the balcony has been sold out. With online service fees, it’s $44.65. Or you can stop by Nicola’s Books to avoid service fees, while supplies last.

The New Yorker’s Malcom Gladwell is coming to speak at the Michigan Theater to read excerpts from his new book David and Goliath, sign copies and answer audience questions. I recently read an article of his called “Most Likely To Succeed” for my English 225 class, detailing how predicting the future success of athletes and teachers based on perceived performance does not always work so well. Gladwell, in his new book, speaks on disadvantages and obstacles through new interpretations to overcome them. The experience of hearing his well-guided words and wisdom will be well worthwhile.

Purchase tickets here. Read some of Gladwell’s work for the New Yorker or visit his selection on Amazon.