I'm Dreaming of a Non-Holiday Holiday Movie Fest

FILM & VIDEO

Hans Gruber falling

The holiday season means different things to different people. To my sister and I growing up, it meant it was time to pull out the Christmas special VHS, which contained A Chipmunk Christmas, The Smurfs' Christmas Special, and, my personal favorite, He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special. We didn't love them for their holiday messages, because frankly, they all fail to have a cohesive or believable plot. I think we loved them just because they were part of the season and also because my mom forgot to pause recording on the commercials, which meant re-watching holiday ads that got weirder and more dated with each viewing. Anybody else remember ice-skating Ronald McDonald? It just goes to show that movies made for Christmas can sometimes, you know, suck.

As more and more people each year identify Die Hard as their favorite holiday movie, I asked my fellow co-workers and Pulp contributors to share their favorite non-holiday holiday movies. Please enjoy this list of movies in which Christmas happens but isn't why the film exists in the first place.

Evelyn recommends Nick Offerman's Yule Log, the lowest-key of seasonal viewing experiences, featuring no action, no dialogue, and just the crackle of a fire and the enjoyment of a fine Scotch to admire.

Sara suggests The Thin Man - come for the martinis and mystery, stay for Nick shooting balloons off the Christmas tree with his new airgun and Nora's Christmas threat:

Amy, our classic film buff, suggests The Apartment, Meet Me in St. Louis, and The Lemon Drop Kid, in which a small time crook played by Bob Hope attempts to pay off an angry mobster with a bell-ringing Santa donation racket. This film also featured the debut of the holiday standard "Silver Bells."

Anne has some recommendations that celebrate the 80s and early 90s at their cinematic best. First up is Gremlins, which you should definitely watch if you are tired of Christmas carols:

And then there's Batman Returns, featuring this moment, which has Christmas lights, Santa references, and gifts being hurled through the air. Tim Burton must have had a thing for incorporating Christmas settings (Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas) into his movies.

Eli voted for The Ref, which is probably the second-most popular home invasion-themed holiday movie in which a burglar is a main character. Because the first has to be Home Alone, right?

Oh wait, I almost forgot about this guy:

Erin came up with a whole mess of movies in which Christmas makes a passing appearance, including In Bruges, Go, Little Women, and Bridget Jones's Diary - mmm, turkey curry, my favorite.

But my favorite of her suggestions has to be Trading Places, complete with Dan Ackroyd's filthy Santa suit.

Andrew's picks included L.A. Confidential, because what says "holiday spirit" better than a prison beatdown scene, and Holiday Inn, because Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby singing and dancing to Christmas tunes to impress a girl really does say "holiday spirit".

So from all of us on the Pulp team here at AADL, we wish you very happy movie-watching, from our couches to yours!


Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at AADL and would like to note that Auntie Mame also features a very sweet and touching Christmas scene amid the zaniness and camp that makes up the rest of the film.


Preview: Mittenfest X

PREVIEW MUSIC

Mittenfest X's lineup includes (clockwise from upper left): Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful, Frontier Ruckus, Chris Bathgate, The Kickstand Band, and The Bootstrap Boys

Mittenfest X's lineup includes (clockwise from upper left): Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful, Frontier Ruckus, Chris Bathgate, The Kickstand Band, and The Bootstrap Boys

Bid adieu to 2015 and welcome 2016 in with Mittenfest X: the 10th annual installment of the five-day music festival that raises funds for local creative writing nonprofit 826Michigan. Starting December 29th and continuing through January 2nd—including shows on New Years Eve and New Years Day—Mittenfest X will be held for the first time this year at Ypsilanti’s Bona Sera café. The opening night lineup partially and purposefully mirrors the lineup of the first ever opening night of the original Mittenfest 10 years ago: Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful, the high-energy “stomp and holler” folk of Frontier Ruckus, and Fred Thomas are all back a decade later to kickoff the festival. All the performers are from Michigan, with most hailing from Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti, and a few coming across the state from Grand Rapids to play. With 7 acts each night, the first going on at 8:30 pm and the final act taking the stage at 1:00 am, Mittenfest is known for its fast pace and wide variety of music. What can attendees look forward to this year?

Detroit band Bonny Doon released their debut EP last winter under local label Salinas. The four band members, most of whom also play in one or more other Detroit-based bands, have described their music together as “subdued punk.” Sometimes even delving into a country rock sound, the band jams loosely on stage, experimenting with their songs and preventing things from getting too precise. The band often plays with Fred Thomas who, as mentioned above, will be one of the headliners on Mittenfest X’s opening night. They’ll play on the second night of the festival, December 30th, at 1:00 am.

2015 will come to a close to the sounds of sunny basement rock (yes, that can be a thing) duo Gordon Smith and Allison Young, better known as The Kickstand Band, who take the stage at 11:30 pm on December 31. They first got together in Detroit in 2011 and released their debut album Puppy Love. Since then, they’ve put out an EP and another full-length album is in the works. It remains to be seen if they’ll be bringing their homemade lightshow (!) along to Mittenfest X (it has come along to several outdoor music festivals in the past), but lightshow or no lightshow, The Kickstand Band's performance ought to open 2016 with a bang.

One of the bands making the trip across the state to play Mittenfest X is The Bootstrap Boys, who are currently just finishing up a tour playing at various Michigan breweries. They just banded together in early 2015 and have a rollicking repertoire of four-part-harmony country songs which, they claim, will have you asking: ‘Y’all like to shoot whiskey?’ Their EP, Country Songs for Sale, was released in October.

Indie folk singer and songwriter Chris Bathgate, a staple on the local music scene for over a decade now, will close Mittenfest X, taking the stage at 1 am on January 2nd. He’s released 5 studio albums, and has received national acclaim performing at SXSW and recording an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. His newest EP, Old Factory, is set to be released in early 2016. Bathgate is sometimes compared to folk musician Sufjan Stevens, who completed an entire album about Michigan. Somewhat similarly, Ann Arborites will want to listen for references to local sites in some of Bathgate’s songs.

You can view the whole Mittenfest X lineup here.


Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Mittenfest X runs Tuesday, December 29, 2015-Saturday, January 2, 2016 at Bona Sera Café, 200 W Michigan Avenue, Ypsilanti, MI, 41897. Performers play from approximately 8:30 pm-2 am every evening. $10 cover per night.

Review: Elks Pratt Lodge's DEEP FREEZE

PREVIEW MUSIC

Fred Thomas & Mike Dykehouse were two of the DJs at this year's Elks Pratt Lodge Deep Freeze
Fred Thomas & Mike Dykehouse were two of the DJs at this year's Elks Pratt Lodge Deep Freeze

The majestic Elks Pratt Lodge looms over Ann Arbor from its perch at the top of a grassy (or sometimes by the time of DEEP FREEZE, snowy!) hill on Sunset Road. Nestled in Water Hill neighborhood, the Elks members made the decision in the late 2000s to allow the community to book events there that are open to the public. Since then, various live music and DJed concerts and dance nights have been held over the years, as well as barbecues and social justice events. Minimal décor and a cash-only bar keep events there simple, but a typically eclectic crowd is unfailingly enthusiastic for whatever is going on.

On Saturday, December 12, Elk members and the public attended DEEP FREEZE, a winter dance night featuring prominent local DJs and other special guests. Fred Thomas, the frontman of indie pop band Saturday Looks Good to Me, was one of these DJs. He just released a new album this past year, All Are Saved, which fans loved and even Pitchfork reviewed favorably! Mike Dykehouse, another prominent local artist who achieved wide acclaim after playing at the first ever Detroit Electronic Music Festival, was also one of the DJs that performed at the Elks Lodge on the 12th. Dykehouse played on Ann Arbor-based Ghostly International’s summer 2002 tour, and even has ties to the Ann Arbor District Library; he DJed at our Mini-Moog fest this past July. His 2004 full-length debut album is titled Midrange. DJs Chuck Sipperley, who’s performed at Top of the Park, Mittenfest and many other local events in the past, and Jason Lymangrover, were also there for DEEP FREEZE.

One of those most fun things about events at the Elks Lodge is the way that the building is lit up. Strings of lights are hung on the porch and from the rooftop, making the mansion a sort of beacon as you approach it from any direction. Upon entering through the back of the lodge, guests are ushered downstairs to the bar, and nearby, the dance floor. A lot of the music was dance mixes of 80s and 90s tracks, which suited the crowd of twenty and thirty-somethings perfectly. The dance floor was fun, friendly and active for much of the night, and when people weren’t dancing, groups still enjoyed the music in the deep booths that surround the floor. With so many DJs, there was never a break in music and guests trickled in and out, enjoying the unseasonably warm night on the porch of the Lodge, and then wandering back in to dance more or grab another drink.

Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Preview: Winter Dance Sharing

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Dance out the winter blues with the Winter Dance Sharing

Dance out the winter blues with the Winter Dance Sharing

Let the music move you! If you enjoy meeting performers and interacting with them, this event is designed with you in mind. To kick off the Winter Dance Sharing, Christina Sears-Etter (Artistic Director for the People Dancing Company) will teach a sample SOMAdance class in a workshop format. SOMAdance helps dancers use their bodies to express imagery, which can be enhanced by increasing mind body integration. You do not need prior dance training to enjoy and benefit from this workshop. SOMAdance is designed for teenagers and older. On-site childcare will be provided during the workshop with advance reservations.

Following the SOMAdance workshop, you can enjoy live performances in the studio with works choreographed by Sears-Etter and Abigayle Cryderman.


Heide Otto Basinger is on the Board of People Dancing.


Winter Dance Sharing will take place on Saturday, December 19, 2015, from 4:30-7:30 pm at the Arts in Motion Dance Studio (6175 Jackson Rd., Suite B). The suggested donation is $8.

I'm Dreaming of a Stockingful of Holiday Stuff

Dash through the snow (dirt?) to these holiday events!

Dash through the snow (dirt?) to these holiday events!

December is upon us and, like the giant rolling boulder in that one Indiana Jones movie, the holidays are rumbling ever closer.

If you need some tips to help you celebrate the season, here's a handy list of festive holiday things going on in the area:

Dickens: An A Capella Carol
Friday, November 27th - Sunday, December 20th
Performance Network Theater - Ann Arbor, MI

National Theatre of Scotland: A Christmas Carol
Thursday, December 17th - Sunday, January 3rd
Power Center for Performing Arts - Ann Arbor, MI

Ypsilanti Community Choir's Annual Holiday Concert
Thursday, December 17th
Washtenaw Community College - Ann Arbor, MI

Gifts of Art presents Holiday Harmonies with Counterpoint
Thursday, December 17th
University Hospitals - Ann Arbor, MI

Home for the Holidays! with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Friday, December 18th - Sunday, December 20th
Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Detroit, MI

The Corner Christmas! (Not Your Family's Christmas Party) at the Corner Brewery
Saturday, December 19th
Arbor Brewing Company Microbrewery - Ypsilanti, MI

Krampus Costume Ball
Saturday, December 19th
The Dreamland Theater - Ypsilanti, MI

Scones and Shopping at the Eyrie
Saturday, December 19th
The Eyrie - Ypsilanti, MI

X'mas Explosion 4 feat. Archimime, Meridians, Scapegoat and The Path Of Exile
Saturday, December 19th
The Maidstone Theater - Ypsilanti, MI

Museum of Natural History Planetarium: Season of Light
December 19th-20th, 27-30th
University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Ann Arbor, MI

Winter Solstice Celebration
Tuesday, December 22nd
Cultivate Coffee and Taphouse - Ypsilanti, MI

Gifts of Art presents Sweet Sounds of the Season with Wanda Degen
Thursday, December 24th
University Hospitals - Ann Arbor, MI

Black Christmas Feat. The Suicide Machines, The Black Dahlia Murder, BIGWIG, Mustard Plug, Koffin Kats
Saturday, December 26th
The Majestic - Detroit, MI

Mittenfest X
Tuesday, December 29th - Saturday, January 2nd
Bona Sera Cafe - Ypsilanti, MI


Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and she's been listening to Christmas music since July.


Review: Henry IV, Part I, University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance

REVIEW THEATER & DANCE

UMSMTD gives the devil his due in their production of Henry IV

UMSMTD gives the devil his due in their production of Henry IV

Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I isn't really about King Henry IV. It's about the rivalry between Henry's son, Prince Hal, the future Henry V, and the heroic and headstrong Harry "Hotspur" Percy.

The play is full of jolly roistering and clashing swords, but its theme of delayed maturity seems to fit well for a university production. And the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance offers a perceptive and action-packed production.

The heir to a much-disputed crown is happier in a tavern than on a battlefield and his father worries that Hal will never assume his proper role. Meanwhile, the son of one of his allies, Hotspur, has won acclaim for his daring. Hotspur and his father and aunt (a change of gender for the role) will soon change allegiance and lead a rebellion. Will Hal meet the challenge?

Not if an old, soused knight named Falstaff has any say in the matter. Falstaff is of course one of Shakespeare's great creations. He's a lecher, a drunk, a buffoon, a coward, and a great party animal. He's a "bad influence" but closer to Hal than his own father and something of a modern day cynic.

Director Priscilla Lindsay pulls all these elements together in a rousing, traditional staging of one of the Bard's most popular works. The production moves smoothly from the bawdy confines of the Boar's Head Inn to the royal court to the bloody fields of battle. Shakespeare's language is a challenge for young actors and the clarity of some of the actors is less than it should be. But Lindsay gets some excellent work from her three major actors.

Robert M. O'Brien is a handsome, charming, and playful Hal. He speaks the language well, he moves gracefully and, crucially, he makes a convincing move from party boy to a leader of men. He conveys some of the sadness and loss that that move will cause him.

The plum role in any production of this play and its sequel is of course Sir John Falstaff. Graham Techler may need padding to fill the obese profile, but he is a superb Falstaff. He handles both the rapid verbal wit and the complex physical comedy excellently. He's hilarious, but in his famous comments on "honor," he also conveys a deeper understanding of what he's saying.

But, the real find here is Caleb Foote. His Hotspur is a raging revelation. He is fierce, rapid-tongued, and physically athletic and on-edge. Foote's command of Shakespeare's language is amazing. He understands perfectly that the best approach is to speak it naturally as your own and in this case he even gives it a rough north English accent. When he is on stage, he commands the stage. He bears himself like a young Jimmy Cagney, which is perfect for the reckless if honorable warrior he plays.

Key roles are played by Larissa Marten as Hotspur's ambitious aunt, Matthew Provenza as the title character, Elyakeem Avraham as a Welsh lord and Jesse Aronson, Samuel Bell-Gurwitz, and Sten Eikrem as Hal's Boar's Head companions.

The complex battle scenes are excellently staged by fight director Robert Najarian. Costume designer Christianne Myers helps define the players by putting the king's men in golds and tans and the rebels in silver and gray.

The production concluded Sunday at the the Power Center on the central UM campus.


Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

Preview: National Theatre of Scotland: A Christmas Carol

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

The puppets of Christmas past, present, and future visit Scrooge in the National Theatre of Scotland's A Christmas Carol

The puppets of Christmas past, present, and future visit Scrooge in the National Theatre of Scotland's A Christmas Carol

Every year, at this time, audiences can choose from countless stage and screen versions of A Christmas Carol. Tiny Tim, Scrooge, and the Ghost of Christmas Past--characters created by Charles Dickens in 1843--are part of our shared holiday heritage. With so many professional and amateur productions each year, what new can be brought to this timeless and familiar classic?

With uniquely intimate staging, the National Theatre of Scotland brings its acclaimed version of A Christmas Carol to The University Music Society (UMS) for the holiday season. Using a mixture of puppets and actors, live music and a set that forces the audience into the action, director Graham McLaren mounted a theatrical experience that has Dicken’s original text at its core and will “challenge all notions of sentimental stage and screen adaptations.”

The Daily Telegraph raved that “every aspect of the piece contributes perfectly to its irresistibly magical atmosphere” and that the National Theatre of Scotland’s A Christmas Carol “deserves to be remembered as one of the classiest pieces of theatre to have been staged in Scotland, not only in the winter season, but at any time of year.”

Only 125 audience members will be seated at each staging, so it is best to get seats early.


Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.


Performances of A Christmas Carol will run from Thursday, December 17 through Sunday, January 3 at The Power Center, 121 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor. For ticket information, visit ums.org.

Preview: The Three Musketeers, Young Actors Guild (YAG)

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

All for one and one for all with YAG's The Three Musketeers

All for one and one for all with YAG's The Three Musketeers

Ann Arbor’s Young Actor’s Guild (YAG) presents The Three Musketeers, based on Alexandre Dumas’ classic historical novel chronicling the adventures of D’Artagnan and the Musketeers of the Guard in 17th century France. On the road to adventure, young D’Artagnan finds more than he bargains for with fellow swashbuckling musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis as they slice their way through considerable court intrigue in an attempt to thwart the scheming and powerful Cardinal Richelieu.

YAG’s performance is teeming with fight choreography led by trainer Melissa Freilich, a teacher of the Alexander Technique and advanced actor combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Performances of The Three Musketeers are Friday, December 18, 7:30 pm; Saturday, December 19, 2 pm and 7:30 pm; and Sunday, December 20, 2:30 pm, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, University of Michigan campus, 911 N. University Ave. Tickets are $5.00 students, $10 adults ($15.00 for any two performances). Additional ticket information available at the YAG website.

Review: The Light in the Piazza, University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance

REVIEW THEATER & DANCE

A talented cast brightens the stage in The Light in the Piazza

A talented cast brightens the stage in The Light in the Piazza / Photo by Peter Smith

The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance loves to boast about the many graduates who are making a name for themselves on Broadway and in regional theaters across the country.

A new production of The Light in the Piazza at the Arthur Miller Theatre on the UM North Campus just might add significantly to that list. An uniformly outstanding cast gives life to a musically challenging work that is at times comic, romantic, and richly melodramatic.

The musical with book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel is base on a 1959 novella by Elizabeth Spencer about a mother and daughter trip to Italy. The time and lush setting suggest the romantic, Technicolor movie melodramas of the 1950s in which a family secret creates a tension that can only be resolved through love.

The UM production on the intimate Miller stage leaves the splendor of Florence, Italy, to the audience's imagination (for how could it ever be presented on a stage). The stage is bare except for chairs, a table and, in one key scene, a bed. These are moved about fluidly by the ensemble cast who remain on stage as a chorus of Florentines. The small orchestra is also on stage. Up front a common story plays out. Mother and daughter go to Italy, where once upon a time the mother and her husband had a carefree holiday before the realities of business and life intruded. The pretty but fragile daughter finds romance with a passionate young suitor from an equally passionate Italian family.

The "secret" is a childhood injury that has left the young girl mildly developmentally impaired. But this is the 1950s, and her parents want to protect her, or is it control her. A mother-daughter struggle ensues.

This is not your typical musical comedy. The music is rich and varied, moving from the lift of a jazz combo to the complex drama of grand opera. Music director Catherine A. Walker leads a five member orchestra through the score superbly. Walker also plays beautiful piano from boogie-woogie to rising romantic flourishes. This is not the kind of show in which you leave whistling a tune, but the songs musically and lyrically capture the range of emotions that are at the heart of the show.

The cast is challenged in unusual ways. The songs are in English and Italian. Some cast members must sing and speak in Italian and in the halting English we associate with Italian immigrants. They must also move easily from operatic passion to quietly tender emotion to joyful humor. Guest director Brian Hill makes it all work seamlessly. He has his young cast performing beyond their years and capturing every nuance of a richly nuanced play.

Christina Maxwell plays the delicate, charming daughter Clara. She perfectly captures the sweet innocent early on and the fierce young woman trying to make a life of her own as the story develops. He voice is sweet but, even in the tight confines of the Miller, needs more projection.

The Naccarelli family are a joy, even as they embody a variety of well-worn Italian stereotypes. Luke Steinhauer as Fabrizio, the suitor, is magnificently over the top in love. His "Il Mondo Era Vuoto" is at once passionate but outrageous and the reactions of his more knowing brother and father are hilarious. Ben Bogen is the philandering brother Giuseppe, quick and lively, who distracts his brother with a little jazz. Liesl Collazo is Giuseppe's tart-tongued, jealous but passionate wife and family translator, who also believes in love. David Barnes is suave and precise as the family patriarch who falls to the charms of Clara's mother and has a sweet duet with her. Kalia Medeiros brings spark to a giddy scene where she provides an explanation for what's going on when a family argument ensues in raucously rapid Italian.

But in this uniformly fine cast, one member stands out. Kaity Paschetto gives a star performance as Margaret, Clara's caring but tense mother. Paschetto resembles a young Angela Lansbury and seems to move as easily from comedy to drama to musical expression as that esteemed actress does. Her singing voice is bright, expressive, and emotional. She expresses excellent comic timing in her efforts to put off the suitor without causing a scene. But her best scenes are her sad encounters with her angry daughter and her long-distance conversations with an estranged husband (Charlie Patterson).


Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

I'm Dreaming of Mortality

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE FILM & VIDEO

Joseph Keckler

Performance Artist and Vocalist Joseph Keckler / Photo by M. Sharkey

If you’re growing weary of all the holly jolly happenings that this time of year has to offer, then it might be time to take a break to contemplate mortality. I mean really take some time, like four hours worth, and spend it observing a classically trained vocalist perform operatic death after operatic death.

In Let Me Die, Joseph Keckler ties together and performs hundreds of deaths from the history of tragic opera. The project also involves a series of videos, incorporating operatic fragments into stories and images of contemporary life, realized in conjunction with Holly Hughes' Interarts class. Performance and video will be shown, surrounded by an environmental installation that sparsely combines operatic set elements. Audience members are welcome to come and go as they please during the four hour performance. Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. MOCAD galleries and Cafe 78 will be open during the performance.

Joseph Keckler has spent the last few months as Witt Artist in Residence at the University of Michigan working with students to create music videos and to delve deeply into the world of the tragic. He has spent endless hours researching operatic deaths and has expertly categorized them under such headings as “the Stabbies,” "the Sickies,” and “the Poison People.” You can read more about his process in this great interview by M. Starkey.

Still not convinced? Then watch this video as a preview of the greatness that you will witness. Keckler sings Schubert to a cat. Need I say more?

Death is, quite simply, what gives meaning to life. Shakespeare understood this well as he wrote in King Richard II,
“O, but they say the tongues of dying men enforce attention like deep harmony.” Go to MOCAD this Saturday and face your mortal anxieties straight on.


Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and is mortal.


Joseph Keckler performs Let Me Die Saturday, December 12, from 1 – 5 pm at MOCAD, 4454 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201. In partnership with the Penny Stamps Speaker Series , the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), and the Roman J. Witt Artist in Residence Program. This event is free of charge and open to the public.