Review: Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien Fall 2015 Chinese Film Festival

REVIEW PREVIEW FILM & VIDEO

Dust in the Wind, directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, kicked off the Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien Fall 2015 Chinese Film Festival

Dust in the Wind, directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, kicked off the "Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien Fall 2015 Chinese Film Festival"

Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film Dust In the Wind opens with the puzzling image of a tiny rectangular shape, its top rounded, hovering against a black background. It appears at first to be an animated image, crudely rendered given the film’s 1986 release date. But it quickly becomes clear that we are swiftly traveling towards the image, rather than it floating towards us, and that it’s not a man-made drawing but a depiction of natural splendor. The shape is the light at the end of a pitch-black train tunnel, and the camera swiftly explodes out of the passage to reveal the stunning greens of the lush forest beyond.

This striking opening shot may be the most obvious way Taiwanese director Hou leads us to find beauty in seemingly mundane moments in Dust In the Wind, but it’s certainly not the last. The film screened Monday at the Michigan Theater to kick off “Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien,” a series of free screenings running through Nov. 11. The plot of Dust In the Wind is simple, almost pedestrian: a young couple, Ah-yuan (Wang Chien-wen) and Ah-yun (Xin Shufen), seek to escape their impoverished life in a Taiwanese mining town. Mining life has already left Ah-Yuan’s father injured and at the mercy of greedy pharmaceutical providers. Ah-yuan and Ah-yun travel to Taipei, where they take tedious jobs–he as a print shop assistant, she as a seamstress–to send money home and to fund their own night school and eventual wedding. They make a few friends and go out to drink and socialize when they can. Hardly leading a robust life to begin with, Ah-yuan and Ah-yun face their greatest challenge yet when the draft board calls Ah-yuan up for a lengthy tour of military service.

Hou is noted as a major voice in the Taiwanese New Wave cinema of the ‘80s, which emphasized realistic stories of everyday life in Taiwan. As such, having noted the rather bleak circumstances of Ah-yuan and Ah-yun’s lives and their tenuous young love, it’s not too difficult to predict the fate that will befall their relationship when Ah-yuan departs for the military. But Hou finds many a moment of warmth, beauty and wisdom in what could be a much more harrowing tale. He repeatedly frames the exterior of Ah-yuan’s family home in an extreme wide shot, encouraging us to appreciate not only the colorful hustle and bustle on the steps of the home but also the action that takes place in the courtyard beyond. There’s even gentle humor in the tale, as when Ah-yuan’s father accidentally lights a firecracker rather than a candle in the dark. (Ah-yuan’s grandfather, beautifully played by Li Tian-lu, is a repeated source of both sly humor and somewhat dark wisdom.) Hou repeatedly directs us toward the kindness and love in this dark story, from family members comfortably sharing food and drink to Ah-yun quietly nursing Ah-yuan back to health during a bout of bronchitis.

As the title of the film would suggest, the characters seem battered by life’s trials, cast adrift in an uncaring world they have little ability to fully comprehend, let alone control. But in the many warmer moments Hou creates here, he also seems to suggest that the characters are equally ignorant of some of the gifts that are present in their lives. It seems no mistake that Hou follows his spectacular opening POV shot from the train with a shot of Ah-yun and Ah-yuan onboard the vehicle, complacently reading, paying no attention to the spectacular scenery we’ve just been treated to. In a simple but metaphor-laden exchange between Ah-yuan and his grandfather at the film’s end, it’s difficult to tell just how much our characters’ eyes have really been opened. But Hou has certainly opened our eyes to some of the beauty in these difficult lives, and perhaps encouraged us to think differently about our own lives as well.

The “Also Like Life” series will continue through Nov. 11 with the following free screenings at the Michigan Theater:

  • Flowers of Shanghai screens Nov. 10 at 6 pm. Multiple prominent film critics have named this elegant, slow-paced 1998 film following the courtesans and patrons in four different brothels as one of the best movies of the ‘90s. The film stars Tony Leung, well-known for his appearances in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love and Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.
  • Good Men, Good Women screens Nov. 11 at 5 pm. This 1995 release concludes a trilogy of historical films by Hou, preceded by 1989’s A City of Sadness and 1993’s The Puppetmaster. The story of a Taiwanese couple who journey to the Chinese mainland to fight the Japanese during the 1940s is told as a film within a film about an actress who is preparing to play the role of one of the main characters.
  • Millennium Mambo screens Nov. 11 at 7 pm. The 2001 film follows a young woman’s work life and romantic entanglements at the beginning of the new millennium. Although Hou uses vibrant cinematography and techno music in his storytelling, his portrait of recent youth culture is dark and somewhat despairing.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He can be heard most Friday mornings at 8:40 am on the Martin Bandyke morning program on Ann Arbor's 107one.


The “Also Like Life” series will continue through Nov. 11 with the following free screenings at the Michigan Theater: Flowers of Shanghai on Nov. 10 at 6 pm; Good Men, Good Women on Nov. 11 at 5 pm; and Millennium Mambo on Nov. 11 at 7 pm. More information can be found on the University of Michigan Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies page.

Preview: Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Skyline Theatre

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Belle (Leah Bauer) and the Beast (Luke Renken) waltz together in Skyline Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Belle (Leah Bauer) and the Beast (Luke Renken) waltz together in Skyline Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast / Photo by Lisa Gavan

“There is the great lesson of 'Beauty and the Beast,' that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.” G. K. Chesterton

Skyline Theatre presents Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, beginning this weekend and running through November 22.

This tale, seemingly as old as time, dates back to the traditional French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête written in 1756 and has resulted in numerous adaptations including the famous 1991 animated classic (although, admittedly, my personal favorite version is Jean Cocteau's surreal 1946 French film).

In this stage adaptation of the animated film, beautiful Belle is, improbably, the village outsider who prefers books to the advances of the hunky, yet shallow Gaston. When she goes looking for her hapless father, an inventor who’s lost his way in an enchanted forest, she discovers him in a haunted castle, captive of a mysterious Beast. She then wins her father's freedom by reluctantly trading places with him. Thus begins the most unlikely of romances, made considerably more tolerable, if occasionally adorable, by singing teapots and waltzing silverware.

"Belle and the Beast’s story is timeless," observes Skyline Theatre director Anne-Marie Roberts. "It contains the universal themes of love and self-sacrifice. Children in all their innocence innately understand and connect with these truths.”

Best of all, following each of the performances, guests can meet and have their pictures taken with Belle, the Beast, and other memorable characters in the musical.


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


Disney's Beauty and the Beast performs at Skyline High School (2552 N. Maple Rd in Ann Arbor) on November 14, at both 2:30 and 7:30 pm; November 20 & 21, at 7:30 pm; and November 22, at 2:30 pm. Tickets are available online or at the door. For more information, visit Skyline’s website.

Preview: David Mitchell reading from his new novel Slade House

REVIEW PREVIEW WRITTEN WORD

David Mitchell brings his latest novel Slade House to Ann Arbor this Saturday

David Mitchell brings his latest novel Slade House to Ann Arbor this Saturday / Photo by Paul Stuart

Author David Mitchell will be giving a reading from his newest novel Slade House this Saturday, November 7, in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church, followed by a conversation with author and UM faculty member Peter Ho Davies. Fans of speculative fiction may be familiar with Mitchell through his previous novels including The Bone Clocks, number9dream, and, most famously, Cloud Atlas. This event is sponsored by Literati and University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers' Program.

Slade House is an outgrowth of Mitchell's last novel, The Bone Clocks, set in the same universe. It started as a short story that Mitchell published on Twitter. This story, revised and added to, is now the first chapter of Slade House. It might be this that we have to thank for the fact that this novel is by far Mitchell's shortest and by all accounts his most accessible.

As with several of Mitchell's books, Slade House makes use of multiple narrators and crosses through time, each section set nine years later than the previous. Every 40 pages or so we get a new narrator and the degree to which we are pulled into the life of each protagonist is astounding. A fully imagined character with a complete backstory and well-drawn secondary characters emerges in the first dozen pages every time. Each of these stories has a definite ending before a new narrator takes over, so Mitchell doesn't fall into the trap of Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler of leaving the reader hanging before moving on, never to return (though perhaps this is only a trap for those of us who want those books-within-the-book to keep going). In Slade House, you understand very quickly where each of these stories is going, and the inevitable ending of each.

To some extent it begins to feel like a procedural, a backwards Law & Order where you know the culprit, you know the crime, you know the ending, and it is the main character/detective (one time a literal detective) and the situation that switches out. The result of this is that by the second story you start reading it like a mystery, looking for patterns and clues (was that jogger there the last time? what's the significance of the grandfather clock? why the portraits?).

Slade House is difficult to classify; at first it seems to be a ghost story. But it isn't quite horror, as it isn't horrifying. And though it starts off with the trappings of a classic ghost story, by the end of the first section, it becomes something else, and by 2/3 through the novel, it is apparent that what you are reading is no less than high fantasy. There is a haunted house, sure, and there are ghosts, yes. But the ghosts aren't the thing to be scared of, and what does the haunting is far less malicious than the house being haunted. The final section of the novel and its ending did not appeal to me, but that's a matter of taste, not a failing on Mitchell's part. A high fantasy ending felt a bit like a bait-and-switch to me, but that's because I want my ghost stories to be ghost stories. Those more in sync with epic battles between forces of light and darkness will be more sympathetic to it.

The biggest failing of this novel may actually be how well thought-out its world is; Mitchell has so much to explain about what is happening that at times it starts to feel like the latest Bond villain laying out his whole plan. But this exposition is necessary as Mitchell needs you to understand what is happening for it all to come together. And it never gets bad enough that all of the magic is stripped out (no midi-chorians here), just enough that you get pulled out of the world by it. But the fact that new worlds are created again and again in the span of 240 pages is in itself an achievement that makes Slade House well worth the read.


Andrew MacLaren is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and the only parlors he haunts are pizza parlors.


David Mitchell's reading takes place this Saturday, November 7, at 6 pm (doors open at 5:15 pm) in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church. A copy of Slade House is included in the $30 admission price (this price also includes entry for either one or two people). Tickets are available online.

Preview-Julian Schnabel in Dialogue with Peter Brant

PREVIEW VISUAL ART

Divan, 1979, Oil, plates, bondo on wood, 96 x 96 x 12 inches, Photo by Farzad Owrang, Copyright Julian Schnabel Studio, Courtesy The Brant Foundation // Julian Schnabel on the set of Miral / Photo by Jose Haro

"Divan", 1979, Oil, plates, bondo on wood, 96 x 96 x 12 inches, Photo by Farzad Owrang, Copyright Julian Schnabel Studio, Courtesy The Brant Foundation // Julian Schnabel on the set of Miral / Photo by Jose Haro

Julian Schnabel, painter and filmmaker, will take the stage at the Michigan Theater this Thursday evening as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series. Originally scheduled to kick off the Fall 2015 season in September, Schnabel’s appearance was rescheduled due to unforeseen circumstances.

Schnabel’s paintings were on display at the University of Michigan Museum of Art from July 5–September 27 of this year. In case you missed it, they were huge. His paintings are made up of unexpected materials–including broken dinner plates and Bondo putty (yes, the automotive body filler)–and took up two galleries, engulfing the walls from floor to ceiling. He is a well-known figure in the Neo-expressionism art movement, but he may be better known for his films. Schnabel wrote and directed the films Basquiat, a biopic on the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat (1996), and Before Night Falls (2000), an adaptation of Reinaldo Arenas' autobiographical novel. He also directed The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) and Miral (2010).

The Patricia Urquiola talk originally scheduled for November 5 will take place as part of the Winter 2016 Penny Stamps Speaker Series, to be announced later this month. The Penny Stamps Speaker Series brings innovators from a broad spectrum of fields to Ann Arbor to conduct a public lecture and engage with students, faculty, and the larger University and Ann Arbor communities, and they are a great way to spend a Thursday evening.


Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and once owned a car that was 57% Bondo.


Julian Schnabel's appearance is Thursday, November 5, 2015. The Penny Stamps Speaker Series takes place Thursdays at 5:10 pm at the Michigan Theater, located at 603 E. Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor, and all events are free of charge and open to the public. The entire lineup can be seen at the Penny Stamps site.

Preview: Grease, Pioneer High School's Theatre Guild

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Summer nights come this November in Pioneer High School Theatre Guild's production of Grease

Summer nights come this November in Pioneer High School Theatre Guild's production of Grease / Myra Klarman Photography

“Grease is the word,” sang Barry Gibb nearly 40 years ago. It was 1978 and John Travolta had just discoed his way to superstardom in Saturday Night Fever. This time he’d spark some summer lovin’ and help spin the 1971 stage musical Grease into a cult film and a staple for high school musical theater programs across the county.

This weekend Pioneer High School’s Theatre Guild offers its take on Rydell High’s class of 1959, with direction by Matthew Kunkel, University of Michigan Directing Major.

The story centers on Danny Zuko, a too-cool-for-school hot-rodder who reluctantly crosses clique lines and kills it at the high school dance for his sweetheart, Sandy Dumbrowski, who in turn is negotiating her own way among the bad girls. At its core are the timeless high school high jinks and teen angst that make Grease the perfect high school musical.

Peer pressure played out by duck-tailed T-birds and gum-smacking Pink Ladies? What’s not to like?


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


Grease opens Friday, November 7, at 8:30 pm and runs through Sunday, November 15, at 2 pm. Tickets are $10 (students, Seniors 65+, and PHS staff) and $15 adults. For more information, visit Pioneer Theatre Guild's webpage.

Preview: The Avett Brothers

PREVIEW MUSIC

The Avett Brothers bring their banjos to Hill Auditorium November 6th

The Avett Brothers bring their banjos to Hill Auditorium November 6th

Southern band The Avett Brothers will play Hill Auditorium on November 6th. I stumbled into The Avett Brothers purely by accident: I bought their album Emotionalism solely based on the cover art, which was printed with silver ink (what can I say? I have simple, glittery tastes). Luckily for me, I actually liked the music in addition to the sparkle. The Avett Brothers play folk rock with a bluegrass twist, which translates to plenty of banjos AND indie rock lyrics.

Between the band’s experience (they’ve been playing together since 2000) and the fantastic Hill Auditorium acoustics, this show is sure to be wonderful.


Evelyn Hollenshead is a Youth Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


The Avett Brothers play Hill Auditorium this Friday, November 6, at 7 pm. Purchase tickets online or in person at the Michigan Union Ticket Office.

Music Preview: The Ragbirds Halloween Masquerade with Rhyta Musik

REVIEW PREVIEW MUSIC

The Ragbirds bring their folk/indie rock concert/party to The Ark October 30

The Ragbirds bring their folk/indie rock concert/party to The Ark October 30

Still working on your Halloweekend plans? Tonight, the Ark welcomes The Ragbirds back to their hometown stage. The hard-working and hard-touring band is built around Erin Zindle, a musician who is as comfortable singing-while-playing violin as she is wielding an accordion.

This last year, Zindle and crew have been hard at work on their fifth studio record with Grammy-nominated producer Jamie Candiloro (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Willie Nelson), and this show gives fans a chance to hear much of that material prior to its 2016 release.

The Ragbirds often go all-out to celebrate this spooky holiday, and accordingly, this year’s performance goes beyond just a “show” — it’s a full-on masquerade, for the band and fans.

Rhyta Musik kicks off the revelry with their very own bombastic, vibrant take on traditional Eastern European folk melodies, already a hit around Ann Arbor at this last year's Water Hill Music Fest.

Come already decked out, or arrive early — there will be a special souvenir masquerade mask for the first 250 people.


Mariah Cherem is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


The Ragbirds' Halloween Masquerade with Rhyta Musik will be held tonight, Friday, October 30, at the Ark. Doors open at 7:30 pm, show starts at 8 pm. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online in advance until 3pm or at the Ark Box office.

No Guts, No Story: The Moth's Monthly Ann Arbor StorySLAM

REVIEW PREVIEW WRITTEN WORD

StorySLAM happens mo(n)thly at Circus

StorySLAM happens mo(n)thly at Circus

Every month crowds gather at Circus for The Moth StorySLAM, Ann Arbor's live, local version of the hugely popular NPR radio show The Moth Radio Hour. Just like the show, Ann Arbor's StorySLAM features true, personal stories told by people of all ages, backgrounds, and storytelling skill-levels--as long as they've got the guts to get up on stage and tell.

At this past Tuesday’s Ann Arbor StorySLAM, storytellers had to bring twice the guts--because “Guts” was also this month's theme. Satori Shakoor, creator, producer, and host of The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, was StorySLAM's enthusiastic host, welcoming storytellers to the stage and reading brief “times I chickened out” anecdotes submitted by the audience in between stories. Storytellers displayed a wide range of abilities as they shared a diversity of "gutsy" stories. Opener Karin Lindstrom told a dramatic tale of having to kill a beloved horse, while eventual winner Lauren Trimble shared a tearful story of having to identify the body of her dead brother. Other storytellers interpreted “guts” more literally; KT Doud told a story of offending international hosts by refusing to eat intestine soup… and then accidentally furthering the offense with too many tequila shots.

Circus makes a great venue for the event, with its raised stage and combination of tables, chairs, and standing room. It’s fun to see the different abilities of the storytellers and their individual interpretations of each monthly theme. For those who don't faint dead away at the thought of public speaking, it's actually pretty easy to join in on one of these StorySLAMs. Those who wish to tell a story submit their name and 10 random storytellers are chosen to share their 5-minute story with the crowd and with a panel of judges. The StorySLAM winner continues on to compete in a larger GrandSLAM, a storytelling event with winners from StorySLAMs around the country.


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


Ann Arbor's StorySLAM is sponsored by Michigan Radio and is held on the third Tuesday of every month at Circus. The event will be back on November 17, with the theme “Gifted,” and on December 15, with the theme “Joy.” Tickets are $9 each for nonparticipants, and you can buy them online in advance or at the door. For more information and Detroit dates, visit the Moth events website.

Preview: Titus Andronicus, Huron Players, Huron High School

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Blood and gore come to the Huron High School's Little Theater in Titus Andronicus

Blood and gore come to the Huron High School's Little Theater in Titus Andronicus

“Oft have I digg'd up dead men from their graves, And set them upright at their dear friends' door….”

Just in time for Halloween (and running the following weekend), Ann Arbor High School’s Huron Players bring you Shakespeare’s most disturbing tragedy, Titus Andronicus.

In this blood-soaked drama -- one of Shakespeare’s earliest, written sometime between 1588 and 1593 -- Saturninus and Bassianus are vying for the title of Caesar when Titus returns victorious from war with the Goths. Titus is offered the emperorship, but instead confers the title on Saturninus, thereby setting in motion a revenge so shockingly graphic the play wasn’t performed for centuries. Let’s just say that in addition to the considerable bloodshed, Titus cornered the meat-pie market a good 400 years before Sweeney Todd.


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


Titus Andronicus starts Friday, October 30, 7:30 pm, with additional performances Sunday, November 1, at 2:00 pm, Friday, November 6, and Saturday, November 7, at 7:30 pm in Huron High School's Little Theater. General admission: $8, students and staff $6. Additional information available on the Huron Players website.

Preview: a unique americana duo comes to Old Town Sunday night

PREVIEW MUSIC

Jay Lapp & Kyle Rhodes bring mandolin power to the Old Town Tavern this Sunday

Jay Lapp & Kyle Rhodes bring mandolin power to the Old Town Tavern this Sunday / Photo of Jay Lapp by Ted Lehmann

Sunday evening live music at the Old Town Tavern is a long-time staple for many locals. This Sunday’s show should be particularly rousing. Guitarist and singer Kyle Rhodes, from the local band Wire in the Wood is teaming up with Jay Lapp, frontman of the Virginia bluegrass band Steel Wheels to form an Americana duo playing a fusion of bluegrass, jazz, and indie rock. Mandolin fans in particular won't want to miss this show: both Rhodes and Lapp are accomplished mandolin players and we can expect the instrument to feature prominently in Sunday's show, too.

Wire in the Wood, first formed in 2008, also features Billy Kirst, Jordan Adema, and Ryan Shea. Formerly known as The Bearded Ladies, the band got their start when Kirst put an ad on craigslist seeking bandmates for the “Best String Band Ever.” Rhodes was the only one who answered the ad, and Wire in the Wood was born. The band frequently plays at the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti.

The Steel Wheels is also comprised of four young musicians who first met when they were in school at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. The four band members—Lapp, Trent Wagler, Brian Dickel, and Eric Brubaker—were all raised in Mennonite families. The band played informally together throughout the late aughts, while also working day jobs and starting families, and released an LP in 2007. In 2010, they finally came together as The Steel Wheels, and have been releasing albums ever since, including their most recent one Leave Some Things Behind, which came out this past May. The band puts on the Red Wing Roots Music Festival every year in Virginia. 2015 was the third year of the festival.


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


Jay Lapp & Kyle Rhodes will begin their set at Old Town at 8:00 pm this Sunday, October 25. Old Town features live music every Sunday, from artists of all types, as well as live jazz music on Tuesday evenings. You can find out more about upcoming shows and performers here.