Cinetopia 2015 {Detroit + Ann Arbor}: thoughts and mini-reviews

*Disclosure: I received a media pass to attend the Cinetopia film festival. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

At last year's Cinetopia festival, my first time attending, I saw 12 films. This year, the festival was week-long rather than just over a weekend, and I saw sixteen - 12 of them in Ann Arbor, 3 in Detroit, and 1 at the Maple Theater (metro Detroit area).

Last year I wrote a whopping NINE posts about the fest, including a pre-fest write-up and a few reviews; however, that's a lot, and considering I work FT and also run my book blog, I'm going to try and condense it to just this one post this year.

*To see all 16 of the films I saw and a synopsis of each, click here to see my LETTERBOXD list.

Cinetopia 2015 - MINI-REVIEWS

Saturday, June 6th: Detroit day
  • Macaroni and Cheese
    French film that reminded me of Sex and the City, though it wasn't as good. Ironically, it was about these women that went to a film festival (one of them was a filmmaker) and their hookups and crushes from it. 2.5 out of 5 stars
  • Set Fire to the Stars
    I had been looking forward to this one because Elijah Wood was in it, and it was black and white. I may have taken a short nap during it ... it moved VERY slowly. The premise is that Wood is escorting an esteemed poet around his tour to different colleges and cities, but the poet (Dylan Thomas, who is actually a real person) was a drunk and not very reliable.
    2 out of 5                                      {Find it here - comes to Blu-ray on 7/21/15}
  • The Summer of Sangaile
    This was in Romanian with English subtitles, and is my winner of that Saturday, as it was an interesting story that hasn't been done before. A girl wants to fly / be a pilot, but has vertigo and therefore has issues going up in planes. She meets a girl who encourages her to pursue her dreams, and they embark on sort of a "sexual awakening" relationship that summer as well. The director did a Q&A via Skype after the film as well, from Tel Aviv, which was fun. 
    3.5 out of 5.
The Summer of Sangaile

Tuesday, June 9th: Maple Theater
  • The Cut
    This film wasn't originally on my docket to see, but I unexpectedly ended up with free time that day so I saw it ... and I'm very glad I did, as it was fantastic. It managed to hold my attention for its 138 minute runtime, even though it's mostly in Turkish with English subtitles, and it was about a man who is separated from his family during the Armenian genocide (time period was circa 1915-1925) and tries to find his twin daughters after the war ends. 4.5 out of 5.

The Cut
Friday, June 12th: Ann Arbor
  • Miss and the Doctors
    French film that had both doctors declaring their love for the "miss" (the mother of a young patient of theirs) rather quickly. A rom-com of sorts, but not that funny. 3 out of 5.
                                                           {Find it here}
  • In Her Place
    This movie surprisingly ended up being one of my favorites of the fest, and it was in Korean with subtitles. The film slowly unfolds before us, with gorgeous cinematography, and it's about a woman who lost her baby, doesn't tell her friends, and moves in with a pregnant teen and her mom; the woman will adopt the baby after the teen gives birth. The teen definitely has some mental issues, though, and there's one scene near the end that's hard to watch. We had a short Q&A with the director after, and he's from Toronto (In Her Place was originally shown at TIFF) but the film was shot in Korea. 4.5 out of 5.
  • Beside Still Waters
    I wanted to see this film because Ryan Eggold (The Blacklist) is in it. It reminded me a bit of The Romantics, and it starts out a bit awkward at first. The cast has an American Pie-like chemistry as well. Fun fact: one of the producers is Jason Potash, who is a Michigander who I went to high school with. 3.5 out of 5.
                                   {Find it here on DVD, or rent it here from Amazon}
In Her Place

Saturday, June 13th: Ann Arbor
  • Crescendo: The Power of Music
    Documentary about inner city kids who start to turn their lives around once they're given an instrument to learn. I almost didn't see this one but I'm very glad I did, as it was great, and it made me want to pick up my violin again too. The movie focuses on a few of the students and the school's program is based on Venezuela's El Sistema program. 4 out of 5. 
  • The Keeping Room 
    Another of my favorite at the fest, despite its abrupt ending; it grabs your attention from the beginning. The fantastic cast (Sam Worthington, Hailee Steinfeld, Brit Marling, and Muna Otaru) makes it worth watching. The cinematography here is also great. 4 stars out of 5.
  • The Snow White Murder Case
    I didn't like this one that much while I was watching it, because it's very slow, yet it has stuck in my head since then. I did like that the movie showed tweets in "real time" on-screen (good use of technology) although this was a bit overused, and the fake "news" broadcasts the film also showed were (inadverntently?) funny. 3.5 out of 5.
                                                     {Find it here on Blu-ray}
  • Best of Enemies.
    There's always one or two Cinetopia films that I didn't originally have in my calendar, but due to circumstances or (in this case) a longer dinner I end up seeing, and this one was one them. During the Nixon presidential race in 1968, ABC aired debates between William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal, an author also interested in politics. The two of them had polar opposite opinions, and this movie mostly used old footage from the debates. I had never even heard of these debates going in but the movie was well put-together; the Hollywood Reporter has a great review of it here3 out of 5.
  • Slow West
    This was one of my more anticipated movies, because of Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee, and it was good but a bit different than how I expected it to be. It's very slow, but has great acting and some sly humor throughout too. 3.5 out of 5.
                                     {Buy it here on Blu-ray or rent it here on Amazon}
Best of Enemies
Sunday, June 14th: Ann Arbor
  • East Side Sushi
    This ended up being my favorite movie at the festival, and it definitely reminded me of Chef, but with a Spanish girl and sushi rather than white Americans and Spanish food. It had everything I wanted out of a film: dramatic scenes, comedy (both apparent and tongue-in-cheek); great acting; and touching moments too. There's even a Top Chef-esque competition near the end of the movie. This film actually doesn't even have distribution yet, so I hope it gets it soon. 5 out of 5.
  • Imperial Dreams
    I thought this was going to be a bit like last year's Rich Hill, but that was a documentary and this was fiction. Slow movie but good acting, and sad to see the story of a young man and his son living out of their car after he gets out of jail. 3 out of 5.
  • Pale Moon
    The trailer for this one looked great, but unfortunately, at 126 minutes long, it felt a lot longer. The movie is based on a bestselling Japanese book, and the plot was interesting, but lags a lot. 3.5 out of 5.
  • Mistress America
    This was my last movie of the fest, and is Noah Baumbach's newest; it will premiere in late August at U.S. cinemas. Greta Gerwig plays a sort of mentor-ish character to Tracy, her new "sister," as their parents are getting married. I found Gerwig's character to be a bit annoying, but I may be in the minority on that; I also didn't laugh that much during it but I liked the main character (Tracy, a college student) and the plot of the film overall, as well as the ending. The film almost felt like a stage play to me, too. 3 out of 5.
East Side Sushi
Best of the Fest:
East Side Sushi (5/5 stars)
The Keeping Room (4/5 stars)
In Her Place (4.5/5).
Runner-ups: Crescendo: The Power of Music, and The Cut.

Least Favorite of the Fest:
(*doesn't mean these films completely lack merit - just means I either found them too slow or not enjoyable.)

Set Fire to the Stars (2/5 - which really surprised me since Elijah Wood is in it and I like him)
Macaroni and Cheese (2.5/5 - I wanted it to be more Sex and the City-ish than it actually was)

Most Surprising of the Fest:
In Her Place (I considered it a 'random' movie on my schedule and it ended up being one of my favorites)
East Side Sushi (ditto)
The Snow White Murder Case (very unique movie)
The Summer of Sangaile (much better than I thought it would be)
The Cut (was fantastic and I almost didn't see it).

Tips on attending a film festival:
  1. Plan out your schedule beforehand, and make sure you know how much time is between each movie. We originally planned to see Beside Still Waters in Detroit on the first day (6/6), but lunch took longer than expected. Luckily, it was playing in Ann Arbor this weekend so we caught up with it later. 
  2. Look on the festival's website and see how much a festival/movie pass is vs. individual tickets, and how many movies you want to see. At Cinetopia this year, you could buy a pass for 1 movie for $12 ($9 for Michigan Theater members), but if you plan on seeing 4+ movies, those fees could start to add up. I believe a "movie pass" (allows you in to any movie at the fest) was $90 and a "festival pass" (allows you access to special parties before/after movies) was $150. 
  3. Find some places to eat lunch or dinner between films - if you don't know the area, look on Google Maps or Yelp beforehand. I'm well acquainted with Ann Arbor, since I went to college there, but didn't know much about Detroit, so I looked around on Yelp before seeing movies there that day.
  4. Have fun, and don't overschedule yourself - this past Saturday, I saw five movies, which was a bit much. On Sunday, I saw 4 movies, with at least an hour break between each, and that was much more tolerable for myself.

Have you ever been to a film festival? Why or why not?

Popular Posts

Review: Polar Pizza at Baskin-Robbins

Upcoming and GIVEAWAY: Mamma Mia! at the Fisher Theatre, Detroit, April 23-28 {ends Dec. 12}

GIVEAWAY: Duel in the D, February 10 at Little Caesars Arena, Detroit {ends 1/10}