Film Reviews: 2024 Cinetopia Film Festival, Ann Arbor

This was technically my 7th time at the Cinetopia Film Festival—I attended it every year from 2014 through 2019, and then of course in summer 2020 it was not held, due to the pandemic. Fast-forward to four years later, and it's now BACK, and will continue until this Sunday, June 23rd. I unfortunately was only able to attend this weekend, due to prior commitments, but I was able to see five films this weekend.

Most people purchase passes for the festival, but you can also purchase individual tickets; see the Cinetopia website for more information.

Janet Planet movie
Janet Planet. All photos courtesy of Cinetopia

Movies I saw this year:

1. Janet Planet. This was a rather slow coming of age film, with probably more of the most-recognizable actresses at the festival—Julianne Nicholson plays the mother in the movie, with a fantastic performance by Zoe Zigler as the daughter. Sophie Okonedo and Will Patton also have supporting roles. Although the movie didn't specify the year, we could tell it was the '90s by a number of reasons, one of which was the Clarissa Explains It All opening music montage, which as a '90s kid myself was funny (we see Zigler's festival watching TV, but we don't see the screen at all). The movie had beautiful scenery, as well, since it was set in Western Massachusetts, which reminded me a bit of my own childhood (we moved from MA to IL when I was 5, and IL to MI when I was 9). 3.5/5 from me, but worth seeing (and you can see it again at the fest TODAY, June 17th, at 7:15pm at the State Theatre)

10 Lives movie

2. 10 Lives. This one was one my favorites out of the five movies I saw, and apparently it's the first time an animated film has been in the festival; it was from the UK, as well. Oddly, Sophie Okonedo was also in this one, obviously as an animated voice (she was in Janet Planet too). I wanted to see this one because I love cats, but the plot ended up surprising me. 4.5/5 stars, and you can see it again on Sat. June 22 at 7:15pm at the State Theatre.

A Two Hearted Tale movie Bells Brewery Kalamazoo

3. A Two Hearted Tale. This was a rather short movie, only about 40 minutes long, and I thought it was going to focus on the history of Bell's Brewery (Kalamazoo). Instead it actually focused on the ARTWORK on the Two Hearted Ale brand. I did think the movie needed a bit more focus, but overall I walked away learning a bit more about the brand and its artwork. 3.5/5 stars, and no more showtimes, unfortunately.

Girls will be girls movie

4. Girls Will Be Girls. I almost didn't see this one—I was debating between this and the Ann Arbor Film Festival short movies, playing at the same time—but I'm very glad I did, as it ties with 10 Lives for me for the best movie I saw at the festival. This was another movie that wasn't what I thought it would be, but it was very good. It focused on a mother-daughter relationship; the daughter was a student that just achieved Head Prefect designation, but she meets a boy at school whom she starts to like. The year is never specified here, either, but I'm thinking it's sometime in the 1980's or '90s, since a Walkman is mentioned. It got a little slow near the end, but I still highly recommend it. 4.5/5 stars, and you can see it again this Thurs., June 20 at 7:15pm at the Michigan Theater.

The Cats of Gokogu Shrine movie

5. The Cats of Gokogu Shrine. I was really looking forward to this one, but unfortunately it was the weakest of the five movies I saw. Gokogu is an ancient Shinto shrine in Ushimado, Japan (the movie was in Japanese with English subtitles). The director, Kazuhiro Soda, also has a UM connection—he was a visiting professor in the Japanese Studies department and director of The Big House, a short film about Michigan Stadium, which is fun. The cats in this movie were very cute, but at 119 minutes, the film seemed bloated; IMO it could have been condensed to a trim 60 minutes or so. 2.25/5 stars, and you can catch it again this Friday, June 21 at 7pm at the State Theatre.

Tuesday movie Julia Louis-Dreyfus

6. Tuesday. This a bonus one—I technically did not see it *at* Cinetopia, but I saw my local AMC John R had it, and I saw it Friday there, since I knew I wouldn't have time during the festival to see it. I thought the premise of this sounded odd, but interesting; "a mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her teenage daughter must confront Death when it arrives in the film of an astonishing talking bird." I was the only one in the theater on Friday (5pm showtime) and unfortunately that didn't surprise me—the movie was a bit too odd for me, and I'd have to give it 1.5/5 stars, despite a great performance from Louis-Dreyfus. If you want to see if you like it, it's playing today, June 17, at 4:45pm at the Michigan Theater.

I wish I could have had more time to get to more Cinetopia movies—in past years, I sometimes saw up to 21 movies (!)—but unfortunately I only had this weekend. In the past, they also utilized theaters in Dearborn, Detroit, and Royal Oak, too, which are a lot closer to me—Ann Arbor ended up being about a one-hour drive on Saturday, but I did get a hotel room for Saturday night, 15 minutes from campus/the theaters, which made my Sunday commute much more palatable.

Have you been to a film festival before? If so, did you see any standout movies?

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