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Cinema Chat: The Oscars, Traverse City Film Festival, Elysium, We're the Millers and More

The Michigan Theater

In this week's installment of "Cinema Chat" WEMU's David Fair and Michigan Theater Executive Director Russ Collins explore a lot of the movies available to you this weekend. 

But, the conversation began with talk of movie awards, specifically, The Oscars and those generated at the Traverse City Film Festival.

Opening at the Multiplex

In “Elysium” it’s the year 2154, and two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. The people of Earth are desperate to escape the planet's crime and poverty, and they critically need the state-of-the-art medical care available on Elysium - but some in Elysium will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve their citizens' luxurious lifestyle. The only man with the chance to bring equality to these worlds is Max (Matt Damon), an ordinary guy. With his life hanging in the balance, he reluctantly takes on a dangerous mission - one that pits him against Elysium's Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) - but if he succeeds, he could save not only his own life, but millions of people on Earth as well. Anthony Lane of the New Yorker says, “It hits you as fact; the director's fiercest gift is not to invent the future, as a plausible dream, but to report on it as if it already existed.” “Elysium” opens today.

After the heady sci-fi thrills of District 9, Elysium is a bit of a comedown for director Neill Blomkamp, but on its own terms, it delivers just often enough to satisfy.

Claudia Puig, USA Today -- Elysium is a sporadically engaging tale, as well as a potent commentary on immigration and health care policies.

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly -- Elysium confirms the talent - for razory mayhem and shocking satire, for the crazed spectacle of future decay - that Blomkamp showcased in his amazing first feature, District 9.

“Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” continues the saga of Percy Jackson, the son of Poseidon, as he tries to fulfill his destiny. He teams with his demigod friends to retrieve the Golden Fleece, which has the power to save their home and training ground, Camp Half-Blood. Tom Russo of the Boston Globe says, “The mythology-rooted ‘Percy Jackson & the Olympians' franchise is fairly engaging stuff, unabashed ‘Harry Potter’ knockoff or no.” “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” opened yesterday.

Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle -- There are plenty of bad films to get riled up about in the summer. "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" isn't one of them. This is harmless tween-centric fun.

Bruce Ingram, Chicago Sun-Times -- You might think it would be endlessly awesome being the offspring of an Olympian god, but it seems like kind of a drag, really, for young Percy Jackson.

In “We’re The Millers” David (Jason Sudeikis) is a small-time pot dealer whose clientele includes chefs and soccer moms, but no kids; after all, he has his scruples. So what could go wrong?  Plenty. Preferring to keep a low profile, he learns the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished when he tries to help out some local teens and winds up getting jumped. With no stash and no cash, David’s left in major debt to his supplier, Brad (Ed Helms). In order to wipe the slate clean, David must now become a big-time drug smuggler by bringing Brad's latest shipment in from Mexico, with the assistance of a fake wife (Jennifer Aniston), two fake kids and a huge RV. “We’re The Millers” opened Tuesday.

Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly -- While Aniston shows that she's as deft on a stripper pole as she is with her sitcom-honed timing, Sudeikis wields his smart-ass sarcasm like a barbed weapon. And more often than not, it kills.

A.O. Scott, New York Times -- What really drives the movie is its own search for something to make fun of, and for a comic style that can feel credibly naughty while remaining ultimately safe and affirmative.

Opening Downtown

“Unfinished Song” is a funny and inspiring story about Arthur (Terence Stamp), a curmudgeonly old soul, who is perfectly content sticking with his dull daily routine until his beloved wife (Vanessa Redgrave) introduces him to a local seniors singing group. The group is led by the youthful and charming Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton) and her unexpected friendship with Arthur reignites his passion for new adventures and shows us all life should be celebrated at any age. Rick Groen of the Globe and Mail says, “Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp and those voices - their solos contain this picture like carved book-ends, vintage and lovely and still so profoundly of use.” “Unfinished Song” opens Friday at the Michigan Theater.

It's unabashedly sentimental, but thanks to reliably powerful performances from a well-rounded veteran cast, Unfinished Song proves a sweetly compelling character piece.

Stephen Holden, New York Times -- It may be hokum, but it gets to you.

Claudia Puig, USA Today -- The movie works mostly because of the artistry of its stellar cast and heartfelt script by writer-director Paul Andrew Williams.

“Lovelace” begins in 1972 - before the internet, before the porn explosion - and follows how “Deep Throat” became a phenomenon: the first scripted pornographic theatrical feature film, featuring a story, some jokes, and an unknown and unlikely star.  Linda Lovelace became an international sensation, less centerfold fantasy than a charming girl-next-door. Fully inhabiting her new identity, Linda became an enthusiastic spokesperson for sexual freedom and uninhibited hedonism. Six years later she presented another, utterly contradictory, far darker narrative to the world. Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter says, “Smartly done account of the trials and tribulations of the first porn star.” “Lovelace” opens Friday at the State Theatre.

Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly -- While Aniston shows that she's as deft on a stripper pole as she is with her sitcom-honed timing, Sudeikis wields his smart-ass sarcasm like a barbed weapon. And more often than not, it kills.

A.O. Scott, New York Times -- What really drives the movie is its own search for something to make fun of, and for a comic style that can feel credibly naughty while remaining ultimately safe and affirmative.


Fill the Void -- Encore Cinetopia International Film Festival Screening! Fill the Void tells the story of an Orthodox Hassidic family from Tel Aviv. Eighteen-year-old Shira is the youngest daughter of the family. She is about to be married off to a promising young man of the same age and background. It is a dream come true, and Shira feels prepared and excited. On Purim, her 28-year-old sister, Esther, dies while giving birth to her first child which creates a complex set of decisions for this family oriented situation.

The Way, Way Back -- A funny and poignant coming of age story of 14-year-old Duncan’s (Liam James) summer vacation with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). Having a rough time fitting in, the introverted Duncan finds an unexpected friend in gregarious Owen (Sam Rockwell), manager of the Water Wizz water park. Through his funny, clandestine friendship with Owen, Duncan slowly opens up to and begins to finally find his place in the world

20 Feet From Stardom -- Cinetopia International Film Festival Audience Award winner. Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names. This compelling new film shines a spotlight on the untold true story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. Triumphant and heartbreaking in equal measure, the film is both a tribute to the unsung voices who brought shape and style to popular music and a reflection on the conflicts, sacrifices and rewards of a career spent harmonizing with others.

Special Screenings Downtown

“The Kiss,” Greta Garbo’s final silent film of her career and the final silent film MGM made, is a stunner.  Garbo stars as Irene, a young woman whose unhappy marriage to an older man leads her into the arms André (Conrad Nagel). Unable to continue this illicit affair, they stop seeing each other, driving Irene into the arms of Pierre (Lew Ayres), the son of her husband's business associate. As Pierre leaves for college, he begs her for one last kiss, a kiss that will change her life. Presented with live organ accompaniment by Andrew Rogers on the Barton Theatre Pipe Organ! “The Kiss” plays Sunday, August 11 at 1:30 PM and Tuesday, August 13 at 7:00 PM.

“Willow” comes from legendary filmmakers George Lucas and Ron Howard. It is a timeless fantasy tale about the young Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) who must team up with a rogue swordsman (Val Kilmer) and overcome the forces of darkness in the ultimate battle of good versus evil! “Willow” plays as part of Summer Classics After Dark on Thursday, August 15 at 10 PM.

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