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Cinema Chat: Michigan Theater Anniversary, 2016 Highlights, 'Hidden Figures,' 'Underworld,' And More

Michigan Theater
Wikipedia Media Commons

The Michigan Theater marks 89 years today, so let's celebrate with a good flick.  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's Patrick Campion talks to Michigan Theater executive director Russ Collins about the movie business and all of the films coming to the big screen this weekend.

Happy Birthday, Michigan Theater!

Today, the Michigan Theater begins is 90th year of operations.  On January 5, 1928 - 89 years ago today - the Michigan Theater first opened its doors.  Detroit architect Maurice Finkeldesigned a dream theater, calling it “a Shrine to Art. . . not built for today only, but constructed in the hopes that it might be a monument for years to come, and a credit to the community even when the city is many times its present size.”  Happy Birthday, Michigan Theater! 

BEST FILMS OF 2016????

“La La Land”

“Manchester by the Sea”







“20th Century Women”

“The Edge of Seventeen”


“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

“Hell or High Water”

“Nocturnal Animals”


“Florence Foster Jenkins”


“Sing Street”

“Captain Fantastic”- CINETOPIA

“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” - CINETOPIA

“Hello, My Name is Doris”

“Eye In The Sky”

“Miles Ahead”

“Operator”- CINETOPIA

“The Man Who Knew Infinity”

“Love and Friendship”


“Café Society”



“Swiss Army Man”

“American Honey”

“Wiener Dog”

“The Lobster”


“A Man Called Ove”

“The Innocents” (called "Agnus Dei" when I saw it at Sundance)

“The Handmaiden”


“The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years”

“Eat that Question – Frank Zappa In His Own Words”

“Gimme Danger”

“Suited” - CINETOPIA

“Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” - CINETOPIA

“Landfill Harmonic” - CINETOPIA

“The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble”

“Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World”– CINETOPIA

Continuing Downtown

"La La Land"

Written and directed by Academy Award-nominee Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), this film tells the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts. Set in modern day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams.  Christopher Orr of The Atlantic writes, “Chazelle has reinvigorated the big-screen musical by embracing the present while paying tribute to the past, by balancing irony and innocence, novelty and nostalgia.”  Lyrics for the film’s musical numbers were written by UM grads BenjPasek and Justin Paul.  “La La Land” is nominated for seven Golden Globes including Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director, and Best Comedy/Musical.

Benj Pasek & Justin Paul – LA LA LAND’s Song Writers Products of U of M Musical Theater program

“La La Land,” the hit modern movie musical, is playing in the grand auditorium of the Michigan Theater.  BenjPasek and Justin Paul, University of Michigan graduates, snagged a Golden Globe nomination (shared with composer Justin Hurwitz) for "City of Stars," the melancholy ballad sung by Ryan Gosling in the film. Their acclaimed Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen” opened four weeks ago in New York.  The close timing of "Dear Evan Hansen" and "La La Land" wasn't planned. Their writing for the "La La Land" project began a couple of years ago. They were chosen for the job by composer Justin Hurwitz and the film's director and writer Damien Chazelle, who were college friends at Harvard.  "All four of us were all 31 years old, so we have really similar sensibilities.  Pasek and Paul started writing together at U-M: Pasek, who's from Pennsylvania, and Paul, who grew up in Connecticut, can't say enough good things about the venerable U-M Musical Theatre Department, which they credit with being a big influence on their craft.  Says Pasek, "We feel like we went to the Hogwarts Academy of musical theater, a very magical place.” 

Manhola Dargis of NY TIMES and (Ann Arbor’s own) Owen Glieberman of VARIETY say LA LA LAND is even better viewed a second time!!

Manhola Dargis — The first time I watched Damien Chazelle’s musical, “La La Land,” I thought a lot about how it worked, about its form, his craft and how the lickable candy-colored costumes bring to mind both M&M’s and Jacques Demy.  I thought about how Mr. Chazelle and his stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, fit into the history of the film musical.  When I went to see “La La Land” again, I was in a terrible state, and this time I just fell into it, gratefully. I surrendered.  Afterward, I realized that this must have been what it was like to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers during the Great Depression.

Owen Gleiberman -- I liked “La La Land” a lot the first time I saw it, but I confess that I didn’t fall head over tap shoes in love with it until I’d seen it a second time.  That’s just the way it happens with certain movies; even a great one can kick in more fully on the second date.  Here are a few thoughts as to why Damien Chazelle’s film, for all the spangly seduction of its surface, is a movie whose very rapture is elusive and off-center.  (Once you’ve hooked into it, though, the rapture seems more heightened because of its off-centeredness.) “La La Land” isn’t just a stylized nostalgia trip of champagne montages and harmonizing hearts. It’s a filmmaking trifecta — it hooks the heart, the eye, and the mind. And once it snags you, it keeps getting better.

"Manchester by the Sea"

After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him sole guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for Patrick, and is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised.  “Manchester by the Sea” is nominated for five Golden Globes, including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Picture. 


This is a searing and intimate portrait of one of the most important and tragic moments in American history, seen through the eyes of the iconic First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman).  The film places us in her world during the days immediately following her husband's assassination.  Known for her extraordinary dignity and poise, here we see a psychological portrait of the First Lady as she struggles to maintain her husband's legacy and the world of "Camelot" that they created and loved so well.  Also starring Peter SarsgaardGreta Gerwig, and Billy Crudup.

Opening at the Multiplex

"Hidden Figures"

The incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) - brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation's confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world.  The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.  Nominated for two Golden Globes, “Hidden Figures” opens Friday.  92% positive reviews -- Critics Consensus: In heartwarming, crowd-pleasing fashion, Hidden Figures celebrates overlooked -- and crucial -- contributions from a pivotal moment in American history.

"A Monster Calls"

12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall), dealing with his mother's (Felicity Jones) illness, a less-than-sympathetic grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and bullying classmates, finds a most unlikely ally when a Monster appears at his bedroom window. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth.  “A Monster Calls” opens Friday.  89% positive reviews -- Critics Consensus: A Monster Calls deftly balances dark themes and fantastical elements to deliver an engrossing and uncommonly moving entry in the crowded coming-of-age genre.

"Underworld: Blood Wars"

The next installment in the blood-soaked franchise follows Vampire death dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) as she fends off brutal attacks from both the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her.  With her only allies, David (Theo James) and his father Thomas (Charles Dance), she must stop the eternal war between Lycans and Vampires, even if it means she has to make the ultimate sacrifice.  “Underworld: Blood Wars” opens Friday.  10% positive reviews -- There's something half-formed about the Blood Wars narrative. This is reflected in the CGI, elements of which are surprisingly crude. -- Vicky Roach, Daily Telegraph (Australia)

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— Patrick Campion is the WEMU Program Director.  You can contact Patrick at734.487.3363, on twitter @WEMUPC, or email him at pcampion@emich.edu.

Russ Collins is the executive director of Marquee Arts, the nonprofit that oversees the Michigan Theater and State Theater in Ann Arbor.
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