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Cinema Chat: Ann Arbor Film Festival, 'Toni Erdmann,' 'Casablanca,' 'Kong: Skull Island,' And More

Michigan Theater
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In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair talks to Michigan Theater executive director Russ Collins about the movie business and all of the flicks coming to the big screen this weekend.  Plus, special guest Leslie Raymond offers a preview of the 2017 Ann Arbor Film Festival!

Ann Arbor Film Festival - March 21-26

In its 55th year, The Ann Arbor Film Festival is the oldest avant-garde and experimental film festival in North America, founded by George Manupelli in 1963.  Internationally recognized as a premiere forum for independent filmmakers and artists, each year's festival engages audiences with remarkable cinematic experiences.  The six-day festival presents 40 programs with more than 180 films from over 20 countries of all lengths and genres, including experimental, animation, documentary, fiction, and performance-based works.

Opening Downtown

"Toni Erdmann"

Nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Winfried doesn't see much of his working daughter Ines, so he decides to surprise her with a visit.  It's an awkward move because serious career woman Ines is working on an important project as a corporate strategist in Bucharest.  The geographical change doesn't help the two to see more eye to eye.  Practical joker Winfried loves to annoy his daughter with corny pranks.  What's worse are his little jabs at her routine lifestyle of long meetings, hotel bars and performance reports.  Father and daughter reach an impasse, and Winfried agrees to return home to Germany.  Enter flashy "Toni Erdmann," Winfried's smooth-talking alter ego.  Disguised in a tacky suit, weird wig and even weirder fake teeth, Toni barges into Ines' professional life, claiming to be her CEO's life coach.  As Toni, Winfried is bolder and doesn't hold back, but Ines meets the challenge.  In all the madness, Ines begins to understand that her eccentric father might deserve some place in her life after all.  “Toni Erdmann” opens Friday.

Continuing Downtown

"The Salesman"

Winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, this film follows Emad and Rana, a young couple living in Tehran who are forced to move into a new apartment when their old flat becomes damaged.  However, once relocated, a sudden eruption of violence linked to the previous tenant of their new home dramatically changes the couple’s life, creating a simmering tension between husband and wife.  A.O. Scott of the New York Times writes, “With exquisite patience and attention to detail, Asghar Farhadi, the writer and director, builds a solid and suspenseful plot out of ordinary incidents, and packs it with rich and resonant ideas.”

"A United Kingdom"

This film is based on extraordinary true events.  In 1947, Seretse Khama, the King of Botswana (David Oyelowo), met Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a London office worker.  They were a perfect match, yet their proposed marriage was challenged not only by their families, but by the British and South African governments.  The latter had recently introduced the policy of apartheid and found the notion of a biracial couple ruling a neighboring country intolerable.  South Africa threatened the British: either thwart the couple or be denied access to South African uranium and gold and face the risk of South Africa invading Botswana. 

"I Am Not Your Negro"

In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House.  The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends - Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.  At the time of Baldwin's death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript.  Now, in his incendiary new documentary, master filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished.  The result is a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin's original words and flood of rich archival material.  "I Am Not Your Negro" is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter.  It is a film that questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond.  And, ultimately, by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassination of these three leaders, Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges the very definition of what America stands for.

Special Screenings Downtown

"Right Now, Wrong Then"

A film director arrives in town a day early quite by accident.  With time to kill before his lecture the next day, he stops by a restored, old palace and meets a fledgling artist.  She’s never seen any of his films, but knows he’s famous. They talk. And together, they go to her workshop to look at her paintings.  More conversation follows, and drinks, and then an awkward get-together with friends where all sorts of secrets are revealed.  Then, quite unexpectedly, we begin again, but now things appear somewhat different.  “Right Now, Wrong Then” plays Saturday, March 11 at 1 PM.  Part of the Korean Cinema NOW series presented by the UM Nam Center for Korean Studies.  Admission is free!

"Ichi the Killer"

Love is painful and NOT for the faint of heart.  Warring yakuza clans pit crime bosses against one another through deception and rumor.  At the center of it all is the homicidal, unhinged Ichi.  Warped by the rival gangs and their desire for ultimate power, Ichi is seduced by their psychological manipulation that catapults him into an enraged spree of pop art assassinations, in search for redemption and answers for his life.  This sensationalist turn at gangster noir offers a unique vantage point from the new millennium. 

       ·         The World of Kanako – Monday, March 20 at 7:00 PM – End of series


March 2017 marks the 75th Anniversary of the State Theatre’s opening in 1942.  In honor of this momentous event, we’re screening the most iconic film from the same year - “Casablanca!”  One of the most beloved American films, this captivating wartime adventure of romance and intrigue from director Michael Curtiz defies standard categorization.  Simply put, it is the story of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a world-weary ex-freedom fighter who runs a nightclub in Casablanca during the early part of WWII.  Despite pressure from the local authorities, Rick’s cafe has become a haven for refugees looking to purchase illicit letters of transit which will allow them to escape to America.  One day, to Rick’s great surprise, he is approached by the famed rebel Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and his wife, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), Rick’s true love who deserted him when the Nazis invaded Paris.  “Casablanca” plays Friday, March 10 at 7 PM at the Michigan Theater.  Free cupcakes for the first 200 guests through the door!

Cinema Revolution: An Art House Retrospective

Classic films are a joy to watch on the big screen!  This spring, March 27-May 30, Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater will celebrate classics film that capture the spirit of cinematic revolution.  A revolution that disrupted the Hollywood Studio system, created contemporary foreign film culture in the USA, and brought to light visionary American directors and new generations of brilliant cinematic voices.

Ira Deutchman, indie film icon, is a co-curator of the series and will be the subject of the University of Michigan’s summer cinema symposium held during the Cinetopia Festival – June 1-11.


3/27 - 7:00 – Breathless (1960 – French New Wave Art House classic)

4/3 - 7:00 – Fellini’s Satyricon(1969 – Italian Art House classic)

4/10 - 7:00 – Putney Swope (1969 – seminal American underground film)


4/17 - 4:30 – Citizen Kane (1941 – Art cinema icon of Hollywood days)

4/17 - 7:00 – Day For Night (1973 – Nouvelle Vauge’s influences & influence)

4/24 - 7:00 – A Woman Under The Influence (1974 - John Cassavetes, American’s seminal Independent)

5/1 - 7:00 – Harlan County, USA (1976 Barbara Kopple’s documentaries your parents wouldn’t see – but should have!)


5/8 - 7:00 – The Brother from Another Planet(1984 – John Sayles; connection to the Archive – Art House shining moment)

5/15 - 7:00 –A Room with a View (1985 – James Ivory – Ideal Art House shining moment)

5/22 - 7:00 – My Own Private Idaho  (1991 - Gus Van Sant – youth oriented Art House shining moment)

5/29 - 7:00 – The Player (1993 - Robert Altman; Archive connection– Hollywood’s shallow side and Art House shining moment)

Opening at the Multiplex

"Kong: Skull Island"

A diverse team of explorers is brought together to venture deep into an uncharted island in the Pacific - as beautiful as it is treacherous - unaware that they're crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong.  Starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, and John Goodman, "Kong: Skull Island" opens Friday.

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU todayto keep your community NPR station thriving.

— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@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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