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Cinema Chat: 'The Wife,' 'Madeline's Madeline,' 'The Nun,' And More

Michigan Theater
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It's back-to-school time, but that doesn't mean there's no time to catch a good flick.  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair talks to Michigan and State Theater executive director Russ Collins about the latest movie news and all of the new films coming to the silver screen this weekend.

Welcome to the Telluride Film Festival, Your Oscar Race Crucible

The 45th Telluride Film Festival ended on Labor Day.  Damien Chazelle's (“La La Land”)“First Man” tells the story of the Apollo 11 moon landing, focusing on the career of Neil Armstrong, who is played by Ryan Gosling.  Mr. Chazelle wants to encourage his audience to approach a familiar story with fresh eyes, even with this film being a nostalgic look and the past as the world united to cheer on the man-made miracle of the USA’s late 1960s sojourn to the moon.

The backward-looking tendencies of modern cinema were on striking display in Telluride this year.  This year, visitors to Telluride could travel to Paris in 1961, the scene of Rudolf Nureyev’s defection from the Soviet Union, in Ralph Fiennes’s “The White Crow”; to Mexico City in the 1970s in “Roma,”Alfonso Cuarón’s wondrous recreation of the world of his childhood; to Poland in the ’50s in Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War”; to the mills of Northern England in 1819 in Mike Leigh’s “Peterloo”; and to the court of Queen Anne more than a century before, in Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Favourite.”

In “The Old Man & the Gun,” Robert Redford plays a gentlemanly bank robber plying his trade (and courting Sissy Spacek) in the 1980s.  In “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Melissa McCarthy is a literary forger doing her thing (and bantering with Richard E. Grant) in early-’90s Manhattan.

Even the most overtly present-tense movie — Olivier Assayas’s “Non Fiction,” which doesn’t claim to be based on a true story — had a subtly retrospective ambiance.  The present slides rapidly into the past, and the past offers clues and analogies to the present.  Thus, “The Front Runner,” Jason Reitman’s film about the tabloid sex scandal that torpedoed Gary Hart’s presidential candidacy in 1988, can suggest all kinds of parallels that don’t need spelling out.  And Charles Ferguson’s “Watergate,”a four-hour documentary about that scandal, invites the viewer to muse on analogies and discrepancies and to ponder the possible lessons of its subtitle: “How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President.”

While “Peterloo, ” a period piece by Mike Leigh, is an indictment of the abuse of power, “The Favourite” is a celebration of the power to abuse.  A kinky variation on “All About Eve,” the film, like Mr. Lanthimos’s previous work (“Dogtooth” and “The Lobster” in particular), it stars Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

I’ve saved my own favorite for last: “Roma,” named for the upper-middle-class Mexico City neighborhood where director Alfonse Cuarón grew up. From the raw material of memory he’s made something that nearly erases the difference between artifice and life, as well as the distance between past and present. It’s pure now, and it will never get old.


"The Wife"

At the Michigan: This film follows Joan and Joe Castleman (played by Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce), who are complements after nearly forty years of marriage.  Where Joe is casual, Joan is elegant.  Where Joe is vain, Joan is self-effacing.  And where Joe enjoys his very public role as the great American novelist, Joan pours her considerable intellect, grace, charm and diplomacy into the private role of a great man's wife.  As Joe is about to be awarded the Nobel Prize for his acclaimed and prolific body of work, Joan starts to think about the shared compromises, secrets, and betrayals. 

"Madeline's Madeline"

At the State: In this film, Madeline (played by newcomer Helena Howard) has become an integral part of a prestigious physical theater troupe.  When the workshop's ambitious director (played by Molly Parker) pushes the teenager to weave her rich interior world and troubled history with her mother (played by Miranda July) into their collective art, the lines between performance and reality begin to blur.  The resulting battle between imagination and appropriation rips out of the rehearsal space and through all three women's lives.


"National Lampoon's Animal House"

September’s Midnight at the State theme is “Back to School!”  Kicking off this Saturday, September 8th at 11:59 PM will be the classic, which takes place at a 1962 college.  Dean Vernon Wormer is determined to expel the entire Delta Tau Chi Fraternity, but those troublemakers have other plans for him.  Midnights are also only $8!

Celebrating Pasek & Paul – Sing Along "The Greatest Showman" – Friday, September 14

Hugh Jackman plays P.T. Barnum in “The Greatest Showman,” the 2017 musical celebration of the life of one of America’s true original entertainment pioneers, the producer of the most famous touring circus in history, and the spiritual godfather of marketing.  Zac Efron plays Barnum’s playboy protégé, Zendaya is his trapeze-artist star.  Music and lyrics for "The Greatest Showman" are by UM Musical Theatre graduates and 2017’s showbusiness rock stars Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. They won the Oscar for Best Song for “City of Stars” from The Greatest Showman, wrote the songs for academy award nominated Best Picture “La La Land” and the Tony bestowed Broadway show “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Fatally Yours: A Film Noir Series

Special Guest Eddie Muller, president and founder of the Film Noir Foundation and host of TCM’s Noir Alley will kick off this film series with a special series introduction and a post-film discussion of the opening film, Orson Welles' "The Lady From Shanghai!"

The ‘Femme Fatale’ is a character archetype that uses cunning, charm, and sexuality to provoke the downfall and disaster of men.  In Fatally Yours, we will celebrate the women that drive the plots of these 1940s crime thrillers that defined and inspired decades of film history.

"The Yellow Ticket"– A Silent-Era Classic presented with live music

Klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals (founder of the Klezmatic) and pianist Marilyn Lerner perform live-on-stage Svigals' award-winning score to the acclaimed 1918 Pola Negri silent-era film. 


Set in in Tsarist era, when sex work (prostitution) was legal and regulated.  For Eastern European Jewish women of the era, a "Yellow ticket" allowed young women to move out of rural shtetls and seek greater opportunity.  Thousands of young women, seeking higher education and opportunity beyond the confines of their shtetl, moved to Moscow and St. Petersburg, but access opportunity they took on the stigma of prostitution and the burden of degrading biweekly medical check-ups.

In the film, Pola Negri plays Lea, a bright adolescent girl who lives in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw with her ill father. She loves to read, and intends to study medicine at a university in St. Petersburg to help her ailing father.  She goes to Russia, where she learns that Jewish women must be sex workers to live in the city. Having limited options, she applies for the required “yellow ticket” and takes up residency at a brothel.  Lea applies to the University and is accepted.

So begins an unhappy life of studying by day and receiving scholastic honors, while reluctantly working as a party girl at night. Her fellow students, including a boy named Dimitri who is in love with her, then find her out.  Dimitri, in particular, is crushed to learn of Lea's double life.  Lea realizes that this will be the end of her scholastic career.

Plot complications start to build, but in this wonderful film, with a stunning performance by Pola Negri – a HUGE silent-era star, love and happy circumstance conquers all.  This is a NOT TO BE MISSED special Sound of Silents, presentation on November 14. Get your tickets now!


"Smile Pinki"

Documentary short will be playing Friday, September 7th at 7:00 PM.  Presented by CleftLove, this short follows Pinki Sonkar- a six-year-old girl living with a severe cleft lip in one of the poorest areas of India.  One day, a social worker from a Smile Train partner hospital came to her village and told her family about Smile Train’s free cleft surgery program.  Pinki’s remarkable journey to receive cleft surgery, documented in the movie, led to the 2008 Oscar win.

"Nor Any Drop to Drink"

On Tuesday, September 11th, 2018 at 6:00 PM at the Michigan Theater, this film will be playing.  This is a documentary film that focuses on the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan and is presented by The University of Michigan School of Environment and Sustainability.


"Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood"

At the Michigan: This is the deliciously scandalous story of Scotty Bowers, a handsome ex-Marine who landed in Hollywood after the Second World War and became confidante, aide de camp, and lover to many of Hollywood's greatest male--and female-stars.  In the 1940s and '50s, he ran a gas station in the shadow of the studio lots where he would connect his band of friends from the military with those who had to hide their true sexual identities from the public.  An unsung Hollywood legend, Bowers would cater to the sexual appetites of celebrities - straight, gay, and omnivorous - for decades.

"The Bookshop"

This film takes place in England 1959, where free-spirited widow Florence Green (played by Emily Mortimer) risks everything to open a bookshop in a conservative East Anglian coastal town.  While bringing about a surprising cultural awakening through works by Ray Bradbury and Vladimir Nabokov, she earns the polite but ruthless opposition of a local grand dame (Patricia Clarkson) and the support and affection of a reclusive book loving widower (played by Bill Nighy).  As Florence's obstacles amass and bear suspicious signs of a local power struggle, she is forced to ask: is there a place for a bookshop in a town that may not want one?


This film about a woman who has a talent for assembling jigsaw puzzles sneaks away from her suburban town and goes to New York City, where she partners with a man for a puzzle tournament in Atlantic City.  As she experiences independence for the first time, she begins to view her value and the pieces of her own life in a whole new light.  Produced by local filmmaker Eddie Rubin, it premiered at Sundance.

"Juliet, Naked"

At the State: Based on the novel by Nick Hornby ("High Fidelity," "About A Boy"), this is a comic account of life's second chances.  Annie (played by Rose Byrne) is stuck in a long-term relationship with Duncan (played byChris O'Dowd) - an obsessive fan of obscure rocker Tucker Crowe (played by Ethan Hawke).  When the acoustic demo of Tucker's hit record from 25 years ago surfaces, its release leads to a life-changing encounter with the elusive rocker himself. 

"Crazy Rich Asians"

This film is based on a global bestseller and follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu accompanying her longtime boyfriend, Nick, to his best friend's wedding in Singapore.  She's also surprised to learn that Nick's family is extremely wealthy and he's considered one of the country's most eligible bachelors.  Thrust into the spotlight, Rachel must now contend with jealous socialites, quirky relatives and something far, far worse - Nick's disapproving mother. 


From visionary filmmaker Spike Lee comes the incredible true story of an American hero.  It's the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington) is the first black detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department.  Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan.  The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime.

"Eighth Grade"

This year’s Cinetopia Film Festival opening night film follows thirteen-year-old Kayla who endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school, the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year before she begins high school.

"Three Identical Strangers"

Three strangers are reunited by astonishing coincidence after being born identical triplets, separated at birth, and adopted by three different families.  Their jaw-dropping, feel-good story instantly becomes a global sensation complete with fame and celebrity, however, the fairy-tale reunion sets in motion a series of events that unearth an unimaginable secret -- a secret with radical repercussions for us all. 



This is an action thriller which tells the story of young mother Riley North (Jennifer Garner), who awakens from a coma after her husband and daughter are killed in a brutal attack on the family.  When the system frustratingly shields the murderers from justice, Riley sets out to transform herself from citizen to urban guerilla.  Channeling her frustration into personal motivation, she spends years in hiding honing her mind, body and spirit to become an unstoppable force -- eluding the underworld, the LAPD and the FBI -- as she methodically delivers her personal brand of justice.  Directed by Pierre Morel.  Written by Chad St. John.

"The Nun"

This film follows the aftermath of a young nun at a cloistered abbey in Romania who takes her own life.  A priest with a haunted past and a novitiate on the threshold of her final vows are then sent by the Vatican to investigate the death.  Together, they uncover the order's unholy secret.  Risking not only their lives, but their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that first terrorized audiences in "The Conjuring 2," as the abbey becomes a horrific battleground between the living and the damned.  Opens Friday, September 7th!

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— 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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