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Cinema Chat: Top Sundance Picks, 'Cold War,' 'The Lego Movie 2,' And More

State Theatre

After a few weeks off, everyone's favorite movie-loving duo is together again.  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 hitting the silver screen this weekend.

Cinetopia Film Festival Presents Direct from Sundance

Our annual tradition where we play a Sundance exclusive film is back Thursday, February 7 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan Theater.  What will the film be?  You’re the first to know – "THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM" – an extremely charming film and the warm hearted hit of two acclaimed Film Festivals – Telluride and Sundance.  A couple follows their dream to create a profitable family farm harmonious with nature’s complex dynamics.  Beautifully filmed and charmingly presented. A not-to-be-missed, one-night only presentation. 

The Best, Wildest, and Most Intriguing Movies from the Sundance Film Festival (Entertainment Weekly)

BIGGEST CROWD-PLEASER – "Blinded by the Light"(Russ saw)

A thunderous standing ovation greeted the premiere of "Bend It Like Beckham" director Gurinder Chadha’s joyful musical, the story of a British-Pakistani teenager in ‘80s England who falls in unlikely love with the music of Bruce Springsteen.  The script, based on a memoir by journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, got the Boss’s own approval — and hence, the rights to all his songs; New Line just bought it for $15 million, which means you should (God and hungry hearts willing) be able to experience it theaters soon.

MOST META MOVIE EXPERIENCES "Big Time Adolescence" (Michigan connection) and "Honey Boy"

For sheer leave-it-all-on-the-screen factor, it was hard to beat "Big Time Adolescence," a comedy starring SNL’s Pete Davidson (written and directed by UM/Michigan native Jason Orley) and as a guy who behaves a whole lot like Pete Davidson, and "Honey Boy," a movie scripted by Shia LaBeoufabout his troubled childhood in which he also plays his own abusive father.  Though "Big Time Adolescence" generally stayed on the safer shores of comedy, both offered flawed, but fascinating windows into their stars’ psyches. 

MOST UNFORGETTABLE"The Last Black Man in San Francisco"(Russ Saw)

DirectorJoe Talbot’s episodic study of race, gentrification, and male friendship (made under the shingle of Brad Pitt’s production company) is plotted only in the loosest, most impressionistic sense.  But it still felt like one of the richest stories at Sundance: gorgeously shot, keenly felt, and utterly original in both style and execution.

BEST SURPRISE DRAMATIC CHOPSAwkwafina in "The Farewell" (Russ saw) 

In addition to being one of the biggest breakouts and earliest sales (to A24) of the fest, writer-director Lulu Wang’s debut dramedy was also a winning example of a transformative acting performance by Awkwafina, playing a Chinese-American woman deeply conflicted about her family’s decision to conceal a terminal cancer diagnosis from her ailing grandmother.

Russ also saw:


"The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind"

"Hail Satan!"

"Sonja – The White Swan" (Norwegian film about Sonja Henie - Red Wings owner Arthur Wirtz promoted her ice show)

"The Nightingale"

"American Factory"

"Anthropocene: The Human Epoch"

"Extremely Wicket, Shockingly Evil and Vile" (Zac Efron plays Ted Bundy)

"Mike Wallace Is Here"


"Before You Know It"

"The Brink" (a film about Steve Bannon, edited by Ann Arbor native Marina Katz)

VR – "Traveling While Black"

VR – "Marshall From Detroit" (Eminem)


"Cold War"

At the State (Opens for a full run Friday, Feb. 8): Nominated for 3 Oscars® including Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography!  With a brilliantly stark visual aesthetic to match its lean narrative, this film doesn't waste a moment of its brief running time -- and doesn't skimp on its bittersweet emotional impact.  The film is a passionate love story between a man and a woman who meet in the ruins of post-war Poland.  With vastly different backgrounds and temperaments, they are fatefully mismatched and yet condemned to each other.  Set against the background of the Cold War in 1950s Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, it's the tale of a couple separated by politics, character flaws and unfortunate twists of fate - an impossible love story in impossible times. 

2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films

At the Michigan (opens Friday, February 8):  As in previous years, the 2019 Oscar® Nominated Short Films program will present all nominees of the three shorts categories - Live Action, Animation, and Documentary.  Pick your favorites and see the winners announced live during the Oscars broadcast on Sunday, February 24.


Madre – Rodrigo Sorogoyen and Maria del Puy Alvarado, Spain
Fauve – Jeremy Comte and Maria Gracia Turgeon, Canada
Marguerite – Marianne Farley and Marie-Helene Panisset, Canada
Detainment – Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon, Ireland
Skin – Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman, USA


Bao – Domee Shi and Becky Neimann-Cobb, USA
Late Afternoon – Louise Bagnall and Nuria Gonzalez Blanco, Ireland
Animal Behaviour – Alison Snowden and David Fine, Canada
Weekends – Trevor Jimenez, USA
One Small Step – Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas, USA

Plus a selection of additional Animated shorts:
Wishing Box – 6 minutes
Tweet Tweet – 11 minutes 


Black Sheep – Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn, UK
End Game – Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, USA
A Night at the Garden – Marshall Curry, USA
Lifeboat – Skye Fitzgerald and Bryn Mooser, USA
PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE. – Rayka Zahtabchi and Melissa Berton, India


"Monty Python and the Holy Grail Sing-Along"

This film plays Friday, February 8 at 9:30 PM at the State Theatre as a part of Late Nights at the State.  Sing-Along with on-screen lyrics!  “Your Mother was a Hamster, and your Father smelt of Elderberries!”  History is turned on its comic head when, in 10th century England, King Arthur travels the countryside to find knights who will join him at the Round Table in Camelot.  Gathering up the men is a tale in itself but after a bit of a party at Camelot, many decide to leave only to be stopped by God who sends them on a quest: to find the Holy Grail.  After a series of individual adventures, the knights are reunited but must face a wizard named Tim, killer rabbits and lessons in the use of holy hand grenades.  Their quest comes to an end however when the police intervene – just what you would expect in a Monty Python movie.  

Sunday, February 17 – Sing-along BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

"The Fortress"

This film plays Saturday, February 9 at 1:00 PM at the Michigan Theater as a part of the Korean Cinema NOW Film Series presented by the Nam Center for Korean Studies.  Free and open to the public!  In 1636, the Qing dynasty attacks Joseon. King Injo and his retainers, including Choi Myung-kil and Kim Sang-hun, hide in the mountain fortress city of Namhansanseong.  They are isolated from the outside.  Meanwhile, Choi Myung-kil insists that they enter into negotiations with the Qing dynasty, but Kim Sang-hun proposes that they keep fighting.       


This film plays Saturday, February 9 at 11:59 PM at the State Theatre as a part of Late Nights at the State.  Audiences are encouraged to quote-along and interact with the film!  “And in the morning, I’m making waffles!”  Once upon a time, in a far away swamp, there lived an ogre named Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) whose precious solitude is suddenly shattered by an invasion of annoying fairy tale characters.  They were all banished from their kingdom by the evil Lord Farquaad (voiced by John Lithgow).  Determined to save their home — not to mention his — Shrek cuts a deal with Farquaad and sets out to rescue Princess Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz) to be Farquaad’s bride.  Rescuing the Princess may be small compared to her deep, dark secret.  Tickets are only $8!

NT Live: "The Tragedy of King Richard the Second"

This is presented in partnership with UMS plays Sunday, February 10 at 7:00 PM at the Michigan Theater.  Richard II, King of England, is irresponsible, foolish, and vain.  His weak leadership sends his kingdom into disarray and his court into uproar.  Seeing no other option but to seize power, the ambitious Bolingbroke challenges the throne and the king’s divine right to rule.  Simon Russell Beale stars as Richard II in this visceral new production about the limits of power.  An Almeida Theatre production.

"The African Queen"

This film plays Tuesday, February 12 at 7:00 PM at the State Theatre as a part of the Katharine Hepburn film series.  This month, we will celebrate Hollywood’s leading lady for more than 60 years!  After a religious spinster’s (played by Katharine Hepburn) missionary brother is killed in WWI Africa, dissolute steamer captain (played by Humphrey Bogart) offers her safe passage.  She’s not satisfied, so she persuades him to destroy a German gunboat.  The two spend most of their time fighting with each other rather than the Germans.  Time alone on the river leads to love.

"My Neighbor Totoro"

This film plays Wednesday, February 13 at 7:00 PM at the Michigan Theater as a part of the Icons of Anime film series, back by popular demand!  This acclaimed animated tale by director Hayao Miyazaki follows schoolgirl Satsuke and her younger sister, Mei, as they settle into an old country house with their father and wait for their mother to recover from an illness in an area hospital.  As the sisters explore their new home, they encounter and befriend playful spirits in their house and the nearby forest, most notably the massive cuddly creature known as Totoro.

"His Girl Friday"

This film plays Thursday, February 14 – Valentine’s Day – at 7:45 PM at the Michigan Theater.  When hard-charging New York newspaper editor Walter Burns (played by Cary Grant) discovers that his ex-wife, investigative reporter Hildy Johnson (played by Rosalind Russell), has gotten engaged to milquetoast insurance agent Bruce Baldwin (played by Ralph Bellamy), he unsuccessfully tries to lure her away from tame domestic life with a story about the impending execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams.  But when Hildy discovers Williams may be innocent, her reporter instincts take over.  Members get in FREE!  RSVP by emailing at smadsen@michtheater.org


"Stan & Ollie"

At the Michigan: Stars Golden Globe® Nominee for Best Actor John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan! This film follows Laurel and Hardy, the world’s greatest comedy team, who faced an uncertain future as their golden era of Hollywood films remain long behind them.  Diminished by age, the duo set out to reconnect with their adoring fans by touring variety halls in Britain in 1953.  The shows become an instant hit, but Stan and Ollie can’t quite shake the past as long-buried tension, and Hardy’s failing health start to threaten their precious partnership.

"On the Basis of Sex"

This film tells an inspiring and spirited true story that follows young lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg (played by Felicity Jones) as she teams with her husband Marty (played by Armie Hammer) to bring a groundbreaking case before the U.S. Court of Appeals and overturn a century of gender discrimination.  Also stars Justin TherouxKathy Bates, and Sam Waterston.


Nominated for 10 Oscars®, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress!  The most personal project to date from Academy Award-winning director and writer Alfonso Cuarón ("Gravity," "Children of Men," "Y Tu Mama Tambien"), this film follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young domestic worker for a family in the middle-class neighborhood of Roma in Mexico City.  Delivering an artful love letter to the women who raised him, Cuarón draws on his own childhood to create a vivid and emotional portrait of domestic strife and social hierarchy amidst political turmoil of the 1970s.


At the State: Golden Globe® Award Nominated for Best Actress - Nicole Kidman!  In this film, Erin Bell went undercover to infiltrate a gang in the California desert with tragic results as a young cop.  Bell continues to work as a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, but feelings of anger and remorse leave her worn-down and consumed by guilt.  When the leader of that gang suddenly re-emerges, Erin embarks on an obsessive quest to find his former associates, bring him to justice and make peace with her tortured past.  Also stars Sebastian StanBradley Whitford, and Toby Kebbell


Oscar® nominated for Best Foreign Language Film!  Understated yet ultimately deeply affecting, this film adds another powerful chapter to director Hirokazu Koreeda's richly humanistic filmography.  After one of their shoplifting sessions, Osamu and his son come across a little girl in the freezing cold.  At first reluctant to shelter the girl, Osamu's wife agrees to take care of her after learning of the hardships she faces.  Although the family is poor, barely making enough money to survive through petty crime, they seem to live happily together until an unforeseen incident reveals hidden secrets, testing the bonds that unite them.

"If Beale Street Could Talk"

Nominated for 3 Oscars®, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay!  Directed by Barry Jenkins("Moonlight").  Set in early-1970s Harlem, this film is a timeless and moving love story of both a couple’s unbreakable bond and the Black family’s empowering embrace, as told through the eyes of 19-year-old Tish Rivers (played by screen newcomer KiKi Layne).  A daughter and wife-to-be, Tish vividly recalls the passion, respect, and trust that have connected her and her artist fiancé Alonzo Hunt, who goes by the nickname Fonny (played by Stephan James).  The couple dream of a future together but their plans are derailed when Alonzo is arrested for a crime he did not commit.


Nominated for 8 Oscars®, including Best Picture and Best Actor!  This film explores the epic story about how a bureaucratic Washington insider quietly became the most powerful man in the world as Vice-President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.  Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Sam Rockwellas George W. Bush, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, Tyler Perryas Colin Powell, Justin Kirk as Scooter Libby, Bill Campas Gerald Ford. 

"The Favourite"

Nominated for 10 Oscars®, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress!  This film takes place in the early 18th century, while England is at war with the French.   A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne's ill health and mercurial temper.  When a new servant Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.  Sarah takes Abigail under her wing, and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots.  

"Green Book"

Nominated for 5 Oscars®, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor!  In this film, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, they must rely on "The Green Book" to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans.  Confronted with racism, danger-as well as unexpected humanity and humor-they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime. 

"Free Solo"

Oscar® Nominated for Best Documentary!  From award-winning documentary filmmaker E. Chai Vasarhelyiand world-renowned photographer and mountaineer Jimmy Chin comes this National Geographic Documentary Film, a stunning, intimate and unflinching portrait of the free soloist climber Alex Honnold, as he prepares to achieve his lifelong dream: climbing the face of the world's most famous rock... the 3,000ft El Capitan in Yosemite National Park... without a rope.


"The Prodigy"

In her much-anticipated foray into the horror-thriller genre, Golden Globe® and Emmy® nominee Taylor Schilling stars in this film as Sarah, a mother whose young son Miles' disturbing behavior signals that an evil, possibly supernatural force has overtaken him.  Fearing for her family's safety, Sarah must choose between her maternal instinct to love and protect Miles and a desperate need to investigate what or who is causing his dark turn.  She is forced to look for answers in the past, taking the audience on a wild ride; one where the line between perception and reality becomes frighteningly blurry.  This will be opening in theaters Friday, February 8!

"The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part"

The much-anticipated sequel to the critically acclaimed, global box office phenomenon that started it all reunites the heroes of Bricksburg in an all new action-packed adventure to save their beloved city opening in theaters Friday, February 8.  It's been five years since everything was awesome, and the citizens are now facing a huge new threat: Lego Duplo invaders from outer space, wrecking everything faster than it can be rebuilt.  The battle to defeat the invaders and restore harmony to the Lego universe will take Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), Lucy (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), Batman (voiced by Will Arnett), and their friends to faraway, unexplored worlds, including a strange galaxy where everything is a musical.  It will test their courage, creativity, and Master Building skills, and reveal just how special they really are.

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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

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