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Cinema Chat: The Academy Awards, 'Joni 75,' 'How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,' And More

Michigan Theater

Hollywood's biggest night--the Oscars-- is just days away.  So why not catch a movie?  WEMU's David Fair and Michigan and State Theater executive director Russ Collins discuss how to win your Oscars pool.  And, there are some great new movies hitting the big screen this weekend, too!  It's all covered in this week's "Cinema Chat," 


The story follows Carol Danvers as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.  Set in the 1990s, this is an all-new adventure from a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Brie Larson ("The Spectacular Now," "Trainwreck," "Room" – Academy Award for Best Actress) stars as Danvers, alongside Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, and Jude Law.  Directed by Anna Bodenand Ryan Fleck, a tandem filmmaking team best known for their collaborations on "Half Nelson," "Sugar," and "Mississippi Grind."


"Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration"

This film plays Friday, February 22 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan Theater.  Presented in partnership with The Ark.  Join an incredible array of singers and musicians who came together to honor one of the world’s most remarkable artists,Joni Mitchell, on her 75th birthday.  The hand-selected group of peers and protégés including Brandi Carlile, Glen Hansard, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Chaka Khan, Diana Krall, Kris Kristofferson, Los Lobos with La Marisoul, Cesar Castro & Xochi Flores, Graham Nash, Seal, James Taylor, Rufus Wainwright, and more paid tribute to the iconic artist, performing songs from all stages of Mitchell’s life and career, across her entire catalog of 19 studio albums.  Captured over two nights in November 2018 by The Music Center at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, the entire concert, along with special behind-the-scenes interviews with the artists, will be shown at the Michigan Theater for one night only!



At the Michigan (Opens Friday, Feb. 22): Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival!  Nadine Labaki‘s film follows the journey of Zain, a gutsy, streetwise 12-year-old boy, as he flees his negligent parents and survives the dangers of the city streets by his wits.  Along the way, he takes care of Ethiopian refugee and her baby son, ends up being jailed for a crime, and, ultimately, seeks justice in a courtroom against his parents for the “crime” of giving him life.  The film was made with a cast of non-professionals playing characters whose lives closely parallel their own.  Following her script, Labaki placed her performers in scenes and asked them to react spontaneously with their own words and gestures.  When the non-actors’s instincts diverged from the written script, Labaki adapted the screenplay to follow them. 

"Lords of Chaos"

At the State (Opens Friday, Feb. 22): Legendary music video director (and founding member of influential early black metal band Bathory) Jonas Åkerlund’s take on the insular, troubled metal scene in Norway plays out as essentially a deep black comedy shot through with startling, visceral moments of violence. Inspired by the cult book of the same name, the film follows the birth and inevitable death of Mayhem – one of the original purveyors of True Norwegian Black Metal in the early 1990s.  Euronymous, the founder and guitarist for Mayhem, finds a kindred dark soul in Dead, the vocalist who crystalized the band’s sound. Despite Dead’s death fixation and self-destructive behavior, the band seems headed in the direction of stardom.  That is until Dead’s extremely gory suicide and the introduction of new vocalist Varg Vikernes whose presence ultimately leads to a series of church burnings, more tragic deaths, and the destruction of the band. 


"The Princess Bride"

This film plays Friday, February 22 at 9:30 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!  “Inconceivable!”  A fairy tale adventure about a beautiful young woman (played by Robin Wright) and her one true love (played by Cary Elwes).  He must find her after a long separation and save her.  They must battle the evils of the mythical kingdom of Florin to be reunited with each other.  Based on the William Goldman novel "The Princess Bride," which earned its own loyal audience.


This film plays Saturday, February 23 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!  “May the schwartz be with you!”  In a distant galaxy, Planet Spaceball has depleted its air supply, leaving its citizens reliant on a product called “Perri-Air.”  In desperation, Spaceball’s leader President Skroob (played by Mel Brooks) orders the evil Dark Helmet (played by Rick Moranis) to kidnap Princess Vespa (played byDaphne Zuniga) of oxygen-rich Druidia and hold her hostage in exchange for air.  But help arrives for the Princess in the form of renegade space pilot Lone Starr (played by Bill Pullman) and his half-man, half-dog partner, Barf (played by John Candy).


3/15 "Shrek 2"

3/16 "The Departed"

3/29 "Get Out"
"Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers"

This event plays Tuesday February 26 at 7:00 PM at the Michigan Theater with live organ accompaniment!  In the Wild West days of early filmmaking—before Hollywood hardened into an assembly-line behemoth and boys’ club – talented women worked regularly as writers, producers, and directors, instrumental in shaping the very language of cinema as we know it.  Nevertheless, figures like Alice Guy Blaché and Lois Weber are known today primarily by aficionados, and artists like Nell Shipman, Grace Cunard, and Marion E. Wong remain woefully obscure.  Bringing together dozens of essential new restorations, this series spotlights the daring, innovative, and trailblazing work of the first female filmmakers and restores their centrality to the creation of cinema itself.  The following selections were curated by Elizabeth Weitzman, film critic for The Wrap.  She will be on site to introduce the films and talk about her latest book "Renegade Women in Film & TV."

  1. Mixed Pets (Alice Guy Blache, 1911)
  2. A Fool and His Money (Alice Guy Blache, 1912)
  3. Mabel’s Blunder (Mabel Normand, 1914)
  4. Hazards of Helen: The Wild Engine (Episode 26) (Helen Holmes, 1915)
  5. A Daughter of ‘The Law’ (Grace Cunard, 1921)
  6. That Ice Ticket (Angela Murray Gibson, 1923)


3/5 "Cleo from 5 to 7"

3/12 "A League of Their Own"
3/19 "The Hurt Locker"
"Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door"

This film plays Wednesday, February 27 at 7:00 PM at the Michigan Theater as a part of the Icons of Anime Film Series.  Cocky Spike Spiegel and the crew of his spaceship, Bebop, an intrepid band of bounty hunters, land on Mars in the year 2071 chasing an enormous cash reward.  The four-person team, also including looming cyborg Jet Black, fearless Faye Valentine, and tech expert Edward, are in search of ex-military officer Vincent.  The former hero has become a biological terrorist with an arsenal of devastating nano-bots that he’ll let loose on Alba City on the night before Halloween if his demands aren’t met.


3/13 "Ghost in the Shell"

3/20 "Kiki's Delivery Service"

2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films

At the Michigan:  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


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.

"Cold War"

At the State: Nominated for 3 Oscars® including Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography!  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. 


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.

"Stan & Ollie"

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"

Moving from the Michigan to the State: 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.


"How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World"

From DreamWorks Animation comes a surprising tale about growing up, finding the courage to face the unknown…and how nothing can ever train you to let go.  What began as an unlikely friendship between an adolescent Viking and a fearsome Night Fury dragon has become an epic adventure spanning their lives. Welcome to the most astonishing chapter of one of the most beloved animated franchises in film history.  Now chief and ruler of Berk alongside Astrid, Hiccup has created a gloriously chaotic dragon utopia.  When the sudden appearance of female Light Fury coincides with the darkest threat their village has ever faced, Hiccup and Toothless must leave the only home they’ve known and journey to a hidden world thought only to exist in myth.  As their true destines are revealed, dragon and rider will fight together—to the very ends of the Earth—to protect everything they’ve grown to treasure.  This film will be opening in theaters nationwide Friday, February 22! 

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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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