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Cinema Chat: 2020 Direct From Sundance, 'Clemency,' 'The Rhythm Section,' And More

State Theatre
Jeffrey Smith

Michigan and State Theater executive director Russ Collins is back from Park City, Utah with a lot of great stories to tell!  He joins WEMU's David Fair to talk about this year's Sundance Film Festival, as well as all of the new movies opening in theaters, for this week's edition of "Cinema Chat."

DIRECT FROM SUNDANCE – Two Special Films With Michigan Connections Coming February 26 & 27

For the 15th year, the Michigan Theater and the Cinetopia Film Festival will bring a film directly from the Sundance Film Festival.  The Michigan Theater’s national reputation provides the opportunity to get great films from Sundance even before a distribution deal is set. This year there are two great films:

THE LAST SHIFTreview excerpt from Hollywood Reporter

Richard Jenkins plays a career fast-food worker whose pride in his job is upended as he trains his young replacement in [Ann Arbor native] Andrew Cohn's serio-comedy about the politics of class, identity and race. …This funny-sad chamber piece … [has a] perceptive script and the incisively etched characterizations of a sterling ensemble make it warmly satisfying.  Stanley (Jenkins) is a high school dropout who has worked the graveyard shift at Oscar's Chicken & Fish for 38 years in Albion, Michigan …

Stanley is entrusted with the training of his replacement Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie), a once-promising young African American writer… Jevon is clearly too smart to be slinging sandwich patties for minimum wage … While the setup seems to point to the two polar opposites finding a mutually respectful, even friendly, middle ground that opens both their eyes to other realities, Cohn has subtler, less predictable ideas in mind.  To some extent, Stanley and Jevon do break the ice, but issues of racial bias, class and misguided assumptions about privilege all factor into the way the writer-director subverts expectations.

The Last Shift announces a promising voice [in writer/director Andrew Cohn].  It also stars Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Birgundi Baker, Allison Tolman andEd O'Neill.  Plays the Michigan Theater Wed., Feb. 26.

DINNER IN AMERICA– Direct from Sundance AND Detroit

There are bits of “Repo Man,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” [the movies of Michigan-native Joel Potrykus} and other literally or just philosophically “punk rock” cult comedies in the DNA of [Director] Adam Carter Rehmeier’s rude yet ingratiating “Dinner in America” [which was made entirely in Detroit] … This rambunctious mix of anarchic humor and misfit romance …[has an] infectiously high-energy execution.

Best of all, it’s got a knockout lead performance by Kyle Gallner (soon to headline CBS All Access series “Interrogation”), who turns an admittedly showy role into something quite likely to become the favorite movie character ever for a small but fervent minority.  As the saying goes, a star is born. …this playfully surreal “Dinner” [will premiere at the Michigan Theater on Thursday, February 27].



For the 15th consecutive year, the Oscar-Nominated Short Films will play the Michigan Theater, with all three categories offered – Animated, Live Action, and Documentary. This is your annual chance to predict the winners (and have the edge in your Oscar pool)!  A perennial hit with audiences around the country and the world, don’t miss this year’s selection of shorts.  The Academy Awards take place Sunday, February 9.


  • Daughter (Dcera) – Czechia
  • Hair Love – USA
  • KitbullUSA – USA
  • Mémorable – France
  • Sister – USA

Live Action

  • A Sister – Belgium
  • Brotherhood – Tunisia, Canada
  • Nefta Football Club – France
  • Saria – USA
  • The Neighbors' Window – USA


  • In the Absence – USA
  • Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if you’re a girl) – UK
  • Life Overtakes Me – USA
  • St. Louis Superman – USA
  • Walk Run Cha-Cha – USA


2019 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner!  Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams (played by Alfre Woodard) in this film.  As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill.  Directed by Chinonye Chukwu


In this film, after a meteorite lands in the front yard of their farm, Nathan Gardner (played by Nicolas Cage) and his family find themselves battling a mutant extraterrestrial organism as it infects their minds and bodies, transforming their quiet rural life into a technicolor nightmare.  From cult director Richard Stanley ("Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau," "Hardware"). 


"The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

This film plays Friday, January 31 at 9:30 PM at the Michigan.  We would like–if we may–to take you on a strange journey. In this cult classic, sweethearts Brad (played by Barry Bostwick) and Janet (played by Susan Sarandon), stuck with a flat tire during a storm, discover the eerie mansion of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (played by Tim Curry), a transvestite scientist.  As their innocence is lost, Brad and Janet meet a houseful of wild characters, including a rocking biker (played by Meat Loaf) and a creepy butler (played by Richard O’Brien).  Through elaborate dances and rock songs, Frank-N-Furter unveils his latest creation: a muscular man named “Rocky.”

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess: The Met Live in HD

This event plays Saturday, February 1 at 12:55 PM at the Michigan, presented in association with the University of Michigan’s Gershwin Initiative: The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance with a special post-screening live Q&A with Drs. Naomi Andréand Daniel Washington!  The Gershwins’ modern American masterpiece has its first Met performances in almost three decades, starring bass-baritone Eric Owens and soprano Angel Bluein the title roles.  Director James Robinson’s stylish production transports audiences to Catfish Row, a setting vibrant with the music, dancing, emotion, and heartbreak of its inhabitants.

A special program and Q & A with follow this Metropolitan Opera presentation.  The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance has a long-term partnership with the Gershwin family to study, promote, and recreate the music of George and Ira Gershwin.  This MET performance benefited from the Gershwin Institute of the University of Michigan.


This film plays Saturday, February 1 at 1:00 PM at the Michigan as a part of the Korean Cinema Now Film Seriespresented by the Nam Center for Korean Studies.  FREE and open to the public!  The film begins with a black-and-white photo taken in May 1980, at Geumnamro, Gwangju, South Korea.  35 years later, the identity of the young man has become a source of controversy: some claim he is “Gwangsu,” one of the North Korean special agents whose mission was to instigate anti-government violence, while others remember him as “Kim-gun,” a ragpicker who lived under a bridge over the Gwangjucheon Stream.

"Pretty Strong"

This film plays Monday, February 3 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan.  From 5.13 big walls in Yosemite to 5.14 sport climbs in Mexico to V14 boulder problems in Colorado, it follows eight of the world’s strongest female climbers as they explore new climbing areas, send hard projects, and push the boundaries of the sport and themselves.  Putting badass ladies front and center, this film is about some of the best climbers in the world — some you know, some you don’t — doing what they do best: crushing hard rock climbs.  Your palms will sweat from the dizzying heights, your imagination will expand with the breathtaking landscapes, and your motivation will soar from the determination and try – hard of these strong women.  The climbers featured include Nina Williams, Katie Lambert, Daila Ojeda, Hazel Findlay, and more.  Created by the all-women production team Never Not Collective, this is a climbing film about women, by women, and for everyone.

"Stranger Than Paradise"

An original 35mm print of this film plays Tuesday, February 4 at 9:30 PM at the Michigan as a part of the Jim Jarmusch Retrospective film series, which celebrates one of American cinema’s most idiosyncratic filmmakers.  Jim Jarmusch’s film is an odd, low-key comedy about a trio of misfits–an everyday guy, his Hungarian female cousin, and his geeky best friend–who decide to take a road trip across the United States on the spur of the moment.  Over the course of their voyage, they have both good and bad luck, meet several bizarre and interesting characters, and are frequently bored. Jarmusch tells his story very slowly and sardonically, which can alienate some viewers.  However, those who want to meet him halfway will find the film an engaging and unique comedy, with several truly funny moments. 

Don’t miss Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan, who will be at the Michigan Tuesday, February 4 at 7:00 PM as a part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, which is free and open to the public!
Jim Jarmusch Retrospective – Celebrating one of American cinema’s most idiosyncratic filmmakers Tuesdays in February.

"General Magic"

This film plays Wednesday, February 5 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan as a part of Science on Screen, an initiative of The Coolidge Corner Theatre, with major support from The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  The multi-award-winning feature documentary is the untold tale of how a great vision and epic failure changed the world.  The ideas that dominate the tech industry and our day to day lives were born at a secretive Silicon Valley start-up called ‘General Magic’, which spun out of Apple in 1990 to create the “next big thing.”  General Magic shipped the first handheld personal communicator (or “smartphone”) in 1994.  The film combines rare archival footage with powerful honesty from the “Magicians” today, reflecting on the most influential Silicon Valley company no one has ever heard of.  Join us for a post-film discussion moderated by UM Dean of Engineering - Alec D. Gallimore with UM College of Engineering, School of Education and School of Information Professor - Elliot Soloway, UM’s Assistant Director of Entrepreneurial Practice - Dr. Nick Moroz, and UM alumni, iPod inventor, iPod co-inventor, Nest founder, and Future Shape principal - Tony Fadell - who will be joining us LIVE via Skype.


This film plays Thursday, February 6 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan as a part of the Art of the Camera Film Series sponsored by The University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies.  Following the collapse of his clan, an unemployed samurai (played by Tatsuya Nakadai) arrives at the manor of Lord Iyi, begging to be allowed to commit ritual suicide on the property.  Iyi’s clansmen, believing the desperate ronin is merely angling for a new position, try to force his hand and get him to eviscerate himself—but they have underestimated his beliefs and his personal brand of honor.  Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize, the film, directed by Masaki Kobayashi, is a fierce evocation of individual agency in the face of a corrupt and hypocritical system.  Will also feature an introduction from a University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies lecturer about the featured cinematographer, Yoshio Miyajima.

Art of the Camera – Celebrating Japan’s great cinematographers Thursdays at 7:30 PM from January to April.


"The Song of Names"

At the Michigan: This film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Norman Lebrecht.  As Europe erupts into World War II, 9-year-old Martin comes to love his new brother Dovidl, a highly gifted violin prodigy of the same age and recent Polish-Jewish refugee to London.  But hours before Dovidl's debut concert performance at the age of 21 he vanishes without a trace, causing shame and ruin for their family.  A lifetime later, a young violinist shows a 56-year-old Martin a stylistic flourish that could only have been taught by Dovidl.  This triggers Martin's odyssey overseas in search of his lost brother, one that will lead to surprising revelations for both men and for Helen, the woman who stood between them.  Starring Tim RothandClive Owen.  

"Little Women"

Nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actress – Saoirse Ronan!  Writer-director Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird") has crafted a Little Women that draws on both the classic novel and the writings of Louisa May Alcott and unfolds as the author's alter ego, Jo March, reflects and forth on her fictional life.  In Gerwig's take, the beloved story of the March sisters - four young women each determined to live life on her own terms -- is both timeless and timely.  Portraying Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth March, the film starsSaoirse RonanEmma WatsonFlorence PughEliza Scanlen, with Timothée Chalametas their neighbor Laurie, Laura Dern as Marmee, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March.

"Fantastic Fungi"

This film, directed by Louie Schwartzberg and narrated by Brie Larson, is a consciousness-shifting film that takes us on an immersive journey through time and scale into the magical earth beneath our feet, an underground network that can heal and save our planet.  Through the eyes of renowned scientists and mycologists like Paul Stamets, best-selling authors Michael PollanEugenia BoneAndrew Weil and others, we become aware of the beauty, intelligence and solutions the fungi kingdom offer us in response to some of our most pressing medical, therapeutic, and environmental challenges. 

"Weathering with You"

At the State: This highly-anticipated film is from director Makoto Shinkai and producer Genki Kawamura, the creative team behind the critically-acclaimed, global smash hit "Your Name," which you can catch Friday, February 7 at 9:30 PM at the Michigan!  The summer of his high school freshman year, Hodaka runs away from his remote island home to Tokyo, and quickly finds himself pushed to his financial and personal limits.  The weather is unusually gloomy and rainy every day, as if to suggest his future.  He lives his days in isolation, but finally finds work as a writer for a mysterious occult magazine.  Then one day, Hodaka meets Hina on a busy street corner.  This bright and strong-willed girl possesses a strange and wonderful ability: the power to stop the rain and clear the sky.

"Les Misérables"

Oscar-nominated for Best International Film!  Inspired by the 2005 riots in Paris, this film – directed by Ladj Ly – follows Stéphane (played by Damien Bonnard), a recent transplant to the impoverished suburb of Montfermeil, as he joins the local anti-crime squad. Working alongside his unscrupulous colleagues Chris (played by Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (played by Djibril Zonga), Stéphane struggles to maintain order amidst the mounting tensions between local gangs.  When an arrest turns unexpectedly violent, the three officers must reckon with the aftermath and keep the neighborhood from spiraling out of control.  


Nominated for 10 Oscars including Best Director – Sam Mendes and Best Picture!  In this film, at the height of WWI, two young British soldiers, Lance Corporal Schofield (played by "Captain Fantastic’s" George Mackay) and Lance Corporal Blake (played by "Game of Thrones’" Dean-Charles Chapman) are given a seemingly impossible mission.  In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers, Blake’s own brother among them.

"Jojo Rabbit"

Nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress – Scarlett Johansson!  Writer-director Taika Waititi ("Thor: Ragnarok," "Hunt for the Wilderpeople") brings his signature style of humor and pathos to his latest film, a World War II satire that follows a lonely German boy whose world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother (played by Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic.  Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (played by Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism. 


Nominated for 6 Oscars including Best International Film!  Bong Joon Ho brings his work home to Korea in this pitch-black modern fairytale.  Meet the Park Family: the picture of aspirational wealth.  And the Kim Family, rich in street smarts but not much else.  Be it chance or fate, these two houses are brought together and the Kims sense a golden opportunity.  Masterminded by college-aged Ki-woo, the Kim children expediently install themselves as tutor and art therapist, to the Parks. Soon, a symbiotic relationship forms between the two families. 


"The Rhythm Section"

In this film, Blake Lively stars as Stephanie Patrick, an ordinary woman on a path of self-destruction after her family is tragically killed in a plane crash.  When Stephanie discovers that the crash was not an accident, she enters a dark, complex world to seek revenge on those responsible and find her own redemption.  Also starring Jude Law and Sterling K. Brown.

"Gretel & Hansel"

This film, based on the German folklore tale "Hänsel and Gretel" by the Brothers Grimm, takes place a long time ago in a distant fairytale countryside where a young girl (played by Sophia Lillis, "It") leads her little brother (played by Sammy Leakey) into a dark wood in desperate search of food and work, only to stumble upon a nexus of terrifying evil.

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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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