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Cinema Chat: Direct From Sundance Recap, 'Portrait Of A Lady On Fire,' 'The Invisible Man,' And More

Michigan Theater
Marilyn Gouin
89.1 WEMU

A touch of Sundance descended upon Ann Arbor this week, and we have the rundown!  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair and Michigan and State Theater executive director Russ Collins discuss last night's "Direct from Sundance" event and all of the new films landing on the big screen this weekend.



Loyal film fans braved the winter storm last night to nearly fill the Michigan Theater for the, Direct From Sundance screening of THE LAST SHIFT – which featured EMU grad & A2 native – director Andrew Cohn.

Richard Jenkins (who was also at the Michigan last night) plays a career fast-food worker whose pride in his job is upended as he trains his young replacement Jevon (played by Shane Paul McGhie, who was also in the house) … 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.

TONIGHT--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].


"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" - NOW PLAYING AT THE STATE

Winner of The Queer Palm at Cannes Film Festival!  France, 1760. Marianne is commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse, a young woman who has just left the convent.  Because she is a reluctant bride-to-be, Marianne arrives under the guise of companionship, observing Héloïse by day and secretly painting her by firelight at night.  As the two women orbit one another, intimacy and attraction grow as they share Héloïse's first moments of freedom.  Héloïse's portrait soon becomes a collaborative act of and testament to their love.  

"Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band" - NOW PLAYING AT THE STATE

A confessional, cautionary, and occasionally humorous tale of Robbie Robertson‘s young life and the creation of one of the most enduring groups in the history of popular music, The Band.  The film is a moving story of Robertson’s personal journey, overcoming adversity and finding camaraderie alongside the four other men who would become brothers in music and who together made their mark on music history.  The film blends rare archival footage, photography iconic songs and interviews with many of Robertson’s friends and collaborators, including Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Martin Scorsese, Peter Gabriel, Taj Mahal, Dominique Robertson, Ronnie Hawkins, and more.  


This film is inspired by true events about the French New Wave darling and "Breathless" star, Jean Seberg (played by Kristen Stewart), who, in the late 1960s, was targeted by the FBI because of her support of the civil rights movement and romantic involvement with Hakim Jamal (played by Anthony Mackie), among others.  In Benedict Andrews’ noir-ish thriller, Seberg’s life and career are destroyed by Hoover’s overreaching surveillance and harassment in an effort to suppress and discredit Seberg’s activism. 


Jane Austen's beloved comedy about finding your equal and earning your happy ending, is reimagined in this delicious new film adaptation.  Handsome, clever, and rich, Emma Woodhouse (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) is a restless queen bee without rivals in her sleepy little town.  In this glittering satire of social class and the pain of growing up, Emma must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along.  Also starring Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, and Johnny Flynn


Fly Fishing Film Tour 2020

This event takes place on Friday, February 28 at 7:00 PM at the Michigan.  The 14th annual Fly Fishing Film Tour is hitting the road and headed to your backyard with a fresh catch of new films.  Featuring exclusive shorts from our friends coast to coast, and beyond, we’ll tell the stories of everything from fishing guide fairytales, to serial steelhead semantics, canyon conservation in Colorado, mountain biking for marlin, jumping jaguars and jungle fish in whitewater rapids and the audacious Aussies who explore the largest coastline in the world.  From saltwater to fresh, this year’s film is geared to get you stoked for another incredible season on the water.  The F3T is the largest fly fishing film event of its kind.  Come for the action and stay for the giveaways and camaraderie—from your local fly shop to a community of like-minded anglers as we aim to inspire, feed your fishing addiction and build awareness for conservation efforts both near and far.

"Ghost in the Shell"

This film plays Friday, February 28 at 9:30 PM at the Michigan as a part of the Late-Night Film Series.  It is the year 2029. Technology has advanced so far that cyborgs are commonplace. In addition, human brains can connect to the internet directly.  Major Motoko Kasunagi is an officer in Section 9, an elite, secretive police division that deals with special operations, including counter terrorism and cyber-crime.  She is currently on the trail of the Puppet Master, a cyber-criminal who hacks into the brains of cyborgs in order to obtain information and to commit other crimes.

Late-Night – Fridays at 9:30 PM grab some popcorn and come watch our favorite late-night movies.


This event will be broadcast live in HD on Saturday, February 29 at 12:55 PM at the Michigan.  Handel’s tale of intrigue and impropriety in ancient Rome arrives in cinemas on February 29, with star mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as the controlling, power-hungry Agrippina and Harry Bicket conducting.  Sir David McVicar’s production ingeniously reframes the action of this black comedy about the abuse of power to “the present,” where it should loudly resonate.  The all-star cast features mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey as Agrippina’s son and future emperor Nerone, soprano Brenda Rae as the seductive Poppea, countertenor Iestyn Davies as the ambitious officer Ottone, and bass Matthew Rose as the weary emperor Claudius.

"Hotel by the River"

This film plays Saturday, February 29 at 1:00 PM at the Michigan as a part of the Korean Cinema Now Film Series presented by the Nam Center for Korean Studies.  FREE and open to the public!  The film tells the story of an aging poet, Younghwan, who summons his two estranged sons to a solitary hotel beside the Han River because he feels his death is near.  While waiting for them to arrive, he meets two women out walking in the new-fallen snow and is struck by their angelic beauty. But the women have come to the hotel to do some healing of their own.  As Younghwan moves between the women and his bickering sons, he also moves between his two minds: one that walks on the street and the other that communes with the eternal.

"One Week" & "The Cameraman" Double Feature

Buster Keaton’s films plays Sunday, March 1 at 1:30 PM at the Michigan as a double-feature with live organ accompaniment from Andrew Rogers!  In "One Week," the first film to be released and produced by Keaton on his own, Buster Keaton and Sybil Seeley star as newlyweds who receive a portable house as a wedding gift.  But when he tries to construct it, things quickly go awry as he doesn’t notice that a scorned suitor has re-numbered the instructed boxes.  In "The Cameraman," Keaton’s first film with MGM and one of the last of his “classic” era, Keaton plays an aspiring newsreel cameraman who falls in love with an office girl and tries to impress her by getting the scoop on a gang war. Instead he finds himself during a terrible gunfight.

CatVideoFest 2020

This event plays Monday, March 2 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan.  Each year, it curates a compilation reel of the latest, best cat videos culled from countless hours of unique submissions and sourced animations, music videos, and, of course, classic internet powerhouses.  Screening events raise money for cats in need, often through partnerships with local cat charities, animal welfare organizations, and shelters to identify how best to serve cats in the area.  10% of our proceeds will benefit the Humane Society of Huron Valley.  And, if you can’t make this screening, there will be an additional on Saturday, March 7 at 1:30 PM!


This film plays Tuesday, March 3 at 6:30 PM at the Michigan in celebration of the life and career of Kirk Douglas, a Hollywood legend and icon.  Stanley Kubrick directed a cast of screen legends—including Kirk Douglas as the indomitable gladiator that led a Roman slave revolt—in the sweeping epic that defined a genre and ushered in a new Hollywood era.  The assured acting, lush Technicolor cinematography, bold costumes, and visceral fight sequences won Spartacus four Oscars; the blend of politics and sexual suggestion scandalized audiences.  Today, Kubrick’s controversial classic, the first film to openly defy Hollywood’s blacklist, remains a landmark of cinematic artistry and history.  Co-starring Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons, and Peter Ustinov, with a screenplay written by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.

"The Bit Player"

An encore screening of this film plays Thursday, March 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.  Sponsored by University of Michigan Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department and Arbor Research Collaborative for Health.  A film by Mark A. Levinson, director of the award-winning "Film Particle Fever."  In a blockbuster paper in 1948, Claude Shannon introduced the notion of a “bit” and laid the foundation for the information age.  His ideas ripple through nearly every aspect of modern life, influencing such diverse fields as communication, computing, cryptography, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, cosmology, linguistics, and genetics.  But when interviewed in the 1980s, Shannon was more interested in showing off the gadgets he’d constructed — juggling robots, a Rubik’s Cube solving machine, a wearable computer to win at roulette, a unicycle without pedals, a flame-throwing trumpet — than rehashing the past.  Claude Shannon, the film’s protagonist, is a U-M alumnus (BSE Electrical Engineering 1936.  BSE Mathematics 1936) and has been called the Father of Information Theory.  The film will be followed by a video of January’s Q&A panel with Electrical Engineering and Computer Science faculty, Profs. Alfred Hero, David Neuhoff, and Chris Peikert.  There will be a video intro from director Mark A. Levinson.


"Varda By Agnès"

At the Michigan: An unpredictable documentary from a fascinating storyteller, Agnès Varda’s new feature sheds light on her experience as a director, bringing a personal insight to what she calls “cine-writing."  Agnès Varda was a Belgian-born French film director, photographer, and artist. Her work was pioneering for, and central to, the development of the widely influential French New Wave film movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Oscar-Nominated Short Films

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.


  • 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


At the State: Barely escaping an avalanche during a family ski vacation in the Alps, a married couple is thrown into disarray as they are forced to reevaluate their lives and how they feel about each other.  Inspired by the motion picture "Force Majeure" by Ruben Östlund.  Stars Julia Louis-DreyfusWill Ferrell, and Zach Woods

"Jojo Rabbit"

Nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress and Winner of Best Adapted Screenplay!  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 and Winner of Best Director, International Film, Picture, and Original Screenplay!  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. We are also play a special black and white cut of this film!  


"The Invisible Man"

Trapped in a violent, controlling relationship with a wealthy and brilliant scientist, Cecilia Kass (played by Elisabeth Moss) escapes in the dead of night and disappears into hiding, aided by her sister (played by Harriet Dyer, NBC's "The InBetween"), their childhood friend (played by Aldis Hodge, "Straight Outta Compton"), and his teenage daughter (played by Storm Reid, HBO's "Euphoria").  But when Cecilia's abusive ex (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Netflix's "The Haunting of Hill House") commits suicide and leaves her a generous portion of his vast fortune, Cecilia suspects his death was a hoax.  As a series of eerie coincidences turns lethal, threatening the lives of those she loves, Cecilia's sanity begins to unravel as she desperately tries to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at

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