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Cinema Chat: Naughty And Nice Holiday Films, 'The Library That Dolly Built,' And More

Michigan Theater
The Michigan Theater

The holidays will be here before we know it, so let's throw some good movies into the mix!  WEMU's David Fair and Michigan Theater Foundation executive director Russ Collins give the lowdown on the films available through the Michigan Theater's Virtual Movie Palace and highlight some special engagement opportunities for you. 



Credit The Michigan Theater / michtheater.org



Credit The Michigan Theater / michtheater.org

<--break->Unsure what to get for the movie-lover in your life?  A Michigan Theater Foundation membership gives virtual benefits now—discounts on popcorn and select streaming movies, free access to weekly trivia—and in-person benefits when we reopen.
Plus, you'll help us in our mission to bring the joy of cinema back to Downtown Ann Arbor.


Credit The Michigan Theater / michtheater.org

  "White Christmas" -- SUNDAY, DECEMBER 20 AT 5 PM

Traditionally, the Michigan Theater’s most popular holiday film, the sing-along will be mixed with holiday cocktails and commentary by Russ and Deb.  It’s free, but you must sign up in advance.

Credit The Michigan Theater / michtheater.org

  On the "Nice" List:

  • "A Not So Silent Night" - Direct from the Knitting Factory stage in downtown Manhattan, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, joined by Kate’s children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright.  Other guests include Emmylou Harris, Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed, and famed performance artist Laurie Anderson.  An eclectic cast performing original and traditional Christmas-themed songs transports viewers through a rousing rendition of the Christmas story. 
  • "The Holly and the Ivy" - The heart-warming Christmas tale set in post-war Britain stars Ralph Richardson as Reverend Martin Gregory, a recently widowed minister torn between his roles of clergyman and father. His zeal for attending to his parishioners leads him to neglect the needs of his own family, until emotions boil over one Christmas.  A charming and moving seasonal favorite, peaking with the family’s poignant reconciliation as they rediscover the true spirit of Christmas. 
  • "I Am Santa Claus" - Featuring Hall of Fame Wrestler Mick Foley, it is a documentary that follows the lives of five real-bearded professional Santa Clauses as they anticipate and prepare for the coming Christmas season.  Five flawed, flesh-and-blood men who feel an overbearing responsibility to protect the integrity of the spotless, untarnished reputation of a Santa.<--break->
Credit The Michigan Theater / michtheater.org

  On the "Naughty" List:

"Jingle Bell Rocks"

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An exclusive backstage pass into a fascinating underground world of alternative Christmas music.   Starring an eclectic cast of characters – The Flaming Lips, Run DMC, John Waters – plus two dozen amazing & original songs, this is a cinematic sleigh ride into the strange and sublime universe of alternative Xmas music.

"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale"

Credit The Michigan Theater / michtheater.org

In the depths of the Korvatunturi mountains, 486 meters deep, lies the closest ever guarded secret of Christmas.  The time has come to dig it up.  This Christmas, everyone will believe in Santa Claus.


https://vimeo.com/392782591" style="box-sizing: border-box; color: rgb(22, 141, 217); line-height: inherit; background-image: initial; background-position: initial; background-size: initial; background-repeat: initial; background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial;">"The Library That Dolly Built"
During the last 25 years, Dolly Parton has quietly built one of the largest literacy-focused non-profits in the world. Started as a gift for the children of her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is now active in all 50 states and five countries and delivers more than 1.5 million free, age-appropriate books to children every month.  The film goes behind-the-scenes of this unprecedented program to show how one of the most famous performers in the world has developed an efficient and effective program, beloved almost universally by its recipients. Featuring original interviews with authors, policy makers, Imagination Library staff, recipients, and the legend herself, Dolly Parton, the film introduces the viewer to all aspects of the Imagination Library, from how the books are selected and mailed to how the Imagination Library was originally formulated and where they expect to go in the future.



From Rosalind Russell’s command of the screen in "His Girl Friday" to the biting tensions of "Spotlight," journalism has long captured the imagination of movie goers with a romanticized idea of the profession.  However, cinema has seldom properly recognized the real heroes behind the stories.  In this film, director Alexander Nanauputs us in the room with real journalists as they break their story piece by piece.  The Romanian entry for the Best International Feature at next year’s 93rd Academy Awards, this documentary is as thrilling a narrative as any that has been shown on screen, and one that reflects so many of our current situations and distrusts in America.

"Martin Eden"

After Martin Eden meets Elena, he tries to achieve a place among the literary elite through self-education.  Adapted from a 1909 novel by Jack London yet set in a provocatively unspecified moment in Italy’s history, this film is a passionate and enthralling narrative fresco in the tradition of the great Italian classics.  Martin (played by the marvelously committed Luca Marinelli) is a self-taught proletarian with artistic aspirations who hopes that his dreams of becoming a writer will help him rise above his station and marry a wealthy young university student (Jessica Cressy).  The dissatisfactions of working-class toil and bourgeois success lead to political awakening and destructive anxiety in this enveloping, superbly mounted bildungsroman.  Winner of the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival and the Platform Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.


With unfettered access to the Zappa family trust and all archival footage, this film explores the private life behind the mammoth musical career that never shied away from the political turbulence of its time.  Alex Winter’s assembly features appearances by Frank’s widow Gail Zappa and several of Frank’s musical collaborators, including Mike KeneallyIan UnderwoodSteve VaiPamela Des BarresBunk GardnerDavid HarringtonScott ThunesRuth UnderwoodRay White, and others. 

"Crock of Gold"

A cinematic exploration ofShane MacGowan’s story, Julien Temple’s film details Shane’s explosive existence, from his salad days, growing up in Ireland, to time spent on the mean streets of London and embracing the punk scene.  To forming The Pogues and then conquering the known universe, we discover MacGowan’s passions, his humor & deep knowledge of music, history, spirituality & popular culture.  For this is Shane’s story.  A vision of the world through the eyes of the great punk poet himself and an intimate cast of close friends and family members, all channeled through Temple’s inimitable and eternally vibrant lens.

https://vimeo.com/414917737" style="box-sizing: border-box; color: rgb(22, 141, 217); line-height: inherit; background-image: initial; background-position: initial; background-size: initial; background-repeat: initial; background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial;">"Coded Bias"

Modern society sits at the intersection of two crucial questions: What does it mean when artificial intelligence increasingly governs our liberties?  And what are the consequences for the people AI is biased against?  When MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini discovers that most facial-recognition software does not accurately identify darker-skinned faces and the faces of women, she delves into an investigation of widespread bias in algorithms.  As it turns out, artificial intelligence is not neutral, and women are leading the charge to ensure our civil rights are protected.

"The Fight"

The ACLU has never granted access to its offices, even as its battles—on the fronts of abortion rights, immigration rights, LGBT rights and voting rights—have become timelier and more momentous than ever.  The film features Brigitte Amiri, Ann Arbor native and Deputy Director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.  Later this month, Brigitte will do a Q & A about the film.  With this film, access has finally been granted to the filmmaking team of Eli B. Despres, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, makers of 2016’s award-winning Weiner.  Rousing, inspiring and slyly humorous, their latest documentary follows four seismically important cases and a handful of magnetic attorneys.  These lawyers may not know how to charge a cell phone or operate a stand-up desk but have persuaded Supreme Court Justices, beating back serious encroachments upon our freedoms.  An antidote to endless news cycles filled with tweet tantrums, the film inspires with the story of front-line warriors in the battle for the American soul.

"Jazz on a Summer's Day" - New 4K Restoration!

Legendary photographer Bert Stern’s groundbreaking concert documentary is considered one of the most extraordinary and possibly the “best feature-length jazz concert movie ever made.”


Ripping back the curtain on legendary rock rag CREEM Magazine’s wild and disruptive newsroom; a dysfunctional band of unruly outsiders who weren’t all that different from the artists they covered.

"Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind"

An exploration of the career, music, and influence of legendary Canadian musical icon Gordon Lightfoot, from his evolution from Christian choirboy to troubled troubadour to international star and beloved Canadian icon.

"Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy"

Filmmaker Elizabeth Carrollexamines the vibrant and unconventional life of Diana Kennedy, widely regarded as the world’s leading expert on Mexican cuisine.

"Desert One"

From Two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple, this film tells the incredible tale of America’s secret mission to free the hostages of the 1979 Iranian revolution, which has been called “the most audacious, difficult, complicated, rescue mission ever attempted.

"Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President"

Part-rockumentary, part-presidential portrait, this doc traces how music helped propel Jimmy Carter to the White House, and the significant role that music has played in President Carter’s life and work. 


An intimate portrait of an unlikely rock star: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  With unprecedented access, the filmmakers explore how her early legal battles changed the world for women.  50% of all purchases will be donated to the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, which was co-founded by Justice Ginsburg in 1972.


Director Abel Ferrara reunites with his frequent lead Willem Dafoe, who delivers a career-best performance as the title character, an older American expat living in Rome with his young wife and their daughter.


This is a feature-length documentary that explores the nexus of art, race, and justice through the story of art collector and philanthropist Agnes “Aggie” Gund’s life.  Emmy-nominated directorCatherine Gundfocuses on her mother’s journey to give viewers an understanding of the power of art to transform consciousness and inspire social change. 

"Once Upon A River"

Based on Michigander Bonnie Jo Campbell’s novel of the same name, this “midwestern gothic Americana story” tells the story of a young Native American woman’s odyssey on the Stark River, which introduces her to a world filled with wonders and dangers.

"John Lewis: Good Trouble"

Using interviews and rare archival footage, this film chronicles Lewis’ 60-plus years of social activism and legislative action on civil rights, voting rights, gun control, health-care reform and immigration.

"We Are Little Zombies"

When four young orphans first meet, their parents’ are dead and yet none of them can shed a tear.  They are like zombies.  With no family, no future and no way to move forward, the young teens decide to start a rock band… and conquer the world.

"Made in Bangladesh"

100% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes!  Ugly walls of resistance arise when a Dhaka woman attempts to organize her garment factory co-workers.

"Meeting the Beatles in India"

In 1968, the Beatles travel to Rishikesh, India, to study transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.


Writer and director Romola Garai explores the story of Tomaz, a haunted ex soldier from an unnamed foreign conflict, living in strained circumstances in London.

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The story of Miriam Makeba, a South African singer and crusader against apartheid, with a look at her life, career, and activism through the lens of archival footage.

https://vimeo.com/406015222" style="box-sizing: border-box; color: rgb(22, 141, 217); line-height: inherit; background-image: initial; background-position: initial; background-size: initial; background-repeat: initial; background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial;">"Vinyl Nation"

A documentary that traces the revival of record stores in the last decade.

"I Used To Go Here"

Following the launch of her new novel, 35-year-old writer Kate Conklin (Gillian Jacobs) is invited to speak at her alma mater by her mentor and former professor (Jemaine Clement).

"Kinshasa Makambo"

A Cinetopia 2019 selection!  Congolese director Dieudo Hamadi exposes the political crisis in the Congo through the stories of three young political activists.

"Pioneers of Queer Cinema"

Celebrate Pride Month with this newly restored trio of classics from the early days of queer cinema, each far ahead of its time.  Rent each film separately, or purchase a pass for all three for $15.00!

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.

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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 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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