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Cinema Chat: Arclight Theaters Shut Down, Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts, And More

Michigan Theater
The Michigan Theater

The Oscars are inching ever closer, and Ann Arbor's downtown theaters can help prepare you.  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair talks about the latest movie news and films becoming available for your viewing pleasure with Michigan Theater Foundation executive director Russ Collins.


Plus, tickets on sale now for next week's return of Premium Member Tuesday.  Catch Michelle Pfeiffer's acclaimed turn in "French Exit" on 4/20.  There will also be a special screening of "Dazed and Confused"—also with a new post-film onscreen cast reunion (FYI: 4/20 is cannabis culture slang for marijuana and also refers to cannabis-oriented celebrations that take place annually on April 20.


The 18 Arclight and Pacific theaters represented about 200 screens — as well as countless premieres, chance encounters, and the belief that they were too important to fail.

The 18 Arclight and Pacific Theaters represented about one percent of the North American box-office gross, but the April 13 announcement of their permanent closure by parent company Decurion inspired front-page stories and social-media outpourings of grief.  What other industry would generate that response? Of course, these theaters meant much more than their receipts.  In Los Angeles, the presumption was Arclight was a theater too good to close.

With 14 theaters in the Los Angeles region, led by the Arclight Hollywood and the Pacific Grove, as well as locations in the Chicago, Boston, and D.C. markets, the Decurion circuits were a tiny player compared to AMC, Regal, and Cinemark.  Unlike those competitors, Decurion is a private holding company that includes commercial real estate agency, Robertson Properties Group.  Among its holdings are the Cinerama Dome and the Hollywood Arclight – the theater where many film are premiered in Los Angeles.

“This was not the outcome anyone wanted, but despite a huge effort that exhausted all potential options, the company does not have a viable way forward,” Decurion said in a statement.  “We’re out of the exhibition business, full stop.”  That doesn’t mean the theaters will never reopen — or rather, they can only reopen as theaters. 

Decurion’s Los Angeles-area theaters provided about 10 percent of the region’s 2019 gross, with Hollywood Arclight/Cinerama Dome and the Grove Theatres providing a huge share of the business in Los Angeles.  Cinerama Dome/Hollywood Arclight were preeminent as one of the core four New York and Los Angeles locations for initial platform runs of limited films, studio and specialized.  It became a go-to site for industry screenings, events, and high-profile in-person appearance.  Its fate means more for “Parasite” or the next Wes Anderson film than for “F9” or “Godzilla vs. Kong.”

One thought is it is so elevated in stature that it might make sense for a deep-pocketed streamer — Netflix, Amazon, Apple — to make a deal with Decurion.  This could involve a renaming, much like companies to sports arenas, with the added value of giving prime theatrical play for their own films, while also playing the role of hero.

Rian Johnson, Edgar Wright, and More Speak Out Against ArcLight Theaters Shutdown: ‘A Huge Loss’

"Sending love to every usher, manager and projectionist," Johnson wrote on social media.

Rian Johnson and Edgar Wright are only two of the many directors posting tributes to ArcLight Theaters following news Monday night the beloved movie theater chain is permanently closing its doors.

“Love and Basketball” and “The Old Guard” filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewoodsummed up her thoughts by writing, “This is so painful.  The ArcLight is my go-to.  Clean, great sound, assigned stadium seating, great popcorn, usher movie introductions.  A true movie-going experience.”


Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts -- SATURDAY, APRIL 17 AT THE MICHIGAN

From 96 total qualifying films, these five received nominations in the Documentary Short Film category at the 93rd Academy Awards.  Please Note: Subject matter is very much not for young audiences.

  • "Colette": As a young teen, Colette Marin-Catherine joined in her family’s new “business”: the French Resistance.  The film follows the now-90-year-old as she and a young history student make a first pilgrimage to the Nazi concentration camp where Marin-Catherine’s brother died.  “Colette” vividly depicts the instant bond between the two sojourners and the almost unbearable weight of visiting a place where acts of unspeakable evil occurred.
  • "A Concerto Is a Conversation": Parallels the debut of rising-star composer Kris Bowers’ concerto “For a Younger Self” at Disney Hall with a conversation between him and his grandfather, Horace Bowers.  Using techniques similar to Errol Morris’, allowing people talking with each other to directly address the camera, the film lets us into a private-feeling chat shining a light into Horace’s remarkable life and how he has influenced his successful grandson.  It’s unusually intimate, the principal takeaway being the deep love between its two subjects.
  • "Do Not Split": A harrowing view from inside the pro-democracy protests still roiling Hong Kong, with footage from within the crowds as they face down fully outfitted riot police while the protesters have little more than masks and umbrellas.  There are firebombs thrown, tear gas launched and innocents caught in the crossfire.  Most of all, there are students and average citizens facing down an existential threat to their democracy.  In response, the Chinese government has reportedly ordered local media to not carry the Oscars live.
  • "Hunger Ward": Goes beyond news reports of war and famine in Yemen to look unflinchingly at the resulting suffering, and even death, of young children.  It’s rough.  The film suffers from a slightly diffused focus but is the kind of old-school documentary reporting designed to make viewers connect viscerally to the human fallout of war, rather than just shake their heads at the news.
  • "A Love Song for Latasha": The 1991 killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins left scars on Los Angeles, including helping fuel the L.A. riots a year later.  Director Sophia Nahli Allison spends little time on the crime, instead crafting a poetic portrait of the girl through stories told by her loved ones and subjective cinematic techniques such as abstract animation, video effects and stand-ins.


"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"-- PLAYS APRIL 18  AT THE MICHIGAN

The sequel to the AFI Award-winning "The Fellowship of the Ring," this film follows the continuing quest of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and the Fellowship to destroy the One Ring.  Frodo and Sam (Sean Astin) discover they are being followed by the mysterious Gollum.  Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the Elf archer Legolas, and Gimli the Dwarf encounter the besieged Rohan kingdom, whose once great King Theoden has fallen under Saruman's deadly spell.  (4K Theatrical Cut).
With brand new post post-film discussion with Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, and moderated by Stephen Colbert!

Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts -- PLAYING AT THE MICHIGAN THIS WEEKEND

  • “Feeling Through”: A broke teen looks for shelter on a cold night.  His random encounter with a middle-aged, deaf-blind man changes his course, possibly in more ways than one.  Writer-director Doug Roland gets strong work from both performers: Robert Tarango actually is deaf and blind; Steven Prescod is convincing as a desperate kid who turns out to be a genuinely good person.
  • “The Letter Room”Oscar Isaac plays a corrections officer who takes over the job of scanning prisoner mail and gets involved in the lives revealed therein.  It’s a well-acted, low-key drama that could be ready for expansion.
  • “The Present”: A goodhearted Palestinian man takes his young daughter to pick up a gift for his wife; to do so, they must pass through an Israeli checkpoint.  The stresses and humiliations complicating what should be a simple errand pile up, pushing him toward a potentially tragic outcome.
  • “Two Distant Strangers”: Takes a familiar fantasy trope and applies it to a deadly serious subject: police mistreatment of Black Americans.  To its credit, its denouement makes that gamble pay off.  It evolves into something thoughtful, eventually becoming a startlingly dark commentary.
  • “White Eye”: An examination of unintended consequences in modern-day Tel Aviv.  When a young man seems to have solved the mystery of his stolen bicycle, his single-minded quest to reclaim it takes a turn that forces him to see with greater perspective.  Shot in one continuous take, Tomer Shushan’s film puts its audience in a tense situation with steely focus until its deeper meaning becomes clear.

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts -- AT THE STATE THIS WEEKEND

Each year, we're thrilled to present the Academy Award-nominated shorts programming featuring the year's most spectacular short films.  From 96 total qualifying films, these five received nominations in the Animated Short Film category at the 93rd Academy Awards. 

  • "Burrow" – Madeline Sharafian and Michael Capbarat (USA, 6 min.)
  • "Genius Loci" – Adrien Mérigeau and Amaury Ovise (France, 16 min.)
  • "Opera" – Erick Oh (USA, 9 min.)
  • "If Anything Happens, I Love You" – Will McCormack and Michael Govier (USA, 12 min.)
  • "Yes-People" – Gísli Darri Halldórsson and Arnar Gunnarsson (Iceland, 8 min.)

"French Exit" -- PLAYING AT THE STATE APRIL 16-18

“My plan was to die before the money ran out,” says 60-year-old penniless Manhattan socialite Frances Price (Michelle Pfeiffer), but things didn’t go as planned.  Her husband Franklin has been dead for 12 years, and with his vast inheritance gone, she cashes in the last of her possessions and resolves to live out her twilight days anonymously in a borrowed apartment in Paris, accompanied by her directionless son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) and a cat named Small Frank—who may or may not embody the spirit of Frances’s dead husband. 


If you liked the indie hit “The Farewell” (starring Awkwafina), you will like this film.  A tender and sweeping story about what roots us, the film follows a Korean-American family that moves to a tiny Arkansas farm in search of their own American Dream.  The family home changes completely with the arrival of their sly, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother.  Amidst the instability and challenges of this new life in the rugged Ozarks, Minari shows the undeniable resilience of family and what really builds a home and family.  Starring Steven Yeun ("Burning") and Yeri Han ("Champion").

"Nomadland" -- PLAYING AT THE STATE APRIL 17 & 18

Following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad.  The third feature film from director Chloé Zhao, this film features real nomads Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West.

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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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