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Cinema Chat: Sundance adapts to COVID, Oscar betting odds, 'Drive My Car,' and more

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There are plenty of movies to keep you warm in this cold January. WEMU's Michael Jewett fills in for David Fair once again in our weekly chat about the world of film with Michigan Theater Foundation executive director Russ Collins.

WANT TO SAVE THE MOVIES? INVEST IN REGIONAL FILM FESTIVALS -- Eric Kohn, Indiewire

 

Sundance isn’t the only festival struggling in 2022.

 

There’s trouble in Park City, with a capital T and that rhymes with C and that stands for COVID. (Sorry, but I am just dying to see the new “Music Man” on Broadway.) Canceling this year’s in-person Sundance Film Festival created plenty of headaches — grousing about non-refundable condos and passes abound — but in its shadow is another, much larger disappointment that has the capacity to undermine regional film festivals and the organizations that support them.

 

Under the federal government’s American Rescue Plan to aid economic recovery from the pandemic, the National Endowment for the Arts received funding for grants to support operating costs at arts organizations. Nearly 600 festivals and film organizations applied for the competitive grants, offered in tiers of $50,000, $100,000, and $150,000. This week, the rejection letters started rolling in.

 

I don’t expect Netflix to lose sleep over the skeleton crews that run beloved local festivals from Seattle to Philadelphia, where non-profits struggle to make rent and hold on to their staffs. However, audiences who want entertainment choices that go beyond algorithms should pay attention. Community and quality are hard to quantify in the film world and require acute programming instincts to survive. If you’re sick of the most obvious home viewing options, your local festival has your back. Smart, engaged movie audiences depend as much on small-scale festivals as the heavyweights.

 

And the government can’t help them all. As the NEA’s form letters noted, only seven percent of more than 7,500 applicants scored funding.

 

The grants on offer do not sound like life-altering sums — they range from $50,000 to $150,000 — but we’re talking about nonprofits where a programming initiative that puts them in the black by a few thousand bucks is a winning case study. Meanwhile, the Art House Convergence — the annual gathering of independent exhibitors who meet in the run-up to Sundance (founded and operated for a dozen years by the Michigan Theater Foundation) — postponed for a second year in a row as ... [the] organization eyes an ambitious reboot by the end of 2022 (under its new sponsor Sundance).

 

Like the scrappy artists these organizations curate, these lo-fi entities thrive in survival mode. Current circumstances are much closer to crisis. Americans for the Arts reported that pandemic-related layoffs and closures cost the arts sector close to $14 billion in 2020. Virtual events attracted a lot of quarantined moviegoers, but that effect has started to erode. At the recent online FilmEx conference this past week, several regional festival leaders observed a drop off in interest for virtual screenings and events — not that they yielded much in the way of profit in the first place.

 

Nonprofit film organizations don’t treat money as a primary metric; they measure success by their ability to create and curate programming that retains local audiences. It’s a business model that doesn’t operate on the same plane as Sundance’s multimillion-dollar deals, but without the support of those humble organizations, it’s hard to imagine a future for movies beyond tentpoles.

 

CURRENT BETTING ODDS TO WIN BEST PICTURE OSCAR

  • "The Power of the Dog" +170
  • "West Side Story" +200
  • "Belfast' +225
  • "Licorice Pizza" +1,400
  • "King Richard" +1,600
  • "Dune" +1,600
  • "Nightmare Alley" +2,000
  • "Don't Look Up" +2,500
  • "CODA" +2,500
  • "House of Gucci" +3,500
  • "The Tragedy of Macbeth" +3,500
  • "tick, tick...Boom!" +3,500

 

COMING ON VALENTINE'S DAY

Free for Michigan Theater members, but all are invited for this romantic evening. Have your sweetheart choose:
 

 OPENING DOWNTOWN

"Drive My Car" -- OPENS FRIDAY JANUARY 21 AT THE STATE

Winner of three prizes at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, including Best Screenplay. Chosen as the Japanese entry for the Best International Feature Film Oscar. Wone the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

Two years after his wife's unexpected death, Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a renowned stage actor and director, receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya at a theater festival in Hiroshima. There, he meets Misaki Watari (Toko Miura), a taciturn young woman assigned by the festival to chauffeur him in his beloved red Saab 900. As the production's premiere approaches, tensions mount amongst the cast and crew, not least between Yusuke and Koji Takatsuki, a handsome TV star who shares an unwelcome connection to Yusuke's late wife. Forced to confront painful truths raised from his past, Yusuke begins -- with the help of his driver -- to face the haunting mysteries his wife left behind. Adapted from Haruki Murakami's short story, Ryusuke Hamaguchi's film is a haunting road movie traveling a path of love, loss, acceptance, and peace. Winner of three prizes at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, including Best Screenplay.

"Scream" -- OPENS FRIDAY, JANUARY 21 AT THE STATE

An American slasher film directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick. It is the fifth installment in the "Scream film" series. Though billed as a relaunch of the film series, the film is a direct sequel to "Scream 4" (2011), and the first in the series not to be directed by Wes Craven, who died in 2015. The film is dedicated to Craven at the beginning of the closing credits. The film stars Melissa BarreraMason GoodingJenna Ortega, and Jack Quaid, alongside Marley SheltonCourteney CoxDavid Arquette, and Neve Campbell, who reprise their roles from previous installments. Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, Calif., a new killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town's deadly past.

 
SPECIAL SCREENINGS DOWNTOWN

Late Nights at the Michigan

Korean Cinema NOW 

Sidney Poitier Memorial Retrospective Series (at the Michigan)

CONTINUING DOWNTOWN

"Belle" 

This (in Japanese: Sobakasu no Hime "The Dragon and The Freckled Princess") is a 2021 Japanese animated science fiction fantasy film. It is based on and inspired by the 1756 French fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast" (La Belle et le Bete). The film received its world premiere on July 15, 2021 at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, where it was well-received by critics with a standing ovation that lasted fourteen minutes, the longest of any film shown at the festival.

The celebrated Academy Award®-nominated director Mamoru Hosoda and Studio Chizu, creators of "Mirai," "Wolf Children," "Summer Wars," and more, comes a fantastical, heartfelt story of growing up in the age of social media.

Suzu is a shy, everyday high school student living in a rural village. For years, she has only been a shadow of herself. But when she enters “U”, a massive virtual world, she escapes into her online persona as Belle, a gorgeous and globally-beloved singer. One day, her concert is interrupted by a monstrous creature chased by vigilantes. As their hunt escalates, Suzu embarks on an emotional and epic quest to uncover the identity of this mysterious “beast” and to discover her true self in a world where you can be anyone.

"The Tragedy of Macbeth"

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand star in Joel Coen’s bold and fierce adaptation of Shakespeare's classic work; a tale of murder, madness, ambition, and wrathful cunning.

"Licorice Pizza"

This film is a 2021 American coming-of-age comedy-drama film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson ("Phantom Thread," "There Will Be Blood," "Boogie Nights"). The film stars Alana HaimCooper HoffmanSean PennTom WaitsBradley CooperMaya Rudolph, and Benny Safdie. The film received acclaim from critics and received three awards from the National Board of Review, including Best Film. It was also named one of the best films of 2021 by the American Film Institute and received four nominations at the 79th Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, along with eight nominations at the 27th Critics' Choice Awards, including Best Picture. The story of Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973. 

"Spider-Man: No Way Home"

This is a 2021 American superhero film, the sequel to "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017) and "Spider-Man: Far From Home" (2019). It is the 27th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is directed by Jon Watts, written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, and stars Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man alongside ZendayaBenedict CumberbatchJacob BatalonJon Favreau, and Marisa Tomei. In this film, Parker asks Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) to make his identity as Spider-Man a secret again with magic, but Strange's spell goes awry, breaking open the multiverse and allowing supervillains from alternate realities to enter the MCU. This marks the first time in the cinematic history of Spider-Man, our friendly neighborhood hero's identity is revealed, bringing his Super Hero responsibilities into conflict with his normal life and putting those he cares about most at risk. Now, Peter will have to overcome his greatest challenge yet, which will not only forever alter his own future, but the future of the Multiverse.

"West Side Story"

Love at first sight strikes when young Tony spots Maria at a high school dance in 1957 New York City. Their burgeoning romance helps to fuel the fire between the warring Jets and Sharks -- two rival gangs vying for control of the streets. Director: Steven Spielberg. Writer: Tony Kushner.

"House of Gucci"

This is a 2021 American biographical crime drama film directed by Ridley Scott, based on the 2001 book "The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed" by Sara Gay Forden. The film stars Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani, the wife of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), as their romance transforms into a fight for control of the fashion brand Gucci; Jared LetoJeremy IronsSalma Hayek, and Al Pacino also star.

Ridley Scott had wanted to do a film about the Gucci dynasty since acquiring the rights to Forden's book in the early 2000s. The project languished for several years and went through a handful of directors and rumored actors before Scott and Gaga were confirmed as attached in November 2019. Much of the rest of the cast joined the following summer, and filming began in Italy in February 2021, lasting through May.

The film is inspired by the shocking true story of the family behind the Italian fashion empire. When Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), an outsider from humble beginnings, marries into the Gucci family, her unbridled ambition begins to unravel the family legacy and triggers a reckless spiral of betrayal, decadence, revenge, and ultimately... murder.

"The French Dispatch"

A 2021 American comedy-drama anthology film written, directed, and produced by Wes Anderson from a story he conceived with Roman CoppolaHugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman. The film stars an ensemble cast featuring Benicio del Toro, Adrien BrodyTilda SwintonLéa SeydouxFrances McDormandTimothée ChalametLyna KhoudriJeffrey WrightMathieu AmalricStephen ParkBill Murray, and Owen Wilson. Its plot follows three different storylines, as the French foreign bureau of a fictional Kansas newspaper creates its final issue. Filming took place between November 2018 and March 2019, with cinematographer Robert Yeoman, in the city of Angoulême, France. Following a delay, the film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on July 12, 2021.

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—Michael Jewett is the WEMU weekday jazz host.  Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Michael Jewett is the long-time host of 89.1 Jazz every weekday afternoon. Besides his on-air work; Michael is WEMU’s Operations Manager. Mr. Jewett started working for WEMU in 1983. He’s been on the air longer than any other current WEMU music host.
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