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Cinema Chat: Final Oscar Predictions, 'Three Christs,' 'Birds Of Prey,' And More

Feb 6, 2020

Michigan Theater View from the Stage
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

There's only a few days left until this year's Oscars are handed out, so now's a good time to catch up on your film viewing.  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair talks to Michigan and State Theater executive director Russ Collins about the latest movie news and all of the new flicks landing on the big screen this weekend.


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 SHIFT – review 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 RandolphBirgundi BakerAllison Tolman and Ed 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].

OPENING DOWNTOWN

"Three Christs" -- OPENING FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 7 AT THE MICHIGAN

Based on a remarkable true story, this film is a fascinating and moving look at one man’s journey into the deepest mysteries of the human mind.  In 1959, psychiatrist Dr. Alan Stone (played by Richard Gere) arrives at Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan armed with the radical belief that schizophrenic patients should be treated not with confinement and electroshock therapy but with empathy and understanding.  As his first study, he takes on the particularly challenging case of three men (played by Peter Dinklage, Walton Goggins, and Bradley Whitford) who believes they are Jesus Christ.  Hoping that by getting them together in the same room to confront their delusions he can break through to them, Dr. Stone begins a risky, unprecedented experiment that will push the boundaries of psychiatric medicine and leave everyone involved-including Dr. Stone himself-profoundly changed. 

"Downhill" -- OPENING THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 13 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-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, and Zach Woods

SPECIAL SCREENINGS DOWNTOWN

"Your Name"

This film plays Friday, February 7 at 9:30 PM at the Michigan as a part of the Late-Night Film Series.  From director Makoto Shinkai, the innovative mind behind "Voices of a Distant Star" and "5 Centimeters Per Second," comes a beautiful masterpiece about time, the thread of fate, and the hearts of two young souls.  The day the stars fell, two lives changed forever.  High schoolers Mitsuha and Taki are complete strangers living separate lives. But one night, they suddenly switch places.  Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s body, and he in hers.  This bizarre occurrence continues to happen randomly, and the two must adjust their lives around each other.  Yet, somehow, it works.  They build a connection and communicate by leaving notes, messages, and more importantly, an imprint.

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

"Dark Figure of Crime"

This film plays Saturday, February 8 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!  Hyung-min is a prominent police detective who lives to solve criminal cases.  With the help of an informant, he meets Tae-oh who claims that he was hired to kill someone 10 years ago.  Just when he is about to confess where he buried the body, another team of detectives snatch him away for an arrest.  A month later, Tae-oh calls Hyung-min from prison and confesses that he killed 7 more people and will give him clues if he visits.

"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"

This film plays Sunday, February 9 at 1:30 PM at the Michigan sponsored by Emerson School.  FREE for kids 12 & under!  Based on the first of J.K. Rowling’s popular children’s novels about Harry Potter, the live-action family adventure film tells the story of a boy who learns on his 11th birthday that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and possesses unique magical powers of his own.  Invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.  At Hogwarts, he finds the home and the family he has never had.

"Agave: The Spirit of a Nation"

This film plays Monday, February 10 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan.  Mexico is home to the highest biodiversity of agave varieties in the world.  Tequila and Mezcal spirits derived from the heart of the agave are the fastest trending spirits in the marketplace.  This expressive documentary takes viewers beyond the spirit to discover how one plant can carry the weight of a culture and the people trying to protect it.  Each ticket to this screening includes access to a post-film Q&A with special guests, a mezcal tasting, and light appetizers, courtesy of Tios Mexican Cafe.  Must be 21 & over to purchase a ticket!  We will be checking ID at the door.

"Down by Law"

This film plays Tuesday, February 11 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.  Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, who followed his groundbreaking "Stranger Than Paradise" with another rambling, character-driven film with a twisted sense of humor.  Set in a seedy New Orleans summer, the film details the meeting of three unlikely convicts and their just as unlikely escape.  Zack (played by Tom Waits) is an out-of-work DJ who is accused of murder when a body is found in the trunk of a stolen car he was hired to drive across town, Jack (played by John Lurie) is a pimp set up for a fall by a competitor, and Roberto (played by Roberto Benigni) is a cheerful Italian immigrant who happens to have killed a man.  When the three mismatched miscreants eventually bust out of jail, they head into the Louisiana bayous with limited supplies and means of survival.

Jim Jarmusch Retrospective – Celebrating one of American cinema’s most idiosyncratic filmmakers Tuesdays in February.

"bias"

This film plays Wednesday, February 12 at 6:30 PM at the Michigan as a part of the Independent Thinker Film Series, sponsored by the independent schools of Ann Arbor, including Greenhills School, Ann Arbor Academy, Emerson School, Summers Knoll, Rudolf Steiner School, and Daycroft School.  FREE for kids 18 & under!  This is a film that challenges us to confront our hidden biases and understand what we risk when we follow our gut. Through exposing her own biases, award-winning documentary filmmaker Robin Hauser highlights the nature of implicit bias, the grip it holds on our social and professional lives, and what it will take to induce change.  Stay for a post-film discussion led by special guest Nadine Hall, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Greenhills School.

"Portrait of a Lady on Fire"

This film plays Wednesday, February 12 at 7:00 PM at the State.  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.  This film will open for a full run beginning Friday, February 28.

"The Downfall of Osen"

This film plays Thursday, February 13 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.  After their unscrupulous master is arrested, servant girl Osen and penniless young Sokichi must fend for themselves.  They live together in Meiji-era Tokyo, and Osen’s love drives her to pay Sokichi’s way through medical school, finally turning to secret streetwalking on his behalf.  Told in an elaborate flashback structure, this film has been singled out as a transitional film that bridges director Kenji Mizoguchi’s early and middle periods, as well as the silent and sound eras.  This silent movie will be accompanied by a live benshi. At the birth of cinema, lecturers always accompanied silent films, but as films became complex enough to tell stories the lecturers disappeared – except in Japan.  Silent films in Japan (and its colonies) had both live music and a benshi, who would stand to the left of the screen imitating voices and providing spectacular narration.  The live benshi performer will be Kataoka Ichiro, Japan’s premiere benshi. Ichiro was in Ann Arbor for a season of silent Ozu some years ago, and tonight he will narrate Mizoguchi’s classic film.

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

CONTINUING DOWNTOWN

Oscar-Nominated Short Films 

At the Michigan: 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.

Animation

  • 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

Documentary

  • 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

"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 stars Saoirse RonanEmma WatsonFlorence PughEliza Scanlen, with Timothée Chalamet as their neighbor Laurie, Laura Dern as Marmee, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March.

"Clemency"

At the State: 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

"Color Out of Space"

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"). 

"Weathering with You"

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.

"1917"

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. 

"Parasite"

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. 

OPENING AT THE MULTIPLEX THIS WEEKEND

"Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)"

You ever hear the one about the cop, the songbird, the psycho, and the mafia princess?  This is a twisted tale told by Harley Quinn herself, as only Harley can tell it.  When Gotham's most nefariously narcissistic villain, Roman Sionis, and his zealous right-hand, Zsasz, put a target on a young girl named Cass, the city is turned upside down looking for her.  Harley, Huntress, Black Canary, and Renee Montoya's paths collide, and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down.  Starring Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, and Rosie Perez.

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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