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Cinema Chat: Cinetopia, 'Maleficent', 'A Million Ways To Die In The West' And More

May 29, 2014

The Cinetopia Film Festival runs June 4th-8th in Ann Arbor and Detroit.
Credit cinetopia.com


Cinetopia is almost here!

Coming live-in-person to the Cinetopia International Film Festival are acclaimed indie film directors Spike Lee, John Sayles and Tommy Oliver, Academy Award-Winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, actors Hill Harper ("He Got Game" and" CSI: NY") and David Strathairn (currently in "Godzilla" and featured in "Lincoln") and 30 more featured players, directors, screenwriters and producers from around the world. Great films with live-in-person filmmakers - what could be better for movie mavens or anyone looking for a highly rewarding cinema experience!

The Cinetopia Festival is bringing the best films from the world's best film festivals to Detroit and Ann Arbor June 4-8. If you have not been to a film festival before, you might find the notion of sorting through 50 different film titles and over 100 screenings in 10 different locations over five days to be overwhelming. This is completely understandable. As a festival filmgoer, whether you are going to Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, Venice, Tribecca, SXSW, or (especially) the Cinetopia Festival, it is beneficial to think clearly about "How to Festival." 

The best way to “festival” is to get a pass and go - as much as you can, for as many days as you can. Know you will bump into filmmakers, mostly talented folks who are not in the pages of People magazine or flickering in front of you on TMZ, but who are gifted and may soon be a widely recognized celebrity. Discovering them at this year's festival will, in years to come, allow you to say, "I saw or got to know [him or her] at the Cinetopia Festival back in 2014!" 

The way you attend film festival screenings is a bit different than the way you might typically go to a movie. Usually, when you decide to see a film, you set off to see something you already think you will like. If you like comedies, you go to comedy flicks. If you like action, you go to see spectacular car chases and things exploding. If you like rom-coms or documentaries, you seek those out. At a film festival, you should look for films you think you might enjoy; however, it is the sense of discovery, surprise, and mystery that make going to film festivals so fun and rewarding. 

To check out the entire roster of films and special events at the Cinetopia Festival, 

2014 Cinetopia GUIDE

Opening at the Multiplex this Friday

"Maleficent" explores the untold story of Disney's most iconic villain from the classic "Sleeping Beauty" and the elements of her betrayal that ultimately turn her pure heart to stone. Driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the moors over which she presides, Maleficent cruelly places an irrevocable curse upon the human king's newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Aurora is caught in the middle of the seething conflict between the forest kingdom she has grown to love and the human kingdom that holds her legacy. Maleficent realizes that Aurora may hold the key to peace in the land and is forced to take drastic actions that will change both worlds forever. "Maleficent" opens Friday.

Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly -- Maleficent feels classical in nature. The characters are boiled down to their essentials, the humor is timelessly broad, and Jolie's at her best when she's curling her claws and elongating her vowels like a black-sabbath Tallulah Bankhead.

Claudia Puig, USA Today -- It fails to live up to its early promise, mostly because of an uneven tone and murky character development.

Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter --  bumpy patches notwithstanding, the new feature is an exquisitely designed, emotionally absorbing work of dark enchantment.

Andrew Barker, Variety -- Uncertain of tone, and bearing visible scarring from what one imagines were multiple rewrites, the film fails to probe the psychology of its subject or set up a satisfying alternate history, but it sure is nice to look at for 97 minutes.

In “A Million Ways to Die in the West” Seth MacFarlane directs, produces, co-writes and plays the role of the cowardly sheep farmer Albert, who after backing out of a gunfight, his fickle girlfriend leaves him for another man. When a mysterious and beautiful woman rides into town, she helps him find his courage and they begin to fall in love. But when her husband, a notorious outlaw, arrives seeking revenge, the farmer must put his newfound courage to the test. Starring alongside MacFarlane are Oscar winner Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and Neil Patrick Harris. “A Million Ways to Die in the West” opens Friday.

While it offers a few laughs and boasts a talented cast, Seth MacFarlane's overlong, aimless A Million Ways to Die in the West is a disappointingly scattershot affair.

Kyle Smith, New York Post -- MacFarlane is just passable as a leading man, but as a director and co-writer with two others he has a wider comic imagination than "Blazing Saddles." For every so-so gag there are three genius ones.

Tony Hicks, San Jose Mercury News --  MacFarlane was hoping to make a new generation's "Blazing Saddles," he failed amid an avalanche of dumb.

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News -- MacFarlane has corralled a great cast, which makes it especially disappointing that the movie's merely OK.

Richard Corliss, TIME Magazine -- A sagebrush comedy whose visual grandeur and appealing actors get polluted by some astonishingly lazy writing.

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter -- Though the film is hardly laugh-free, its uneven jokes appear to have breezed through a very forgiving editing process.

Continuing Downtown

“Blue Ruin” is a classic American revenge story that won the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it screened in the Directors' Fortnight category. The film follows a mysterious outsider whose quiet life is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family. “Blue Ruin” continues at the State Theatre.

“Locke” stars Tom Hardy as Ivan, a man who has worked diligently to craft the life he has envisioned, dedicating himself to the job that he loves and the family he adores. On the eve of the biggest challenge of his career, Ivan receives a phone call that sets in motion a series of events that will unravel his family, job, and soul. “Locke” continues Friday at the Michigan Theater.

“Belle” is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. Left to wonder if she will ever find love, Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England. “Belle” continues at the Michigan Theater.

Special Screenings Downtown

Big Hearts for Seniors presents “Age of Champions,” the story of five competitors who sprint, leap, and swim for gold at the National Senior Olympics and triumph over the limitation of age. Meet local senior athletes and hear from the film’s director, Christopher Rufo, as he gives behind-the-scenes glimpses into the making of the film and answers questions in a lively Q & A. “Age of Champions” plays tonight at 7PM at the Michigan Theater.

In “A Will for the Woods” one man's passionate wish for a legacy of green burials inspires a profoundly affecting and optimistic portrait of people finding meaning in death. Musician, folk dancer, and psychiatrist Clark Wang battles lymphoma while facing a potentially imminent need for funeral plans. Determined that his last act will not harm the environment and may even help protect it, Clark has discovered the movement to further sustainable funerals that conserve natural areas. Enabling Clark's wish is green burial pioneer Joe Sehee, who aims to realize this concept's vast potential by helping define its goals and standards and endeavoring to open the world's largest conservation burial ground. Moved by Clark's persistence and relying on Joe's guidance, local cemetarian Dyanne Matzkevich, though avowedly "not a greenie," establishes the first natural burial ground in North Carolina. Together she and Clark endeavor to protect the tract of forest adjacent to her conventional cemetery, developing a close bond. “A Will for the Woods” plays Sunday, June 1 at 1 PM. Featuring a post-screening Q&A with co- director Jeremy Caplan, Green Burial Council founder Joe Sehee, and local experts.