Cinema Chat: 'La La Land,' 'Willy Wonka,' 'Fences,' 'Assassin's Creed,' And More

Dec 23, 2016

The Michigan Theater
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

The long holiday break is upon us, so let's celebrate with a trip to the movies.  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair speaks to Michigan Theater executive director Russ Collins about the movie business all of the flicks coming to the big screen this holiday weekend.


Maize and Blue and 'La La Land': U-M Alums are Having Big Musical Moment

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul laugh when congratulated on their current world domination of musicals. Although they may not be actual overlords just yet, they're certainly having a major moment with the genre.  Their first original musical, "Dear Evan Hansen," opened officially on Broadway early this month to rave reviews.  And the new hit movie "La La Land," for which they provided song lyrics, is already on a path to box office and awards season success.

On Monday, Pasek and Paul snagged a Golden Globe nomination (shared with composer Justin Hurwitz) for "City of Stars," the melancholy ballad sung by Ryan Gosling in the film.  Not bad for two 31-year-old University of Michigan alums who decided to join forces like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and many other fabled songwriting teams that they studied while enrolled there.

The close timing of "Dear Evan Hansen" and "La La Land" wasn't planned: "Dear Evan Hansen" focuses on an awkward high school boy who's mistaken as a friend of a classmate who commits suicide.  For its composers, the show represents something "we’ve been talking about since our college days,” says Pasek. "It’s been a long time gestating."

Their writing for the "La La Land" project began a couple of years ago.  They were chosen for the job by composer Justin Hurwitz and the film's director and writer Damien Chazelle, who were college friends at Harvard.  "All four of us were all 31 years old, so we have really similar sensibilities.  We are all sort of musical theater nerds together, have similar influences.  We felt really, really lucky we got to work on it with them. ... Our goal was to always make it feel it was of one voice," says Pasek.  Having the musical and the movie open the same week is serendipitous.  Says Pasek, "It really is complete coincidence that it’s happening at the same time."

They started writing together at U-M: "We feel like we went to the Hogwarts Academy of Musical Theater, a very magical place… The kind of values that they instill in that program are ones that really shaped who we are and what we care about, and we feel incredibly lucky to have been there."

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!  Their musical "A Christmas Story" is playing in the Motor City: Pasek and Paul were nominated for a Tony for their work on “A Christmas Story, the Musical," which went to Broadway in 2012.  (It played Detroit as part of a five-city tour during the 2011 holiday season.)  The show in now playing at the Fox Theatre and continues through Dec. 24.  The production is based on the 1983 movie.  The goal was to create songs for these characters that felt natural and like an extension of the scene and what was happening in that moment.

While they are thrilled with the response they're getting, there's been no resting on their laurels. They also have a song featured in the animated film "Trolls," and their next big project is a movie musical about P.T. Barnum called "Greatest Showman" that will star Hugh Jackman.  Even as they have been celebrating the openings on recent nights, says Pasek, "the next morning, we’re hitting the ground running.”

Films Ending Before Christmas

"The Pickle Recipe"

Joey (Jon Dore) is the undisputed king of Detroit party MCs.  He's also a single father and deeply in debt.  To make matters worse, all his prized sound and lighting equipment is destroyed in a freak accident, and his daughter’s Bat-Mitzvah is only four weeks away Joey must steal his grandmother Rose's (Lynn Cohen) most prized possession: her famous top secret dill pickle recipe, which she has vowed to take to her grave.  Shot entirely in Detroit and featuring numerous UM grads in the cast and crew, “The Pickle Recipe”’s last screenings are Thursday, December 22 at 3:15 and 9:40!

"Moonlight"

The film chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world, told across three defining chapters in his life.  “Moonlight” is nominated for six Golden Globe awards, including Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture.  Has it last screenings on Friday the 23rd at 9:45.

"The Eagle Huntress"

The film follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter and rises to the pinnacle of a tradition that has been handed down from father to son for centuries will be screened once each day Thursday the 22nd, Friday the 23rd and Saturday the 24th.

Films Playing at the Michigan Theater Over the Holidays

"Manchester by the Sea"

After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him sole guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for Patrick, and is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised.  “Manchester by the Sea” is nominated for five Golden Globes, including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Picture. 

"Jackie"--Playing Exclusively at the Michigan Theater

This is a searing and intimate portrait of one of the most important and tragic moments in American history, seen through the eyes of the iconic First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman).  The film places us in her world during the days immediately following her husband's assassination.  Known for her extraordinary dignity and poise, here we see a psychological portrait of the First Lady as she struggles to maintain her husband's legacy and the world of "Camelot" that they created and loved so well.  Also starring Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, and Billy Crudup, “Jackie” opens Wednesday.

"La La Land"--Playing exclusively in MOVIE PALACE SPLENDOR at the Michigan Theater!!!

Written and directed by Academy Award (R) nominee Damien Chazelle, this film tells the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts.  Set in modern day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams.

Special Screenings Downtown

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"

Temple Beth Emeth presents the film starring Gene Wilder as the enigmatic candy manufacturer Willy Wonka, who stages a contest by hiding five golden tickets in five of his scrumptious candy bars.  Whoever comes up with these tickets will win a free tour of the Wonka factory, as well as a lifetime supply of candy.  “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” plays Sunday at 10:30 AM.

Opening at the Multiplex

"Sing"

In this quirky animated musical, Buster Moon is a dapper koala who presides over a once-grand theater that has fallen on hard times.  Now facing the crumbling of his life's ambition, he has one final chance to restore his fading jewel to its former glory by producing the world's greatest singing competition.  Featuring the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Scarlett Johansson, “Sing” opened Wednesday.

"Fences"

Adapted from August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, this is the story of a one-time promising baseball player, now working as a Pittsburgh garbage collector, and the complicated relationships with his wife, son, and friends.  Denzel Washington directs and stars as Troy Maxson, with Viola Davis playing his wife Rose; both actors won Tony Awards for playing these roles in the 2010 Broadway revival of the play.  “Fences” opens Friday.

"Assassin's Creed"

Through a revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) discovers he is descended from a mysterious secret society, the Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day.  “Assassin’s Creed” opened Wednesday. 

"Passengers"

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in this exciting action-thriller about two passengers who are on a 120-year journey to another planet when their hibernation pods wake them 90 years too early.  Jim and Aurora are forced to unravel the mystery behind the malfunction as the ship teeters on the brink of collapse, with the lives of thousands of passengers in jeopardy.  “Passengers” opened Wednesday.

"Why Him?"

Overprotective but loving dad Ned (Bryan Cranston) visits his daughter at Stanford, where he meets his biggest nightmare: her well-meaning but socially awkward Silicon Valley billionaire boyfriend, Laird (James Franco).  The straight-laced Ned thinks Laird is a wildly inappropriate match for his daughter, and Ned's panic level escalate when he learns that Laird is about to pop the question.  “Why Him?” opens Friday.

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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