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Cinema Chat: Toronto International Film Festival, State Theatre Plans, The Dude And More

Sep 4, 2014

  This week's program starts with a discussion about the Michigan Theater's acquisition of the State Theatre and the big plans in store before its 75th anniversary.

Michigan Theater purchases film exhibition space (former balcony) of State Theatre

Classic C. Howard Crane designed Art Deco theater expected to get makeover in 2016.

The not-for-profit Michigan Theater closed on the purchase of the State Theatre yesterday afternoon. Three of the owners of the State Theatre -- Barry Margolis, Jim Chaconas and Shelly Mendelson joined Michigan Theater Executive Director Russ Collins and Michigan Theater Board Chair Alec Allen at the Liberty Title Company offices to sign the required documents to close out the sale.  The transfer of the deed to the Michigan Theater is a few weeks away, because of a small amount of engineering and legal work that must be finalized.  The timeline below is the Michigan Theater preliminary assessment of how work on making improvements to the State Theatre will proceed:

•        October 2014 – February 2015 – Work with consultant to perform a planning study to determine:

o   What the community wishes to invest in State Theatre improvements;

o   What the community might be willing to invest to address capital needs at the Michigan Theater (like seat replacement, rebuilding of the organ, capital maintenance of historic paint and plaster treatments and floors, exterior maintenance, completing mechanical system renovation, completing improvement to the stage like orchestra pit lift, updating of lighting and audio systems, and more).

o   After the planning study is completed organize process to acquire funds to accomplish the required work.

•        February – September 2015 – Hire architecture firm and possibly a contractor to work with Board, staff and constituent institutions to design improvements and set a capital improvements budget.

•        June 2016 – December 2017 – Make major capital improvements (do construction) at the State and Michigan Theaters

•        March 2017 – Celebrate the State Theatre’s 75th anniversary.

•        January 2018 – Celebrate the Michigan Theater’s 90th anniversary.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged the Michigan Theater to move forward with this initiative.

TIFF: The 12 Films With The Most Oscar Potential at This Year's Festival

A slew of Oscar winners have premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival over the years, including "Slumdog Millionaire," "The King's Speech" and "Crash." With this year's edition launching on Thursday, we take a look at the films screening at the event that stand the best chance at entering this year's awards race.

"Foxcatcher"

Originally slated to open last fall, Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher" seems poised to be a frontrunner in this year's race after a stellar run at this year's Cannes Film Festival where Miller won Best Director and the film earned rave reviews for its revelatory performances by Channing Tatum and a nearly unrecognizable Steve Carell. The comedian, sporting a prosthetic nose, plays John du Point, a mentally ill multi-millionaire who takes an intense liking to brothers Mark (Tatum) and Dave (Mark Ruffalo) Schultz, both Olympic gold champion wrestlers. Carell is the surest bet the film has this season. What will be interesting to see is who Sony Pictures Classics sells as the lead in their campaign. Carell has the showier performance, but the film belongs to Tatum, who appears in nearly every scene and delivers career-best work.

"The Imitation Game"

Benedict Cumberbatch tried to break onto Oscar's stage last year with the immediately skewered Julian Assange biopic "The Fifth Estate." He earned back some kudos for "August: Osage County," but the part wasn't big enough to warrant a nomination. Still, the British star is hotter than ever with roles in another season of "Sherlock" and one more "Hobbit" film still on the way -- plus, he's taking on another true story in the awards contender "The Imitation Game." Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, an English mathematician who helps crack code in World War II. The Academy sure does love its war films and the period setting might help the film draw attention in some of the below-the-line categories. They also love actors portraying actual people, so look for the Cumberbitches to come out in full support of this one.

"Love & Mercy"

With the James Brown biopic "Get On Up" now a distant memory despite having only come out this summer, there's now more room than ever for "Love & Mercy," a film about Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson, to make a big impression this fall. Still seeking distribution, "Love & Mercy" stars Paul Dano as the young Wilson and John Cusack as his older self. Dano has yet to give a disappointing performance and this could be the role to catapult him into the A-list should he hit it out of the park (which we're sure he will) and if the film is any good. The film marks director Bill Pohlad's second feature (he directed the little seen 1990 drama "Old Explorers"), but his career as a producer gives us a lot of hope (credits include "12 Years a Slave" and "The Tree of Life").

"Men, Women & Children"

Since busting onto the scene with "Thank You for Smoking" in 2005, Jason Reitman's awards cache has only increased -- until it didn't. "Juno" and "Up in the Air" were huge hits, both commercially and at the Oscars. Both nabbed Best Picture nominations, and the George Clooney-starring film about America's jobs crisis was even considered a frontrunner for a chunk of the 2009 campaign season. The dark ending to the film hinted at what was to come for Reitman, who followed up his back-to-back Oscar nods with "Young Adult," a pitch black comedy with an invested turn from Charlize Theron. It failed to net much attention, as did his next film, "Labor Day," which quietly came and went in late 2013. Now he's back with what looks like an even grimmer tale. "Men, Women & Children" packs plenty of star power (Adam Sandler, Emma Thompson, and "The Fault in Our Stars" breakout Ansel Elgort), and they'll need a winning script to woo Academy voters who favor a good time over harsh modern truths. It could be Reitman's resurgence, even as he pushes deeper into the darkness.

"Mr. Turner"

Seven-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh is back in theaters this fall with his latest period effort, "Mr. Turner," a film that chronicles the last quarter-century in the life of the famed 19th century painted J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall). The drama was a hit at this year's Cannes Film Festival where it was pegged as an early awards favorite following its world premiere. That buzz only intensified when Spall beat out some heavy competition (including "Foxcatcher" stars Steve Carell and Channing Tatum) to net the Best Actor award at the festival. If Sony Pictures Classics plays its cards right, expect to see a whole of Spall on the awards circuit this season.

"Pawn Sacrifice"

Ed Zwick ("Glory," "Blood Diamond") is no stranger to the awards race, and his latest, "Pawn Sacrifice," looks sure to join it this year or next should it be as good as it sounds, and should it find a strong distributor at the festival. Penned by "Locke" writer/director Steven Knight, "Pawn Sacrifice" centers on the matchup between American chess player Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) and his Russian rival Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). After playing second fiddle in "The Great Gatsby," Maguire is in need of a star vehicle to remind us all how great of an actor he is. "Pawn Sacrifice" could be the film to do just that, and possibly nab him his first ever Oscar nomination.

"Seymour: An Introduction"

A sensation last week at the Telluride Film Festival where it drew glowing reviews and got acquired by Sundance Selects, Ethan Hawke's documentary "Seymour: An Introduction" enters Toronto as the hot doc to see. Should Sundance Selects choose to release it this fall, they might have an awards contender on their hands. The film centers on Seymour Bernstein, a classical pianist, composer, author, teacher and sage who Hawke has a deep admiration for, but isn't well known to the masses. Hopefully this film will change that.

"St. Vincent"

It's hard to believe, but Bill Murray has only been nominated for an Oscar once (for "Lost in Translation") and didn't win. That could change this fall when The Weinstein Company opens their feel good drama "St. Vincent," which stars Murray in a role that's sure to draw a lot of awards buzz should the film be worthy of the advance buzz. In Theodore Melfi's feature directorial debut, Murray stars as the titular Vincent, a drunken, gambling retiree who gets asked by his single-mom neighbor (Melissa McCarthy) to guard her 12-year-old son (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher). Over the course of their time together, the odd couple teach each other life lessons. Performances seem strong across the board, with Naomi Watts stealing scenes in rare comedic form as a pregnant stripper.

"The Theory of Everything"

Period pieces tend to play best in the costume, makeup and production design categories, but "The Theory of Everything" has a bit more going for it than just fancy clothes. Academy Award-winning director James Marsh ("Man on Wire") helms the tale of Stephen Hawking, focusing a keen eye on his relationship with his wife Jane. In his first leading role, Eddie Redmayne, who stole the show in  "Les Miserables," plays the brilliant physicist and Felicity Jones ("Like, Crazy") co-stars as Mrs. Hawking. The fine young actors have a chance to establish themselves even further here, with oddsmakers giving an edge to Redmayne considering the challenges involved with portraying a highly-intelligent man who's also crazy in love.

"Time Out of Mind"

Richard Gere is Hollywood royalty and a Golden Globe winner, but he has yet to net an Oscar nomination. He came very close with "Chicago," but "Time Out of Mind" might be the one to finally do the trick. Written and directed by Oren Moverman, who directed Woody Harrelson to an Oscar nomination in "The Messenger," "Time Out of Mind" stars Gere as a desperate homeless man who enters a shelter, where he sets out to reunite with his estranged daughter (played by Jena Malone). The film marks an interesting change of pace for Gere, who's proven in "Arbitrage" and "Pretty Woman" that he's great at playing smarmy rich men. The film is still seeking distribution, but we expect that will change once the film premieres this week.

"Whiplash"

The breakout smash of Sundance this year was about, of all things, a jazz drummer. Not even an established jazz drummer. "Whiplash" tells the tale of a young, aspiring musician who clashes with an instructor at one of the world's top schools for the medium. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons both won raves for their performances, and the film itself took home the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance while receiving recognition at Cannes a few months later. The Academy and Sundance don't always see eye to eye -- last year's big winner, "Fruitvale Station" was ignored by Oscar, but "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was a surprise multiple nominee the year before. "Precious" was another success story while there are even more Grand Jury winners who were snubbed for post-fest awards. Time will tell what's to come for "Whiplash," but it's off to a hot start.

"Wild"

Reese Witherspoon hasn't taken on many awards-caliber roles since winning an Oscar for "Walk the Line" in 2005, but now she's sunk her teeth into a meaty part with plenty of potential. "Wild," based on Cheryl Strayed's best-selling memoir about hiking 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, is set to premiere at TIFF and has a plum, Oscar-friendly December theatrical release scheduled after that. While most of America is blanketed in snow (or at least coping with chilly temperatures), "Wild" will showcase beautiful coastal vistas, rolling hills, and green, open space -- which should help Jean-Marc Vallee's odds at a Best Director nod. The "Dallas Buyers Club" helmer is ready for another awards circuit only a year later and again he'll be pushing a powerful performance in addition to his film. Could "Wild" break into the bigger races like "Dallas" did? We shall soon see.

Opening Downtown

“Frank,” the hot film on the Art House circuit these days, is an offbeat comedy about a young wannabe musician, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), who finds himself out of his depth when he joins an avant-garde pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender in a paper mache head!?!), an odd musical genius. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune says “A functioning, funny, weirdly touching fable of artistic angst and aspiration, a meditation on fame and its terrors and the metaphoric usefulness of masks and huge fake heads.”  “Frank” opens Friday at the Michigan Theater.

In “Le Chef,” self-taught aspiring chef Jacky (Michaël Youn) has the talent, but not the luck. Star chef Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno) is in danger of losing his reputation, along with his beloved restaurant. Fate brings the two together and helps them along a journey through the intoxicating world of French haute-cuisine. Gary Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times says “An amusing soufflé of a comedy that pokes fun at foodies while honoring the art of those who cook for them.”  “Le Chef” plays Wednesday and Thursday, September 10 and 11 at the Michigan Theater.

Opening at the Multiplex

In “The Identical,” identical twin brothers (both played by Blake Rayne) are separated at birth during the Great Depression. Their parents cannot afford to give them both a life beyond poverty, so one is adopted by a loving family. Despite their very different upbringings, the boys' shared passion for music causes their lives to unknowingly intersect as they experience a powerful and mysterious connection often felt by twins.  Also starring Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd, “The Identical” opens Friday.

“The Longest Week” stars Jason Bateman as affluent and aimless Conrad Valmont, who lives a life of leisure in his parent's prestigious Manhattan hotel. In the span of one week, he finds himself evicted, disinherited, and... in love.  “The Longest Week” opens Friday.

Special Screenings Downtown

Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” is without a doubt the most tasteless of the Monty Python feature films; it also happens to be one of the funniest. Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” plays Thursday September 4 at the Michigan Theater.

“The Big Lebowski” pivots around a case of mistaken identity complicated by extortion, double-crosses, deception, embezzlement, sex, pot, and gallons of White Russians.  Starring Jeff Bridges as Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski - a Coen Brothers classic! “The Big Lebowski” plays Saturday September 6 at 11:59 PM at the State Theatre.  Tickets only $7!

“Pulp Fiction” is widely considered the most influential American movie of the 1990s. The Oscar-winning script by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary intertwines the lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster's wife, and a pair of diner bandits in four tales of violence and redemption. “Pulp Fiction” plays Sunday, September 7 at 1:30 PM and Tuesday September 9 at 7 PM as the finale to the Summer Classic Film Series.

Blueprint for Aging presents the Ann Arbor premiere of “Embrace of Aging: The Female Perspective of Growing Old.” Created by 10-time Michigan Emmy award-winning producer/director Keith Famie, the film prominently features the cutting edge research and stories of several doctors and patients from the University of Michigan Health System. “Embrace of Aging: The Female Perspective of Growing Old” plays Sunday September 7 at 6 PM at the Michigan Theater.

“The Last Day of Summer” and “Innocent Sorcerers” kick off the Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series.  This series of restored classic Polish films has been organized and curated by Scorsese, one of the most recognized and respected filmmakers in the world, and is the largest presentation of restored Polish cinema to date. These two films center on young men and women who struggle to connect.  “The Last Day of Summer” plays Monday September 8 at 7 PM; “Innocent Sorcerers” begins at 8:15 PM.

Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Wong Kar Wai, “The Grandmaster” is an epic action feature inspired by the life and times of the legendary kung fu master, Ip Man. Filmed in a range of stunning locations, “The Grandmaster” features virtuoso performances by some of the greatest stars of contemporary Asian cinema.  “The Grandmaster” plays Wednesday September 10 at 7 PM as part of the UM Confucius Institute’s Electric Shadows Contemporary Chinese Film Series.  Admission is free!

“No… Wire… Hangers… EVER!”  According to “Mommie Dearest,” Joan Crawford (played by Faye Dunaway in the film) was a licentious, child-beating behemoth, who stalked and postured through life as though it was one of her own pictures. The film version of Christina Crawford’s autobiography was evidently meant to be taken seriously, but the operatic direction by Frank Perry and Dunaway’s over-the-top portrayal has always seemed to inspire loud laughter whenever and wherever the film is shown.  “Mommie Dearest” plays Thursday September 11 at 10 PM.

See you at the movies!