Listen to this week’s Cinema Chat with Russ Collins and David Fair on 89.1 WEMU and at

How Michael Moore Lost His Audience

The fabled documentary muckraker keeps doing films with his trademark fusion of snark and liberal warning. Maybe it’s time for him to mix it up.

By Owen Gleiberman, Variety

The films of Michael Moore have been faltering at the box office for several years now. “Fahrenheit 11/9,” his scathing riff on the administration of Donald J. Trump, will be lucky to gross one-tenth of what “Fahrenheit 9/11” did. That’s more than just a staggering comedown.

But the question of why Moore’s films are no longer connecting with the public in a major way has a meaning beyond the standard left/right dialectics.

Yet let’s be brutally honest, since the Michael Moore I know would insist on nothing less. . . It means that even if he hasn’t changed, his relationship with the public has. It’s important to ask why. In Moore’s case, there are a handful of reasons, only one of which is Moore’s filmmaking. That’s now part of the problem, but let’s be up front about what the more prevalent issues are:

  • The Internet has fractured how we get our information.
  • Moore’s audience has aged out.
  • In the Trump era, people are addicted to the news, but they’re also sick of it.
  • Everyone talks about activism, but when it comes down to it many of us would rather just sit around and binge-watch “The Walking Dead.”

Is there a solution? I ask this as a Michael Moore fan . . . On the eve of the 2016, Moore dropped a film out of nowhere called “Michael Moore in Trumpland.” What I thought the movie was going to be about was Moore heading into the heartland and speaking to Trump supporters, trying to see the world from their side. . . But [he didn’t do that and] he’s no longer going to bring the news to anyone if he isn’t willing to surprise us by surprising himself.



Opening tonight at the State: In A Star is Born, this new take on the tragic love story, Bradley Cooper plays seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers–and falls in love with–struggling artist Ally (Lady Gaga). She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer… until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally’s career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.  Critics Consensus: With appealing leads, deft direction, and an affecting love story, A Star Is Born is a remake done right — and a reminder that some stories can be just as effective in the retelling. Screenplay by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters. Also starring Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron.

Opening next Thursday at the Michigan: Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker (played by Robert Redford), The Old Man & the Gun follows his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. Wrapped up in the pursuit are detective John Hunt (played by Casey Affleck), who becomes captivated with Forrest’s commitment to his craft, and a woman (played by Sissy Spacek), who loves him in spite of his chosen profession. Critics Consensus: A well-told story brought to life by a beautifully matched cast, The Old Man & the Gun is pure, easygoing entertainment for film fans – and a fitting farewell to a legend.

Also opening Next Thursday:  At the Michigan: On the heels of their six-time Academy Award ®-winning smash, La La Land, Oscar ®-winning director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling reteam for First Man, the riveting story of NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the years 1961-1969. A visceral, first-person account, based on the book by James R. Hansen, the movie will explore the sacrifices and the cost on Armstrong and on the nation of one of the most dangerous missions in history. Critics Consensus: First Man uses a personal focus to fuel a look back at a pivotal moment in human history – and takes audiences on a soaring dramatic journey along the way.

Also join us for a Special Science on Screen® presentation on Tuesday, October 16 at 7 PM with Mark Moldwin, Executive Director of NASA’s Michigan Space Grant Consortium.! An initiative of the Coolidge Corner Theatre, with major support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and additional support from Arbor Research Collaborative for Health.

At the State: Colette follows Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (played by Keira Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris after marrying a successful Parisian writer known commonly as “Willy” (played by Dominic West). Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite a semi-autobiographical novel for him, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette’s fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression. Critics Consensus: Formally familiar but a brilliant match for its lead, Colette is a thoroughly entertaining biopic and an overdue testament to Keira Knightley’s underrated gifts.



2018 Cinetopia Film Festival Official Selection! The Big House will be playing starting Friday, October 5 until Thursday, October 11 with a special homecoming screening on Saturday, October 6 at 7:00 PM with filmmakers in attendance and alternate ending! This direct cinema documentary eschews gridiron grandeur to look closely at all the labor—from the cooks to the cops to the cleaners—that goes into hosting 100,000 people in the stadium affectionately called “The Big House.” Shot against the backdrop of the 2016 election and the rise of Donald Trump, it presents a microcosm of America by showing everything but the game.



World Premiere (in honor of Homecoming at the U-M): Football’s Valhalla, The Bob Ufer Story plays Friday, October 5 at 7:00 PM. 37 years after his passing, this documentary gives Bob Ufer’s life story the detailed telling it has long deserved. For many Michigan Football fans, nothing can describe the force of nature that was Bob Ufer. Considered the original “Voice” of Michigan Football, Bob Ufer is a University of Michigan icon. Far from being an impartial reporter, Ufer released endless kilocycles of unbridled maize and blue favoritism. For nearly four decades, Bob Ufer was beloved by a wide range of listeners for his enthusiastic, articulate and engaging style.

The Birds will be playing for one night only on Saturday, October 6 at 6:00 PM! In this classic thriller by Alfred Hitchcock, Melanie Daniels meets Mitch Brenner in a San Francisco pet store and decides to follow him home. She brings with her the gift of two love birds and they strike up a romance. One day birds start attacking children at Mitch’s sisters party and a huge assault starts on the town by attacking birds.]

Dragonfly Eyes will be playing Sunday, October 7 at 6:15 PM as a part of the contemporary Chinese film series “Electric Shadows.” Director Xu Bing, one of the most famous fine artists in China, collected his imagery from online sites that stream surveillance cameras. He stitched them together with a fictional narrative about an ill-fated romance embedded in a chaotic and spectacular modern China. Xu’s ambitious film explores the anxious borderlands between the real and the fictive, between direct experience and mediated life. This is a free screening, but registration is required. For more information visit

On Monday, October 8 at 7:00 PM, Laura will follow up in the Fatally Yours film noir series. In this classic, a detective investigates the murder of a Madison Avenue executive. As he grows obsessed with the case, he finds himself falling in love with the dead woman.

Imagine will be playing for one night only Tuesday, October 9th at 7:00 PM to celebrate John Lennon’s 78th birthday,! The life of British singer-songwriter and former Beatle John Lennon is the focus of this intimate 1988 documentary, pieced together from archival footage of the Beatles and 240 hours of home movies shot by Lennon and his widow, Yoko Ono. Featuring interviews with David Bowie, producer George Martin, and son Julian Lennon, it recounts the ups and downs of the performer’s life and career, concentrating most on his post-Beatles period, and reveals the private man behind the public persona

The Promised Land plays Wednesday, October 10 at 7:00 PM as a part of the Polish History in Film Masterpieces Film Series presented by the Polish Cultural Fund. Free and open to the public! When an ambitious Polish aristocrat decides to open his own textile factory, he recruits two enterprising friends, Jewish businessman and German industrial heir, to begin the new venture. Unfortunately, the Polish aristocrat’s affair with the wife of a business rival threatens to derail the trio’s attempts at establishing their own company. Directed by Andrzej Wajda.



At the Michigan: 2018 Cinetopia Film Festival Official Selection! In Love, Gilda, comedienne Gilda Radner looks back and reflects on her life and career, in her own words. Weaving together her recently discovered audiotapes, interviews with her friends (Chevy Chase, Lorne Michaels, Laraine Newman, Paul Shaffer and Martin Short), rare home movies and diaries read by modern-day comedians inspired by Gilda (Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Cecily Strong).

Pick of the Litter follows a litter of puppies from the moment they’re born and begin their quest to become guide dogs for the blind. Cameras follow these pups through an intense two-year odyssey as they train to become dogs whose ultimate responsibility is to protect their blind partners from harm. Along the way, these remarkable animals rely on a community of dedicated individuals who train them to do amazing, life-changing things in the service of their human.

The Wife follows Joan and Joe Castleman (played by Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce), who are complements after nearly forty years of marriage. Where Joe is casual, Joan is elegant. Where Joe is vain, Joan is self-effacing. And where Joe enjoys his very public role as the great novelist, Joan pours her considerable intellect, grace, charm and diplomacy into the role of a man’s wife. As Joe is about to be awarded the Nobel Prize for his acclaimed and prolific body of work, Joan starts to think about the shared compromises, secrets and betrayals.

Blaze is inspired by the life of Blaze Foley, the unsung songwriting legend of the Texas outlaw music movement that spawned the likes of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. The film weaves together three different periods of time, braiding re-imagined versions of Blaze’s past, present and future. The braided storyline terminates in a bittersweet ending that acknowledges Blaze’s profound highs and lows, as well as the impressions he made on the people who shared his journey.

Set in the Pacific Northwest of 1983 AD, Mandy follows outsiders Red Miller and Mandy Bloom, who lead a loving and peaceful existence. When their pine-scented haven is savagely destroyed by a cult led by the sadistic Jeremiah Sand, Red is catapulted into a phantasmagoric journey filled with bloody vengeance and laced with fire. Stars Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache.

In Fahrenheit 11/9 filmmaker Michael Moore predicted that Donald Trump would become the 45th president of the United States. Traveling across the country, Moore interviews American citizens to get a sense of the social, economic and political impact of Trump’s victory. Moore also takes an in-depth look at the media, the Electoral College, the government agenda and his hometown of Flint, Mich.

Crazy Rich Asians is based on a global bestseller and follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu accompanying her longtime boyfriend, Nick, to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. She’s also surprised to learn that Nick’s family is extremely wealthy, and he’s considered one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. Thrust into the spotlight, Rachel must now contend with jealous socialites, quirky relatives and something far, far worse – Nick’s disapproving mother.



In The Hate U Give Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly black, neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white, prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Now, facing pressures from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right. This film is based on the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller by Angie Thomas and stars Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Common, Anthony Mackie and Issa Rae. Opens Friday, October 5!

And A Star is Born opens in theaters nationwide!

That’s all for this week. See you at the movies!


From Russell B. Collins


Exc. Dir., State & Michigan Theaters – Ann Arbor

Founding Director, Art House Convergence – Utah

Festival Founder, Cinetopia Festival – Detroit/A2