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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

The week’s openings redux: Live-action ‘Little Mermaid’

AMC River Park Square just posted its final movie bookings, and there is an adjustment to make to Friday's opening schedule:

"The Little Mermaid": No, it's not the Disney animated version. This is a live-action film starring William Moseley and Poppy Drayton. Moseley plays a reporter who, along with his niece, discovers a mysterious woman who they come to believe is the real little mermaid.

The film is the first release from a new production company, MVP Studios.

Catch Elvis Presley’s 1968 TV Comeback Special

Elvis Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977. I had to look up that exact date, but I do remember the day itself.

I was sitting atop a riding lawnmower, working my way across the yard of my then-parents-in-law. This was in southern Ohio, and the air was hot and humid. My wife, as with the in-laws now my ex-wife, came running out of the house.

"Elvis died," she said. And the world shifted.

Well, not exactly. Life isn't a TV reality show (except, it seems, if you live in the White House these days). I continued mowing the lawn, we later fixed dinner, went to bed and ultimately returned to our regular lives (which at the time was as graduate students in Eugene, Ore.).

But as with all celebrity deaths, Elvis' death did have an effect. And the effect of his passing was bigger than that of most entertainers. Not just for the the profound impact he'd had on the American music scene but also for the sad way in which it came about (at the relatively young age of 42 and during a period of steady decline).

All of which makes the most recent Fathom Events offering, the "Elvis '68 Comeback Special" so memorable. It marks that period in Elvis' life in which, following his meteoric rise in the 1950s, he was again proving to be a great entertainer. This event, which will be shown locally at two Regals Cinemas theaters — at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium — will screen twice, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and the following Monday (Aug. 20).

If you never knew what made Elvis special, or have forgotten, this event should prove both illuminating and educational. 

The week’s openings: Action, action, action

Action is the reason for the summer movie season. And action is on tap this week, according to the national movie-release schedule. Along with "Crazy Rich Asians," which opens on Wednesday — and which I previewed last week — Friday's openings are as follows:

"Alpha": Once upon a time, man was man and wolf was wolf. Then they teamed up, and wolf became man's best friend. This is how that might have happened. Arf.

"Mile 22": Indonesian star Iko Uwais ("The Raid," "Star Wars: The Force Awakens") plays a cop who has key information on corruption in his home (unidentified) country and who must depend on a team of Americans to smuggle him to safety. Oh, some guy named Mark Wahlberg is in the movie, too.

And at the Magic Lantern, two second-run pickups: "Sorry to Bother You" and "Leave No Trace:"

As always, I'll update when the area theaters finalize their bookings. 

When triplets become ‘Identical Strangers’

The riveting documentary "Three Identical Strangers" is playing at the Magic Lantern Theater. Following is my review of the film, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

I once argued with a friend of a friend – you know the kind of person I mean – who took issue with what I had to say about reviewing film. I’d said that I wanted to know as little as possible before going into a screening so that the film could work on me the way the director intended.

She said that was ridiculous. That I should know as much as possible to be able to fully understand what I was watching.

I considered her point. And as with many things in life, the compromise that I’ve come to over the years is to find a middle ground. I find out just enough about a movie before I see it – but no more.

Of course, sometimes it doesn’t really matter. With a Melissa McCarthy comedy, for example, you pretty much know what you’re in for. But with a documentary such as “Three Identical Strangers,” you’re better off knowing just enough.

Partly that’s because the movie, directed by British filmmaker Tim Wardle, is based on a real-life story that first hit the news in 1990. So you may already be familiar with some of the story going in.

Here’s what it won’t hurt you to know: On his first day of college, New Yorker Bobby Shafran stepped onto his upstate campus and was greeted like a long-lost friend. Guys yelled hi, girls hugged him and everybody called him by name. Only it was the wrong name. They called him Eddy.

That same day, with the help of a new college acquaintance, Bobby met the guy he’d been mistaken for and discovered something incredible: He had a twin brother. And his twin’s name was Eddy Galland.

Of course, the story made news. But then things got even weirder. Because of the news stories, a third boy popped up: David Kellman. And now the boys were triplets.

Amazing, right? So much so that if it weren’t real life, someone would dismiss it as a screenwriter’s fantasy. But it did happen. And the boys became instant celebrities, appearing on TV talk show, scoring a walk-on appearance in Madonna’s movie “Desperately Seeking Susan,” even opening their own New York restaurant – a natural progression for three by-then, 20-something boys who were in love with having found their long-lost brothers.

Here, though, is where I have to be careful. Because all of this is only half the story. The rest of Wardle’s movie, which he slowly reveals as the socio-cultural mystery it incredibly is, involves two things:

One is the kind of pain that can come when a rush of infatuation gives way to the reality of actual experience, in this case when the twins discover that for all their physical likenesses, their personalities are distinctly different.

The other is the back story of their birth and the reasons for their separation, which touches on a larger story of a social-engineering experiment that has yet to be resolved.

The result, then, is a fascinating tale that reveals the truth behind the headlines – a truth you should now be fully prepared to learn.

‘Graveyard of the Fireflies’: For mature ‘kids’ only

I don't know who is doing the programming for Studio Ghibli Fest 2018, but somebody has made a mistake.

The festival is, of course, part of the ongoing Fathom Events series that brings special movie screenings to theaters all over the country. In our area, they play mostly at two Regal Cinemas locations: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium. In this case, the films are animated features from Japan's world-renowned Studio Ghibli.

Animated movies, however, aren't always for children. And even mature children will have trouble with "Graveyard of the Fireflies," the Studio Ghibli Fest 2018 feature that will play Sunday, Monday and Wednesday at Northtown and Riverstone Stadium.

The film series is presented by the organization GKIDS, which on its Wikipedia page is described as a company that puts "a focus on 'sophisticated, indie' animation."

And make no mistake, "Grave of the Fireflies," which was released in 1988, is exactly that: a sophisticated work of art. Directed by Isao Takahata, who just died in April at age 82, and adapted by Takahata from a short story by Akiyuki Nosaka, the film is arguably one of the great animated movies of all time.

But for young children? Probably not. "Grave of the Fireflies" tells the story of two young Japanese siblings, a brother and sister, who struggle to survive the aftermath of World War II. Living in Kobe, and now orphaned, the two endure the firebombing of the city and are forced to live hand-to-mouth as well as they can.

Takahata, perhaps following Nosaka's lead — I haven't read the original story — gives his film a mystical feel, with the young sister bonding with fireflies. So, yes, "Graveyard of the Fireflies" is well worth seeing, with the usual stunning Studio Ghibli visuals.

Just don't expect Takahata to compromise the story's ending. He doesn't do Disney.

Catch the Beatles and ‘Yellow Submarine’ tonight

It feels a bit self-serving, since I will be a minor part of the event, but I wanted to remind Beatles fans that a special 50th-anniversary screening of the animated movie "Yellow Submarine" — featuring the music of The Beatles — will be presented at 7:30 tonight at the Bing Crosby Theater.

The screening will be preceded by a 6:30 p.m. live taping of "Movies 101," the weekly Spokane Public Radio show that I co-host with Mary Pat Treuthart and Nathan Weinbender.

Here's the important news: The event, "SPR Goes to the Movies: Yellow Submarine," will feature a cleaned-up print — done frame-by-frame — and remastered sound to better hear familiar Beatles tunes such as "When I'm Sixty-Four" and lesser-known songs such as "Only a Northern Song."

It's always a treat for the Beatles fans among us to hear the group's music in a bona-fide concert hall. The fact that they're accompanied by a groundbreaking animated movie is a bonus.

Or so says the Walrus, goo goo g'joob.

Friday’s openings redux: Go way west, young woman

And the final bookings information is in. No real changes to what I posted below, except for a film that opens Wednesday Aug. 15:

"Crazy Rich Asians": Constance Wu plays a New Yorker who treks to Singapore to meet her boyfriend's family. I didn't choose that title, but it likely says pretty much everything you know.

That's the list. Anything changes, I'll post it here. 

Lantern to open animated film ‘Fireworks’

Following a special Fathom Events screening in July, the Magic Lantern on Friday is opening the Japanese animated film "Fireworks, Should We See It From the Side or the Bottom?"

Though the film earned only a 43 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it has its fans:

William Bibbiani, TheWrap: "It's a treat to see a film about young love where the young lovers aren't wise beyond their years; instead, they're prone to making stupid mistakes out of inexperience and perfectly understandable fear."

Boon Chan, The (Singapore) Straits Times: "The nuances of teenage male friendships and loyalties are sensitively handled: What do you do when you and your bestie both like the same girl?"

Leigh Paatsch, Herald Sun: "While this low-key heart-squeezer isn't quite in the same league as the hauntingly beguiling 'Your Name,' it is hard to resist its daydreamy, will-they-or-won't-they? vibe for long."

Friday’s openings: Choose your brand of horror

Looks like a bit of movie horror is coming the nation's way on Friday. According to the national movie-release schedule, we can expect to see the following:

"The Meg": A monster from the deep, a 70-foot-long shark, emerges to feed on unwary beachgoers. Big jaws.

"The Slender Man": When a young teen girl goes missing, her friends investigate … and meet the Slender Man. Yeah, based on a video game …

"BlacKkKlansman": Spike Lee's new film, based on the real-life experience of a black many who infiltrated and became the head of his local KKK chapter. Get out!

That's the list so far. I'll update when the local theaters finalize their bookings.

‘Mamma Mia!’ returns even better than before

Above: Alexa Davies, Lily James and Jessica Keenan Wynn star in "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again."

Here’s a challenge: Think of a song that sticks in your head. Something like “YMCA” by the Village People. Or, worse, that Disney embarrassment, “It’s a Small World.”

Now try to forget it. Not easy, is it? Let me help you: Just think of ABBA.

I’m referring, of course, to the Swedish quartet that ruled the pop music charts from 1968 to 1974 and whose music, to this day, remains as light and fun and refreshing as ever. Thinks of songs such as “Dancing Queen,” “Waterloo,” “Knowing Me Knowing You” or, perhaps most addictive of all, “Mamma Mia!”

It was that last song that became the title of the immensely popular 1999 musical, written by Catherine Johnson as a tale of a young woman’s attempts to figure out who of three possible men is her biological father. Seems her mother, her mamma, truly was a woman of the 1960s.

Director Phyllida Lloyd moved on from the stage play to helm the 2008 film version. And now, these 10 years later, we have the movie’s sequel, rather obviously named “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.”

Obviousness, though, is not a fault in the hands of this filmmaking crew. Directed by Ol Parker, whose movie writing credits includes “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and its sequel, and co-written by the veteran Richard Curtis, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is the cinematic version of eating your cake yet still having it. The movie wants you to know that it knows what’s going on, but instead of feeling annoying or overly manipulative, the conceit works just like a Cher concert: You know what’s coming, largely outlandish costumes and familiar songs, but you’re simply willing to enjoy the spectacle.

And, yes, Cher. Now 72, the one-time Oscar winner and all-time pop singer, shows up in “Here We Go Again’s” final scenes, singing the ABBA hit “Fernando.”

An actress who is missing, mostly, from Parker’s sequel is Meryl Streep, whose passing is explained right off. In the 2008 original, Streep played Donna, the randy woman of the ‘60s whose daughter, Sophie, seeks out the father she never know.

Yet Donna’s presence remains as the film splits time between Sophie (played, again, by Amanda Seyfried), trying to open a revamped version of her mother’s Greek Island hotel, and the young Donna – seen in flashback first discovering the island and the trio of possible daddies – and played effervescently by Lily James.

On hand, too, are the three daddy candidates (Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgaard and Colin Firth) and their youthful counterparts, as well as Donna’s lifelong pals, Christine Baranski as Tanya and Julie Walters as Rosie, both of whom crack wise so well that the jokes never get lost between Parker’s roving camera and the ongoing musical numbers.

What’s more, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” isn’t merely a jokey songfest. Along the way, the film offers up moments of quiet reflection as well as an occasional sense of grief.

All of which culminates in a final rousing number, courtesy of ABBA – whose music you’ll likely be humming the rest of your day.

‘Eighth Grade’ gets rottentomatoes.com seal of approval

I keep reading stories that cite the website rottentomatoes.com, which is a compilation of opinions posted around the world by movie critics. Some of these stories make a case that these opinions amount to a consensus on greatness.

As in the comedy, best drama, best action flick, etc.

Fact is, it's an unfair evaluation. Not every film ever made is mentioned on the site, so how can you use it as any overall gauge of greatness? Rottentomatoes.com is far better at giving you a sense of how much quality an individual film might have — despite the obvious differences of opinion that occur among all of us.

Take, for instance, the film "Eighth Grade," which opens at AMC River Park Square on Friday. The film, which was written and directed by Bo Burnham, scored a 99 percent positive rating among 147 critics (the count, as of this morning, was 145 positive against only 2 negative).

That's a fair indication that the film is worthwhile. Here are a few of the comments:

Naomi Fry, The New Yorker: "In addition to its queasy verisimilitude, 'Eighth Grade' offers acute observations on how social media and the language of self-care have warped teen life."

Cody Corrall, Chicago Reader: " 'Eighth Grade' is a harrowing portrait of anxiety and acceptance in a post-social-media landscape, showing how all of us cope with an ever-changing, constantly refreshing world."

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "Burnham is clearly conflicted about the emotional effects of the constant comparisons, competitions and invidious voyeurism young people are subjecting themselves to nearly all day long. And he gets the subjective experience right."

That's the critical consensus. Now go and make up your own mind.

Below: Writer-director Bo Burnham and star Elsie Fisher at Sundance 2018.

Last chance to catch ‘Across the Universe’

Music comes and music goes, but the music of The Beatles has yet to die. And while their tunes are nowhere near as popular as they were in the 1960s, when radio DJs would play, say, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" 10 times in a row, they endure.

And not just on whatever listening device or streaming service you use. For example, Beatles music can be found throughout the movie "Across the Universe" — itself one of 34 Beatles songs used to tell the story of a pair of star-crossed lovers played by Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood. Directed by Julie Taymor, the 2007 movie uses the couple — and the music — to give a portrait of life during the that turbulent '60s decade.

If you're interested, you're in luck. "Across the Universe" is ending a three-show run at 7 tonight at three area theaters: AMC River Park Square and the Regal Cinemas locations at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverpoint Stadium.

The Beatles themselves came and went, but they left behind them a pretty influential songbook. You can enjoy some of them tonight.

The week’s openings redux: It’s tough being young

And there are at least two additions to Friday's openings. They are as follows:

"Eighth Grade": Writer-director Bo Burnham explores the life of a girl trying to weather one of the toughest years of adolescence.

"Death of a Nation": This synopsis comes straight from IMDB.com: "This documentary draws parallels between Abraham Lincoln's presidency and the presidency of Donald Trump." Seriously. That's what it says. Also, it was written and co-directed by Dinesh D'Souza.

That's the lot. So go, see a movie. And enjoy.

“RBG,” other docs continue at Magic Lantern

Above: The documentary film "RBG," which explores the life and career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, will play for at least another week at the Magic Lantern.

One local theater that won't be updating its schedule on Friday is the Magic Lantern. Instead, it will continue its current lineup, which includes the documentaries "Whitney," "RBG," "Won't You Be My Neighbor" and "Three Identical Strangers."

The Lantern is expected to open on Aug. 10 the Japanese animated film "Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or The Bottom?" which played for  three nights earlier in July at the Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

For those who don't know, the theater is located in the Saranac Building at 25 W. Main Ave. The phone number is (509) 209-2383, at which you will hear a detailed listing of the current schedule and have the opportunity to leave a voicemail.

Friday’s openings: Teens in trouble — again

The summer movie season continues, which if nothing else is offering an excellent means of escaping the season's heat — and you don't have to risk too much exposure to the sun's harmful rays.

In any event, comedy and action are likely to continue come Friday, if the national movie-release schedule is any indication. The coming films are as follows:

"The Darkest Minds": In the ongoing exploration of worlds in which children are seen as threats to the existing order, this sci-fi fantasy pits the world's remaining youngsters — all of whom are gifted somehow with super powers — against the governments who want to control … or kill them. No larger political statements intended, of course.

"Disney's Christopher Robin": A grown Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) gets a visit from his (supposedly) imaginary childhood friend. No, he's not dreaming.

"The Spy Who Dumped Me": Mila Kunis and (the great) "Saturday Night Live" cast member Kate McKinnon star in this tale about two women who stumble onto an international espionage plot and have to find a way to survive. Though not while wearing heels.

As always, I'll update when the local theaters finalize their bookings.