7 Blog

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

Friday’s openings redux: A bit of Buster Keaton

OK, in addition to the films that I've already mentioned, the Magic Lantern is opening a second film. And it's a documentary that movie fans might really enjoy:

"The Great Buster: A Celebration": Peter Bogdanovich tells the story of one of early cinema's great comic filmmakers, Buster Keaton. Including interviews with Mel Brooks, Richard Lewis, Bill Hader and … incredibly, Werner Herzog.

Here are some critical comments: 

Andrea Gronvall, Chicago Reader: "Peter Bogdanovich brings his formidable knowledge of movies to bear in this incisive portrait of Buster Keaton."

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter: "A wonderful appreciation of a great American comic and filmmaker."

Anthony Lane, The New Yorker: "Hard-core Keatonites will be familiar with much of the material, although the clips of his later work in television and commercials are an uncommon delight."

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

Friday’s openings: Cowboys and Halloween creeps

Update: Along with the movies listed below, the following also are scheduled to open in area theaters:

"The Old Man & the Gun": Robert Redford plays an elderly bank robber. Sundance didn't die in Bolivia?

"The Oath": When families gather for Thanksgiving, political discussions often become heated — especially for Mason (Billy Magnussen). Everyone has an annoying in-law.

Posted earlier:

At least two main releases are due out on Friday, according to the national movie-release schedule:

"Halloween": It's that time of trick or treating again, and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is waiting for her longtime nemesis, Michael Myers, to return … so she can kill him once and for all. Yeah, fat chance.

"The Hate U Give": A young woman witnesses the death of her friend and becomes a public symbol of resistance.

And at the Magic Lantern?

"The Sisters Brothers": Jacques Audiard ("Rust and Bone," "A Prophet") cowrote and directed this film about two brothers (Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly) in 1850s Oregon who work as trained assassins.

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

Catch ‘Closing It Up’ before it, uh, closes

Above: L-R, playwright/actress Molly Allen, Mary Starkey, Andrew Biviano

Last week I posted something about an art show, which I rarely do. Now, I'm going to post something about local theater, which I do even less often.

Not that I have anything against live theater. It's just that my motto is, so many movies, so little time.

But my wife and I made an exception on Friday night when we went to see a production — a "world premiere" — of "Closing It Up" at Stage Left Theater. Written by Molly Allen (who was also a principal cast member) and directed by Heather McHenry Kroetch, the play is a family comedy-drama about three siblings coming to grips with the recent death of their parents.

Yes, it is a comedy-drama. Turns out the two sisters and brother (played, by Allen, Mary Starkey and Andrew Biviano) have ambilvalent feelings about their parents. And as the play progresses (it takes place on the day of the parents' funeral and the morning after), those feelings grow darker. Yet still remain touching — and funny.

Special mention should go to Mark Pleasant, who has a show-stopping scene with Starkey (imagine dancing to the music of ABBA), and to Mary Jo Rudolph, whose single scene provides one of the production's funniest moments.

As Carolyn Lamberson wrote in The Spokesman-Review, Allen wrote "Closing It Up" in about three months, though it took some 18 months to get it ready for production. It’s Allen's third produced full-length play, and her first as Stage Left’s resident playwright.

If you haven't been to Stage Left, the space is intimate, meaning there aren't a lot of seats. Yet because they are raked, everyone has a decent view of the stage (our seats were in the next-to-last row and yet we could see just fine).

"Closing It Up" plays nightly at 7:30 through Sunday, with a special added 2 p.m. performance on Saturday. Click here to inquire about tickets and other general information.

And if you go, prepare to laugh. 

‘Blaze’ remembers a bright, doomed talent

The movie "Blaze" is playing at the Magic Lantern. Here is my review of the film, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio.

We’ve seen the story before.

A country boy discovers that he can weave a few words together in song. He ends up liking it so much it takes over his life. No time for jobs or mortgages or families. It’s all he can do to find enough time during the day to pen songs and practice his guitar pickin’, and at night to find a suitable place, in front of a suitable audience, in which to practice his art.

Oh, he can make a few bucks. Barely. And he can make time for women, especially if they serve as his muse. But maybe even important is drink. And drugs. Because, as it turns out, the very energy that fuels his music is the same energy that eats at his soul. And all of it – the women, the music and the drugs – is what he uses to ward off the dark emotions that threaten, at times, to overwhelm him.

As ultimately, despite everything, they will do.

Ethan Hawke seems to be obsessed with such stories. And with the men who inhabit them. He starred as the late jazz trumpeter Chet Baker in Robert Budreau’s 2015 biopic “Born to Be Blue.” And now he has told the story of the late country singer-songwriter Blaze Foley in a film he both wrote and directed and titled simply “Blaze.”

Born in in 1949 as Michael Fuller, the man who would become known as Blaze Foley was a musician’s musician – meaning that he was well known and appreciated by other performers both for the songs he wrote, which were recorded by the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Lucinda Williams, and for the uniqueness of his character. One of Foley’s good-natured trademarks, along with his persistent embrace of poverty, was that he wore duct tape on his boots to lampoon the glitz of pop country stars (earning him the sometimes nickname of "Duct Tape Messiah").

But his style, either because of his similarity to more well-known singers such as John Prine or because of his tendency to perform drunk – and get in fights both with audience members and bar owners – had far less appeal among the general public.

And, then, of course he died relatively young – at age 39 – which ended his playing career but might have been the best for his music. Because his friends kept it alive. And now Hawke, adapting a memoir written by Foley’s former muse Sybil Rosen, has made “Blaze” the movie.

Ben Dickey plays Foley, and his performance is revelatory. If the heavyset Dickey doesn’t resemble the slender Foley exactly, he captures what he might have been like, both in spirit and in his ability to carry a song. And Dickey is well supported by a cast that includes Alia Shawkat as Rosen, Josh Hamilton as the fictional character Zee and Charlie Sexton as Townes Van Zandt, who’s as capable at telling a tall tale as he and Foley are at playing their music.

So, yes, Ethan Hawke seems to be obsessed with such lost souls. But truth be told, in our own dark emotional corners, aren’t we all?

Catch the new ‘Doctor’ on the big screen (again)

So many things to see, so little time. What we all need in this busy era is a TARDIS.

I like to use that term, because it allows me to inform people that it is an acronym for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. And that it is the name of the machine-with-a-soul that the Time Lord Doctor Who uses to travel through both time and space.

Or should that be Doctor Whos? Because there have been 13 of them now. And, yes, they are one and the same, having "regenerated" over the years since the original show premiered on the BBC in 1963. But they have been played by 13 different actors.

The 13th, of course, is a twist on tradition, which feels refreshing. This new season of the show, which premiered on Sunday on BBC America, features the first woman Doctor: Jodie Whittaker.

You can experience that premiere on the big screen tonight (the second and final night of the showings, sorry for the late news) at 7 p.m. at two area Regal Cinemas theaters: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

It's not often you get to see the Doctor on the big screen. It may not happen again.

Unless you're lucky enough to hitch a ride in a TARDIS.

Friday’s openings redux: Famine and a free climb

It'll be a big week for movies. Other than those already announced, here is the final lineup:

"Black '47": An Irish man serving with the British army leaves his post to return home during the Great Irish Famine of 1845-49.

"Colette": Keira Knightley plays the French writer who, at the beginning of her career, wrote books under her husband's name. Guess who wasn't happy when she wanted the credit for herself?

"Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer": A faith-based look at the trial of a Philadelphia abortion doctor.

"Free Solo": A documentary look at Alex Honnold's untethered solo climb of Yosemite's 3,000-foot peak El Capitan.

And at AMC River Park Square, a re-release of 2015's "Cinderella," while the Magic Lantern will open second-run showings of "BlackkKlansman" and "The Wife."

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

Catch the epitome of ‘60s cool: McQueen in ‘Bullitt’

Today's your last chance to see Steve McQueen on the big screen in one of his most iconic performances, in Peter Yates' 1968 film "Bullitt."

McQueen plays a San Francisco police detective who is investigating the death of a man held under police protection. Turns out the murdered man is linked to the prosecution of a mobster and was being used for political ends by an ambitious Congressman (Robert Vaughn).

Typical of its era, "Bullitt" is a street-gritty story that boasts one of the most impressive car chases in cinema history. But the real draw is McQueen himself, the epitome of 1960s-era movie cool.

"Bullitt" is playing at 2 and 7 p.m. at two Regal Cinemas locations: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ yet again

In these polarized political times, it's comforting to seek out those politically themed movies that have transcended reality to become modern myths. Such as movie is Frank Capra's 1939 screed "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Written by Sidney Buchman, the son of a Russian immigrant who would be Oscar-nominated four times (winning for 1941's "Here Comes Mr. Jordan"), "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is one of actor Jimmy Stewart's best pre-WWII performances. It was based on a story titled "The Gentleman From Montana," by Lewis R. Foster.

Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, a naive appointee to the U.S. Senate from an unnamed Western state. Appointed on a whim by his state's political boss (played by Edward Arnold), who believes he can manipulate the upstart, Smith soon clashes with what clearly is corruption. And true to his nature as a Boy Scout type, he stands his ground — which nearly kills him.

The key word there being "nearly." Like most of Capra's movies, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is a fantasy. Yes, it's a pleasing fantasy about one man's fight against evil. But it also features a five-minutes-from-the-end change of heart by one of Smith's enemies (played by Claude Rains) that's as phony as anything Hollywood has ever produced.

I actually don't mean that as criticism. I admire Capra's movies, and I particularly appreciate his trademark insistence on truth and justice for all. But what the past several decades have taught us is that truth and justice are relative notions, and the party in power defines it any way it wants. And that's never been more true than it is now.

You can make up your mind about "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" when it screens at 2 and 7 on Sunday and the following Wednesday (Oct. 17) at two local Regal Cinemas theaters: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

Friday’s openings: To infinity and beyond

Flat-Earthers won't be happy with Friday's coming movie schedule, since one of the films opening across the country insists that the world is, indeed, round. But, then, who could possibly be happy about how split the world is today between conflicting points of view?

Anyway, those Friday openings listed on the national-release schedule include one tale of space exploration, one precursor to Halloween and one riotous crime flick. They are a follows:

"First Man": In the late 1960s, the U.S. space program attempted what had never been done — a moon landing — and Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) was the mission commander. (And what did they see when he looked back? A round, blue planet, people.)

"Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween": Fans of the children's author R.L. Stine will know what to expect from this film, which captures what occurs when a pair of kids discover a book that, when opened, reveals a zoo's worth of demented characters who threaten everyone. Oh and it's rated PG for "mild action and some terror." Note the use of the word "some."

"Bad Times at the El Royale": Seven strangers meets at a run-down hotel, but secrets — often involving violence — will be unveiled. Its rating? R for "strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity."

That's it for now. As usual, I'll update when the local theaters finalize their listings.

Truth is in the title: ‘A Star Is Born’

I'm probably more surprised than anything else that I ended up liking Bradley Cooper's first feature film, "A Star Is Born," as much as I do. I never connected that much with the other versions that I've seen. But Cooper's is different, and here is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio to prove it:

By now, everyone must know the basic plot of the film “A Star Is Born.” The original 1937 version was directed by William A. Wellman from an original team-written script that included the great Dorothy Parker and starred Janet Gaynor and Frederic March.

Gaynor was the ingénue who becomes a big movie star, March the established actor who shepherds her along – eventually marrying her – but falls prey to the alcoholism that has sidetracked his own career and … well, the ending is sad for him, devastating – though ultimately inspiring – for her.

Remade twice, in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason and then in 1976 with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand, the basic storyline now has been interpreted by actor Bradley Cooper – in his first directorial stint – as a project that stars him and the musical prodigy/slash/curiosity Lady Gaga.

Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a rock star able to fill a stadium full of fans, who – once he leaves the stage – is likely to slouch in the backseat of a limousine, his trademark Stetson shading his face, and suck on a bottle of vodka to wash down whatever pills he can pull from his pocket. Jackson, clearly, is a man battling demons.

At the same time, we meet Lady Gaga’s Ally, working as a waitress but harboring big dreams. Ally, no surprise, has a dynamite voice, and an even more impressive stage presence, though, as she claims, her face (particularly her prominent nose) is held against her by the male producers she meets.

The two come together when Jackson stumbles into the bar where Ally just happens to be appearing as the sole live performer during a Friday-night drag show. And, of course, sparks fly. And, equally of course, the two play out the storyline pretty much as had been done the three times prior.

But with these two differences. One, Cooper proves to be far more than just a pretty face. Yes, he’s demonstrated his acting chops in everything from “Silver Linings Playbook” to the “Hangover” franchise, but here he shows real talent behind the camera. From constructing the feel of a stadium rock show to portraying the intimate moments of burgeoning love to those painful incidents that occur between two people who can’t help but strike out emotionally when they don’t feel supported and, finally, to showing how lost hope can leave someone feeling that there’s only one lonely way out, Cooper does it all.

Two, though, is every bit as important. By casting Lady Gaga, a singer/songwriter of proven talent but a virtual unknown in terms of moviemaking, Cooper ensures that his version of this familiar story would prove to be the freshest. By playing Ally as feisty, driven, vulnerable yet hopeful, Lady Gaga makes Ally into a complete character – one that – unlike Streisand in particular – could also believably fill a stadium full of rock fans.

Not everything works in Cooper’s version of “A Star Is Born” But enough does to ensure that this film is, indeed, one of the best releases of 2018. Maybe, even, of this decade.

Help an artist at Marmot on this First Friday

Above: An example of Ric Gendron's work, Feather, acrylic on canvas.

I don't usually post information about art and/or artists in the blog. Not because I have no interest in it/them but simply because I have other priorities — namely, movies and, on occasion, books and authors.

But I received a text from my friend Marshall Peterson, the guy behind the Kendall Yards art gallery Marmot Art Space. On Friday, during the monthly First Friday art parties, Marmot will feature the works of former Gonzaga School of Law professor John Morey Maurice. A talented printmaker, Maurice and his work will be on display from 5 to 8 p.m.

That, though, wasn't the news that Peterson wanted to share. It seems that local artist Ric Gendron was the victim of a house fire, which left him unhurt but destroyed what Peterson describes as "a TON of stuff."

"He's going to be at Marmot this Friday," Peterson says. "We're hoping to sell some of his artwork to help out."

Peterson then asked for my help in getting the news out. So here it is.

And, finally, a movie that can ‘Shine’

And along with the films already announced, there's one more movie opening on Friday:

"Shine": Two brothers, trained in salsa dancing, are separated and then united on opposite sides of a New York property war. "Rent" this is not.

Oh, and AMC is re-releasing the animated film "Moana."

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

Friday’s openings: The Lantern is a ‘Blaze’

As a first step toward finalizing Friday's movie-release schedule, let me update the Magic Lantern's openings:

"Blaze": Ethan Hawke (who seems to be pretty much everywhere these days) directs and stars in this biopic of musician Blaze Foley. If you'll recall, Hawke starred as the late jazz trumpet player Chet Baker in 2015's "Born to Be Blue." 

"I Am Not a Witch": A Zambian woman is accused of being a witch and then sent to a "witch camp." No, I am not kidding. In Nyanja with English subtitles.

Both "The Bookshop" and "Fahrenheit 11/9" will play only through Thursday. See them while you can.

More coming. Stay tuned.

Friday’s openings: Alien symbiotes and Lady Gaga

It's unlikely that you could find films more different that the two that lead Friday's national movie-release schedule. They are as follows:

"A Star Is Born": Bradley Cooper stars alongside Lady Gaga in his first directed feature, another adaptation of the story about a fading star and the young woman he shepherds to success. (Previously done in 1937, 1954 and 1976.)

"Venom": When disgraced journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) bonds with an alien symbiote, he uses his alien powers both to investigate a shady corporation and to save his life. Actor Hardy goes for a payday.

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

Equal time for emotional evolution in ‘Juliet, Naked’

"Juliet, Naked" is scheduled to open today at the Magic Lantern. Following is my review of the film, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

These days, most movie romances – “Crazy Rich Asians” being a prominent exception – seem to focus exclusively on a woman’s emotional growth. The reason for this: It’s the film industry’s version of gender-based catch-up.

Even a cursory look at cinematic history provides plenty of evidence that a female movie character’s emotional growth traditionally has been considered secondary to whatever her male partner experiences. And when exceptions have occurred, they’ve done so largely because of the screen power exhibited by the actresses involved.

Few directors were ever able to regulate the atmosphere whenever Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis or Rosalind Russell walked into the frame.

Rose Byrne is nothing like those three screen legends. Fortunately, in the romantic comedy “Juliet, Naked,” she doesn’t need to be. Director Jesse Peretz, working from a team-written screenplay adapted from a Nick Hornby novel, cast Byrne to be part of a romantic triangle that includes Ethan Hawke and the comic actor Chris O’Dowd.

And the surprising result is a film that gives equal time to the emotional evolution of all three.

Byrne plays Annie, the director of a museum in an English seaside village. Having returned to her home town to care for her ailing dad, and now – following his death – having taken over his job, Annie’s in a professional rut.

Her personal life isn’t any better. Her longtime boyfriend, the self-centered Duncan (played by O’Dowd), is less interested in Annie than he is in his singular obsession, an American singer-songwriter named Tucker Crowe (played by Hawke).

Though Tucker put out a single album years before and hasn’t been heard of since, Duncan considers him “the most underappreciated figure in rock history.” And in true fan-nerd fashion, he hosts a website devoted to Tucker and his music.

When a package arrives at the house that Annie and Duncan share, Annie opens it and discovers a CD titled “Juliet, Naked,” which just happens to be the acoustic demo versions of the very Tucker Crowe LP that Duncan adores.

When she posts a negative review of the LP on Duncan’s website, it forces the two to face the inevitable: They simply are no longer compatible and maybe never were.

But, and here’s where the film takes a providential twist that, in the hands of a less skilled filmmaker,  might have felt glib: The one person who does like her review is Tucker himself.

Pretty soon Annie and Tucker are emailing each other. And through their back and forth we discover that Tucker has his own faults, including ex-wives, estranged children and a rootless existence that he’s only recently tried to change.

As with all good romances, the road to happiness isn’t smooth. Tucker comes to England, and the sparks with Annie prove real. But life conspires to keep them apart – at least at first.

The main strength of “Juliet, Naked,” then, is its cast. All three principal actors are perfect, with O’Dowd adding his particular comic touch. More important, each character is equally likeable despite flaws that seem as inherent as they feel natural.

Which makes for a refreshing concept: Equality in a contemporary rom-com.