7 Blog

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

Friday’s openings redux: ‘Wonder Wheel’

One addition to make to Friday's movie schedule:

"Wonder Wheel": Woody Allen's new film is set in 1950s Coney Island and explores the world of a carousel operator (Jim Belushi) and his aggrieved wife (Kate Winslet) as told by a young lifeguard (Justin Timberlake).

Also, AMC River Park Square has announced that it will hold a special, seven-hour-30-minute "Pitch Perfect Treble Feature Marathon" on Dec. 21, capped by the premiere of "Pitch Perfect 3."

Click here for tickets.

Friday’s openings: One more Jedi story

Note: The original version of this post said that the new "Ferdinand" movie was a Disney production. It is not. The management retreats the error.

And then it was Jedi time. Looking ahead to Friday's movie openings, we anticipate the latest "Star Wars" offering.

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi": Rey (Daisy Ridley) joins Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as the Resistance takes on the First Order. Hmmm, where have we heard the kind of plot before? Rebels? Empire?

"Ferdinand": Based on the 1936 children's story about a bull that would rather smell flowers than fight, Blue Sky Studios ("Rio," "Ice Age") and Fox adapt the book into a complete feature film. It's kiddie time.

I'll update further when the local theaters finalize their respective schedules.

‘The Square’: a fable for the 21st century

Magic Lantern fans will have the chance to see "The Square," the latest film by Swedish director Ruben Östlund, when it opens today. Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

One of the more interesting films to come out of 2014 was a Swedish gem titled “Force Majeure” – a dark tale, written and directed by Ruben Östlund, that explores what happens when a man lies not just to his wife and children but, maybe worst of all, to himself.

Östlund’s new project – which opens today at the Magic Lantern Theatre – is equally fascinating. Darkly comic and anxiety-inducing, to be sure, but fascinating.

Titled “The Square,” Östlund’s film focuses on Christian (Claes Bang), the Nordically urbane curator of a Stockholm modern art museum. Well-versed in talking to crowds, a number of whom are likely wealthy potential patrons, Christian can say all the right things – even while addressing the vagaries of artistic double-speak – in support of the kind of art that would beg the indulgence of Jackson Pollock.

Christian, then, makes the perfect agent for Östlund as the filmmaker satirizes not only art, artists and those whose job it is to market it, but the faux sanctimony of Swedish society – though we in the U.S. shouldn’t begin to celebrate our superiority anytime soon. What Östlund focuses on is society’s claim to value humanity even as that society looks down on individual humans.

The very concept trumpeted by the work of art from which the movie takes its title comes across as less naïve than wantonly ignorant. The installation, which is basically a square-shaped lit tube placed in the middle of a brick courtyard, comes with an inscription that reads, “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.”

Right. Yet throughout Östlund’s movie, people walk past those in need. And even when they do stop to help, bad things tend to happen. Ingratitude at the least. Robbery at the worst. Both happen to Christian, though the latter is more important because it’s what propels the movie’s narrative.

After being tricked into acting as any good citizen might, Christian finds that he has lost both his phone and wallet. In an attempt to get his possessions back, he posts a threatening letter to every resident of a dodgy apartment complex. And his scheme works. But his actions also attract the attention of someone he has inadvertently wrongly accused, a young boy who promises to bring “chaos” on Christian if he doesn’t apologize.

Meanwhile, the museum is amping up its marketing campaign for the new exhibit, one recommendation being so ludicrous that two characters – playing the chorus to our greater conscience – actually snicker during its presentation. But Christian, involved in dealing with the chaos that is slowly taking over his life – including the robbery, the actions of the unjustly accused kid, and the woman (played by Elizabeth Moss) with whom he performs perhaps the most discomfiting sex scene in film history – offhandedly OKs the campaign. And in doing so, he seals his fate.

Östlund fills his film with uncomfortable moments – off-screen noises, crying babies, and one confounding sequence involving an artiste impersonating an ape – but it’s all in service of an idea: Hypocrisy, thy name is the 21st century.

Catch ‘Lampoon Christmas Vacation’ on Saturday

We've been hearing Christmas carols since before Thanksgiving, so you know people are getting into the spirit of the season. Certainly businesses are.

Especially movie theaters. Take Regal Cinemas' locations at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium. Both will be showing "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" at noon on Saturday.

A 1989 addition to the Lampoon series, the best of which was the first — 1983's "National Lampoon's Vacation" — the Christmas version was written by none other than the late John Hughes. And it was directed by the estimable Jeremiah Chechik, best known to Spokane movie fans as the man who directed "Benny & Joon."

It stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo, who reprise their roles as the married Clark and Ellen, with Juliette Lewis and a virtually unrecognizable Johnny Galecki taking over the roles of their children, Audrey and Rusty.

And if that isn't enough holiday fun for you, the two Regal theaters will screen "Elf." on Dec. 16.

Fa-la-La-la-La, la-La-La-La.

Auntie’s event: ‘Compassionate Foster Care’

Above: (L to R) Molly Kretchmar-Hendricks, Janet C. Mann (Spokesman-Review photo by Jesse Tinsley)

Fiction is full of tales involving orphans (read "Oliver Twist"). But real-life stories involving foster children can be even more harsh.

The problems around foster parenting are what co-authors Janet C. Mann and Molly Kretchmar-Hendricks will address at 7 p.m. Thursday at Auntie's Bookstore. The two co-wrote the book "Creating Compassionate Foster Care: Lessons of Hope from Children and Families in Crisis."

A former foster parent, Mann is founder of Spokane's The Children's Ark foster home. Kretchmar-Hendricks is a professor of developmental psychology at Gonzaga University.

The book's foreword was written by Glenn Cooper, one of the co-founders of The Circle of Security.

One of the quotes from the book is telling: "Every child's way of being can open doors to wisdom, compassion, and human connection. We need only to listen."

Listening certainly isn't the only path to raising healthy children. But it's certainly a good start.

Friday’s openings redux: Supernatural Norway

A couple of additions have been made to the list of Friday's movie openings, which are listed below, including a second run of the Idris Elba-Kate Winslet film "The Mountain Between Us."

The other opening is:

"Thelma": The latest by Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier, which will play at AMC River Park Square, "Thelma" tells the story of a young woman whose passion brings about mysterious supernatural occurrences. Call it "Carrie Revisited."

That's the list. So go. See a movie. And enjoy.

Lantern to screen provocative ‘The Square’

Word from the Magic Lantern is that — no surprise — the theater is continuing its practice of screening provocative, intriguing cinema. The latest film by "Force Majeure" director Ruben Ostund is on the Lantern's Friday docket.

"The Square": A museum known for supporting challenging works finds a bit of trouble when both its director and the publicity campaign for its latest installation go a bit off script — and off balance. Hey, my kid could draw that!

I'll update the mainstream theaters when they finalize their listings.

Friday’s openings: More than just a ‘Disaster’

Comedy in a couple of different forms will be on tap beginning Friday, at least according to the national movie-release schedule. The two scheduled openings are:

"The Disaster Artist": James Franco directed, and stars in, this adaptation of the book "The Disaster Artist," which details the making of one of the worst films ever made, Tommy Wiseau's "The Room." You are tearing me apart, Lisa! (Note: The film opened in limited release last Friday and is now going wider, to 800 theaters.)

"Just Getting Started": Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones stars as mismatched partners (one a former mob lawyer, the other an ex-FBI agent) who have to work together to foil a mob hit. Maybe they'll make an offer we can't refuse.

I'll update when the local bookings become finalized.

Binge-watching? Two for the weekend

If you're in the mood to binge-watch something in the coming weeks, you might be interested in the following review — which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Once upon a time, and not that long ago, those of us who watch television were at the mercy of three major networks. We watched what they produced, when they decided to screen it. And that was it.

The advent of home-recording systems changed all that. Gradually, the broadcasting industry itself fractured, adapting to the demands of Internet users to give us far more choices than ever before. Out of those many choices came the opportunity to do something that is now part of our native language.

We don’t just watch TV. We “binge-watch” TV. Shows such as “Stranger Things” don’t just premiere one at a time. They come fully loaded, a season at once, 10 or more hour-long episodes that you can spend a weekend watching, then share a Monday-morning conversation about with your colleagues.

Consider this my version of that conversation as I suggest two series that my wife and I recently binge-watched and enjoyed immensely.

The first is “The Bridge,” the original Danish-Swedish production from 2011. Starring Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia, the first season pairs the two – playing, respectively, Swedish and Danish police detectives who are charged with solving a murder.

The conceit is that a corpse has been found exactly halfway on the bridge that spans the Oresund Strait between Copenhagen the Swedish city of Malmo. Helin plays Saga Noren, an emotionally stunted but brilliant detective, and Bodnia is her Danish partner who, gradually, becomes her friend.

Three seasons of the show are available, and a fourth is said to be in production. The Danish actor Thure Lindhart joins the series in the third season, but Helin – whose Saga remains talented but increasingly troubled – is always the central focus of what takes place.

“The Bridge,” which was remade as an English-language version in 2013 by the FX network, was a Netflix pickup. In recent years, Netflix has begun to produce material of its own, such as “Stranger Things,” now into its second season. But the series I want to mention is “Mindhunter.”

Based on the nonfiction book “Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit,” the series is an imaginative look at how the FBI first began investigating serial killers. Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany and Anna Torv star as fictionalized versions of real people, who for various reasons are intent on delving into the brains of people such as Richard Speck.

Groff’s character, named Holden Ford, is the central figure. Purely buttoned-down as the series begins in 1977, Ford is driven by forces we can’t quite understand. And the first season – a second is said to be in production – ends with it clear that he is beginning to pay a high emotional price.

Groff and Torv (who resembles fellow Australian actress Cate Blanchett) are relative new faces, but McCallany has played secondary roles for years. His character, Bill Tench, lends the series a traditional male edge, resisting Ford’s more provocative, if inspired, methods.

Both the European version of “The Bridge” and “Mindhunter,” then, are worthy views. If nothing else, they should provide some decent diversions when the snow starts to fly.

‘Howl’s Moving Castle’: final showing tonight

Tonight will be your last chance, for the moment, to see Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's 2004 film "Howl's Moving Castle" on the big screen. The film, which is the final segment of Fathom Events' Ghibli Studio Fest 2017, will play at 7 p.m. at Regal's North Town Mall Cinemas.

IMDB describes the plot of "Howl's Moving Castle" this way: "When an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking castle."

Tonight's screening is dubbed in English and features the voices of actors Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Josh Hutcherson and Jena Malone among others.

Miyazaki, who is 76, is one of the world's great animators. His films include "My Neighbor Totoro" (1988), "Princess Mononoke" (1997) and the Oscar-winning "Spirited Away" (2001). But his fans all have their favorites. In fact, one website had the temerity to "rank" Miyazaki's film, worst to best.

Let the debates begin.

Friday’s openings: ‘Three Billboards’ finally arrives

One of the films that a number of area movie have been asking about, "Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri," is the only new film opening locally on Friday. The whole of Friday's scheduled lineup is as follows:

"Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri": Frances McDormand stars as a strong-willed woman who pushes local law enforcement to find the killer (or killers) of her daughter. #notmargefromfargo

I've already mentioned that the Magic Lantern will open the Catholic-themed film "Novitiate." AMC River Park Square will both open a newly remastered, 20th-anniversary run of James Cameron's "Titanic" and, likely for Academy Award nomination purposes, bring "Marshall" back for a second-run showing.

I'll update if and when more information becomes available.

Magic Lantern to open Catholic film ‘Novitiate’

Continuing its practice of seeking out films you're not likely to see anywhere else, the Magic Lantern Theater will open the Catholic-minded movie "Novitiate" on Friday.

Capturing an 88 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes (73 percent among regular viewers, the film is described this way: "Led by a gripping performance from Melissa Leo, 'Novitiate' grapples uncompromisingly — and ultimately compellingly — with questions of faith and feminism."

Here are some critical comments:

Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune: ""Novitiate" is challenging, uncomfortable, violent, simple in its message about transformative mind control imposed on youth, superbly acted and technically flawless"

Andrea Gronvall, Chicago Reader: "Writer-director Maggie Betts balances the naturalistic exchanges of her sympathetic young cast with bravura set pieces for the seasoned actors."

Christy Lemire, RogerEbert.com: " 'Novitiate' finds room for all these viewpoints; appreciating the dedication it takes to live such a life while also questioning its suppression of individuality, emotion. This willingness to embrace such complexity is a bit of a miracle in itself."

I'll update the overall list of Friday's openings when it becomes final.

Catch ‘Titanic’ in new Dolby format on Friday

It's still a bit early to predict what movies are going to open on Friday, though a range of options are available — from "The Disaster Artist" to "The Shape of Water."

But for sure, some 87 AMC theaters across the nation on Friday will opt for nostalgia. They'll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of James Cameron's multiple-Oscar-winning film "Titanic" with a week-long screening.

"Titanic," which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It ranks second on all-time world box-office charts with a $2.18 billion total (second only to Cameron's 2009's film "Avatar" with $2.78 billion).

The new version boasts a print, mastered in Dolby Vision technology. Even Cameron was impressed by what he saw.

“We mastered a few minutes of 'Titanic' in Dolby Vision and I was stunned,” Cameron said. “It was like seeing it for the first time. Now that the entire film has been mastered, I’m excited to share it with audiences across the U.S.”

You can order tickets in advance by clicking here.

‘Lady Bird’: not your typical teen comedy

One of the films you should consider seeing over this weekend is "Lady Bird," which is playing at AMC River Park Square. Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

If you’ve been following independent American film for the past few years, you know who Greta Gerwig is. Like a lot of young movie stars – Brie Larson, Carey Mulligan and Jennifer Lawrence come to mind – Gerwig brings a fresh presence to the big screen. Yet while all these actresses boast an undeniable level of talent, the presence that Gerwig presents is singular.

Think of her in “Frances Ha,” a film she co-wrote with Noah Baumbach, which Baumbach directed. Her character in that film defines the model of a character she has since played in various versions. As Chicago-based critic Ray Pride described it, “Gerwig draws upon her well of previously-demonstrated charisma, her ample capacity for twerpitude refined, honed, elevated.”

What a word: “twerpitude.” But it fits, just as it would have had anyone applied it to Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall.” And let’s be clear: It’s not an insult. I agree with Pride that Gerwig’s character is “precious,” causing you to laugh, to gasp and even to love.

The same can be true, both more and less, in such films as “Greenberg,” “Mistress America” and “Maggie’s Plan.” And now, in her first attempt at being a writer-director, it applies as well to the title character in her film “Lady Bird.”

Played by the Irish actress Saiorse Ronan – displaying, it must be pointed out, an impeccable American accent – Lady Bird is a high school senior attending a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California. It’s worth pointing out, too, that the school is Catholic, which Lady Bird attends on scholarship, both because of the school’s continual referrals to priests, nuns and regular mass and because of Lady Bird’s antipathy to anything religious.

The Sacramento reference is important because the film ultimately becomes a love letter to that central California city, a place that Lady Bird expresses a yearning to leave most of the way through.

Lady Bird isn’t even her real name. It’s Christine. But as she explains while auditioning for a school play, “I gave it to myself. It was given to me by me.”

And there it is: Lady Bird’s particular self-focus, a characteristic that puts her at odds, at one time or another, with everyone she comes in contact with: her adopted brother, her teachers, her best friend and especially her mother, played by an actress too long missing from film, Laurie Metcalf.

As an aside, she does NOT come in conflict with her father, played with uncommon compassion by the stage actor/director Tracy Letts. Letts’ character, who has his own back story, is the link between mother and daughter who, from the opening frames, are at each other’s throats.

Mom displays that kind of clinging, critical kind of love that the insistently independent Lady Bird bridles against. And their ongoing conflict, especially over Lady Bird’s desire to go to an eastern college, is the basis on which writer-director Gerwig bases her film.

Told in brief passages, with many sequences being rendered in a kind of cinematic shorthand – the kinds of cut-cut-cuts that give a sense of context without feeling the need for further explanation – “Lady Bird” the movie feels both busy and economical at once.

What Gerwig has done is skillfully create a world where her characters can fully develop, whether they be dad struggling with late-career disappointment, one of Lady Bird’s friends struggling with his sexual orientation, mom regularly working two shifts as a psychiatric nurse just to keep the family afloat – or Lady Bird herself, perfectly portrayed by Ronan, feeling the need to discover a self that knows life has more to it than Sacramento can ever offer.

Her stumbling efforts to fulfill that need bring to mind a word that I used earlier in this review: Those effort may be awkward and, at times, maddeningly frustrating. But they are, in the end … precious.

Good chance you’ll like ‘Lady Bird’

It's not likely to last, because it seldom does, but for the moment the movie "Lady Bird" has a 100 percent "fresh" rating on the critics' site Rotten Tomatoes.

One. Hundred. Percent.

Critics are a contentious group. Some have been accused of rating a movie down just to avoid going along with the crowd, though that may be an unfair assessment. In any event, only 33 of the top 100 movies of all time have a 100 percent rating. Even "The Wizard of Oz" has just a 99 percent Tomato-meter rating. 

So, the high score a triumph for actor-turned-writer/director Greta Gerwig, whose film has hit the top mark with ratings from 150 some critics. Here are a few of the more sterling comments:

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: " 'Lady Bird' is a triumph of style, sensibility and spirit. The girl at its center may not be a heavyweight, but her movie is epic."

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "As warm as it is smart — and it is very smart — 'Lady Bird' marks actor/screenwriter Greta Gerwig's superb debut as a solo director and yet another astonishing performance by star Saoirse Ronan."

Tomris Laffly, Time Out: "A sweet, deeply personal portrayal of female adolescence that's more attuned to the bonds between best girlfriends than casual flings with boys, writer-director Greta Gerwig's beautiful 'Lady Bird' flutters with the attractively loose rhythms of youth."

The movie has an 89 percent rating among non-critics, too, so it's not just a critical darling. Regular movie fans like it, too.

You'll get your chance to see beginning today. The movie opens today at AMC River Park Square.

Below: Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan talk about the movie "Lady Bird."