7 Blog

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

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."

The week’s openings redux: ‘Lady Bird’

And the adjustment to the movie schedule is: Yes, Christmas is on the list, as is Greta Gerwig's most recent, critical darling of an arthouse movie. In addition to the films listed below, the week's movies include:

Wednesday

"The Man Who Invented Christmas": Ever imagine how Charles Dickens dreamed up "A Christmas Carol"? This film provides a plausible answer. God bless us, every one.

"Lady Bird": Saoirse Ronan stars as an independent-minded, high-school senior who lurches toward adulthood in this comedy written and directed by Greta Gerwig. Take that, Noah Baumbach.

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

The week’s openings: Disney-Pixar serves ‘Coco’

Still reeling from the lukewarm box-office reaction to "Justice League," not much is scheduled for the national movie-release schedule this week. In addition to the possible holiday-themed "The Man Who Invented Christmas," the two mainstream expected openings are:

Wednesday

"Coco": Based on the Mexican holiday Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), this Disney-Pixar film follows the exploits of a boy who investigates his family's anti-music bias by entering the realm between death and life to talk to a long-dead musician. Que siniestra!

"Roman J. Israel, Esq.": Denzel Washington plays a struggling attorney who steals from the mob and then must face the consequences. Yeah, that always turns out well.

And at the Magic Lantern:

Friday

"Jane": Based on found footage of the naturalist and chimp researcher Jane Goodall, this Brett Morgen documentary explores Goodall's early years in Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park.

As always, I'll update when the local listings get finalized.

One of the best 2017 films: ‘Florida Project’

One of the best films of the year opens today at the Magic Lantern. My review of "The Florida Project," which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, follows:

You could be forgiven for thinking that filmmaker Sean Baker’s last two feature projects smack of gimmickry. After all, his 2015 release “Tangerine” was famously shot on an iPhone equipped with a special lens. And his new film, “The Florida Project,” follows a meandering storyline that is conveyed primarily through the eyes of the children who reside in a Kissimmee, Florida, budget motel.

Baker’s work, though, rises far above mere gimmickry. “Tangerine” is a surprisingly poignant study of the transgender characters who live on, and off, the brightly lit streets of Los Angeles. And “The Florida Project” uses the very innocence of childhood as a backdrop to gauge the desperation of the adults whose job it is to raise them.

Both films, then, grasp for greater meaning by detailing the difficult lives of those who exist on the hard edge of the American dream. And in both, Baker’s grasp is as great as it is assured.

“The Florida Project” revolves around 6-year-old Moonee (played by newcomer Brooklynn Prince). Moonee lives with her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), in a motel, garishly painted purple and called, somewhat ironically, the Magic Castle.

Run by Bobby (played by Willem Dafoe in a career-defining role), this Magic Castle is the kind of place that attracts people on the brink of homelessness, people who struggle to pay week to week by working at service jobs. Halley, whose defensive attitude may be a reflection of her hopelessness but certainly doesn’t work in her favor, hustles for every buck she can – mostly, but not exclusively, by obtaining things on the cheap, bottles of perfume for example, and selling them to tourists for whatever prices she can get.

Moonee, meanwhile, when she isn’t accompanying her mother, roams over the motel grounds, getting into the kinds of trouble that seem to come naturally to children left to run wild. With her friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), she puts a dead fish in the motel swimming pool (“We were trying to get it back alive,” she says), she spits on a neighbor’s car, she cages quarters from patrons at a nearby ice-cream shop, she makes fun of an elderly motel guest who likes to sunbathe in the nude. Mostly, she makes life difficult for Bobby, a well-meaning guy who is far nicer – and protective of both the motel’s children and their parents – than he has any obligation to be.

Throughout “The Florida Project,” which Baker directed from a script he co-wrote with Chris Bergoch, the young actress Prince capably captures Moonee’s sense of play, which comes across as her childish attempt to explore, and exert some control over, a world that clearly confounds her mother. It is only when she goes too far that she begins to discover the kinds of societal limits that Hallee should have been teaching her all along.

That discovery comes slowly, but inexorably, and in Baker’s talented hands, ends up feeling – at the film’s end – both like an act of love … and a punch to the heart.

Holiday movie wish list: ‘Last Jedi’ and others

Just in case the area theaters are listening, I'm offering the following list of movies that I most want to see before the year is out:

"Lady Bird": After hitting the film-festival circuit, Greta Gerwig's film starring Saoirse Ronan about a young woman with a unique temperament was released on Nov. 3. Still waiting.

"Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri": Frances McDormand stars as a woman doing whatever she can to find the murderer of her daughter. The film by Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges") also played the festival circuit but opened in theater Nov. 10. Still waiting.

"The Disaster Artist" (11/25): This exploration of Tommy Wiseau and the making of his cult classic "The Room" will get a limited release. Let's hope that includes Spokane. My wife loves director/star James Franco.

"The Shape of Water" (12/1): Guillermo del Toro's latest stars Sally Hawkins who fights to free a mysterious water creature from the clutches of a sadistic government operative played by Michael Shannon.

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (12/15): Do I really have to add anything here?

"Downsizing" (12/22): Alexander Payne's latest stars Matt Damon and Kirsten Wigg who consider shrinking themselves so that they can live out their lives as four-inch tall beings. The idea could go any way, but Payne has proven capable in the past.

There are a few foreign-language releases I want to see, too. But we'll have to wait for the Magic Lantern to get them. Stay tuned.

Jane Goodall doc postponed at Magic Lantern

One change to Friday's schedule already: "Jane," the documentary about the esteemed naturalist Jane Goodall, has been postponed. Instead of opening Friday at the Magic Lantern, the film has been pushed back to Friday, Nov. 24th.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the Lantern is still expected to open "The Florida Project" as previously announced. Here are some critical comments about Sean Baker's new film, which is receiving a 94 percent approval rating on rottentomatoes.com:

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times: "You feel as if you've slipped inside of Moonee's enchanted world, while at the same time seeing the harsh reality of Halley's. That contrast is devastating, right up to a final sequence that's sure to break your heart in two."

Eric Kohn, IndieWire: "The Florida Project further cements Baker's status as one of the most innovative American directors working today, but he's also an essential advocate for the stories this country often doesn't get to see."

Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times: "All childhoods must come to an end, few of them as piercingly as the one in 'The Florida Project,' Sean Baker's raw, exuberant and utterly captivating new movie."

Expect to see Baker's film on any number of Top 10 films for 2017.

Friday’s openings: Superheroes, chimps and children

Another week, another superhero offering — this time from DC Comics — as "Justice League" leads Friday's movie openings. The week's scheduled national movie-release schedule is as follows:

"Justice League": Batman (Ben Affleck) leads a diverse team of characters with super powers, from Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to Aquaman (Jason Momoa), against the obligatory great threat. 

"Wonder": A boy (Jason Tremblay) whose facial features have been altered due to a medical condition, and various surgeries to correct the situation, enters public school for the first time — in fifth grade. As if that grade wasn't tough enough.

"The Star": The story of the first Christmas is told through the story of a donkey and his animal friends. Note: Ving Rhames plays Theddeus the Dog.

And at the Magic Lantern? Two openings:

"The Florida Project": Sean Baker ("Tangerine") explores the existence of characters living in a Florida budget motel through the eyes of the children who reside there.

"Jane": Documentary filmmaker Brett Morgen ("The Kid Stays in the Picture") uses a trove of archival footage to tell the story of noted researcher Jane Goodall.

I'll update when the local theaters finalize their listings.

‘Loving Vincent’ lives up to its title

If you haven't yet seen "Loving Vincent," and you're an art-lover, you might be interested in the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

In their 2011 biography of the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, titled simply “Van Gogh: The Life,” co-authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith proposed an intriguing theory concerning the artist’s 1890 death.

Long thought to have committed suicide, van Gogh – Naifeh and Smith claimed – was actually shot by someone else. And even though the artist, on his deathbed, said that he indeed did attempt suicide, Naifeh and Smith – pointing to the position of the wound and other circumstantial evidence – insisted that he must have been covering up for someone.

Other van Gogh scholars have ridiculed the story, maintaining that van Gogh’s history of mental illness was in itself enough of an explanation for the suicide verdict, much less van Gogh’s own confession. Whatever the truth of the matter, the theory aroused the interest of Polish filmmaker Dorota Kobiela. And in an effort to explore the story, Kobiela had an idea intriguing in its own right: She would immerse viewers in van Gogh’s very art.

Teaming with British filmmaker Hugh Welchman, Kobiela hired a team of skilled artists to re-create 94 of van Gogh’s works. From those re-creations, which numbered by one estimate to some 66,960 individual oil renderings, the co-directors cast actors who resembled van Gogh’s subjects, filmed them in live-action sequences and, with the aid of computer graphics, translated the story into film.

That story commences a year following van Gogh’s death, at the age of 37 in a small village some 17 miles northwest of Paris. Armand Roulin (voiced by Douglas Booth) is a young man who spends much of his time drinking and fighting. He is asked by his father to carry a letter, written by the late van Gogh, to the artist’s brother Theo. The letter is two years old – yet the elder Roulin, a postman who admired van Gogh, feels obligated that it be delivered.

Thus starts Armand’s sojourn, a trek that takes him to the village – Auvers-sur-Oise – where he meets a range of characters who knew van Gogh, each of whom has a different story to tell. Sometimes openly, sometimes reluctantly.

Those characters are voiced by a cast of talented actors, from a suspicious servant (played by Helen McRory) to van Gogh’s doctor (Jerome Flynn), a sympathetic waitress (Eleanor Tomlinson) to the doctor’s alluring daughter (Saoirse Ronan).

In effect, “Loving Vincent” is more about Armand than it is about van Gogh, who is seen only in flashback – in sequences that contrast sharply with the rest of the film’s vibrant colors. Armand initially wonders why anyone could be interested in an obviously deranged man. But by the film’s end, he wonders why no one seems to care about the mysterious way – in his mind, at least – that van Gogh died.

Yet the artist is present in every frame, his unique style represented throughout in the way that Kobiela and Welchman add movement to otherwise familiar individual works.

It is those works, flowing with life, that set “Loving Vincent” apart from your standard life study. And they are what underscores that film title’s very meaning.

Auntie’s reading: where books meet film

If you've ever been to a book reading, you pretty much know what to expect.

You find a seat, listen as a bookstore (or library) employee reads off some announcements before introducing the evening's guest author, listen to said author read a selection from her or his latest work, then listen as people ask questions.

Yet at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore, things might go a bit differently. Robin Gainey, author of the novel "Light of the Northern Dancers" — described as a "powerful western romance" — is expected to do more than just read from her book. Gainey, a widely traveled woman originally from Seattle, is expected to discuss how a novel becomes a movie, "how books are optioned, and the broad hows and whys of book adaptations."

"Light of the Northern Dancers" is Gainey's second novel. You can find out more about her and her work by clicking here.

Friday’s openings redux: time for a bit of weird

In keeping with its ongoing practice of opening offbeat films on occasion, AMC River Park Square is scheduled to open a movie on Friday that promises to be a little south of weird. The movie:

"The Killing of a Sacred Deer": Colin Farrell plays a surgeon who is forced to react when a teenage boy he befriended begins to act strange.

The film was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos from a script he co-wrote. Lanthimos, who was born in Greece, is noted for exploring — hmmmmm — unusual themes in his films. The only one I've seen is his 2015 offering "The Lobster," in which he cast Farrell as a man whose desire is to become what the film's title implies. Really.

As Lanthimos declared in an interview with the UK Independent, "“Me, personally, what I want is to allow people to be engaged actively in watching the film,” he says. “I like to construct films in a way that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, [but so you’ll still] be able to enjoy them, be intrigued [and] start to think about the meaning of things – and hopefully by the end of it, you’ll have some strong desire to keep thinking about them.”

Note his use of the term "a bit uncomfortable." You've been warned.

Magic Lantern: Loving Vincent, sex, the queen

OK, so nothing new is opening this week at the Magic Lantern — unless you consider the second-run showing of "Victoria and Abdul."

But along with "Loving Vincent," the gorgeously animated study of a man investigating the last days of the artist Vincent Van Gogh, the theater will continue to screen "Battle of the Sexes" (though for just one more week).

Burying the lead as I like to do, the big news concerning the Lantern is that on Nov. 17 it is scheduled to open two new films: One is a documentary titled "Jane," which tells the story of the researcher Jane Goodall and her work both with the chimpanzees of the Gombe reserve and as a proponent of conservation.

The other? "The Florida Project," the newest film by "Tangerine" director Sean Baker. I saw "The Florida Project" during a recent trip to New York and … well, it's likely to make my year-end Top 10 list. Just sayin'.

Friday’s openings: Daddies and the mustache

A pair of Hollywood specials — one a sequel to a family comedy, the other a remake of a mystery chestnut — should on on tap Friday, if the national movie release schedule is in anyway accurate. The films are:

"Daddy's Home 2": Taking up where its 2015 predecessor left off, the characters played by Will Ferrel and Mark Wahlberg must endure a Christmas with their respective fathers — played by John Lithgow and, yes, Mel Gibson. Pair it with "Bad Moms Christmas" for a family themed two-fer.

"Murder on the Orient Express": Another version of the 1934 Agathie Christie novel about the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot investigating a murder on the famous train line. If you're familiar with the story, the only mystery will involve how Kenneth Branagh manages not to disturb his character's outlandish mustache.

It seems the Magic Lantern is opening nothing new this week. As always, I'll update this post when the local listings are finalized.

Auntie’s reading: Peety and Eric, who rescued whom?

Those of us who are interested in what's commonly referred to as self-help books — but particularly those who love dog stories — should have a good time at Auntie's Bookstore on Friday.

At 7 p.m., author Eric O'Grey will show up with his dog Jake to share tales of his book "Walking With Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life." The event is a fund-raiser for the Spokane Humane Society.

O'Grey will tell how he was overweight, depressed and diabetic until he partnered up with Peety, a rescue dog who was also overweight. The two of them began sharing time, going on walks, eating healthier and — in the process of becoming fast friends — both changed their lives for the better.

Co-authored by O'Grey and Mark Dagostino, "Walking With Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life" has been featured on National Public Radio, on the Today Show and other national media outlets.

True to the title of his book, O'Grey credits Peety for helping him find the road to recovery. As he told NPR, "He looked at me like I was the best person on the planet, and I wanted to become the person he thought I was."

Peety died in 2015. O'Grey, who lives in Boise, runs now with his black lab Jake (pictured above). The video below is a preview of the story O'Grey will share. Make sure you have some tissue handy before watching it.

‘Lucky’ is Stanton’s great last movie gift

If you get a chance to see the film "Lucky," you may walk out with a lot of questions. In the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, I attempt to answer some of the more obvious:

When I think of the late Harry Dean Stanton, who died at the age of 91 on Sept. 15, I tend to recall a scene from one particular movie: Ridley Scott’s “Alien.” Stanton, cast as the crewman Brett, is alone, searching for the cat Jonesy. He walks through a large, warehouse-type room, occasionally calling out the cat’s name

At one point, he stops under a stream of water. He doffs his cap, allowing the water to wash over his face. Stanton stands there for a long minute, the camera capturing the contours of his angular features. Then he turns and …

Well, if you’ve seen Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror masterpiece, you know what happens next. And other than the need to suspend a massive amount of disbelief about the scene – that huge room and dripping water in a spaceship? – the biggest take-away is Stanton’s ability to hold your attention while seemingly doing nothing.

But, then, Stanton had been doing exactly that in movies and television since the mid-1950s. And if you don’t remember him in “Alien,” how about “Paris, Texas”? Or “Repo Man”? Or “Escape From New York”?

Or, getting to the point, the recently released independent film “Lucky”? Directed by the actor John Carroll Lynch, from an original script by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, “Lucky” is one of Stanton’s final roles – and serves as a fitting capper on his career.

The character Stanton plays is exactly that: a town character in a small Southwestern burg full of colorful types. Lucky is 90, a guy set in his ways, who is far healthier than a lifelong smoker has any right to be. In fact, his doctor – played in a cameo by Ed Begley Jr. – says he might as well continue to smoke because stopping would likely do him more harm.

Lynch’s movie has a small focus – Lucky’s day-to-day existence – but never loses sight of larger issues. So while we accompany our elderly protagonist as he goes through his day (rising, walking to town, doing crossword puzzles at a diner counter, watching old TV shows, having drinks with the town’s other mostly quirky residents), we are invited to mull over the meaning of it all.

Sometimes, those invitations are obvious, as in when Lucky’s friend Howard – played by none other than filmmaker David Lynch – expresses grief over losing his pet tortoise, President Roosevelt. Or when a lawyer played by Ron Livingston tells Lucky about a near-miss auto accident that shook him to his core.

Other times, they are as subtle as the two guys waiting for Godot. Such as the moment when Lucky, attending a Mexican-themed birthday party, breaks into an impromptu version of the song “Volver, Volver.” Or when he walks into an alleyway with a lit-up door marked “Exit.” These are the moments when “Lucky” the movie most resembles something David Lynch – no relation to John Carroll Lynch – might direct. Only with more heart.

A heart and soul – though his character here would deny that last part – provided by the inimitable Stanton, one of cinema’s most unforgettable presences.

Enjoy ‘Casablanca’ again on the big screen

Some movies are perfect. Or at least they seem perfect. And no matter how many times you see them, they never get old.

"Casablanca" is one of those films. Released in 1942, directed by Michael Curtiz and adapted from a stage play, "Casablanca" ended up winning two Academy Awards. But that is hardly what makes the movie so memorable. Let me list just a few things that do:

Bogart and Bergman: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman make one of the great romantic couples in all film.

Claude Rains: As Capt. Louis Renault, Rains is the main foil for Bogart's Rick Blaine and a man who knows how to survive.

Peter Lorre: Pop-eyed Ugarte is a weasel, maybe the polar opposite of Renault. But what a great weasel.

Dooley Wilson: "You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. The fundamental things apply, as time goes by."

Which brings up … the quotes, such as: "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine."

Or: "Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Or: "Here's looking at you kid."

And this exchange:

Renault: "What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?"

Rick: "My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters."

Renault: "The waters? What waters? We're in the desert." 

Rick: "I was misinformed."

Yet there is no one single thing that makes "Casablanca" special. It's the blend of all the above — and more — a blend that you'll be able to enjoy yet again on the big screen at 2 and 7 p.m. Nov. 12 and 15 at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium cinemas.

The occasion? The movie's 75th anniversary.

Get your tickets now. You don't get to see perfect movies every day.