Best of NW Filmmaker (presented by STCU): Jason McKee
Most Promising Filmmaker: Travis Lien
That's it for 2016. Many thanks to the events sponsors, especially STCU and Eastern Washington University. SpIFF co-directors Adam Boyd and Pete Porter deserve special recognition, as does Volunteer of the Year Kendra Ann Sherrill.
Next up: SpIFF 2017.
Special note: Along with my "Movies 101" cohosts, I had the honor of presenting "Patterson's Wager" when it played at The Bing. As someone who is a special fan of writer-director O. Corbin Saleken, a double-winner at the 2012 SpIFF, I was happy to see his film win the festival's top award. A sweet blend of fantasy and romance, "Patterson's Wager" boasts one of the more pleasing endings of any film I've ever seen. A festival highlight, the film left everyone who walked out of The Bing feeling better for having experienced it. Let's hope this is just the beginning of Corbin's career, and that he returns to Spokane soon.
It'll probably screen too late to help you win your office Oscar pool, but the Magic Lantern just announced that it will open the Oscar-nominated Foreign Language film "Son of Saul" on Friday, Feb. 26. The Oscars broadcast will follow on Sunday, Feb. 28.
"Son of Saul," which is Hungary's Oscar entry and which won the juried Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, is perhaps the overall favorite in a field that includes France's "Mustang," Jordan's "Theeb," Colombia's "Embrace of the Serpent" and Denmark's "A War." In fact, one website — Indiewire.com — says the "Son of Saul" … "definitely seems like the film to beat here."
Rottentomatoes.com, which gives "Son of Saul" a 95 percent Tomatometer rating among critics, describes writer-director László Nemes' film this way: "In this searing drama, a concentration camp inmate tasked with burning the dead discovers the body of his young son, and must choose between participating in the clandestine uprising being planned among the prisoners, or securing a proper Jewish burial for his child."
Here are some of the more sterling reviews:
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: "Nemes has made a gripping film almost entirely free of movie heroics or placating visual strategies. It's not an easy experience. Nor should it be."
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "Finally, a cinematic genre heretofore mired in pietistic melodrama and safe aesthetic distance has been blown open and virtually reinvented, even the well-known contours of its subject matter reinvested with urgency, meaning and mournful honesty."
Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly: "It's impossible to be a lover of cinema without having been down this road before in films like Schindler's List and The Pianist. But Nemes is telling his story in a revolutionary new way — and it's devastating."
It isn't feel-good "Brooklyn," which has been attracting audiences to the Lantern for weeks now. But it is another sign of the theater's ongoing attempt to bring the best cinema possible to Spokane.
"45 Years": Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay star as a long-married couple who are forced to face an incident from the past that threatens to disrupt their long union. Rampling is an Oscar nominee for Best Actress.
"Where to Invade Next": Michael Moore's latest documentary has the filmmaker "invading" other countries to see what qualities he can import back to the good ol' U.S. of A.
Also, AMC will open the Oscar-nominated animated and live-action short films (which are already screening at the Magic Lantern).
That should be the whole of it. So go. See a movie. And enjoy yourselves.
In anticipation of a specific listing from local theaters, here are the scheduled national movie openings:
"Deadpool" (IMAX and standard): Ryan Reynolds fills the titular role, that of a former soldier/mercenary who — because of a rogue experiment — has developed powers that include accelerated healing powers. Now he's on the trail of the man who nearly killed him. Expect your typical gaggle of Reynolds gaglines.
"How to be Single": Dakota Johnson ("Fifty Shades of Grey") and Rebel Wilson ("Pitch Perfect") attempt to learn how to do what the film's title suggests. Things to learn: how to cure a hangover.
"Zoolander 2": Formerly the world's leading male supermodel, but now sadly out of fashion, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and his pal Hansel (Owen Wilson) are recruited to find the person who is murdering the world's most beautiful people. No Mensa card require for admittance.
And at the Magic Lantern: Opening a Spokane second run of "Carol," reopening the Oscar-nominated "Mustang" and "Room" and continuing other Oscar nominees "Brooklyn" and the live-action and animated short films.
You'll find several Twigs locations around Spokane, from the South Hill to Wandermere. But the spot I ate at Saturday afternoon was the most convenient for a post-movie brunch: River Park Square. (We saw the new Coen brothers movie, "Hail, Caesar!").
Many of the photos that I see taken of the newly renovated eatery involve shots from the balcony seats that overlook the mall's foyer (those afraid of heights should avoid them). But as you can see, I opted to highlight the fiery display that greets diners when they queue up for seats.
Oh, and my chicken caprese sandwich was a bit sloppy, forcing me to eat it with a knife and fork. But it tasted good.
The perfect theatre show for pre-schoolers, Peppa Pig Live! will visit nearly 100 cities during her first-ever U.S. tour. The performance features life-size puppets of Peppa, her family and her animal friends. Broadcast in the U.K., the U.S., Australia and Latin America, Peppa Pig delights young children all over the world, reaching 76 million U.S. households each day.
While the name Nina Simone may sound familiar, it’s doubtful that anyone other than a few die-hard fans of Simone’s singular blend of jazz, blues and soul could name a single tune performed by the late singer-songwriter.
That may change as Liz Garbus’ Oscar-nominated documentary feature “What Happened, Miss Simone” receives more attention. And it may occur even if the film doesn’t beat out the other four Academy Award documentary contenders. It is, after all, available to anyone who subscribes to Netflix.
If this happens, it would bring a bit of justice back to the world – the kind of justice that, for a variety of reasons, was denied to Simone during her lifetime.
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, the sixth offspring of a North Carolina handyman, the woman who would take the stage name Nina Simone was a child prodigy. She began playing the piano at age 3, and her early interest – after learning to accompany her local church services – was in becoming a classical pianist.
That path changed when, after being turned down by a prestigious musical conservatory, she ended up playing piano for $90 a week in an Atlantic City nightclub. Required also to sing, which she had never done, Simone – who adopted the pseudonym so that her mother would not know she was performing “the Devil’s music” – gradually developed the unique style that would lead to her one day being dubbed the “High Priestess of Soul.”
By the late 1950s, and into the mid-’60s, Simone would achieve popularity both through her recordings – which included her Billboard Chart-topping version of the Gershwin tune “I Love You, Porgy” – and appearances on stage and on television. By then, Simone was showing the strain caused both by the pressures of her busy career and by the abusive relationship she had with her second husband, a former New York police detective – abuse that the artist’s own daughter, one of the documentary’s producers, confirms.
Simone’s popularity waned, even as she was personally energized in the late ’60s by the civil rights movement. Her political stance led her to create some powerful music, but it stalled her appeal to a wider audience. By 1970, exhausted and perhaps even then showing signs of what would later be diagnosed as bipolar disorder, Simone left the U.S., her marriage and, for a time, her career. She lived abroad for much of the next two decades, for a time in Liberia, before finally settling in France where she resumed performing. Simone died, following a bout with breast cancer, in 2003.
Garbus portrays much of this through an effective use of stock footage and by including selections from Simone’s personal diary. And though critic Tanya Steele for one has criticized Garbus for focusing on Simone’s emotional problems, instead of keying solely on the genius that made her music unique, “What Happened, Miss Simone” does serve a necessary purpose. Much as “Amy,” Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-nominated documentary does for Amy Winehouse, it ensures that Simone’s legacy, both as a woman and an artist, won’t be soon forgotten.
Way back at the turn of the century, when Bob Glatzer ran what he called the Spokane Northwest International Film Festival, SNIFF (as we smilingly called it) used to play a lot of Canadian films. Now that the contemporary version of the festival is in being held, and is in its last three days, it's worthwhile noting that a Canadian influence still exists.
"My Internship in Canada" (6:30 p.m.): In the spirit of international diversity, this French-Canadian political comedy explores what happens when an astute Haitian political science student accepts an internship with an independent member of parliament in Northern Quebec and finds himself in the middle of a governmental firestorm. In French with English subtitles.
"The Name of the Whale" (7 p.m.): A Japanese film focusing on a young boy's summer in which great changes occur involving a sick grandfather, his mother's new partner, the departure of a friend and a school project involving looking for whale fossils. In Japanese with English subtitles.
Each entry should include details such as camp name, location, dates, cost, age range, and a short description (50 words or less). Please include contact information that will be published, such as a phone number, email or web site.
The deadline for the print edition is Friday, March 11, 2016 at 5 p.m. Any entries received after this date will be considered for the online version only.
And now, with four days to go, I present tonight's lineup for the 2016 Spokane International Film Festival. Both film porgrams are screening at the Magic Lantern Theater:
"Bridgend" (6:30 p.m.): Based on real events, this film — shot in Wales — follows a young woman and her father who come to live in a small village that has been rocked by a succession of teen suicides. A first effort by Danish filmmaker Jeppe Rønde, it won three awards at the Tribeca Film Festival.
And now for the non-festival movie openings. We can wrap up the expectations in one word: Coen. Friday's openings are as follows:
"Hail, Caesar!": When a mysterious group kidnaps a studio's big star, stalling production on their latest blockbuster, the studio head has to find a way to fix the problem. The newest by the Coen brothers, so expect a bit of satire.
"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies": When Elizabeth Bennet does her dance with Mr. Darcy, a band of zombies interrupt the sophisticated proceedings. One of the restless undead is no doubt Jane Austen.
"The Choice": Young love is interrupted by a serious car accident. Two words: Nicholas Sparks.
Before we get to what's opening in mainstream movie theaters this week, let's check out tonight's schedule for the 2016 Spokane International Film Festival. Both screenings will be at the Magic Lantern Theater.
"Aferim!" (6:30 p.m.): The year is 1835, and two riders in search of a a run-away slave encounter a variety of contrasting cultures that make up Eastern Europe. In Romanian, Turkish, and Romany with English subtitles
"Animation Showcase" (7 p.m.): Films from Canada, Finland, Germany, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia and Spain, all with English subtitles. NOTE: This screening has been sold out.
SpIFF 2016 continues through Saturday. Get your tickets now.
Though recent events have proven the Academy Awards to be as much a political statement as they are a popularity contest, they remain both the literal and symbolic gold standard of the U.S. film industry. As such, they can't be ignored. Which is one reason why I reviewed a film, the Oscar-nominated documentary feature "Cartel Land," that isn't playing in any local theater but instead is available through various streaming services (I saw it courtesy of Netflix).
Another reason for me to review it? "Cartel Land" scared the veritable wit out of me. Following is a transcription of the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:
Denis Villeneuve’s film “Sicario” delivers a stunningly scary portrayal of the drug war being waged on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border – a war that, according to official reports, has caused some 164,000 Mexican deaths since 2007. “Sicario,” justifiably, has been rewarded with three Academy Award nominations – though, sadly, Benicio del Toro’s acting was overlooked.
Yet “Sicario” isn’t the only Oscar-nominated study of the Mexican Drug war. Matthew Heineman’s “Cartel Land” is one of five nominees up for Best Documentary Feature. And if anything, Heineman’s film is even scarier than “Sicario.”
The why of this involves a couple of things. One, Heineman’s documentary takes us directly into the true-life murderous conflict; it introduces us to real people on both sides of the border and puts actual faces to the growing vigilante movements both deep in Mexico and, north of the Rio Grande. Two, though “Cartel Land” starts out seemingly as a simple study of good versus bad, it gradually evolves into something far more complex. It becomes an examination of whether vigilante justice – no matter how well-intentioned at the start – is doomed, ultimately, to become just another example of would-be good guys falling prey to the lure of egotism and/or big money.
Overall, Heineman takes a broad view of the drug war, even as he avoids following the typical protagonists. The only government representatives here are held firmly in the background, referred to in news reports or dismissed as ineffectual – or worse – by citizen self-defense groups in both the U.S. and Mexico. Instead, Heineman takes us to the Arizona border, where he introduces us to Tim Foley, leader of the self-proclaimed Arizona Border Recon, a volunteer group that patrols the state’s frontier scrublands in search both of illegal immigrants and cartel drug mules.
He contrasts the efforts of Foley’s group with those of Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles, leader of the Mexican self-defense organization known as the Autodefensas. The charismatic, mustachioed Mireles spearheads the efforts to unite the towns of the Mexican state of Michoacan. His target? The Knights Templar cartel, the group that through murder and extortion – and, some charge, aided by factions within the Mexican government – had become the region’s ruling power.
And we meet others, too, from those who have seen family members slain by cartel assassins to the assassins themselves – most strikingly in scenes where Heineman and his cameraman Matt Porwoll film cartel members brewing meth by firelight.
But what makes “Cartel Land” special, and particularly frightening, is that – unlike most mainstream movies and TV shows – it reflects the more ambiguous state of human affairs. While Mireles plays the classic hero, he proves to have feet of adobe. Meanwhile, his American counterpart Foley ends up making a strange kind of sense: If you felt as if your government were failing at one of its basic functions, protecting the general welfare, you might feel free to pick up a gun, too.
Problem is, as has been proven time and again, few of us in the real world can handle a Glock as well as Benicio del Toro.