7 Blog

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

Reading: Race on the field and elsewhere

Above: Professor David Leonard is also author of  “Screens Fade to Black: Contemporary African American Cinema." (Photo by Robert Hubner, WSU Photo Services)

Of the many issues facing the country today, one of the most prominent is race relations. And that's across the board, from immigration policy to community policing to questioning the need for certain kinds of public monuments.

And let's not forget sports.

David Leonard, a professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies at Washington State University, is the author of a book titled "Playing While White: Privilege and Power On and Off the Field" (University of Washington Press). In it he argues "how and why whiteness matters within sports and what that tells us about race in the twenty-first century."

The questions concerning race in America are not new topics for Leonard. Among his other books are "Screens Fade to Black: Contemporary African American Cinema" (Praeger, 2006) and "After Artest: The NBA and the Assault on Blackness" (SUNY Press, 2012).

Leonard will read from his book at 7 p.m. Saturday at Auntie's Bookstore.

It should be an enlightening evening.

Friday’s openings: Social media and LEGO ninjas

Action, horror and comedy. Now that's the kind of week that Hollywood loves. And it's what the national movie release schedule for Friday promises. The scheduled lineup is as follows:

"Friend Request": From IMDB: "A popular college student graciously accepts a social outcast's online friend request, but soon finds herself fighting a demonic presence that wants to make her lonely by killing her closest friends." Paging Mark Zuckerberg.

"Kingsman: The Golden Circle": With their headquarters destroyed, the British superagents join forces with a similar kind of U.S. group to fight a common enemy. The name isn't Bond, James Bond.

"The LEGO Ninjago Movie": Third in the LEGO series, this one features a group of high-school-age ninjas whose greatest foe is one of their number's dad. What, no Batman?

I'll update when the local listings get finalized.

‘I Called Him Morgan’: a tale of jazz and irony

If you're searching Netflix for a decent documentary to watch, you could do worse than "I Called Him Morgan." Directed by Kasper Collin, it tells the story of an ill-fated jazz musician. But as I try to explain in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, it rises above what might otherwise have been a mere headline-grabbing storyline:

It isn’t easy to reach a wide audience when making a movie about an artist who works in a limited arena. And let’s be honest here: Jazz is a limited arena.

Especially the kind of jazz that became popular in New York clubs from the 1950s on, the kind that was being defined by performers such as Charlie “Bird” Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey and the lesser known trumpet player Lee Morgan.

Lesser known, of course, only to the mainstream. Jazz aficionados are well aware of Morgan, the wunderkind trumpet player who by his mid-teens was already impressing the likes of Gillespie and Blakey with his musical abilities. If Morgan is remembered at all by the general public it’s likely because of the sordid nature of his 1972 death, shot by his common-law wife Helen between sets at a jazz club called, appropriately enough, Slug’s Saloon. He was just 33.

Credit filmmaker Kasper Collin, then, for seeing beyond the sad circumstances of Morgan’s demise and attempting to capture the larger world that Morgan, his fellow musicians – and, yes, his wife – populated with such vigor.

Collin, who is Swedish, got interested in Morgan some 10 years after completing a documentary about another musician, the sax player Albert Ayler. And while searching for a way to tell Morgan’s story, he got lucky. He found a trove of photographs, taken by at least three people during both recording sessions and less formal gatherings. The pristine quality of many of these black-and-white photos could comprise a museum collection in and of themselves.

Even more important, Collin found a recording – maybe the only one ever made – of an interview that Morgan’s wife gave just before her death in 1996. The very basis of Collin’s film – including its title, “I Called Him Morgan” – is built on that tape, which reveals not only the back story but the pain and regret that Helen Morgan carried with her for the remainder of her life.

Add the photos and the tape to the interviews that Collin conducted – most notably members of Morgan’s group – and underscore all that with a taste of the music that was produced, and you have a film that is more than just another story about a flawed artist who dies young. You have something that is far closer to a work of art.

Not the least of which is the irony that colors everything. Like many of his peers, Charlie Parker included, Morgan fell prey to heroin. And it was Helen, an independent older woman, who came to his rescue. Not only did Helen save Morgan’s life, she helped him resurrect his career. And the two became so close, so interconnected, that it was hard for their friends to think of one without the other.

Which was why what developed – another woman, a jealous rage, a loaded handgun and sudden death – came as such as shock. And loss.

You can hear the loss in the voices that Collin captures on camera. And that Helen Morgan left on a single audiotape.

Experience again the magic of ‘E.T’

Even though he's done his share of adult features, Steven Spielberg is still best known for his films that feature children. Think of Sheriff Brody's sons in "Jaws." Or the look of wonder on the boy who senses the aliens in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Mostly, though, think of the kids in Spielberg's 1982 classic "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial." This was the film had critics swooning.

One was the Washington Post's Gary Arnold: "Spielberg has always demonstrated extraordinary aptitude for filmmaking, but 'E.T.' is far and away his most satisfying work to date. He knows how to transform the raw material of his childhood into an appealing popular fable. There are sequences that touch you to the quick in mysteriously casual ways."

In their ongoing quest to bring people back to movie theaters, exhibitors are teaming with distributors to bring classic film (and other visual events) back for popular viewing. And among its many offerings, Fathom Events is thinking Spielberg.

Specifically, a revival of "E.T." The Extra-Terrestrial." Two Inland Northwest theaters, the Regal Cinemas' multiplex at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium, will screen a 35th-anniversary, remastered print of "E.T."  at 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday and Wednesday.

Remember: "E.T." wanted to go home. Regal Cinemas wants you to go to the movies. Only you can make both happen. 

Catch Miyazaki’s first feature on Thursday

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the world's great animators. His films, which he began making in the early 1970s for Japanese television, include such classic titles as "My Neighbor Totoro," "Princess Mononoke" and the Oscar-winning "Spirited Away."

Fathom Events is in the midst of a Miyazaki festival. And at 7 p.m. Thursday, Miyazaki's first feature film — 1979's "The Castle of Cagliostro" — will screen at both NorthTown and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium Cinemas.

The film, which also is known under the title "Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro," tells the tale of a thief who steals what turns out to be counterfeit money and then hunts down the source of the fake currency. In the process, he struggles to help out a beautiful young princess.

Following are some critical comments:

Janet Maslin, New York Times: " 'The Castle of Cagliostro' … is an interestingly wild hybrid of visual styles and cultural references."

Tasha Robinson, The A.V. Club: "This caper film possesses Miyazaki's usual good-hearted charm, but he injects a manically energetic humor that his more sedate children's films never quite achieve."

Kenneth Brown, Blu-ray.com: " 'The Castle of Cagliostro' is a blast of a crime caper, but it also provides a fascinating glimpse into the earliest feature film work of a true master."

Miyazaki is 76 now and is more (or less) retired. But his legacy endures.

Porchfest: Listen to music, meet your neighbors

File this under the "More" part of this blog's title. That's because this particular post involves music, not movies.

On Saturday, between the course of 3 and 7 p.m., Porchfest will return for the fourth straight year. Set in the West Central neighborhood, including parts of Kendall Yards, the home-grown music festival will feature a number of groups and individual performers playing live on — as of this moment — 17 different porches.

As event promoter Marshall Peterson told then-Spokesman-Review staff writer Nathan Weinbender before the 2014 inaugural event, "The basic idea was to give neighbors an excuse or a reason to get out and interact with their neighbors, whether that’s pulling them away from their computer screen or pulling them away from their TV screen."

Click here to access a list of the featured porches, the scheduled performers and an overall event map.

And remember the words of the late John Denver: "No matter what language we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves: We are the same.”

Friday’s openings: Women in jeopardy

Some intrigue, and maybe a bit of ultra-violence, involving women characters is on tap for the upcoming movie week. Friday's scheduled national movie releases are:

"All I See Is You": When a blind woman (Blake Lively) regains her sight, she begins to see what her husband has been up to. Oh, snap.

"American Assassin": When his girlfriend is killed by terrorists, a young guy (Dylan O'Brien) turns to violence and is recruited by the CIA. Nice retirement package.

"Mother!": When strangers begin to congregate in their tranquil home, a couple (Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem) faces domestic issues. Key phrase: Written and directed by Darren Aranofsky.

As usual, I'll update as the local listings get finalized.

‘Trip to Spain’ is a comic study of male vanity

If you're going to see "The Trip to Spain," or even if you have seen it, you may want to check out the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio

For the third time now, British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom has taken us with him as he follows Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on their various “Trips” though the world of good food, posh lodgings and the fragile male ego.

We’ve experienced their exploits in England, in Italy and now on the Iberian Peninsula in “The Trip to Spain.” The experience involves watching Coogan and Brydon’s ongoing attempts both to weather the uncertain currents of their respective careers while attempting to one-up each other by comparing their personal lives and, professionally, by offering competing celebrity impressions.

 That may not sound like a good recipe for humor, but in the hands of Winterbottom et al, it often is. Especially when the two comic actors perform their usual spot-on impressions of such celebrities as Mick Jagger, Roger Moore and, of course, Michael Caine.

 At the same time, each of the trips – and especially “The Trip to Spain” – provides a sobering look at what often happens when male vanity hits that stage in life when looks forward are laced with limitation and looks back are colored by regret.

 In terms of art, such a film project is a delicate balancing act, one that won’t appeal to everyone – especially since it’s been going on since the BBC aired its first Winterbottom-directed television series in 2010. Titled simply “The Trip,” the six-part series was edited into a two-hour feature. “The Trip to Italy” followed a similar creative path in 2014, as did this year’s Spanish venture.

 As in the past films, Coogan and Brydon – both playing, as the actors have explained in interviews, exaggerated versions of themselves – are in somewhat different places.

 Coogan is still vainly attempting to find the kind of love that lasts more than one night, though this time he is involved with a married woman. He wants to connect with his son, but that isn’t going the way he’d hoped. And he is dealing with a stalled career in the form of a new agent and a studio that wants to rewrite a screenplay he is trying to sell.

 Brydon, meanwhile, is caught up in a domestic swirl that seems to be marked mostly by crying children. No wonder he is eager to hit the road, even with a guy who is his frenemy. Professionally, he is being targeted by Coogan’s former agent, who is now in a position to help him become more than Sancho Panza to Coogan’s Don Quixote.

 That Cervantes reference, by the way, is no mere metaphor. Owing to the actual purpose of the Spanish trip, Coogan and Brydon do at one point dress up as the literary duo for a photo shoot. It’s also a focal point of Coogan’s imperious intentions, a quest for more adventure in a life that – despite two, count them, two – Oscar nominations has become more than slightly stale.

 It’s all a tad sad, though to me at least that makes “The Trip to Spain” a richer experience. Comic and enlightening. Imagine Coogan saying that – in the voice, of course, of Mick Jagger.

One Heart Festival, one good time for art lovers

Most festivals are fun. But those that feature good film are the best. And that's exactly what the One Heart Native Arts and Film Festival will be offering during its two-day run, which begins Friday at the Bing Crosby Theater.

One Heart will screen the film "The Hunt for the Wilderpeople" at 7:30 Friday night, a program of native film shorts at 10:30 Saturday morning and the documentary "Awake, a Dream From Standing Rock" at 7:30 Saturday night — all at The Bing.

In between, One Heart will spotlight a collection of art in the One Heart Art Gallery, which will be on display at The Unfinished Space, 165 S. Howard St, a study of the film work of actress Deanna Studi and an artist workshop with Steven Paul Judd.

For a full schedule, click here. For ticket information, click here.

Here is one critic's view of Saturday's documentary:

Jude Dry, IndieWire: “ 'Awake, a Dream From Standing Rock' not only serves as a vital record of one of the biggest protest movements since Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, but its events are also fresh. That swift response, a wake-up call, in the form of a visual poem, is a testament to the filmmakers’ artistry, and urgency."

Film, art and political awareness. What more can a festival provide?

Murder meets fun at Auntie’s on Thursday

Some writers will do just about anything to make a sale. But Spokane writers Devin Devine and Tony Russell will go the extra page.

As they proclaim on their website, if you buy a copy of their latest tome, "Kiss the Messenger, Vol II," "We will both personally sign the book, kiss it, and send it off with a bit of gritty love."

What more can you ask for? In fact, the two might just do it in person when they show up at Auntie's Bookstore at 7 Thursday night to support the publication of their book, the second in a planned five-part series about the search for a serial killer. In Spokane.

As they write, the books comprise "a modern pulp series with dirty cops, prostitutes, and a vigilante with a drinking problem."

Sounds like fun. Meet the two at Auntie's. And don't forget to buy a book.

Friday’s openings redux: Two types of family

Only a single mainstream addition to Friday's movie-openings menu. It is as follows:

"True to the Game": Based on the novels of Teri Woods, the movie focuses on Gena (Erica Peeples) and Quadir (Columbus Short), a couple trying to negotiate the dangerous world of the drug trade. Like Michael Corleone, they want out.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Menashe": Exploring the world of Brooklyn's ultra-orthodox Jewish community, this Yiddish-English film focuses on a widower's fight for custody of his son.

That's the lot. Go. See a movie. And enjoy.

Muschietti is horror’s new ‘It’ boy

Many of us watched the 1990 made-for-TV-movie adaptation of Stephen King's novel "It." As a result, we're curious about — if not thrilled at — the remake that opens on Friday.

Actually, according to Bill Skarsgard, the actor who plays King's famous villain — the clown Pennywise — the Andres Muschietti-directed release is not so much a remake as a "re-adaptation of Stephen King's book."

Which means that Skarsgard was free to find his own interpretation of the character, created for the screen by Tim Curry, as he explains in a July article in the online magazine bloody-disgusting.com.

“I worked really hard to create my own interpretation of the Stephen King character,” Skarsgard said. “Tim Curry’s performance is understandably iconic, still, but the whole [miniseries], to me, at least, felt like something that might be worth a remake of, or rather, a re-adaptation, is kind of how I want to see the film."

As a feel for what Muschietti is capable of, check out the 2008 short that he made titled "Mama," which he later adapted into a 2013 feature. It's introduced by Mexican director Guillermo Del Torres.

Note: The short doesn't use any clowns. But it's still pretty scary. 

Friday’s releases: Horror and a mom-com

It'd be harder to find two movies more different that the two listed on the national release menu for Friday. The two movie are:

"Home Again": Reese Witherspoon plays a 40-something mom whose life changes when she lets three young men move into her house. Writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is the daughter of Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer. So bring a hankie.

"It": The children in a small town are threatened by a mysterious presence masquerading as a clown. From Stephen King's novel. So bring a blankie.

As usual, I'll update as the local listings get finalized.

When ‘Good Time’ means more than one thing

It's hard to think that an actual actor could emerge from the "Twilight" series. But at least two have. One is Kristen Stewart, and the other is Robert Pattinson.

Pattinson is highlighted in the review of "Good Time" that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Connie Nikas is desperate. He’s short of money, which is one reason he decides to rob a bank in a manner so crazy that it just might work – until he makes one in a series of stupid errors.

But that’s Connie, the principal character in the Safdie Brothers’ half-ironically titled film “Good Time.” He veers from crazy-smart to crazy-stupid during a night-long frenzy in which the bank heist is only the beginning.

Connie has already broken his mentally challenged brother, Nick, out of a treatment center. His excuse: Nick doesn’t like the place. But then he brings clueless Nick along on the robbery scheme, so as with pretty much everything he does, Connie’s motives are more than a bit self-serving.

And not to press the point, but this is just the beginning. Connie is forced to deal with the bank-job aftermath, which includes Nick getting pinched by the cops. Connie first tries to get bail money for his brother by taking advantage of the obviously troubled woman he has been seeing (a bedraggled Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Then, learning that Nick has been transferred from jail to a hospital, he haunts the building’s corridors, looking for a chance to sneak Nick out. This scheme, too, ends up having its drawbacks.

From there, Connie – played, surprisingly well, by former “Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson – uses his charm and good looks to inveigle his way into a woman’s home. And yet the night is far from over, as it involves both his seducing the woman’s impressionable daughter and then taking her along as he breaks into an amusement park, looking for what promises to be a bundle of stolen loot.

And the “Good Time” doesn’t stop there. Not even close.

The Safdie brothers, Benny and Josh, have been making films since they were both in high school, even if only now is their work getting national attention. Josh and Ronald Bronstein wrote the script, Josh and Benny co-directed and Benny stars along with Pattinson, making an impression as the often confused Nick.

The directing style they use is a blend of the breathless and the claustrophobic. Their camera closes in on the actors’ faces so much you may feel the need to pull away from the screen. Meanwhile, watching Connie’s headlong sprint from one insane plan to the next is likely to leave you dizzy.

In terms of context, “Good Time” doesn’t have much to offer. It’s not as if, when Connie’s sojourn comes to an end, the Safdies have any real life lessons to impart – unless you need a reason NOT to lie, cheat and steal. They’re content to just let the energy of their film speak for itself.

Much of that energy is generated by their cast. Benny Safdie makes Nick into something far more than mere caricature. Buddy Duress shows up as one of Connie’s biggest mix-ups and adds a bit of “Mean Streets” to the mix.

But it is Pattinson who shines. Once a vampire hunk, he has grown into the kind of actor the camera loves – even if preteen girls no longer will.

Get ready: ‘Wrath of Khan’ is coming

One of the nice things about having access to cable television is that, depending on the day, I can get all the "Star Trek" I want.

Some days it's "Star Trek" (TOS). Others it's "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Still others, it's "Star Trek: Voyager" (a show I think has the best theme song of all).

Of course, if I jump on Netflix, I can see all of the above and in the order of release (not to mention all of the movies). But there's something about the randomness of the regular cable TV showings that I enjoy.

So, by now it's pretty obvious that I love to watch the shows that Gene Roddenberry created (or, in some cases at least, inspired). So I'm fairly excited about the prospect of the movie event that will be coming Sept. 10 and 13 to both the Regal Cinemas' theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

That movie is none other than 1982's "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." It's the 35th anniversary of the film, which stars all the principals of the original series, including Willian Shatner as Capt. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, DeForest Kelly as Bones and Nichelle Nichols as Uhura. The chief villain is played by the great Ricardo Montalban (pictured above).

And it's the Director's Cut, Nicholas Meyer being the filmmaker, and it includes an interview with Shatner.

There will be two screenings each day, at 2 and at 7 p.m. I'd go into the plot and stuff, but you can find all you need to know by clicking here.

Excuse me now. I have to go. I think another episode of "Voyager" is on.