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

Which is your favorite Wes Anderson movie?

My friend and "Movies 101" partner Nathan Weinbender finally got around to seeing Wes Anderson's new film, "Isle of Dogs." Congratulations, Nathan. And he promptly caused a bit of an online brouhaha by posting on his Facebook page what he considers to be a qualitative ranking of Anderson's films.

To wit:

1. (The Royal) Tenenbaums
2. Grand Budapest (Hotel)
3. Rushmore
4. Moonrise Kingdom
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox
6. (The) Life Aquatic (With Steve Zissou)
7. Isle of Dogs
8. Bottle Rocket
9. (The) Darjeeling Ltd.

A number of his friends, Facebook and otherwise, took issue with him — as well they should. One, local filmmaker/film professor/brewer Adam Boyd, told him — half facetiously, I might add — "Bruh…. you best move Mr. Fox up or we ain't friends"

Ultimately, though, another commenter tried for a larger perspective. Kearney Jordan wrote, "I’ve spent a good five minutes trying to rank his works. It’s too hard, they are all such gems in their own right."

To which Nathan responded, "No one has the same Wes Anderson top 10 as the next person. That’s his appeal!"

Indeed. And if you haven't yet seen "Isle of Dogs," I'd suggest you do. Then you can make your own list.

You might even agree with Nathan. Someone has to.

Friday’s opening redux: Bowie as the Goblin King

So, our movie-viewing choices for the coming week aren't as limited as they first appeared. Here, besides "Avengers" Infinity War," are Friday's opening mainstream movies:

"You Were Never Really Here": Joaquin Phoenix stars as a traumatized veteran whose obsession, and way of making a living, comes from tracking down missing girls. One description calls it " 'Taxi Driver' for a new century." Talk about being an avenger …

"Lean on Pete": During his summer job as a horse wrangler, a teenager forges a relationship with an aging racehorse.

"Foxtrot": Following an incident at a desolate army post, a family is forced to confront its own dysfunction. In Hebrew with English subtitles.

"Labyrinth": Jim Henson's 1986 film (starring David Bowie and a 16-year-old Jennifer Connelly) follows a girl attempting to solve a puzzle that will allow her to save her baby brother from the Goblin King. Showing only at 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday at Regal's Riverstone Stadium in Coeur d'Alene, and at 7 p.m. May 1 and 2 at Riverstone Stadium and AMC River Park Square.

That's it for the moment. I'll update as needed.

Friday’s openings: ‘Avengers’ put on a serious face

It used to be that popular movies and television shows based on comic-book characters seldom took themselves seriously.

Remember the 1950s television version of "Superman" or the 1960s version of "Batman"? Even when both those characters moved to the big screen, the former most notably Richard Donner's 1978 feature and the latter Tim Burton's 1989 offering, the jokes typically went hand-in-hand with the dramatic moments.

Ah, how times have changed. Take the "Avengers" series, the latest edition of which opens Friday with "Avengers: Infinity War": No cartoon series has ever tried more to pass itself off as something out of Shakespeare.

The trailers for this latest film make that serious tone clear enough, and the IMDB plot description only underscores it: "The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe."

Maybe it's a sign of the times. Those of us who have lived long enough to gain some sense of historical perspective realize that we're living through an unprecedented era of political discord. It seems the movies are reflecting this.

It wouldn't be the first time. Anyway, Friday's single major Friday release is:

"Avengers: Infinity War": Thanos (Josh Brolin) takes on the Avengers gang. Can't wait for "Deadpool 2."

If you love dogs, go see ‘Isle of Dogs’

One of the recent movies releases I have enjoyed the most is Wes Anderson's "Isle of Dogs" (which you can read as "I love dogs"). Following is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

As much as any filmmaker who has ever lived, Wes Anderson has a recognizable style. He makes movies that are marked by the same kinds of wry narratives, and he continually turns to the same stars – of which Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Scarlett Johansson are just three – to explore his droll storylines.

Those three actors – plus Anderson newcomers Bryan Cranston and Greta Gerwig – take part in “Isle of Dogs,” which is Anderson’s second animated feature – 2009’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” being his first.

Of course, what marks an Anderson film most is its tone, which many critics have described as whimsical – which though accurate doesn’t capture the fact that, at heart, most Anderson films at least touch on serious subjects.

2001’s “The Royal Tenenbaums,” for example, is a study in family dysfunction. 2012’s “Moonrise Kingdom” tells a tale of childhood innocence confronting, and rejecting, ordinary adult despair. All of Anderson’s films, actually, deal somehow with the angst of those who are confounded by the often overwhelming demands of life – such as what faces Bill Murray’s character in 2004’s “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.”

Yet only occasionally does Anderson’s tone delve too far into the darkness. His tendency toward light humor – Murray’s ironic line readings being a prime example – is ever-present. And it’s perfectly rendered in “Isle of Dogs,” even if this film, too, has its serious sides.

The setting is Japan, sometime in the near future. A plague of so-called Dog Flu has spread through the country’s canine population, and Kobayashi – the mayor of Megasaki City who has his own ulterior motives – decrees that all dogs must be banished to Trash Island. The first to go: Spots, the beloved companion of Kobayashi’s adopted son Atari.

Six months later, the intrepid Atari (voiced by Japanese actor Koyu Rankin), never one to leave a friend behind, hijacks a flying contraption and sets off in pursuit. Mechanical problems ensue, causing Atari to crash and leaving him at the mercy of Trash Island’s new residents – some of whom are said to be cannibalistic. The five he initially meets are friendly enough, though they make a diverse group, from the battle-prone Chief (voiced by Cranston) to the erstwhile leader Rex (voiced by Norton), whose democratic attitudes are played for comedy every time a group decision is called for.

Meanwhile, back in Megasaki City, while Kobyashi is fending off the efforts of a scientist who has come up with a dog-flu cure, a foreign-exchange student from America named Tracy (voiced by Gerwig) suspects that a conspiracy has been hatched and foments a protest movement – which appears doomed since the city’s populace has been, she says, brainwashed.

Matters come to a head as Atari and his pals search for Spots, as Kobayashi plots to have all the Trash Island dogs euthanized, as Tracy faces deportation – and as the cannibal dogs make an appearance. Listen for the voice of Harvey Keitel.

It’s all told in impeccable stop-action animation, with fluffy cotton effects passing for battle scene dust-ups, and the vocal asides aligning perfectly with the expressions drawn on the various characters’ faces.

In the end, it’s debatable which part of “Isle of Dogs” is the more impressive: its poignant feel for the bond between humans and pets or the imagination it took for Anderson and his co-screenwriters to come up with this moving testament both to canines and to the country that gave us Akira Kurosawa.

TCM specializes in historic Hollywood

For true films fans, nothing beats seeing a classic movie on a big screen. That's why one a regular basis Turner Classic Movies has been "bringing classic movies back to the big screen" with its Big Screen Classics series.

The series, which features interviews and commentary by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, will continue on May 13 and 16 with Billy Wilder's 1950 feature "Sunset Boulevard." All films will screen locally at two Regal Cinemas locations: Northtown Mall 12 and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium 14.

Films to follow include: "The Producers" (June 3, 6), "West Side Story" (June 24, 25), "Big" (July 15, 18), "The Big Lebowski" (Aug. 5, 8), "South Pacific" (Aug. 16, 29), ""Rebel Without a Cause" (Sept. 23, 26), "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (Oct. 14, 17), "Die Hard" (Nov. 11, 14), "White Christmas" (Dec. 9, 12).

 So get ready for your closeup. Mr. DeMille is waiting.

Catch ‘The Big Lebowski’ on April 25

All of us have our favorite Coen brothers movie. Mine is "Raising Arizona," with "Fargo" coming in a close second.

And then there's "The Big Lebowski," the brothers' 1998 effort that is celebrating its 20th anniversary and is a movie I didn't immediately bond with. In fact, I left the theater after that first viewing feeling more than a bit confused.

See, the Coen brothers don't just make movies. They make movies that are as much about movies as they are about the stories they're trying to tell. In so many ways, Coen brothers movie masquerade as movies.

And they do so in various genres. "Blood Simple," for example, is a neo-noir. "Fargo" is a police procedural. "Raising Arizona" is a contemporary Western, whereas "True Grit" is their take on a more traditional Western. "Burn After Reading" is a spy flick.

But whatever genre they choose to work in, the Coen affect pretty much the same tone — that of detached irony. In fact, how they handle the blend of irony and seriousness is not only how we can tell that something is a Coen brothers production but how, also, we can gauge its success.

For some people, "Raising Arizona" goes too far in terms of goofy, ironic comedy. For others (I am among that crowd), their 2001 film "The Man Who Wasn't There" is too serious.

And then there's "The Big Lebowski," which is somewhere in between — though, clearly, closer to "Raising Arizona" than, say, their 2007 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel "No Country for Old Men."

The first time I saw "The Big Lebowski" I was hoping for something closer to "Fargo." And I was disappointed. Several years later, I was better prepared for the comic-ironic tone, and I laughed all the way through it. For sure, the Dude does abide.

You'll get another chance to see the Dude and his pals on the big screen next Wednesday (April 25) when it screens at 7 p.m. at the Bing Crosby Theater. The Inlander Suds & Cinema event will charge $6.50 for admission, and tickets are available in advance.

And remember: The Dude himself invites you. Or, as he says, "You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing."

Studio Ghibli Fest 2018 shows ‘The Cat Returns’

Cat fans take note: Another animated feature from Japan, "The Cat Returns," will screen on Sunday, Monday and on April 25 at two area theaters: Regal's Northtown Mall 12 and the Coeur d'Alene Riverstone Stadium 14.

The 2002 film, which was directed by Hiroyuki Morita, is part of the ongoing Studio Ghibli Fest 2018. As lovers of animation know, Studio Ghibli is the home of the great Hayao Miyazaki, creator of such classics as "Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away," and Morita is one of Miyazaki's students.

"The Cat Returns" tells the story of a young girl who, after helping a cat, finds herself betrothed to a cat prince. To escape, she has to rely on a cat statuette, clad in top hat and tails, who comes to life.

Here's what Michael Booth of the Denver Post has to say about the film: "(Director) Morita has a slightly cruder, more realistic sense of the world and its looniness than does Miyazaki, and you can see where 'The Cat Returns' moves on a different track even as it pays homage to Japan’s current animation master."

A dubbed version of the film will screen at 12:55 on Sunday and at 7 p.m. on April 25, while a subtitled version will screen at 7 p.m. Monday. Ticket information is readily available on the theater websites.

Don't forget to bring along some kitty treats.

Friday’s openings: Comedy and survival horror

Comedy and contemporary horror can, at times, be the same thing. According to the week's national movie-release list, we'll all have the opportunity to experience a bit of both on Friday.

The week's movie openings are:

"I Feel Pretty": Amy Schumer plays a plus-size woman who, after banging her head, suddenly believes that she is the most beautiful woman ever. Discomfort comedy.

"Super Troopers 2": It's been 17 years, but the Broken Lizard comedy super troupe is back, this time conflicting with Canadian law enforcement. It's funny, eh?

"Traffik": When a pair of couples go off to a remote location for a long weekend, they find themselves hunted by a motorcycle gang. And don't we all hate it when that happens.

And at the Magic Lantern: Our local arts theater is picking up a run of the film "The Leisure Seeker," which stars Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland as an elderly couple taking what might be a last road trip in their RV.

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

‘A Quiet Place’ makes box-office noise

If you've been paying attention, you know that the movie "A Quiet Place" made a cool $50 million in its opening weekend. In the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, I try to explain why:

Sometimes, the most successful movies begin not with a plot, or a character or even a setting. They begin with a concept.

For example, let’s imagine a world in which strange murderous creatures have taken over the Earth. But these aren’t just ordinary creatures. They’re giant, praying-mantis-type monsters who are blind and who hunt by sound. And their main prey is humankind.

Before anyone can figure this out, most humans have been slaughtered. But not all. Those who can stay quiet have a chance. And that is what the Abbott family has done. They’ve rigged up their farm, and their very existence, as a quiet place.

In fact, that’s the name of John Krasinski’s film, “A Quiet Place,” and that’s its basic concept: a family trying to survive by doing what hardly any other movie has ever done since talkies were invented – remaining silent.

We meet the Abbotts, father Lee (played by Krasinski), mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and sons Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward) as they scrounge a deserted town. They communicate through signing (which suits Regan well enough because she is deaf) and the occasional whisper. They walk barefoot on powdered paths that help deflect the noise of their footsteps.

In fact, they are so quiet that when their world is suddenly shattered by sound it is almost as jarring as the tragedy that follows. And that tragedy is what marks the course of Krasinski’s film from then on.

A year later, the Abbotts have recovered, mostly, and Evelyn is even expecting another child. But the threat is still there, and growing, as the declining nightly bonfires by the few other survivors indicate. At the same time, the threat inside the family is growing, too, as Lee – racked with his own sense of guilt – chooses to train Marcus to forage and to ignore Regan, who is clearly the more capable. Something is bound to give because things cannot remain the same.

This is Krasinski’s third film, moving him past his actorly status as the smart charmer he played on the sitcom “The Office.” And his strength shows here in his ability to nurture a concept into a living, breathing movie, shepherding not just a talented cast through what must have been a difficult shoot but skillfully developing the movie’s underlying concept through visual clues.

We never learn, for example, exactly who the creatures are or from where they came. But we pick up information from a random newspaper headline, a notice posted on a wall and even the unspoken use of a baby-sized oxygen mask. And it’s enough, just as long as you ignore the more obvious implausibilities.

Which is easy enough to do because Krasinski has enough self-assurance to make “A Quiet Place” into a movie you want to believe. And while he and young Jupe are solid enough, the movie’s heart belongs to Blunt and Simmonds, both of whom seem able to play Shakespeare merely with their eyes.

Maybe that should be Krasinski’s next film: “All’s Well That Ends Well” done by mimes.

Catch Domingo and more in Verdi’s ‘Luisa Miller’

Opera fans can get their regular fix on Saturday as the most recent Met Live performance, of Verdi's "Luisa Miller," will screen at two area Regal Cinemas theaters — at Northtown Mall 12 and at Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium 14 (with an encore showing on the following Wednesday).

Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo stars in what's billed as a "heart-wrenching tragedy of fatherly love." Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva sings the title role, while Polish tenor Piotr Beczala plays her erstwhile lover.

"Luisa Miller" (music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Salvadore Cammarano) is based on the stage play "Kabale und Liebe" ("Intrigue and Love") by the German playwright Friedrich von Schiller. It was first performed on Dec. 8, 1849, in Naples and has been revived numerous times since then.

In his review in the New York Times, opera critic Zachary Woolfe referred to the work as "the underrated 'Luisa Miller,' a relative rarity but passionate and full of arresting experiments in structure and sonority, a gateway to Verdi’s breakthrough works of the early 1850s ('Rigoletto,' 'Il Trovatore,' 'Traviata')."

As for this particular production, Woolfe wrote, "The Met hasn’t put on 'Luisa' in over a decade — and not this excitingly since well before that."

And the singers? Domingo, Woolfe wrote, "His voice sounds healthy; he moves with fluency. If he’ll never be a true Verdi baritone, and always an aging tenor in baritone’s clothing, it is still a display not to be missed." Yoncheva: "The clear, smoothly slicing quality of her soprano makes special impact in this opera." And Beczala? "(I)n yet another role debut, (he) gave the rash Rodolfo his trademark poise and elegance."

So there's lots to enjoy, as always, in this four-hour extravaganza. And you can savor it in a local movie house. Imagine that.

‘Isle of Dogs’ is a critics’ puppy treat - mostly

Not that I want to raise anyone's hopes, but one of the movies that I have wanted to see since I first saw its trailer several months ago is Wes Anderson's new film "Isle of Dogs."

Animated in much the same way as Anderson's 2009 film "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "Isle of Dogs" is — as of this writing — receiving a 91 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes (that's 188 positive reviews to just 18 negative ones).

Here are some of the positive voices (all four stars):

Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune: "With the dark and enchanting animated parable "Isle of Dogs," Wes Anderson raises his little personal world to new, finely detailed heights."

Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post Dispatch: "There's so much going on in 'Isle of Dogs' that it probably has to be seen at least twice to be properly appreciated. How many films can you say that about?"

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: " 'Isle of Dogs' is positively littered with his signature banter, and it as quick and wry as ever, without a single hair out of place."

And then there's this:

Stephanie Zacharek, Time Magazine: " 'Isle of Dogs' … buckles under the weight of its own finicky whimsy."

Anderson's film will be playing across Spokane: AMC River Park Square, Regal Northtown Mall, Village Centre Cinemas Wandermere and the Magic Lantern. Plus, it will screen at Regal's Coeur d'Alene Riverstone Stadium.

I'm hoping for the best. I tend to have a thing for whimsy.

Friday’s openings redux: Tension and tennis

And another movie has been added to Friday's openings:

"Beirut": Jon Hamm stars as a former diplomat down on his luck who is summoned back to Lebanon to help negotiate a hostage situation. The "Mad Men" star makes a bid for big-screen success.

Following are some critical comments:

David Edelstein, New York Magazine/Vulture: "Hamm still doesn’t have the outsize personality we associate with major movie stars — a lot of whom are lesser actors. But he has focus. He can think onscreen. He can make you watch him closely, trying to keep up with the wheels churning in his head. I think he has fully arrived on the big screen."

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: "The performances are strong and the story is absorbing; a smart diversion for adult attention spans."

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter: "A period political thriller whose motivations remain timely."

And another note: In a booking coup, "Borg vs. McEnroe," which also opens on Friday, will play exclusively at the Magic Lantern.

Friday’s openings (updated): A dog’s life

Update: Another movie has been added to the list of those opening on Friday. It's scheduled to play at the Magic Lantern but likely will screen at other theaters, too:

"Isle of Dogs": Wes Anderson's tale of a young Japanese boy looking for his lost dog on an island where the government has quarantined dogs over fear of dog flu. Expect whimsy.

As for the previously announced openings:

Now that Dwayne Johnson, aka "The Rock," has become a big-time movie star, we're likely to see him in most anything — with the exception of "Hamlet." Anyway, Johnson and a CGI gorilla star in the main movie release that's listed on Friday's national schedule.

The rest of the schedule looks like this:

"Rampage": A genetic experiment gone wrong disrupts the friendship between a primatologist (Johnson) and a giant gorilla, causing the human to seek a cure for a problem that affects all life on Earth. Rock to the rescue.

"Truth or Dare": Teens get in trouble when a standard parlor game gets all haunted and stuff. A Blumhouse production, if anyone cares.

Borg vs. McEnroe: A look at the rivalry between two of tennis' great players. Two words: Shia LaBeouf (as McEnroe).

"Overboard": Anna Faris stars in this reverse remake of the 1987 comedy, this time concerning a woman who takes advantage of a rich jerk (Eugenio Derbez) suffering from amnesia. What's good for the goose …

"Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero": Animated feature about an adopted dog who becomes a World War I hero. Woof.

As always, I'll update when the area theaters finalize their listings.

With a new novel out, Chris Crutcher gets real

Chris Crutcher is one of Spokane's more recognized writers. His latest novel, "Loser's Bracket," which was published today, is featured in Publishers Weekly.

While he talks about a range of issues, mostly involving his novels, Crutcher doesn't shy away from commenting about our current political situation.

"I have been very aware, since Trump’s election, that there’s toxicity in the air, and I can feel an emotional illness if I hear or read too much of what he is saying," Crutcher said. "If he weren’t so rich he could be someone I’ve met in my therapy work. His narcissism is so profound—in almost all cases it wouldn’t be treatable—and it has bled out into the culture. The current administration has taken us to a scary place, and I don’t know how we’ll get out."

Yet he does see hope.

"(D)uring the March 24 marches throughout the country, teens gave me hope and reinvigorated me with their statistics about all the new young voters we’ll have registering in the next few years," he said. "Watch out, Mr. Santorum and Paul Ryan. If you don’t see the train coming, you are going to get run over."

To read the entire interview, click here.

Friday’s openings redux: Two veteran leisure-seekers

Add to Friday's movie openings one more film, a study of those seeking to find the most in their final years. The additional mainstream opening:

"The Leisure Seeker": Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland play a couple who take off on a road trip, during which they have to deal with a range of obstacles from would-be thieves to growing infirmities.

Here are some of the better reviews:

Glenn Kenney, Rogerebert.com: "The movie is only willing to serve up its truths halfway. And I still teared up."

Alan Scherstuhl, The Village Voice: "The performers are always lively, often engaging, and sometimes moving, worth our contemplation even when the script flags."

Bruce Demara, Toronto Star: "The film's poignant and powerful ending does provide a saving grace."

Katherine Monk, Ex-Press.com: "The wheels never get stuck in maudlin because Mirren and Sutherland create so much dramatic momentum, they keep things rolling. More importantly, neither character shrinks from the truth. They are grown-ups playing grown-ups."

That's the lot. But if changes do get made, I'll post them.