"Deepwater Horizon": Mark Wahlberg (who else?) stars as one of the workers who endured the disaster that occurred during the BP Oil Disaster in the summer of 2010 — the effects of which are still devastating life along the Gulf Coast. No jokes, please.
"Masterminds": Ironic title for a movie about trio of idiots who try to rob an armored car. Starring Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudekis as the idiots plus one.
I'll update as needed. With better jokes, let's hope.
Most people I know, when they talk about viewing experiences, like to share what they've most recently binge-watched. You know, as in, "Hey, have you seen 'Stranger Things'? We watched the whole of season one this weekend! It's great!"
Actually, I have not watched "Stranger Things." That's because what with Hulu, and Netflix and Comcast On Demand and everything else that's available through my smart TV, I just have too many choices. "Stranger Things," though, is on the list.
My wife and I did make time recently to watch the HBO miniseries "The Night Of," and that's what I decided to review this week for Spokane Public Radio. Following is an edited transcript of that review:
One of the basic problems with cinema is its continued reliance on a limited notion of running time. Only a handful of films extend past two hours, the standard length of a mainstream feature.
Why? As video editor and producer Matthew Belinke wrote online, “Hollywood (is) … convinced that two hours is the point of diminishing returns. Longer than that, production costs go up, theaters can squeeze in fewer showings, and audiences start to shy away.”
Some moviegoers aren’t likely to complain, especially those whose aging bones begin to ache after even a 90-minute sit. Yet the result of this so often leads to screen adaptations of stories that beg to be done in a longer format. Take the many movie versions of the Charles Dickens novel “Great Expectations.” Alfonso Cuarón’s 1998 version, for example, runs for 111 minutes – some nine minutes less than two hours.
Just so you know, the first edition of Dickens’ 1861 novel was 544 pages long. Even a master such as Cuarón can’t hope to capture all of Dickens’ magic in a mere two-hour time frame.
So it’s a good thing that television – especially cable television – has perfected what’s known as the limited miniseries. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences defines such a miniseries as a “category of limited series (composed of) two or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 minutes. The program must tell a complete, non-recurring story, and not have an ongoing storyline or main characters in subsequent seasons.”
Created by Richard Price and Steven Zaillian, directed by Zaillian (except for one episode, which was directed by James Marsh) and starring, with one notable exception, a cast of not overly familiar actors, “The Night Of” tells a compelling story of what happens when a young college student of Pakistani ethnicity (Riz Ahmed) makes a series of stupid decisions that ends up with his being accused of murder.
John Turturro, the afore-mentioned notable exception, plays the ambulance-chasing attorney who attaches himself to the case, at first seeing it as a chance for a big payday but slowly becoming the series’ closest version of an actual hero. Price and Zaillian fill out the rest of the cast with veteran actors such as Bill Camp and Jeannie Berlin, with foreign stars such as Peyman Moaadi (of the 2011 Iranian film “A Separation”), and they save a special role for the always-dependable Michael K. Williams (Omar on HBO’s acclaimed series “The Wire”).
Cast aside, though, what makes “The Night Of” so special is how Price and Zaillian weave contemporary issues – everything from racism to prosecutorial rush to judgment – into a coherent collection of eight one-hour chapters that works as a commentary on U.S. culture and yet serves as a satisfying, dramatic experience.
Watching it just might satisfy your own – wait for it – great expectations.
Above: Nathaniel Parker starred as Inspector Armand Gamache in a 2013 televised version of Louise Penny's novel "Still Life."
When I worked at The Spokesman-Review, I held a number of positions. One of my favorites was book columnist, which required me to compile the weekly author readings (mostly at Auntie's Bookstore) and to pass on other regional book news.
I had a button posted to my computer terminal that read "So many books, so little time."
I share that bit of miscellany because of what I'm going to type next: Until last fall, I had never heard of Louise Penny. Check that: Maybe I had heard of the name, its being so unique and all. But I had no knowledge of the person behind the name.
But then I listened to an audiobook edition of Penny's novel "The Nature of the Beast" and I was transformed into an instant fan. Penny, as her fans well know, is the Canadian author of the Armand Gamache "Three Pines" mystery series. And the 12th edition of that series, "A Great Reckoning," is now available.
Gamache, for you other Penny newcomers, is head of the homicide department of the Sûreté du Québec, though by the time of "The Nature of the Beast" he has retired (yet is having second thoughts).
If you look at the dictionary definition of the word "ordinary," you're likely to find the following: "of no special quality or interest; commonplace; unexceptional."
All of which lends a touch of irony to the titles of artist/cartoonist Chris Eliopoulos' "Ordinary People Change the World" series, written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Eliopoulos. After all, some of the people that Meltzer and Eliopoulos include in the series — Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller and Amelia Earhart, for example — are particularly exceptional.
As Meltzer says on his Facebook page, "Forget politicians. Real heroes still exist in this world. Build strong girls and boys with 'I am Jane Goodall' and 'I am George Washington.' "
A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a number of sites in New Zealand. At the time I was working for Bloomberg Government, and one of my Bloomberg colleagues — a New Zealand native — told me about her food-writer sister.
Actually, at the time Delany Mes was working as a lawyer and part-time food blogger, freelance writer. That was her status when we met at an Auckland eatery for what would be a delicious lunch. Some time afterward, Mes gave up her law job and began pursuing food writing full time.
I check out her blog on occasion and am regularly surprised at the recipes she shares. In her most recent post, she talks about hamburgers. But not just any kind of burgers. Her burger is a blend of chicken hot wings and burger.
OK, change to the posed movie schedule. Though "Queen of Katwe" will be opening across the country, it is NOT opening in Spokane next week. Not, at least, at AMC River Park Square — which is usually the only mainstream local theater that bothers with other than mainstream movie fare.
Instead, another film will join "The Magnificent Seven" and "Storks" for a Friday opening:
"The Hollars": John Krasniki ("The Office") both directs and stars in this film about a disaffected New York guy who, called home because of his mother's surgery, is forced to confront both his dysfunctional past and his questionable future.
Note: This is Krasniki's second stint behind the camera. He also directed the 2009 feature "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men," which was based on a story collection by the late David Foster Wallace.
The weeks pass, the summer wanes, the nights grow colder … and yet the movies continue to flow in and out of area movie theaters. The same holds for this coming weekend. A tentative list of Friday's openings:
"The Magnificent Seven": Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day," "Southpaw") bypasses the 1960 John Sturges film and reimagines Akira Kurosawa's 1954 original story. No doubt Fuqua will imbue his film with today's penchant for CGI and ultra-violence. Question is, will he pursue the codes of honor that made the first two films so … well, magnificent?
"Storks": Taking up the old myth, writer-director Nicholas Stoller tells the animated story of what happens when a stork is given a rush job on a baby delivery. The good news: Stoller directed "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." The bad: He directed "Neighbors."
"Queen of Katwe": Another inspired-by-real-events drama, this one an adaptation of an ESPN story (and book) about a Ugandan girl from an impoverished background who displays a talent for playing chess. Check and mate.
That's all for now. I'll update as needed.
Finally, negotiations are still in process at the Magic Lantern. Expect to hear more in the coming weeks.
It's a truism that Hollywood prefers drama over authenticity. Which means that no matter what the historical facts are, some director is going to change something to make the movie play better. And all the best directors have done it.
I usually don't complain about the practice. What would be the point? But I always try to point out when it happens and whether it affects my moviegoing experience. And that is the basis for the criticism that I throw at Clint Eastwood's movie "Sully." Following is an edited version of the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:
Clint Eastwood is a most improbable movie director. Whoever thought the guy who starred in the TV show “Rawhide,” who played the serape-wearing wanderer in Sergio Leone’s westerns or who personified the character of Dirty Harry would end up being an Oscar-winning filmmaker?
But it happened. And when he is on, as in such films as “Unforgiven,” “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Letters From Iwo Jima,” Eastwood proves to be as good a director as anyone working today.
And so he would seem to be the perfect choice to direct the film “Sully,” which tells the story of what came to be known as the Miracle on the Hudson – namely, that day in January 2009 when US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed his Airbus A320 in New York’s Hudson River.
You know the story, right? Some 90 seconds after taking off from La Guardia airport, Sullenberger’s jet hit a flock of birds, which caused both engines to sputter and stop. Taking control, Sullenberger – a pilot with four decades of flying experience – decided that his best option was to ditch in the Hudson. Which he did. Expertly. And then he oversaw the plane’s evacuation. And all 155 on board survived.
So why is Eastwood the perfect person to helm this project? Because the character of Sullenberger, both as demonstrated in the numerous media appearances he made after the incident and as portrayed by actor Tom Hanks in Eastwood’s movie, fits one of the director’s favorite types: the man who, under pressure, coolly makes a firm, non-nonsense decision that others might not have but that ends up being the right thing to do. And who, afterward, is humble about his achievement.
When asked by Katie Couric how many other pilots could have done what he did, Sullenberger had a simple answer: “Thousands.” It was only chance, he said, that put him in the pilot’s seat.
From a technical perspective, “Sully” captures the full drama of that day. Based on a screenplay by Todd Komarnicki – a dramatized version of Sullenberger’s memoir “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters” – the film does a good job of playing with chronology, flowing from past to present and showing the actual water landing from a number of perspectives. And the computer graphics put us, the audience, right there with the water with passengers and crew.
The acting across the board is spot-on, too. Hanks gives the straight-arrow Sullenberger an added dimension, and Aaron Eckhart is stalwart as his copilot Skiles (who was at the controls when the birds hit). Only the actors playing the National Transportation Safety Board investigators seem a little too dastardly to be real.
Which leads to the thematic problem with “Sully.” Komarnicki, presumably with Eastwood’s blessing, concocts a narrative that makes Sullenberger into a potential victim. In the days following the water landing, the movie has the pilot being grilled by NTSB investigators who point to computer simulations that show the plane could have made it back to the airport.
The truth was, though, that the after-incident investigation took some 15 months, during which all the standard questions were asked.And as the investigators themselves readily – not grudgingly – admitted, the computer simulations didn’t exactly replicate the situation that Sullenberger and his copilot, Jeffrey Skiles, were facing.
Final verdict: “Sully” is an inspiring story that didn’t need any added drama. Dirty Harry in particular should have realized that.
One of the undisputed masters of 20th-century cinema was Stanley Kubrick. In such films as "Spartacus," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "The Shining," "A Clockwork Orange" and Full Metal Jacket," he not only refined the art of moviemaking, he helped define it.
Starring Peter Sellers in three different roles — including the title character — plus supporting roles by the likes of George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn and Slim Pickens, the film tells the story of a rogue U.S. Air Force officer (Hayden) who authorizes a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. The main part of the film involves the subsequent efforts that are made to stop the attack and ward off World War III.
Rotten Tomatoes gives "Dr. Strangelove" a 99 percent rating among critics. Here are some comments:
Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune: "This landmark movie's madcap humor and terrifying suspense remain undiminished by time."
Geoff Andrew, Time Out: "Perhaps Kubrick's most perfectly realised film, simply because his cynical vision of the progress of technology and human stupidity is wedded with comedy."
Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader: "Like most of his work, Stanley Kubrick's deadly black satirical comedy-thriller on cold war madness and its possible effects has aged well."
If you have a yen to see the film again, and on the big screen, your chance is coming. Fathom Events is screening the film four times, Sunday and Wednesday at 2 and 7 p.m., at both Regal's Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium Cinemas.
And remember, if you're looking for a perfect example of irony, just remember the words of President Mervin Muffley (Sellers), who exclaims, "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room."
In January of 1998, I attended my first Sundance Film Festival. I ended up seeing a number of good movies, mingling with the Park City crowds and seeing the occasional star, but my best experience was the very reason I was there in the first place: to see "Smoke Signals."
You know the movie, right? Directed by Chris Eyre, it was written by Sherman Alexie, who adapted the screenplay from a story in his collection "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven."
Certainly, you know Alexie. The Seatle-based poet/novelist/ranconteur was born and raised in Wellpinit, attended and graduated from Reardan High School, attended both Gonzaga and Washington State Universities, earned early fame as a poet, then as a stage presence (his readings were always entertaining and surprising), then as a novelist and, in 2007, winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
Sponsored by a consortium of groups, from the Kalispell Tribe of Indians and Northern Quest Casino to the Spokane International Film Festival, the two-day One Heart Festival aims "to share and showcase innovative, compelling, and empowering stories from Native perspectives through film, art, and music, celebrating the diversity and vitality of contemporary Native culture in our community today."
And along with the two days of film, which will be held Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, the event will feature a 7:30 p.m. screening of "Smoke Signals" and a panel discussion with some of the cast and crew, including Alexie himself. For ticket information, click here.
A full slate of movies opens on Friday, more movies than have opened at once all summer long. Chances are, at least some of them are worth viewing because the themes — from Christian bands to trains filled with zombies — are all over the place.
The week's movie openings are as follows:
"Blair Witch": A guy and his friends go into the woods to see if he can find out what happened to his sister. To their horror, they discover the answer. (To be specific, a sequel to 1999's "The Blair Witch Project.")
"Bridget Jones's Baby": Renee Zellweger returns yet again as the character who, this time, dallies with a billionaire (Patrick Dempsey) and one of her former flames (Colin Firth) and ends up … well, you read the title, right?
"Hillsong: Let Hope Rise": Let IMDB describe it: "A documentary on the Australia-based band Hillsong and their rise to prominence as an international church." Hallelujah, mate.
"Mr. Church": Eddie Murphy stars as a cook who develops a long-term relationship with a little girl whose mother is dying. Sounds like "Driving Miss Daisy" in the kitchen.
"Saturday's Warrior": Based on a 1973 college project, later released on video, this Mormon-themed musical tells the story of a group of kids who experience the whole realm of LDS life. Except for the seagulls.
"Snowden": Call him a traitor or hero, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) surely makes the perfect protagonist for an Olive Stone movie.
"Train to Busan": Korean filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho places his characters on a zombie-filled train and lets them fight for survival. Call it "The Riding Dead."
In his how-to book “Making Movies,” acclaimed filmmaker Sidney Lumet differentiated between drama and melodrama this way: “In drama,” he wrote, “the characters should determine the story. In melodrama, the story determines the characters.”
Keep that differentiation in mind as you watch “The Light Between Oceans,” American writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s adaptation of Australian-born writer M.L. Stedman’s 2012 novel. And note that the difference sometimes falls between Lumet’s two extremes.
Regarding Cianfrance’s film, let’s begin with plot: Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is a wounded man. Not in body but in mind. He spent four years in the trenches as one of millions of soldiers shattered by World War I. Now returned home, he is seeking solitude, which he hopes to find as the lighthouse-keeper on a remote island off the Australian coast.
But when Tom meets Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), he finds himself reborn. And while manning his lonely post, he begins writing Isabel letters – which she returns. Soon love is in the air, a marriage follows, and then Tom’s island becomes a home for two.
Happiness, though, is so often a fleeting affair – especially in novels and movies. So it happens that the couple’s attempts to have children fail. One, then two, miscarriages leave Isabel despondent and Tom desperate to find a way to recapture their previous contentment.
Then comes the plot point that no doubt Lumet was referring to: One day a small boat washes up on the island’s shore. In it is a dead man and, miracle of miracles, a live baby girl. Isabella claims the baby, insisting it was providence that brought her to them. And Tom, reluctantly, agrees – burying the corpse and promising to raise the baby as their own.
But things are never that simple, not in life or in fiction. On a trip to the mainland, Tom learns that the dead man had a wife (Rachel Weisz) who is mourning the loss not only of her husband but also of her baby girl. And so begins the battle of Tom’s conscience. A battle that, not to give anything away, threatens to tear him – and his happy family – apart.
Now, based on the plot as recounted, it would be hard to see much difference between “The Light Between Oceans” and, say, “My Baby Is Missing,” a 2007 Lifetime movie about a career woman “ determined to prove that her newborn baby wasn't stillborn, but stolen and sold.”
The difference, though, involves two things: One, the cast. Both Vikander and Weisz have won acting Oscars, while Fassbender has received two nominations. Two, Cianfrance – the man behind the contemporary dramas “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines” – is a talented visualist.
Taking full advantage of Australian cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, Cianfrance makes the scenery – which actually are Tasmanian and New Zealand landscapes – in essence a fourth character.
Even so, “The Light Between Oceans” never quite gels into the bona-fide drama it pretends to be. As Lumet might have said, the story is just too heavy for its characters to bear. And that includes even the gorgeous scenery.
Over the years, whenever I've wanted to make a joke about movies, I've usually mentioned Michael Bay. I've pretty much stopped doing it because, one, I actually do guilty-pleasure like one or two of his movies. And, two … well, the rest of his work is pretty much a joke by its self. So why pile on?
But while looking for a photo of Kate Beckinsale, a serious actress who unaccountably keeps choosing genre projects such as "The Disappointments Room" (which opens Friday), I came across a story about Bay and the comments he made about her while doing publicity for his 2001 film "Pearl Harbor."
If you don't remember — and why would you? — Bay's version of the famous sneak attack (and attendant, obligatory romance) starred Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Beckinsale as the nurse the two hunks vied for. Apparently, while talking to the press, Bay gushed over his two male stars but spoke less glowingly of his female lead.
So, just to be fair, I thought I'd post some of the less glowing reviews of "Pearl Harbor" itself:
Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Pearl Harbor is a blockheaded, hollow-hearted industrial enterprise."
Nathan Rabin, AV Club: "Leave it to Bay and (producer Jerry) Bruckheimer to reduce one of America's biggest military tragedies into a three-hour avalanche of Kodak moments, and one of America's defining crises into a facile exercise in fake uplift."
Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy: "A tepid, wannabe-Titanic love story, under the stewardship of a man whose career has ranged from the emotional depth of an 11-year-old boy all the way up to a 13-year-old boy."
Desson Thomson, Washington Post: "Perhaps they should have called this 'Bore-a, Bore-a, Bore-a.' "
I could go on. But … you get the point. By the way, below is an embed titled "If Michael Bay directed 'WALL-E.' " Enjoy.
"The Disappointments Room": More paranormal thrills and chills. In the words of IMDB, "A mother and her young son release unimaginable horrors from the attic of their rural dream home." Question: What, they can't afford mothballs? Another question: What, Kate Beckinsale needs another beach house or something?
Still no word on or from the Magic Lantern. But somebody's updating that website.
Even as an adult, I've always liked children's films. The good ones, anyway. Classic Disney, for example.
One of my favorites debuted in 1984. "The NeverEnding Story," which was based on a 1979 novel by German writer Michael Ende, tells the story of a young boy who likes to read. Still grieving the death of his mother, and estranged from his father, young Bastian (Barret Oliver) delves into a mysterious book set in the fantasy world of Fantasia.
Bastian first reads about the world, about the Empress and about the story's hero Atreyu, before ultimately realizing that he is part of the story, too. An important part.
While the special effects will seem crude by today's standards, the film's director, Wolfgang Petersen, knows how to tell a story. In fact, Petersen was responsible for one of the greatest war movies of all time, the 1981 World War II submarine movie "Das Boot."