7 Blog

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

Movie lesson No. 1: Be your own critic

The notion that everyone's a critic is undebatable. We all make judgments of one sort of another, otherwise we'd never have the ability to make a decision about anything.

This applies particularly to moviegoing. With movie prices sitting in the $10 range, $14 or more for 3D and Dolby, such decisions are increasingly important.

But movie criticism is a kind of art, one that depends on temperament, personal biases and knowledge. To make intelligent moviegoing critiques, it helps to have seen a lot of movies, to have a discerning temperament and to have the ability to recognize personal prejudices and see past them — or at the very least to admit them.

Given all this, it's no wonder that critics exhibit a range of opinions, even about the same movie.

Example: the movie "Anthropoid," which is ending its run at AMC River Park Square on Thursday. The World War II move is based on a real incident, which involved the 1942 assassination of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, and has been receiving lukewarm reviews. The website Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 57 percent Tomatometer critics rating (73 percent among regular moviegoers).

But even in their disagreements, some critics find different things about the movie to love and/or hate. Contrast the three following responses:

James Berardinelli, ReelViews: "The movie builds - something infinitely preferable to a bold, brash beginning followed by a descent into anti-climax."

Joe McGovern, Entertainment Weekly: "Though Anthropoid lacks narrative ambition, the film justifies its reason for being thanks to a devastating final half-hour."

Linda Barnard, Toronto Star: "(T)he story … feels leaden and burdened by a false ending."

In other words, two like the ending and one does not.

This is why it's best to read as many reviews as you can, to get as complete a view of a film as possible. For me, I like this commentary, which offers a note of caution to all casting directors:

Marsha Lederman, Globe and Mail: "While it's easy to sneer at the romantic subplot, it serves to humanize the characters and convey their intense fear. Otherwise we know too little about them — beyond the fact they are all impossibly good-looking."

Who among any of your friends and family is "impossible good-looking"? The lesson, which Hollywood fails to learn time and again: Eye-candy is a great diversion, but it doesn't always serve a dramatic story.

Below: "Nerve" is another movie that is ending its run on Thursday.

Indie rock showcase Bartfest canceled

Bartfest, the Bartlett’s annual music festival that was scheduled for the first weekend of October, has been canceled. The venue’s owners, Caleb and Karli Ingersoll, announced its cancellation on Facebook today, citing a lack of ticket sales.

“Canceling is definitely a self-protective move,” they wrote. “If people don’t buy tickets, our venue is put at risk because festivals are based on guarantees only and not percentages of ticket sales.”

Bartfest had struggled with attendance issues in the past. Last year, Karli Ingersoll told The Spokesman-Review that the festival had been downsized, both in lineup size and admission price, to attract bigger crowds.

“We’ve already pre-sold almost more than what we sold over the whole festival last year,” she said in 2015.

In what was to be its third year, Bartfest 2016 boasted a lineup that included such acts as Beat Connection, Tangerine, White Reaper and Soft Sleep. Twin Peaks and TOPS, two of the festival’s scheduled bands, will still perform in Spokane on Oct. 1, and tickets are currently available for those shows.

“Bartfest may re-emerge at some point, but for now we are going to focus on what we feel the most confident in – bringing in really great bands weekly and giving them a great space to play in,” the Ingersolls wrote.

All purchased festival passes will be refunded.

Friday’s openings redux: Not just comedy

And as we finalize the week's movie openings, let's add two more films to the list:

"Don't Think Twice": Mike Birbiglia ("Sleepwalk With Me") wrote and directed this look at the New York comedy scene and the hilarious but cut-throat atmosphere surrounding it. Starring Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs and Keegan-Michael Key. It's all right … to laugh.

"Ignacio de Loyola": This historical drama is based on the memoirs of St. Ignatius of Loyola, former soldier and founder of the Jesuit order. And, no, he didn't play basketball.

See the real ‘True Grit’ tonight at the Garland

Though he was nominated twice for an Oscar, John Wayne was never much of an actor. Rather, he was a screen icon, one of those performers who imbued a role with the force of his personality. Though he'd made some 70 films previously, the true power of that force became obvious in the first film he ever starred in, John Ford's 1939 Western "Stagecoach."

Wayne was known for two types of film: Westerns and war movies. Thanks to his relationship with Ford and other directors (Howard Hawks among them), he was part of — and mostly the main attraction of — such Western classics as "Red River," "3 Godfathers," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," "Rio Bravo" and "The Searchers."

As for war films, Wayne was first nominated for an Oscar for Allan Dwan's 1949 effort "Sands of Iwo Jima." Wayne can be seen also in "The Fighting Seabees," "Back to Bataan," "They Were Expendable" and a film he directed himself, "The Alamo" (which received a nomination for Best Picture).

So many notable performance, so few honors — except, of course, for fame and wealth.

And then "True Grit" came along. When he broke character to play the drunken lawman Rooster Cogburn in Henry Hathaway's adaptation of Charles Portis' novel, Wayne displayed a comic side that thrilled audiences. And the Motion Picture Academy. In a year that saw acting nominations for Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, Wayne — the sentimental favorite — won the little gold statuette.

In "True Grit," which co-starred Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper, Wayne stars as Cogburn, who is hired by the intrepid Mattie Ross (Darby) to find the man who murdered her father. The film's climax features one of the great showdowns, which includes one of Wayne's signature lines of dialogue (see embed below).

You'll have the opportunity to see Wayne at 7:15 tonight at the Garland Theater. "True Grit" will screen as part of the theater's Summer Camp 2016 series. (Note: This is NOT the 2010 remake, which was directed by the Coen brothers and stars Jeff Bridges.)

Billing itself as "Spokane’s Only Independent Encore Theatre," the Garland charges $2.50 for admission.

Inexpensive tickets and John Wayne starring in a Western. That's almost as good as an Oscar right there.

All Luddites: DVDs are cheaper than ever

Technology is changing faster than we can take advantage of it. From being able to see movies only in theaters, to being able to see them on film in your own home, to seeing them on VCRs, then laserdiscs and DVD players (upgrading to Blu-ray) and now online streaming, etc., the life of a movie fan has progressed in ways we once thought immeasurable.

Certain aspects of the progression linger on, of course. While some of us still own VCRs, and the aging tapes that feed them, far more common are DVDs and Blu-Ray. That their time is passing, though, is obvious with the closing of such businesses as, most recently, Hastings — not to mention why DVDs and Blu-ray were being sold for discount prices in the years before Hastings' decline.

But you can find deals on such products elsewhere. Turner Classic Movies, for example, is offering some 125,000 classic movies and TV series on DVD and Blu-ray. Movies such as "Singing' in the Rain" and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," TV series such as "The Rockford Files" and "The Andy Griffith Show."

You can order from TCM online here, over the phone by calling 1-888-982-6746 or by mail or fax through the company catalog. The bargains are pretty good.

However you do it, enjoy. If using old technology doesn't earn you the title of Luddite now, it will sometime soon.

Friday’s openings: Never-say-die Statham

We're approaching the end of summer, which means the fall films should start hitting theaters soon. That usually means more artsy type movies, or at least those with a modicum of seriousness — in any event, movies that don't require 3D glasses to see.

Whatever, the coming week boasts at least four nation-wide premieres. Friday's openings are as follows: 

"Mechanic: Resurrection": Following in the does-Jason-Statham-ever-die? genre, this sequel has our intrepid assassination protagonist forced to pull off a series of jobs to protect the woman he loves. Note: Jessica Alba in a swimsuit.

"Don't Breathe": Blending heist and horror flick, this heart-grabber pits a bunch of robbers against the wealthy blind man whose house they target. Question: Whom do we root for?

"Southside With You": It's Chicago in the summer of 1989, and a guy named Barack goes out on a date with a woman named Michelle. And the rest, as they says, is herstory (which is as much a word as biopic).

"Hands of Stone": Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez) fought his way to legendary status in the ring, but the trailers make this biopic (there's that word again) seem all about the trainer who helped him, Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro).

Still no word on when (or whether) the Magic Lantern will open. Stay tuned. I'll update as needed.

‘Gleason’: a raw, dramatic look at life

I finally got around to seeing the documentary film "Gleason," which is playing at AMC River Park Square, and I was not just impressed but moved. It's an unsparing look at a man, a woman, their son and the struggle the family faces when a deadly disease strikes. Following is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio: 

One school of thought equates suffering with dignity. Another labels suffering a bit more precisely: as a struggle against pain and angst and a desperate plea for release.

Neither, however, is the point of the documentary “Gleason.” Oh, the subject of the film – former New Orleans Saints football player Steve Gleason – has a massive amount of dignity. Not to mention pride, as well as an earnest desire to be a good father, even if he’ll never be able to hug his son or even speak to him in his natural voice.

And for sure, director Clay Tweel spares neither Gleason nor his wife Michel – nor us, for that matter – in his depiction of Gleason’s multiple-year decline to the debilitating disease Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Gleason, a Spokane native who played football both at Gonzaga Prep and Washington State University, earned fame for a single play. On Sept. 25, 2006, the Saints played their first home game in 21 months, slightly more than a year after Hurricane Katrina. During that game, Gleason blocked a punt that a teammate returned for a touchdown, the first score in a game the Saints went on to win and that set the tone for their best season to that point – a tone that would, three seasons later, carry them to an NFL championship.

Gleason would be gone by then, his eight-year NFL career over. And while the end of every athlete’s playing years is sad, far worse news was waiting: In 2011, Gleason was diagnosed with ALS. Shortly after that, Gleason began recording videos sharing his thoughts, both about what he was enduring and specifically leaving messages to his son, Rivers, who was born 10 months after Gleason received his diagnosis.

And if there is a theme to “Gleason” the movie, it’s that sense of legacy, especially regarding the father-son connection. Gleason and his brother, Kyle, talk about their own parents’ tumultuous relationship, which ended in divorce. And Gleason’s father, Mike, shows up, apologetic about his own parental failures but still somewhat clueless about his son’s feelings.

Cluelessness is not what Gleason wanted for his own son, especially not about a father who many would characterize as a “hero” – for his football exploits, for his fight with ALS and for the work his Team Gleason foundation has done to help other ALS patients. He wanted his son to know the plain truth.

So as his body deteriorated – leaving only his mind untouched – Gleason made video after video, expressing his feelings – his fears, his hopes, his love both for his wife and for his son. Director Tweel fills his film with many of those moments, pared down from hundreds of hours, along with shots of Gleason undergoing a series of procedures that would test the patience of Mother Theresa.

“Gleason” the documentary, then, is not simply another inspiring story of one man’s valiant fight against disease. In the end, it is real and raw, a true tale carrying its own kind of dignity.

Have a laugh at ‘Mothra’ tonight

Sometimes you want to take a movie seriously. Sometimes you just want to laugh. Tonight offers a chance at the latter when the comedy team RiffTrax presents a screening of the 1961 Japanese sci-fi thriller "Mothra."

The film, which will be screened live from the the Bellcourt Theatre in Nashville, can be seen at 8 p.m. local at two Regal Cinemas locations: the Northtown Mall 12 and at Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium 14.

RiffTrax features the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" crew of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett. The three basically narrate the films they present, offering humorous aside — often at the movie's expense.

"Mothra" takes place on an island that previously had been used for atomic tests. When a crew of shipwreck survivors wash up on the island's shore, they discover strange inhabitants. Among them are a pair of miniature women. When a scoundrel kidnaps the women, intending to feature them in a live show, their haunting song attracts the attention of a giant moth — Mothra! — that then comes to raze Tokyo.

Even without the comic commentary, one critic described the 1961 film as "a marvelous mix of science fiction, monster movie and adventure fantasy filled with colorful characters and an unmistakable socio-political subtext."

A second screening is set for Tuesday. For more information on "Mothra" and other Fathom Events, click here.

Throw out those antacid tablets

Have a problem with your stomach? Do you pound the Tums to quell the pains in your tummy? Well, Leslie Kelly has the cure.

Once a food writer/restaurant reviewer for The Spokesman-Review, Kelly is now a staff writer for Allrecipes.com. Her latest piece is titled "These Recipes Helped Me Kick My Antacid Habit," which is pretty self-explanatory.

You can access it by clicking here. Then go out and enjoy a great meal.

Two days left to take the ‘Indignation’ challenge

Because movies tend to open on Friday, that means the movies being replaced usually close the day before. And because so many people seem to wait at least a week to see anything, those films that play a single week tend to go unnoticed.

One movie that is leaving after a single week is "Indignation." Written and directed by James Schamus, "Indignation" is adapted from a 2008 novel by acclaimed writer Philip Roth. Set in the early 1950s, it tells the story of an intense young Jewish man who leaves his New Jersey home to attend college in Ohio, only to experience troubles adapting to the very real adult experiences that are thrust upon him.

Roth is one of the world's great writers, having won a number of literary honors over the years, including a Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Awards. Schamus is known mostly as a producer and writer (he wrote the script for Ang Lee's masterpiece "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), and this is his first directed feature.

Schamus' film earned a 79 percent rating on both Rotten Tomatoes (a whopping 93 percent among regular moviegoers) and the more prestigious critics' site Metacritic. Here are some comments:

Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune: "With its mature perspective on distant formative years, the film feels true to the spirit of Roth; little from the deep wellsprings of the great novelist's fiction is lost in translation."

Peter Howell, Toronto Star: "Schamus gets the suffocating look of 1951 American academia just right, with its sweaters and skirts, and with a rose motif worthy of 'Citizen Kane.' What's missing is any real drama or purpose."

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "Thoughtful and reserved, perhaps even to a fault, 'Indignation' winds up packing a wallop far greater than its modest parts might suggest."

In other words, "indignation" is a challenging view. You have two days left to take the dare.

Friday’s openings redux: Flood’s a comin’

Only one addition to the mainstream movie openings list: the independent feature "Hell or High Water," which involves a divorced dad (Chris Pine) who teams with his ex-con brother (Ben Foster) to rob banks as a way of saving his Texas ranch. Never a good idea.

Here are some critical remarks:

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: "Hell or High Water is a thrillingly good movie — a crackerjack drama of crime, fear, and brotherly love set in a sun-roasted, deceptively sleepy West Texas that feels completely exotic for being so authentic."

Eric Kohn, IndieWire: "Grounded in lively performances by Chris Pine and Ben Foster as a pair of bank-robbing brothers, with a capable assist from a no-nonsense Jeff Bridges as the sheriff on their tail, 'Hell or High Water' tries nothing new but delivers a fun ride."

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: "It's an action-thriller with punch; Bridges gives the characterisation ballast and heft and Pine and Foster bring a new, grizzled maturity to their performances."

No word yet on the status of the Magic Lantern. Anyway, go. See a movie. Maybe even this one.

September is the time for TCM slapstick

What makes you laugh?

I can remember sitting in a first-run Spokane screening of "Raising Arizona" (this had to be sometime in 1987) and being the only person laughing in a North-Side theater. In similar fashion, the year before I remember sitting in front of a guy who guffawed loudly all through a Spokane Valley screening of "¡Three Amigos!" a movie that barely made me smile.

Truth is, we tend to have personal reactions to comedy. Some of us like political humor (Bill Maher, Jon Stewart). Others of us like observational humor (Louis CK, Margaret Cho). Still others of us like physical humor (Gallagher, Carrot Top). And so on. The list of comics is near endless, the variations wide-spread and complex.

One of the classic styles of comedy, known as slapstick, will be on display all through September, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, on the cable/satellite channel Turner Classic Movies. Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 6, you'll see slapstick as it evolved in the silent-movie era (featuring such performers Harold Lloyd).

As the month progresses so will the decades, starring the likes of Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, and such comic films as "Our Gang," "The Bank Dick," the 1958 French comedy "Mon Oncle" and "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." (The list includes two Peter Sellers classics, "A Shot in the Dark" and "The Party.")

The movies will run throughout the day and through the month (ending on Wednesday Sept. 28).

Click here for more information. And because hardly anyone will be spending all day, every day, watching these worthy films, you can use this as a good excuse to finally clear out that DVR.

Friday’s openings: Ancient Japan, gunrunning and chariot races

Another children's animated feature, a remake of a cinema classic and an adventure story for millennials are on the movie docket this Friday. As of now, the week's openings are:

"Kubo and the Two Strings": Accompanied by a magic monkey and a samurai beetle, a young boy in ancient Japan goes on a dangerous quest. The fourth stop-motion animated feature by Portland-based LAIKA Entertainment. No "Portlandia" jokes, please. 

"Ben-Hur": Timur Bekmambetov, most noted for the sci-fi thrillers "Night Watch" and "Day Watch," adapts the 1880 novel about a Jew falsely accused of attempted murder who struggles but finally redeems himself and earns revenge. The film follows the classic 1959 version that starred Charlton Heston. Beware the lepers.

"War Dogs": Jonah Hill and Miles Teller star as a couple of young guys who, against all odds, win a $300 million contact to arm U.S. allies in Afghanistan. Inspired by a true story — the key word there being "inspired."

Still no word on what's going on with the Magic Lantern. I'll add something about that, plus any amendments to the listed openings, when they become available.

‘Secret Life of Pets’: a treat for kids

During a recent trip out of town, we took time to see at least one movie. Since we were with grandchildren, that movie by necessity something a 5- and 8-year-old would like. So, following is the review of "The Secret Life of Pets" that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

The formula for making kids’ films has been in place since the early days of Walt Disney and the adorable mouse he named Mickey.

The most important aspect of the formula involves a particular kind of central character – one who typically is young, often naïve and generally on the cusp of a major life lesson. And as Disney proved, if a human character isn’t appropriate, a cute animal will do just fine.

Like pretty much everything else about life these days, though, many of the established moviemaking trends aimed at kids are changing: The role that girls play – along with a larger sense of diversity, period – is being emphasized in films that used to appeal almost exclusively to white middle-class boys.

Take, for example, the recent animated release “The Secret Life of Pets.” Yes, the central character is male, a dog named Max. But Max is surrounded by a rainbow blend of characters – of different genders, breeds and even species, tropes all representing various aspects both of human behavior and ways of being.

And while Max proves to be brave and resourceful, he clearly couldn’t survive without his friends, especially those corralled by the cute Pomeranian Ginger who has a crush on Max – and whose small stature is no measure of her own courage and ingenuity.

Yet while the concept of “The Secret Life of Pets” is clever – I mean, seriously, who hasn’t wondered what our pets do all day when we’re at work? – the narrative arc of the film treads a plot path that, ultimately, offers nothing especially new.

The story centers on Max, a terrier who lives comfortably in a Manhattan apartment with his loving owner Katie. Max’s comfortable existence ends one day when Katie brings home Duke, an oversize rescue mutt, who immediately takes over.

The rivalry between the two ends up with both dogs being waylaid by a gang of feral cats who steal their collars, leaving them ID-less and in the clutches of Animal Control. Saved by the deranged white rabbit Snowball and his posse of “Flushed Pets,” so called because they’ve been cast off by their owners, the two end up then being targeted by Snowball and crew. Max and Duke manage to escape, end up in Brooklyn, and while they struggle to return home, Ginger and Max’s pals – including a red-tailed hawk named Tiberius – do what they can to locate their lost canine pals.

Again, the conceit of pets having secret lives is funny, with poodles jamming to heavy metal and cats wearing virtual coats made of Cheetos. And the vocal talent – Louis CK as Max, Eric Stonestreet  as Duke, Jenny Slate as Ginger, even Kevin Hart as Snowball – certainly adds to the humor.

But too much of “The Secret Life of Pets” has the feel of been there, done that. Even the obligatory butt jokes feel familiar. Kids may crack up, but adults are more likely to spend their time pondering why the popcorn is so pricey.

Last chance to see two particularly non-mainstream movies

It's Thursday, which is the usual day that movie schedules change (except, of course, when movies open on Wednesday). Two of the more interesting — yes, I'm using that word intentionally — films that have played in Spokane recently are leaving.

Those films are Woody Allen's "Cafe Society" and Mat Ross' "Captain Fantastic."

Allen's movies aren't likely ever to attract the crowds they once did, his personal foibles attracting a lot of haters. Beyond the fact that that ongoing controversy brings up the ago-old argument about whether we should separate the artist from the art, it also detracts from honest criticism of the art itself. Even though one of the great American filmmakers, Allen has always been inconsistent, capable of making gems such as "Annie Hall" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and outright duds such as "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" and "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion."

"Cafe Society," which earned an overall 70 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, might be closer to the latter than the former — at least according to a number of critics. Here are a couple of the comments, bad and good:

Moira MacDonald, The Seattle Times: "Maybe Woody Allen waited too long to make 'Café Society'; it seems, weirdly, to be an uninspired remake of itself."

Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic: "It'll probably never make it into anyone's list of the 10 most-important Allen films. But I'd watch it again over a few movies that would."

Ross' film is a contradiction: a straightforward look at a principled, if-flawed character (played by Viggo Mortensen), that is better made aesthetically than philosophically. It earned a 78 percent rating on RT. Check out two sample remarks, good and bad:

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Mr. Mortensen, whose intensity has the sting of possession, has a way of making you believe his characters can do whatever they set their minds to: fly, leap over buildings, save the world."

Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times: "In largely succumbing to the very complacency its characters claim to abhor, it turns out to be — I hate to say it — a far less interesting movie than it appears."

As always, my view is that you should go and judge for yourself. It's your last night to see them both first run, here in Spokane, on the big screen.

Addendum: I was going to let this post go as is. But I can't pass up adding my own five cents: "Cafe Society" is far closer to Allen's best work than any of his artistic failures. It's a lamentation, an ode to regret and romantic failures, one that blends a best-hits list of all Allen's familiar emotional concerns — from lost love to fear of death — with great acting and even greater cinematography (by three-time Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro). For me, "Cafe Society" is a must-see. As for "Captain Fantastic," I agree with Chang.