What with "Solo: A Star Wars" story behind us, this coming Friday offers a variety of new releases. According to the national movie-release schedule, here's what to expect:
"Action Point": The owner of a low-rent amusement park (Johnny Knoxville) goes to extremes to compete with a new mega-park that opens nearby. "Jackass"-type hilarity ensues.
"Adrift": In this based-on-a-real-story tale of survival, a young couple (Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin) star as a couple of sailors who run into a hurricane and are forced to fight for their lives. SPF 80 needed.
"Upgrade": After a vicious mugging leaves his wife dead and him paralyzed, a man (Logan Marshall-Green) agrees to have an AI implanted that affords him near-superhuman powers. Revenge is sweet.
"Let the Sunshine In": Juliette Binoche plays a divorced woman who dates a number of men, many of whom are flawed in one way or another. Directed by Claire Denis from a script she co-wrote with Christine Angot (from a novel by Roland Barthes).
Thats the tentative schedule. I'll update when the local theaters finalize their schedules.
Of all the superhero films that are opening this summer, the one I've anticipated the most is "Deadpool 2." I try to explain why in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:
One cliché that my parents loved to throw at us kids is the all-too-familiar “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” It wasn’t until years later that I learned that that particular phrase, as originally written, actually made a lot more sense. How so? By reversing the twin subjects: “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.”
However you phrase it, though, the point is made: Some situations force you to choose between conflicting options. Say, for example, you may have enough money to buy that new Ferrari, but you may not have enough left over to buy any gas to drive it.
Or here’s one in movie terms: You can’t make fun of superhero action films and, at the same time, be a good example of one.
But if you look hard enough at every rule of culture, you’re likely to find an exception. And the exception in the case of superhero action films is the “Deadpool” series. Not only do the films, both the 2016 original and now the sequel – “Deadpool 2” – crack with CGI-enhanced action, but both offer satisfyingly comical self-aware commentaries on the very kind of movie they are aping.
Both films, which were written by the team of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick – with star Ryan Reynolds this second time added in – are based on a Marvel Comics franchise that was created in 1990 by writer Fabian Nicieza and writer/artist Ron Liefeld. Originally a villain, Deadpool – a guy with super-healing and other physical powers – gradually became the wise-cracking, fourth-wall-breaking character that Reynolds has portrayed in both self-titled features and in a couple of “X-Men” movies.
And when I say wise-cracking, think Daniel Tosh in red spandex dropping F-bombs and joking about kids with cancer. Get the picture?
As directed by David Leitch (the guy responsible for the Charlize Theron movie “Atomic Blonde”), “Deadpool 2” pretty much follows the pattern created by Tim Miller in the 2016 original. “Deadpool 2,” however, sets up even more of a challenge for itself: It attempts actual moments of emotion, mostly involving – spoiler alert – the almost immediate death of an important character.
That event becomes the underlying theme of Leitch’s film, which involves Deadpool – whose civilian name is Wade Wilson – temporarily joining a troupe of X-Men, battling a super-soldier from the future named Cable (played by Josh Brolin) and trying to protect, and reform, a young mutant with the ability to throw fire (played by Julian Denison of the New Zealand film “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”).
Leitch succeeds by not so much undercutting the film’s serious moments with comedy as by augmenting them. And by making it amply clear that he knows what he’s doing: Openly manipulating us in ways that directors such as, say, Zack Snyder, think are cleverly artistic.
Leitch succeeds, too, by having at his disposal Reynolds, a guy who co-star Brolin calls “the Daniel Day Lewis of comedians” and a guy who recognizes as well as anyone ever has that self-parody done right is the best way of gorging on cinematic cake while retaining ample portions to enjoy later.
When my friend Ken's son was little, his favorite movie was Disney's 1989 animated film "The Little Mermaid." Unable to utter more than a few words, he would request the film by saying something like, "Bapoo, bapoo!"
No one could figure out what he was saying, but his parents certainly knew what he wanted: "The Little Mermaid."
It took years before the answer became clear. Since much of the animated film — which is very loosely based on the Han Christian Anderson folk tale — takes place underwater, it's only natural that in some scene you would see … bubbles.
Bapoo meant bubbles.
If Ken's son were still young, he'd likely still be saying "bapoo" today. And, beginning Friday, he would have good reason. Sponsored by CYT (Christian Youth Theater), the Bing Crosby Theater will screen Disney's film over the next two weekends.
Tickets to the screenings are $14 ($13 for children 12 and below) in advance, $16 at the door. Group rates ($12 a head) are available.
Here's another opportunity to see a Disney animated classic on the big screen. And it's not even necessary to ask for "Bapoo!"
Below: The original theatrical trailer for Disney's "The Little Mermaid."
And you can join him, figuratively speaking. Tickets to most SIFF screenings are available one way or another, either buy purchasing them in advance or by simply showing up at the respective venue and waiting in line — that latter resort something that I've been known to do more than once.
Because sometimes in the past, SIFF tended to show movies that never made it to Spokane. That's not such a big deal in these days of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu. Still, there's nothing quite like sitting in, say, The Egyptian theater and watching a film with 500 other movie fans, as I have done more times than I can remember.
And which Nathan is doing right now. Here are his recommendations for Friday and Saturday:
Friday will see the latest chapter in the ongoing "Star Wars" saga that George Lucas began way back in the late '70s. Since the premiere of that first film, which now goes by the overly long and involved title of "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope," the franchise has permeated pretty much every part of the entertainment empire — movie, book, comics, TV shows, toys, video games, etc.
But as anyone who has been watching knows, it hasn't always been an easy venture. The first three films (which are now the second part of the overall nine-film series) were, and remain, the gold standard by which all the others are compared. The second three, the "prequel" series, are less admired — mostly because of casting choices that Lucas himself made (Jake Lloyd as the young Anakin Skywalker in particular).
We're still in the midst of the final three, and the reviews while mostly positive among critics have been mixed among fans. And as they begin filming on the third entry in the "sequel," some serious plot problems have had to be resolved — the death of Carrie Fisher chief among them.
Apart from the main franchise, the movie spinoffs — the so-called "anthology" films — have had their own problems. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," which opened in 2016, was a whole film based on a few lines of dialogue from "Episode IV." And while many moviegoers, and critics, liked the idea of a "Star Wars" story offering something different, many others did not.
Now we are on the eve of "Solo: A Star Wars Story," which outlines more or less the origins of Han Solo and how he became a space pirate (or smuggler or whatever). It, too, has been a troubled production, mostly because of a well-publicized and controversial change in directors but also because of problems with the casting of Alden Ehrenreich as the title character.
The embed below — which offers an opinionated viewpoint — outlines the problems, dating back to when the Disney company purchased Lucasfilm and took over the franchise. Whatever you might think of the final product, the path the project took to get there is an interesting tale, almost as twisted as something the Emperor Palpatine might have dreamed up.
An elegy for aging will be on tap at the Magic Lantern come Friday. Along with a second-run opening of "Tully," Spokane's alternative moviehouse will screen a Hindi-language film:
"102 Not Out": Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan stars as a 102-year-old man who wants both to break the record for world's oldest man and teach his son some life lessons. Another Bollywood legend, Rishi Kapoor, stars as the man's resentful 75-year-old son.
Here are some critical comments:
Simon Abrams, RogerEbert.com: "Kapoor deserves special praise: He scowls, sighs, and sinks his chest to his chin with consummate zeal. He also looks appropriately misty-eyed whenever his character has an emotional breakthrough. Kapoor generally does a great job of playing straight man to Bachchan's amusingly clueless Jiminey Cricket-like conscience."
Rachit Gupta, The Times of India: "The ease with which the film portrays the bittersweet relationship between its characters is fantastic. Such films are like soft serve ice cream on a sparkly Sunday afternoon."
Way back when, at the time producers were working out their summer movie-release schedule, one thing was pretty clear: Nobody wanted their movie to go up against anything remotely "Star Wars."
Which is why "Solo: A Star Wars Story" is the only big-name movie set to open on Friday. Other movies are likely to premiere, too, but nothing approaching a blockbuster.
So, Friday's movie national openings look like this:
"Solo: A Star Wars Story": Another "Star Wars" spinoff, 'Solo" is an origin story for the franchise's most roguish character. Alden Ehrenreich, who was so good in the Coen Brothers' 2016 film "Hail, Caesar!" fills the title role originated by Harrison Ford. Expect a bit of criminal activity and lots of space-pirate action.
Oh, and Ron Howard directs (having taken over the reins from the original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of "The Lego Movie" fame). So there's a backstory here that might affect how the movie is received. But … more on that at another time.
Every veteran has a different story to tell. Some of those stories involve heroism. Many are merely mundane. Most, though, involve some sort of connection.
At one time, I would have characterized that specific kind of connection as “brotherhood.” With the advent of women in the military, though, that term is as dated as it is clichéd. Still, the meaning remains: Those who have experienced war constitute a kind of family. At times dysfunctional, maybe, but typically united against outside threats.
And as filmmaker Richard Linklater demonstrates with his adaptation of Daryl Ponicsan’s novel “Last Flag Flying,” some veterans see those threats not just in the form of enemy troops but also in the very military leaders whose orders they are obliged to obey.
The year is 2003, and Linklater introduces us to three Vietnam veterans. Larry (played by Steve Carell) seeks out two men he served with, Sal (played by Bryan Cranston) and Richard (played by Laurence Fishburne). Larry served as a Navy corpsman, which earned him the nickname “Doc,” while Sal and Richard were Marines.
Doc has a specific reason to want to reconnect with these old buddies: His own Marine son has been killed while serving in Iraq, his wife has already passed on, and he wants – or, rather, needs – support as he goes to meet the plane bringing home his son’s coffin.
The task isn’t as easy as you’d think. Sal is a hard-drinking, cynical and foul-mouthed character – much like Jack Nicholson’s character Buddusky is in Hal Ashby’s 1975 version of an earlier Ponicsan novel, “The Last Detail.” Meanwhile, Richard is now the Reverend Richard, a former hell-raiser turned man of God. The often caustic interplay between Sal and Richard, even as they try to pay Doc back for crimes they all committed but only he was punished for, supplies most of the movie’s energy.
And while “Last Flag Flying” seems like an oddity among Linklater films – which range from the quintessential high-school study “Dazed and Confused” to the poignant exploration of love as portrayed in his “Before” trilogy – the fact that it is talk-heavy helps it fit right in.
The problem, for me, is that much of the talk in “Last Flag Flying” feels too mannered. As good as Cranston and Fishburne have proven to be in both film and TV over the years, the two of them feel here more like actors strutting on a stage than actors creating realistic characters for the screen. Cranston, in particular, tends to overplay Sal to the point, at times, almost of parody.
That sense of staginess extends to a scene involving the Marine friend of Doc’s son who is assigned the job of escorting the body home, and his commanding officer. As played out by J. Quinton Johnson as the Marine and Yul Vasquez as the officer, the scene plays out an acting exercise that should never have been included in the final cut.
Which is too bad. War stories don’t need such embellishments. The connections they portray, even when fictional, are real enough. Just ask any veteran.
The Seattle International Film Festival, one of the nation's longest, begins its 25-day run tomorrow with a screening of "The Bookshop" — a UK-made film (with Spanish director Isabel Coixet) that stars Emily Mortimer as a woman who opens a bookshop, in a small English village circa 1958, with troublesome consequences.
The film also stars the great Bill Nighy.
Tickets to all SIFF screenings can be purchased online, over the phone, at the festival box office or by standing in line at each individual venue. However you purchase tickets, the effort likely will be worth it.
"Porco Rosso" (1992) will screen in dubbed version at 12:55 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. May 23 (Wednesday) at Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium. A subtitled version will screen at 7 p.m. Monday at both locations.
The film is an imaginative blend of fantasy and actual history. The titular character is a former Italian aviator who, following a deadly encounter during World War I, was mysteriously turned into a … pig. He now fights sky bandits over the Adriatic Sea, and teams up with a legion of women mechanics to battle his chief rival.
Here are some critical comments:
Jeanette Catsoulis, New York Times: "Mr. Miyazaki smooshes fantasy and history into a pastel-pretty yarn as irresistible as his feminism."
Robert Pardi, TV Guide: "Animator/fabulist Hayao Miyazaki pays homage to Hollywood's wartime adventure films in this masterwork built around the adventures of a high-flying pig."
"Finding Your Feet": When Lady Sandra (Imelda Staunton) discovers that her husband of 35 years has been having an affair, she flees to the house of her bohemian sister — and begins her trek toward self-discovery.
Andrew Haigh's film "Lean on Pete" moves from AMC River Park Square to the Magic Lantern today. It's worth checking out, though you might want to read my review, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:
If nothing else, Andrew Haigh’s film “Lean on Pete” asks what it would take for someone to turn bad. If, for example, you have a good soul but are continually subjected to pain and disillusionment, what kind of person would you become?
Because, despite everything, our protagonist Charley (played by Charley Plummer) is a good kid. He lives with his father in a cheap rental house near Portland Downs racetrack. Charley sleeps on the floor, and his dad (played by Travis Fimmel) – who does have a job and seems friendly enough – treats his boy more like a buddy than a son. He doesn’t even think to buy groceries for his growing 15-year-old.
Turns out they’d just moved to Portland from Spokane, where Charley had been playing high-school football. So when dad is at work, Charley jogs through the neighborhood with thoughts that he might again get to play.
It’s on one of those jogs that he discovers the racetrack. And pretty soon he meets Del (played by Steve Buscemi), a prickly tempered horse owner who participates in the shadowy part of the quarter-horse racing world – where rules are merely something to work around and horses are merely a means to a financial end.
Pretty soon, Charley is working for Del, accompanying him on trips around the Northwest, where he both meets the jaded jockey Bonnie (played by Chloe Sevigny) and becomes attached to an aging horse named Pete.
And this is where “Lean on Pete,” which writer-director Haigh adapted from a tough little 2010 novel by Willy Vlautin, heads in a direction that no Lifetime movie has ever explored.
After his father gets seriously injured in a fight with his lover’s estranged husband, and when he discovers that Del plans on sending Pete to Mexico – a euphemism, he knows, for the slaughterhouse – Charley decides to act.
But what can a kid with no money do? Especially a kid with no goal in mind expect for a vague notion of finding the once-beloved aunt he thinks lives somewhere in Wyoming? That’s the moral crossroads for Charley, and what he does next seems only natural to his teenage brain: Steal Pete and head east – never mind that his fantasy goal lies maybe a thousand miles away.
Haigh, following the lead of Vlautin, documents the world that Charley encounters, from the hard-edged owners, trainers and jockeys of the racing game, to hard-drinking veterans from America’s never-ending modern wars, young women living with abusive relatives because they have no other choice and restaurant workers who are less kind than merely pragmatic about a boy’s attempts to grab a free meal and go.
He does find a few moments in which the boy and horse relish in their freedom, swimming in a river and sleeping under the stars. But again, “Lean on Pete” doesn’t pander to melodrama. Haigh’s movie is no “Lassie Come Home” pipe dream.
And in the end, after all he has been through, what becomes of Charley? That’s the question we’re left with, the question to which there are no easy answers.
Just as it ends its run at AMC River Park Square, the movie "Lean on Pete" shifts on Friday to the Magic Lantern. And this is a good thing for fans of independent film.
Another thing for those fans to celebrate? The fact that the Lantern is opening the film "The Endless."
With a 97 percent "fresh" rating on the critics' site Rotten Tomatoes, "The Endless" is benefitting from a fair amount of pre-release hype. Following are a few of the reviews:
Matthew Lickona, San Diego Reader: "The eventual reveal fits with the film's overall intelligence and interest in people and existence over spectacle and action. (Though there's some of that as well.) 'The Endless' is a smart, sweetly creepy good time."
Looks as if the movies that I mention below are Friday's only full-fledged movie openings. But the coming week will include a few one-offs:
"Sunset Boulevard": Billy Wilder's 1950 film will screen as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics Presents series. It will show at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday (May 13) and Wednesday (May 16) at both Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.
"The Snowman Trek": AMC River Park will screen this documentary film about a team of ultra-marathoners competing in a race through Bhutan's Himalayan landscape. It screens at 7 p.m. Thursday (May 17).
"Macbeth": The National Theatre Live production of Shakespeare's play, starring Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff, will show at 7 p.m. Thursday (May 17) at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.
That's the latest. I'll update if anything changes.