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

‘Deadwood’ is a trek though the Western past

If you were a fan of "Deadwood," the HBO series of a decade ago, you might be interested in watching "Deadwood: The Movie," which is on demand and was written by David Milch, who created the show. Following is a look at the series that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Imagine if you had access to a time machine. And you dropped into late 1800s America. Into, say, Deadwood, South Dakota. Imagine what that experience would be like. Even a romantic raised on classic Western movies would likely feel just a bit uncomfortable.

First, there would be the danger. Deadwood, which was founded in the mid-1870s as part of the Black Hills gold rush, was famous for its lawlessness. Even a feared gunslinger such as Wild Bill Hickok couldn’t play a friendly game of cards there without getting shot in the back.

And it would be filthy, its muddy streets filled with effluence emanating from both horse and human, its tent cities sheltering citizens who might bathe whenever a spring rain happened to wash through, its saloons lit by lamplight so dim the stains of spilled drink and blood could all too easily be mistaken for shadows.

Even basic communication might prove problematic. No doubt most of those living on the edge of 19th-century society, where Deadwood sat when it was founded, spoke English. But thick accents and regional jargon might have made it sound, at times, like an older version of itself.

That, at least, is the view of David Milch – the creator and executive producer of the HBO series “Deadwood,” which ran for three seasons beginning in 2004. Milch, a one-time English Literature lecturer at Yale University, wrote several of the series’ 36 episodes while overseeing the others. And he is listed as the sole writer on the recently released “Deadwood: The Movie,” a feature film that explores what the town’s various characters are up to a decade after the series ended.

That series received generally good reviews, though critics and viewers both were put off by the violence, some of which seemed almost casually cruel. And it never gained the status of other HBO projects – “The Sopranos,” say, or “Six Feet Under.” Yet its characters, especially the main ones – such as Seth Bullock (played by Timothy Olyphant) and Al Swearengen (played by Ian McShane), both of whom were based on real people – remain among the most intriguing ever portrayed on the small screen.

The main storyline over the series involves struggle: against the elements, sure, and against each other (Bullock is the town lawman and Swearengen is the saloon owner and both adhere to their own sometimes conflicted sense of morality) but also against themselves (all the characters, in one way or another, are emotionally flawed).

And besides Olyphant and McShane, other talented performers include Brad Dourif, John Hawkes, Molly Parker, Robin Weigert (as Calamity Jane) and Gerald McRaney (as George Hearst).

Most intriguing, though – at least to those of us interested in language – is the manner in which Milch has his characters speak. He employs a blend of what Slate.com TV critic Matt Feeney once described as “utter long, serpentine sentences, in diction that –depending on the speaker – can ascend to courtly abstraction or sink to the ripest vulgarity.”

Either way, the sound often feels neo-Shakespearean, as in this rare G-rated dialogue between Wild Bill (played by Keith Carradine) and a local woman:

Hickok: “You know the sound of thunder, Mrs. Garret?”

Garret: “Of course.”

Hickok: “Can you imagine that sound if I asked you to?”

Garret: “Yes, I can, Mr. Hickok.”

Hickok: “Your husband and me had this talk, and I told him to head home to avoid a dark result. But I didn't say it in thunder. Ma'am, listen to the thunder.”

To best understand the context of this language, you should binge-watch “Deadwood” the series from the beginning. And then watch the movie.

Whatever you do, though, stay away from that time machine.

‘Yesterday’ is getting good-enough reviews

Everyone I know who is a Beatles fan has told me they hope that Danny Boyles' new film "Yesterday" is worth seeing.

And based both on the concept and the reviews, it appears the film — which stars Himesh Patel as a man who becomes global sensation by playing Beatles music — just might be. The trick is the screenplay by Richard Curtis imagines a world that, expect for Patel's character, magically and mysteriously, has never even heard of The Beatles.

Here are a mix of reviews:

Ed Masley, Arizona Republic: "t's a fun ride that ends in a fairly predictable place with a Hollywood ending."

Brent McKnight, Seattle Times: "The specter of unrealized potential lingers over the film. But directed with Boyle's strong hand and visual flair, the result is an engaging charmer."

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: "The movie feels breezy and fun, even as it touches on serious issues. And then there are the songs, every one of them a gem, all of them well-performed, usually in interesting situations."

The obvious solution is to go and see the film for yourself. So … get back, Jojo.

Next Studio Ghibli film: ‘Whisper of the Heart’

Over the course of his long career, the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki involved himself in dozens of Studio Ghibli projects. He is best known for having directed several of them.

But in 1995, the studio released the film "Whisper of the Heart," which was based on a Miyazaki screenplay (adapted from a manga by Aoi Hiiragi). Yoshifumi Kondô directed.

As it turns out, the movie was Kondô's only feature film as director. He went to work at Studio Ghibli in 1987. After "Whisper of the Heart," he was expected to take over the studio when Miyazaki retired. But Kondô died suddenly in 1998, at the age of 47.

The movie he made, though, lives on. It involves a young girl named Shizuku whose love of books leads her to forge a friendship with a boy, and eventually she learns both about her innate talent for writing and about the nature of true love. Oh, and a magic cat and an old violin maker and Italy play parts in the story, too.

"Like its characters," wrote film critic Christopher Runyon, "the film's horizons expand further as it progresses, creating an all-encompassing portrait of childhood dreams & the sacrifices we make to commit to them."

"Whisper of the Heart" will play at 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at two area Regal Cinemas theaters, Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium, and at AMC River Park Square. Monday's screening will be dubbed in English, while Tuesday's screening will be in the original Japanese (and subtitled in English).

The actors from the English version are Brittany Snow (Shizuku), David Gallagher, Jean Smart, James Sikking and Cary Elwes.

"Whisper of the Heart" is part of the annual Studio Ghibli Fest. The next screening will be "Kiki's Delivery Service" (1989), which will screen on July 28th, 29th and 31st.

Catch ‘Pieces’ of Toni Morrison on July 25

Note: Oopsie. Not for the first time, I misread a press release and got a date wrong on the original post of this event. The movie about Nobel laureate Toni Morrison will take place on July 25 at the Magic Lantern Theater. I'll post another reminder closer to that date.

When I was a kid, America had six Nobel Prize winners for literature. And I could rattle them off as easily as I could, say, the vowels in the English language.

In order, they were Sinclair Lewis (1930), Eugene O'Neill (1936), Pearl Buck (1938), William Faulkner (1949), Ernest Hemingway (1954) and John Steinbeck (1962).

I devoured Hemingway and Steinbeck, dabbled in Faulkner, mostly ignored Lewis and Buck, and didn't experience O'Neill until I began seeing his plays both on the stage and in the movies — which seemed fitting.

Then, progressively, more winners came along: Saul Bellow (1976), Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978), Joseph Brodsky (1987), Toni Morrison (1987) and, most recently (and, let's face it, surprisingly) Bob Dylan (2016).

All of the 11 have individual identities, some of which are particularly special: Buck and Morrison are the only women; O'Neill, Faulkner and Hemingway are among the most revered names of 20th-century literature; Singer and Brodsky are hyphenated Americans (Singer being born in Poland, Brodsky in Russia); Dylan is (and remains) the inscrutable poet-troubadour.

Morrison, though, deserves a category all her own. She stands out not just because of her gender, and her race, but because of how powerfully she wrote of the black experience. And yet her many works — among them "Beloved" and "Song of Solomon" — are more than mere racial studies. As the Nobel Prize committee pointed out, "Her works often depict difficult circumstances and the dark side of humanity, but still convey integrity and redemption. The way she reveals the stories of individual lives conveys insight into, understanding of, and empathy for her characters."

Anyone wanting to know more about Morrison, including how she reacts to descriptions of her work, will be able to see a documentary film titled "Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am," which will screen at 7 p.m. Thursday (note: July 25) at the Magic Lantern Theater. The movie will be presented by two Gonzaga University professors, Jessica Maucione and Inga Laurent. Maucione is an Associate Professor of English and Women's & Gender Studies, while Laurent is an Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Externship Program at the GU School of Law.

Admission to the screening is $9. Which is cheap, considering that it affords the opportunity to learn not just about one of the 11 American Nobel laureates but also about how well the written word plays on a movie screen.

Friday’s openings: A demented doll returns

It's going to be a week of contrasts for movie fans, what with the two major openings listed on the national movie-release schedule.


"Annabelle Comes Home": The demented doll returns (following its 2014 inception in "Annabelle"), this time after being released from its protective lair in the home of … the characters from "The Conjuring" series. Does "Chucky" have a playmate?

"Yesterday": When a struggling musician falls into an alternate timeline, he discovers that The Beatles never existed — and that he is the only one who knows their songs. Ob la di, ob-la-da, life goes on, bra …

No word from the Magic Lantern on Friday openings as yet. I'll update everything as usual when all area theaters finalize their bookings.

Kaling, Thompson fuel ‘Late Night’ comedy

Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling star in "Late Night," the comedy that Kaling wrote and which I reviewed from Spokane Public Radio:

On first glance – and by glance I mean watching the trailers, which tend to play what seems like a trillions times before any movie actually opens – “Late Night” looks like your standard romantic comedy.

Written by Mindy Kaling and directed by Nisha Ganatra – both of whom boast credentials tied largely to television – “Late Night,” in various ways, follows a standard plotline: Kaling plays Molly Patel, whose desire to become a comedy writer leads to her being hired onto the staff of longtime late-night TV host Katherine Newbury (played by Emma Thompson).

And of course Molly faces the standard obstacles: feeling resentment from the other, established writers; weathering an ill-advised flirtation; experiencing a reckoning with her boss followed by a put-up-or-shut-up moment in which she has to figure out how to save her burgeoning career … et cetera, et cetera. 

But here’s where “Late Night” goes off in its own, separate direction: Instead of it being simply Molly’s story – one that explores her ethnic roots (Kaling herself is first-generation Indian-American) and all the standard culture-clash clichés involving marital practices and food, religion and more – the film’s love affair, platonic as it is, involves Molly and Katherine.

It’s through their relationship that Kaling provides us a larger view of what women experience in the working world of today – and not just in the world of TV comedy.

For just as Molly is facing challenges, so is Katherine. Cast in a role that has happened in real life only on occasion – Joan Rivers as a temporary host of the “Tonight” show comes to mind – Katherine is at a crossroads: She’s grown too old for and too removed from her audience. Even when she attempts to bridge her middle-age interests with the Twitter crowd, she stumbles – earning her a fair share of social-media scorn.

It’s up to Molly, then, to emerge with the solution: She is the one who can see how to blend Katherine’s more obvious traits – her age, her status as a privileged white person – with her innate comic talents.

None of this is wildly different from what, for example, you might see on a typical TV sitcom – though, thankfully, “Late Night” doesn’t punish us with a laugh track. And Kaling’s screenplay wisely doesn’t dwell overly long on any one plot point, including Katherine’s marriage (to a character played perfectly by John Lithgow), which both gives us a view of her softer side and provides Molly the insight she needs to effect the show’s needed changes.

None of this would work as well without the right cast. I’ve already described Lithgow as perfect, and Thompson, too, has never been better, which is not overstating things even given her long and worthy career. Kaling, best known for her work on the American version of the sitcom “The Office” and for her own Hulu series “The Mindy Project,” is just what she needs to be: both naïve and knowing.

And, ultimately, it’s how she bonds Molly and Katherine – and melds them into a kinder version of reality – that makes “Late Night” the pleasant and timely summer comedy that it is.

‘Forrest Gump’ runs again: Sunday and Tuesday

I can remember seeing "Forrest Gump" when it first came out in July 1994. My wife and I drove to what was then the Newport Highway Cinemas, a moviegoing necessity that many older Spokane movie fans remember.

Today's movie fans go now to one of the main theater complexes, owned either by AMC, Regal, Village Centre Cinemas (either at Airway Heights or Wandermere), or the independent theaters Garland or Magic Lantern. In those days, though, the Spokane area used to boast several smaller movie venues.

The Newport Highway Cinemas, then owned by Luxury Theatres, was built on the site of the former Starlite Drive-In. It was purchased by Act III Theatres in 1989 and then Regal Cinemas in 1998. The once proud, and supposedly state-of-the-art, theater closed for good in 2004.

Bye-bye to poor sight lines, straight-backed seats and sound that leaked from one house to the next (far worse than what we experience today).

Our screening of "Forrest Gump" took place in one of the complex's smaller houses. And it was, as happened often in those days, full.

A full house might occur when the 25th-anniversary screening of Robert Zemeckis' adaptation of Winston Groom's novel plays, at 3 p.m. Sunday and at 7 p.m. Tuesday at two area Regal Cinemas locations: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

But at least the seats should be more comfortable. And make sure to buy some chocolates. Maybe even a boxful.

Friday’ openings redux: Indian magic and more

So, as usual, there are a few additions to Friday's opening-movie list. Here they are:

"The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir": Based on the French novel "The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe," this romantic comedy tells the story of an Indian man who undergoes an incredible journey to meet up (again) with the woman he loves. It's … magic?

And at the Magic Lantern?

"Non-Fiction": A quarter of Parisians smoke, drink, have affairs and engage in all other typically French activities, at least as they're portrayed in this Olivier Assayas film. Oh la la.

"Framing John DeLorean": The controversial man behind one of the most classic 20th-cebtury cars is profiled. Let's go back to the future.

That's the lot, it seems. Go, see a movie, and enjoy.

Friday’s openings: Toys, spies and killer dolls

Luc Besson joins the group of filmmakers exploiting the "me, too" movement by exploring the world of a woman intelligence operative. That and two other mainstream efforts mark Friday's menu of movie openings (according to the national release schedule).

The main trio of openings is as follows:

"Anna": Besson gives us the title character, a dangerous government assassin. Oh, and of course, she's a knockout — in every sense of the word.

"Child's Play": They aren't even pretending to be doing remakes. They're just retreading the same material, this one about a murderous doll named Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) who just wants to, uh, play.

"Toy Story 4": Of course, some film franchises do prove delightful, as should this fourth in the series about a group of toys who face adventures and overcome obstacles — this time with a new friend named Forky. 

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

Rom-com reinvention: ‘Always Be My Maybe’

The Netflix original film "Always Be My Maybe" continues the recent reinvention of the romantic comedy. I wrote the following review of the film for Spokane Public Radio:

If they are being true to their genre, romantic comedies can end in only one way: a climactic kiss.

Sure, you’ll find exceptions. Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” for example. Or his “Annie Hall.” But they’re rare.

More common are such films as “When Harry Met Sally,” “You’ve Got Mail,” “Notting Hill” or “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Or even 1969’s little-remembered “John and Mary” in which Dustin Hoffman races across New York City to lay a lip-lock on Mia Farrow.

This is the genre to which Nahnatchka Khan’s Netflix Original film “Always Be My Maybe” belongs. It features two characters, friends since childhood, who wander almost by chance into sexual intimacy, quickly become estranged, but who ultimately weather a few ups and downs to reconnect for that traditional meeting of mouths.

Tradition, though, is a funny thing. Each generation tends to view it through a different lens, even if the basic tenets remain in place. In the case of “Always Be My Maybe,” it explicitly borrows from some the films I’ve named but it does so in an environment that is pure 21st century: Namely, its principal characters are all Asian.

Ali Wong and Randall Park stars as Sasha and Marcus, a star-crossed couple who from their early years are best buds. Sasha is the only child of a hard-working (read: negligent) couple, and she ends up bonding not only with Marcus but with his whole family – which lives next door.

Sasha allies especially with Marcus’ mother, who teaches her to cook – food being a principal part of Asian cinema, particularly romantic comedies.

After their short, near-disastrous sexual encounter, and fueled by feelings caused by a family death, Sasha and Marcus break up – and remain alienated for more than a decade. When they do reconnect, Sasha is a celebrity chef, traveling the breadth of the country to open fashionable restaurants, while Marcus has remained a San Francisco home-body, working for his dad and performing with the quartet that passes for a working band.

But nothing comes easy, even in an inevitable genre such as romantic comedy, so before the two can clasp hands they have to weather a number of obstacles – from other mismatched partners to their dueling and contrasting life ambitions, not to mention the memories of lingering past hurts.

Oh, and then there’s Keanu Reeves, who shows up playing himself in a way that is as surprising as it is scene-stealing. To say more would take us too far into spoiler territory.

It’s enough to say that Nahnatchka, working from a script written by Wong, Park and Michael Gomalco, manages to weave everything into an enjoyable example of the neo-rom-com – even if her roots in television production occasionally show through (where is that laugh-track, anyway?).

Part of what makes the film work is Wong and Park, who prove to be nearly as appealing in their lead roles as Constance Wu and Henry Golding did in last year’s “Crazy Rich Asians” – another film that featured Asian leads.

That’s the new tradition, then: The lovers may look different, but the kisses remain the same.

Monday Movies at the Magic Lantern: ‘Call Her Ganda’

June's selection for the Magic Lantern's Monday Movies series is a true-crime documentary that tackles several issues, among them sexual orientation and U.S.-Philippine relations. The film is titled "Call Her Ganda" and will play at 7 p.m. on, of course, Monday.

The film, directed by PJ Raval, follows the case of a Filipina trans woman named Jennifer Laude who was murdered on Oct. 14, 2014, by a U.S. Marine.

Here are some critical comments:

Juan Barquin, L.A. Weekly: " 'Call Her Ganda' works best when it's focused on Laude and the case of her murder, an overwhelming showcase of empathy and persistence in the face of American racism and transmisogyny."

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times: "Even with its stumbling nature… 'Call Her Ganda' is still a valiant effort to fuse inquiry, testimony, heart and protest in dealing with its complex intertwining of facts and issues."

Ken Jaworski, New York Times: " 'My life has value,' Ms. Laude once declared. She was right, and this film takes that truth to heart."

Tickets to the Monday Movies series are $8. A post-screening discussion usually ensues.

Kaling, Thompson carry ‘Late Night’ load

One addition to make to Friday's opening-movies list is a comedy that will play at both mainstream theaters and the Magic Lantern:

"Late Night": Mindy Kaling plays a new writer on TV star Emma Thompson's show whose task is to save a failing format. You know it's fiction because … well, you figure it out.

 Here are some critical comments:

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Rather than scourging the complacency and hypocrisy of television, it subjects the medium to a vigorous exfoliating scrub in the name of feminism and inclusiveness."

Yolanda Machado, The Wrap: "Kaling qualifies as an expert at writing romantic comedies after five seasons of The Mindy Project. But the romance in Late Night isn't girl-meets-boy; it's girl-meets-career."

Sheila O'Malley, RogerEbert.com: "An earnest and funny comedy, with very sharp teeth."

That seems to be the lot. So go, see a movie. And enjoy.

Friday’s openings: Aliens, zombies and Shaft

It looks to be a blockbuster weekend, what with the movies projected to open on Friday (according to the national movie-release schedule):

"Men in Black International": A new crew (played by Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth) fights space creatures who have infiltrated their organization while providing said organization with a bit of gender diversity. Me, too, goes extraterrestrial.

"Shaft": The grandson (played by Jesse T. Usher) of the original character (played by Richard Roundtree) and his son (played by Samuel L. Jackson) uses his computer skills to investigate his friend's death. He's a bad mother … shut your mouth!

"The Dead Don't Die": Jim Jarmush enlists the likes of Bill Murray and Adam Driver to tell a zombie tale. Seems the dead still walk.

I'll update when area theaters finalize their bookings. As usual.

SIFF 2019 announces award winners

Above: "Tel Aviv on Fire."

The 2019 Seattle International Film Festival ended over the weekend, and as usual it ended with an awards announcement. As fitting a festival that shows some 400 films annually, SIFF boasts a lot — say again, a lot — of awards.

Following are the 2019 Golden Space Needle Awards, which are voted on by audiences in six different categories (this year more than 82,000 votes were cast):

Best Film: "Tel Aviv on Fire," directed by Sameh Zoabi (Luxembourg/France/Israel/Belgium 2018)

Best Documentary: "We Are the Radical Monarchs," directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton (USA 2019)

Best Director: Ulaa Salim, "Sons of Denmark" (Denmark 2019)

Best Actor: Julius Weckauf, "All About Me" (Germany 2019)

Best Actress: Damla Sönmez, "Sibel" (Turkey/France/Germany/Luxembourg 2018)

Best Short Film: "Stepdaddy," directed by Lisa Steen (USA 2019)

The entire list of SIFF award winners, which includes the juried honors, is far longer and eventually will be available here.

SIFF 2019: 18 films from around the globe

Above: The Italian film "Piranhas" is currently playing at festivals but is set to open in theaters on Aug. 2. Below: "Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins" doesn't yet have an opening date.

This weekend marks the final two days of the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival. I spent six days at the festival last week, and the following is a look at what I experienced (which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio):

Eighteen movies doesn’t sound like a lot.

I mean, it does to some people. I know people who don’t see that many theatrical releases in a year – poor souls.

But it doesn’t sound like a lot to those who haunt film festivals such as the Seattle International Film Festival, which finishes its 45th-annual run this weekend.

People such as Virginia, a diminutive, 70-something woman whom my wife and I met during our recent six-day sojourn at SIFF 2019 – a sojourn in which we sat through, yes, 18 different films.

Virginia, by contrast, had seen more than 100. At least she had when we first encountered her standing in line outside the SIFF Cinema Uptown, which sits in Seattle’s Lower Queen Anne neighborhood and is one of three of what festival organizers refer to as their “classic movie houses.”

At that point, the festival had a week to run, and Virginia had the opportunity to add more than 30 other movies to her watch list. But even at that number, she would have seen less than half of the 400 feature films and documentaries that SIFF will have screened over its 25-day run.

And Virginia was hardly alone. We met several other full-series passholders, our press credentials affording us the same easy access. And all of our new acquaintances could rattle off their favorites, though to a one they seemed more interested in the quantity of films they were seeing than in the quality of any single one in particular.

But I can’t be critical. Long gone are the days in which we might see a movie at, say, The Egyptian Theatre on Capitol Hill, then rush to our car and speed across the city to the University District, where we would hurry to join the line at the Neptune Theatre before the doors closed. More than once we didn’t make it.

No, these days we tend to stay in one place, whether it’s at the Uptown or at AMC’s more mainstream theater complex at Pacific Place, seeing movies back to back to back and sometimes even back one final time.

Anyway, that’s how we saw our 18 movies, which hailed from countries as diverse as Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Taiwan, the UK and the U.S.

The documentaries either tackled personalities – such as the late political columnist Molly Ivins or the late fashion designer Halston – or explored issues – such as men who have been trafficked into unpaid servitude by unprincipled fishing companies, or the young Ghanaians using their Internet wits to dupe unsuspecting sex-minded clients.

The narrative films, too, covered a range of topics, from gay romance to coming-of-age drama, Neapolitan street-kid violence to the perils of aging, family dysfunction to refugees from the Middle East facing off against Danish neo-Nazis.

Some of these films may eventually play in Spokane at the Magic Lantern. Many more may at least end up available for streaming. When they do, you’ll likely be able to see far more than our 18.

But probably not nearly as many as Virginia.