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

‘Diane’ explores a woman’s search for peace

After a short Spokane run, Kent Jones' film "Diane" is now available only through video on demand. Following is a review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Some people are motivated by genuine altruism. The good deeds they do come from an inner sense of, for want of a better word, love.

Diane isn’t one of those people. Not that she doesn’t do good deeds. Nor is she incapable of love. It’s just that what motivates Diane, as portrayed by the veteran actress Mary Kay Place in Kent Jones' film titled, aptly enough, “Diane,” is far too complicated to be described by one single word.

Unless that word is guilt, which seems to be as much a factor in Diane’s life as anything.

Jones, who both wrote and directed, never makes clear why his protagonist should feel guilty. Instead, we get only clues. They show up in the apology she makes to her dying cousin – an apology she obviously has made before and one that has never been fully accepted. They show up in the love-hate relationship she has with her drug-addicted son (played effectively by Jake Lacy) and the memory he has of one lost weekend in their shared past.

They show up in an extended bar scene that features Diane drinking alone, enraptured by a juke-box song, dancing as if in a self-perpetuating dream – before drinking herself into a stupor that gets her eighty-sixed right into the waiting arms of her friends.

And it is the auspicious appearance of those friends that demonstrates – whatever the inner demons are that plague her – just how much so many of those around her not only appreciate Diane’s inherent goodness but are willing to forgive any transgressions she might once have committed.

Jones’ film is unusual in construction. Yes, it has a beginning, a middle and an end – though that end comes courtesy of a telescoped time frame that addresses just as much about essential human mortality as it pertains to Diane’s story in particular. But Jones is less interested in narrative than he is in mood and tone. Many of the scenes in “Diane” are set-pieces, all featuring Diane doing her daily rounds.

We see her in the hospital with her ill cousin, badgering her son to clean up his act, serving food in a public kitchen, eating meals and commiserating with her best friend (played by Andrea Martin) or just hanging out with older members of her extended family (among whom are the too-little-seen Glynnis O’Connor and the 1967 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Estelle Parsons).

And in all this, actress Place is perfect. Mostly a featured player during her long career – from the 1970s sitcom “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” to such films such as Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 ode to the past “The Big Chill” – Place fills the lead role here exceptionally well.

In the end, “Diane” the movie is mostly about the passage of time, and how time affects – and sometimes alters – our basic natures. Diane the character is a good person who is weathered by life, somber by nature, a woman looking for something – most likely redemption but, save that, a sense of inner peace – that she may never find.

But that doesn’t stop her from trying.

SIFF 45 box office opens online today

Above: Lynn Shelton's film "Sword of Trust" opens SIFF 45 on May 16.

For more than four decades now, Seattle film fans have enjoyed lineups of intriguing independent and foreign films in an annual festival. In fact, the Seattle International Film Festival has proven to be one of the most popular in the country, attracting in excess of 400 films from numerous countries.]

The 2019 version of SIFF, the 45th annual edition, will begin its 25-day run on May 16th. And, according the a festival press release, it will screen "410 films representing 86 countries and will include: 147 features (plus 4 secret films), 71 documentaries, 12 archival films, and 176 shorts. The lineup includes 33 World premieres (12 features, 21 shorts), 42 North American premieres (27 features, 15 shorts), and 19 US premieres (11 features, 8 shorts)."

Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton will open SIFF 45 with her film "Sword of Trust," which stars comedian Marc Maron. Both Shelton and Maron are expected to attend the screening, which will be at 7 p.m. at the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall.

"Sword of Trust" is described this way: "(T)wo women (Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins) attempt to unload an inherited Civil War sword onto a curmudgeonly pawnshop owner (Marc Maron) and reluctantly enter a world of conspiracy theory and Southern disillusionment."

The SIFF box office opens today online at siff.net and in person at any year round SIFF Box Office. View the full public program here: www.siff.net/festival.

Enjoy Batman in a four-film retrospective

In this era of superhero flicks, it's hard to remember a time when such characters were pretty much a joke. Especially Batman, who in the 1960s was a cartoonish oaf played by Adam West.

Tim Burton changed all that. His 1989 reimagining of the character, starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as The Joker, was heavily influenced by Frank Miller's 1986 graphic novel "The Dark Knight Returns."

Of course, compared to where Christopher Nolan would take the series, Burton's version now seems almost quaint (especially when compared to Heath Ledger's depiction of The Joker).

Still, Burton deserves credit. And I still prefer Keaton's interpretation of Batman. In any event, you can judge for yourself at 1 p.m. on Saturday when Burton's "Batman" will screen at the Regal Cinemas theater at Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium 14.

Note: The film will play ONLY in Coeur d'Alene

The screening is the opening in a four-film retrospective celebrating the 80th anniversary of the character. Other showings (all at Riverstone Stadium): 7 p.m. Monday, "Batman Returns"; 1 p.m. May 12, "Batman Forever"; 7 p.m. May 14th, "Batman & Robin."

To cheer us all up, here are a few of my favorite lines from Burton's film:

The Joker: "Tell me something, my friend. You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?"

The Joker: "Where does he get those wonderful toys?"

The Joker: "Never rub another man's rhubarb."

Batman: "I'm Batman." (Even Christian Bale couldn't say it better.)

Magic Lantern set to unveil a hidden history

In our current era of political polarization, it's more important than ever to look to the lessons of history. And just as important, it's essential that we get that history right.

And that's exactly what the movie "Who Will Write Our History" emphasizes, focusing on the necessity of those most affected to ensure that their stories get told accurately. To be specific, the film — a blend of documentary and live-action re-creations — focuses on the action of a group who documented life as endured by those who were confined in Poland's Warsaw Ghetto of World War II.

"Who Will Write Our History" will screen at 7 p.m. both Wednesday and Thursday at the Magic Lantern Theatre. Both showings will be will be hosted by members of the area's Jewish community who will facilitate discussions following the movies. Tickets are $9.

The Warsaw group code-named Oyneg Shabes — which translates to "Joy of the Shabbat" — consisted of a number of writers and scholars who wrote down the stories of the hundreds of thousands living in the ghetto, formed when the Germans invaded in 1939. They buried the documents where they could, hoping that they would survive.

Many, though not all, of the documents did survive. Only three of the group members who compiled them did.

The movie, which is based on the book of the same title by historian Samuel Kassow, was co-written and directed by Roberta Grossman.

Writing in the New York Times, film reviewer Ken Jaworowski said the film "recounts a bold story of Nazi resistance. And inside that one story are countless others, each immensely important."

As one participant quoted in the movie says, "You don't really need guns to fight. You can fight with paper and pen."

Friday’ openings: Ugly dolls, beautiful music

A full range of movies is on the docket for Friday, according to the national release schedule. A preview of likely openings follows:

"UglyDolls": Another movie based on a line of toys, this one involves a group of dolls that discover that being true to one's self is more important than some vain search for perfection. Du-uh.

"Long Shot": Stunning Charlize Theron prepares a run for the presidency with the help of frumpish speech-writer Seth Rogen, and we're supposed to believe that a feeling of intimacy grows between them. Shades of "Knocked Up."

"The Intruder": When a young couple buys a house, they discover that the former owner (Dennis Quaid) doesn't want to let go. But will he at least clean the pool?

"El Chicano": Two brothers hailing from East L.A. take different life paths and end up on different sides of the law. Que pena.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Amazing Grace": In 1972, Aretha Franklin recorded a concert at a church in Los Angeles. After all this time, her performance is brought to the big screen. How sweet the sound.

"Ask Dr. Ruth": As she approaches her 90th birthday, Holocaust survivor and sex-therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer is profiled. Don't tell Dr. Phil.

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

Roxane Gay to headline Get Lit! on Saturday

For as long Get Lit! has been around, which is more than two decades now, Eastern Washington University's annual celebration of all things literary has been one of the Inland Northwest's most prestigious events.

From Salman Rushdie and Kurt Vonnegut to Bell Hooks and Jane Smiley, acclaimed writers of all persuasions have descended upon Spokane to share their views — and their works — with readers and writers alike.

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, Roxane Gay will join the list. Gay, the author and New York Times contributing op-ed writer, will headline the event "An Evening With Roxane Gay" at the Bing Crosby Theatre.

In a review of Gay's collection of essays, "Bad Feminist," writer Morgan Jenkins wrote, " 'Bad Feminist' made me believe that I could be honest by saying that I do not have all the answers but I am still going to challenge myself and others with my questions and my hypotheses. The book allowed me to be comfortable in the mindset of the unknown, demonstrating how, despite what society might force upon me as a black woman, I as well as my work can be irresolute and dazzling all at once."

Should be an interesting evening. Get Lit! events typically are.

‘42nd Street’ screen revival only a week away

Since it opened on Broadway in 1980, the musical "42nd Street" has won a number of awards. A Tony for Best Musical, an Olivier in 1984 in London for Best Musical, and a second Tony in 2001 for Best Revival.

And all that was before the show — book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, lyrics by Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer, and music by Harry Warren — was revived in 2017 in London's West End. That show won four Whatsonstage awards: Best Musical Revival, Best Chroegraphy, Best Set and Best Costume Design.

It's that show, now closed, that is the focus of the movie event that will screen at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1, at two Inland Northwest locations: Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

The Telegraph described the show as "an American classic right royally revived." And as a United Kingdom publication, the paper knows all about things royal-plated.

Lantern to open intriguing trio of movies

Even though mainstream theaters likely will be engaging in an "Avengers" film fest this coming Friday, Spokane's Magic Lantern Theater will continue to offer its diverse and continually intriguing slate of independent films.

Opening on Friday at the Lantern are:

"High Life": Robert Pattinson joins a cast that includes Juliette Binoche and Andre Benjamin as a man who lives with his daughter and a few others in an isolated space station. Question is, what are they doing there?

"Little Woods": Two sisters (Tessa Thompson, Lily James) struggle to make ends meet in a post-boom fracking town of Little Woods, North Dakota. Is that anywhere near, uh, Fargo?

"Her Smell": A rocker (Elizabeth Moss) past her prime attempts to clean up her act so that she can get her career back on track. Not the most attractive title, am I right?

Note: The Lantern will also open a second-run screening of "The Mustang." To hear a "Movies 101" review of the film, plus comments about "Transit" and "Ash Is Purest White," click here.

If you do drop by, say hi to the manager Jonathan.

‘Avengers: Endgame’ to open on Friday

You can aways tell when a movie scares away all the other studios. Every producer decides to find another opening date.

And that should be the case come Friday when the only major movie listed on the national release schedule is the latest (the last?) offering, courtesy of Marvel Entertainment, in one of the most popular superhero series of all time:

"Avengers: Endgame": Following the problematic ending of last year's "Avengers: Infinity War," the remnants of the Avengers team reassemble — and are joined by at least one new member — in an effort to end the destructive plans of Thanos.

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

Kidman embraces her character in ‘Destroyer’

Karyn Kusama's film "Destroyer" was publicized last year, but it never received a wide-spread release. I finally was able to see it at home and was prompted to review it for Spokane Public Radio:

Beauty may not be a guarantee of success in life. But it can’t hurt, at least when the success we’re talking about involves the film industry. (All references to the likes of Harvey Weinstein aside, of course.)

Just consider Nicole Kidman. Over the course of her career, Kidman has a played a number of different characters – and she’s imbued each one with some unique quality.

From roles as diverse as the murderous Suzanne Stone in “To Die For” to the resentful wife Alice Harford in “Eyes Wide Shut,” from the haughty school prefect Nicola Radcliffe in “Flirting” to the troubled title character in “Margot at the Wedding,” Kidman has shown an ability not only to make her characters seem believable but to garner each at least a measure of sympathy.

Even Suzanne Stone, whom I described – you’ll recall – as murderous.

It helps, of course, that Kidman possesses a kind of luminescent beauty that can’t be disguised, even when hidden behind a honker of a fake nose in the role that earned her a Best Actress Oscar – that of the doomed writer Virginia Woolf in Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours.”

And that beauty shines through almost as well in the crime thriller “Destroyer,” which though released last year never played in more than 200-odd theaters. “Destroyer” is available for streaming through Amazon Prime.

Not that director Karyn Kusama, working from an original screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, didn’t do her best to make Kidman ugly. Kidman plays Erin Bell, a Los Angeles police detective nearly two decades past an event she endured as an undercover FBI agent that nearly killed her and set her life on a self-destructive course.

Her penchant for self-abuse can be seen in the lines that mark her face, not to mention that fact that she looks at least a week past her last shower.

“Destroyer” opens with Bell coming upon a tattooed corpse that she recognizes. Then the film begins playing with time and space, not always in an easily comprehensible way, and we discover that Bell is hell-bent on a personal investigation. Someone has sent her a dye-stained 100-dollar bill, a relic from the life-changing event, and soon she is off, tracking down the principals from her past so that she can locate one in particular: a guy named Silas.

To explain much more would take us into spoiler territory. It’s enough merely to say that there’s a good reason why Bell is so intent on finding Silas – and why she’s basically been sleepwalking through life for so long.

Not that everything about “Destroyer” works. For one thing, any competent police chief would have fired Bell long ago – or, short of that, ordered her to at least wash her hair. For another, Bell’s gestapo tactics often make Kusama’s film feel too much like a “Rambo” flick.

Yet Kusama does film a couple of stirring bank robberies, and she gets solid performances from a cast that includes Sebastian Stan, Tatania Maslany and Bradley Whitford.

And, of course, Kidman, whose talent for portraying complex characters surpasses even a skilled makeup artist’s attempts to mask her natural beauty. 

‘Okko’s Inn’: another chance to see anime on a big screen

It used to be that fans of Japanese anime had to wait for films to be released on video or DVD to see the latest — or even the classic — releases of their favorite films. Those days, we can safely say, have passed.

And not just because various streaming services offer animated films of all types to be seen at home.

Yet nothing beats seeing a film on a big screen. And in a way to get more full use out of their facilities, movie theaters across the nation have been doing more and more special screenings of all types of movie entertainment, from Christian-themed films and musicals to, yes, Japanese animation.

Which is why Spokane-area film fans will be able to see the film "Okko's Inn" at 7 p.m. in both subtitled and dubbed formats on Tuesday (subtitled) and Wednesday (dubbed) at the Regal Cinemas theater at Northtown Mall.

Based on a popular series of children's novels, which then became a television series, "Okko's Inn" was directed by former Studio Ghibli animator Kitarô Kôsaka. The film tells the story of a young girl, whose parents have died, who gains fame by running her own inn — with the help of some friendly but pesky ghosts.

As Pittsburgh Magazine film reviewer Sean Collier calls the film, "an undeniably moving and difficult tale" that "does not quite achieve the magic of the best Studio Ghibli masterpieces, but bears a similar easy — and very watchable — charm."

Lantern to screen a program of local films on Thursday

Above: Ron Ford (at lectern) appeared in a 2015 Stage Left Theater production of "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later." His film "Funeral in the Park" is one of 13 shorts that will screen on Thursday at the Magic Lantern. 

Most of us go to the movies for entertainment, whether that means simply laughing, getting excited, or coming away with conflicted feelings because we've just experienced something that challenges the way we perceive the world.

Sometimes all those things occur at once.

Some of that — maybe much of it — is likely to occur at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Magic Lantern Theatre when the theater offers an event that's being labeled the "Made in Spokane Film Screening."

Some 13 films will screen over the 2-hour, 15-minute program, which include a short intermission.

Spokane has boasted a number of film events over the years, the most current annual event being the 50 Hour Slam. The 2019 version of that festival (of which I am one of several judges) will screen at 7 p.m. on May 4 at the Bing Crosby Theater.

Note: If you plan on attending Thursday's screening at the Magic Lantern, here's a bit of advice: Get your tickets early. And show up early, too. The Lantern's bigger house has only a little more than 100 seats, and they tend to go fast — especially when local artists are featured.

RiffTrax Live jeers at ‘Octaman’ (and so can you)

One of the joys of watching a movie in the comfort of your own home is that you can, if you're so moved, yell at the screen.

Of course, some people do that in theaters. Which is unpardonably rude and is one reason why I'm so glad that more and more good movies are playing on streaming services that I subscribe to.

Because at home it's fun to make fun of what you're watching, especially when what you're watching is particularly bad. The program "Mystery Science Theater 3000" was built on that concept. Then in 2006, "RiffTrax" was born.

And the nice thing about "RiffTrax" is that it feature a trio of comics who do in the theater what some of us to at home: Jeer at what we're watching.

On Thursday and on April 24, "RiffTrax Live" will makes jokes at the expense of the 1971 low-budget flick "Octaman." A science-fiction film written and directed by Harry Essex, "Octaman" tells the story of a mutated man-octopus who preys on the likes of Pier Angeli and Kerwin Matthews.

The screenings will occur at 8 p.m. on Thursday, 7:30 p.m. on April 24, at the Regal Cinemas' theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

Feel free to go. And to jeer. But mostly to laugh.

Friday’s openings redux: Quality at the Lantern

And this from the Magic Lantern Theatre: One new film is opening on Friday:

"Diane": Mary Kay Place stars as the title character, a woman who does good deeds … and who is hiding some painful memories from her past. Here are some critical comments:

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "[A] naturalistic portrait of service and self-sacrifice by way of a quietly astonishing title performance by Mary Kay Place."

Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times: "In the context of the modern multiplex, 'Diane' amounts to an act of cinematic bravery, not just in its choice of tough-sell material, but in the patience with which Jones tends it."

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: "The past hangs over 'Diane' not just as a burden or nostalgia (though it can be that too), but as an enthralling and entangling reminder of life's mystery."

As always, the Lantern offers movie fans something that challenges our expectations of what a movie should be. 

The week’s openings: Penguins for Easter

Easter weekend is coming, which is likely why the coming week will see at least two movies that tackle life beyond what we can, uh, resonably imagine. Then again, Disney will provide us some of its traditional anthropomorphism.

The week's opening include:

Wednesday

Breakthrough: A mother's prayers are answered after her son drowns in an icy pond. Sorry for the late spoiler alert.

Penguins: Disney finds a heartwarming story on the coldest continent on Earth. Hey, it's Disney's nature.

Friday

The Curse of La Llorona: A mother and her kids face an unearthly threat. And, apparently, she speaks Spanish.

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