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

Magic Lantern to screen Iranian film on Friday

Even art isn't immune to political maneuvering. Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, whose 2011 film "A Separation" won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, won't be allowed to attend the Feb. 26 2017 Oscar ceremonies.

The reason? The recent presidential executive order that prevents residents of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the United States.

This isn't the best place to get into the politics of all this. I will say, though, that I'm just thankful the ban doesn't apply to Farhadi's films, the latest of which — "The Salesman" — opens at the Magic Lantern on Friday.

Having garnered at 98 percent approval rating on the film-review site Rotten Tomatoes, in addition to an Oscar nomination of its own, Farhadi's film is attracting rave reviews. Here are just a few:

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "It's another of the director's analytical but deeply empathetic films about modern Iranian society and what separates men from women and the government from its people."

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "With exquisite patience and attention to detail, Asghar Farhadi, the writer and director, builds a solid and suspenseful plot out of ordinary incidents, and packs it with rich and resonant ideas."

Dana Stevens, Slate: "The two storylines interweave seamlessly and subtly, the couple's real-life problems not so much repeating as refracting the experiences of their fictional counterparts."

Art is art. Supporting it is the obligation of us all.

The week’s openings redux: SpIFF goes international

Along with the two mainstream openings listed below, a third film is scheduled to open Friday in area theaters. And the 19th Spokane International Film Festival continues tonight with a pair of showings.

Friday's additional opening:

"The Comedian": Robert De Niro — yes, the Robert De Niro — plays an aging insult comic who is seeking another shot at fame. You looking at me?

And tonight's SpIFF schedule (both screenings are at the Magic Lantern):

"Lost in Paris" (6:30): A Canadian woman heads to the City of Lights to find her elderly aunt who has gone missing. Comic disasters ensue. In French and English (with English subtitles).

"District Zero" (6:45): A man living in a Jordanian refugee camp amid thousands of displaced Syrians goes about life fixing mobile phones. A meditation on the meaning of existence. In Arabic with English subtitles.

Note: Screenings have been selling out, so get your tickets early.

The week’s openings: SpIFF is feline great

On Friday, the mainstream theaters look to be opening only a pair of first-run releases. But the Spokane International Film Festival will be operating all week long. So … make sure to take in a movie. Or three.

Friday's mainstream openings according to the national schedule:

"The Space Between Us": A teenager born and raised on Mars falls in love with an Earth girl. Will their different physiologies, Mars versus Earth, keep them apart?

"Rings": How many times can we remake the 1998 Japanese horror film "Ringu"? You know, the one about a videotape that, once you see it, dooms you to death within seven days? It's an endless process, apparently.

As for tonight's offerings from SpIFF, which is screening films at the Magic Lantern:

6:30: "Kedi" is a documentary about feral cats in the city of Istanbul. Screening in the Lantern's larger auditorium, the film (mostly in Turkish with English subtitles) gives a good feel for Istanbul street life.

6:45: A collection of U.S. and Canadian shorts will screen in the Lantern's smaller theater.

SpIFF movies tend to sell out. So better show up early.

‘Split’ may signify a Shyamalan comeback

Tonight marks the opening of the 19th Spokane International Film Festival. But if you have the time, you might be interested in catching a screening of M. Night Shyamalan's new film "Split." Here is my review of the film, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

When the psychological/paranormal thriller “The Sixth Sense” hit theaters in 1999, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan was immediately dubbed a wunderkind.

Barely 29 at the time, the Indian-born Shyamalan – who grew up in suburban Philadelphia – watched as “The Sixth Sense” not only made boatloads of money (it grossed nearly $294 million in 1999 alone) but it went on to earn six Oscar nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture.

Though the film got shut out at the Oscars, it trademarked the signs of a born auteur, not just in visual style but style of story. Subsequent Shyamalan films “Unbreakable,” “Signs” and “The Village” all feature, in one way or another, the familiar Shyamalan plot twist. But by 2008, following the release of “Lady in the Water,” the familiar had become cliché. And with “The Happening,” released two years later, even Shyamalan’s formerly impeccable visual style had devolved.

Four films later, after a series of critical disasters – not to mention declining revenues – Shyamalan is experiencing something of a comeback. Last year’s “The Visit” again wowed some critics, and his most recent release, “Split,” is already the fourth-best January opening film of all time.

“Split” begins with a kidnapping of three young women. Having been drugged, the women wake up to strange and horrifying circumstances: The first three people they encounter – a man named Dennis, a woman named Patricia and a 9-year-old boy named Hedwig – are all the same person (played by James McAvoy).

As we come to learn, that person – whose name is Kevin – suffers from multiple personality disorder, the result of abuse he suffered as a child. Shyamalan explains all this as “Split” progresses, and we see at least one of Kevin’s personalities – a man who identifies as Barry – in therapy sessions with a psychologist (played by Betty Buckley). We also come to know one of the kidnapped women, Casey (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who herself has a troubled past.

The three plot lines – the young women trying to figure out how to escape, the therapist suspecting that her patient is hiding something and Casey reliving her own childhood nightmare – all slowly merge. And while Shyamalan plays fast and loose with the principles of psychology as he builds to a particularly fanciful ending, he keeps the plot moving well enough so that “Split” remains an entertaining view.

To manage this, he owes a debt to his cast. Buckley, a veteran actress whose film debut was in Brian De Palma’s 1976 version of “Carrie,” is a solid presence. Taylor-Joy is on a roll, having played a central part in the 2015 film “Witch” and the title role in last year’s thriller “Morgan”; Shyamalan’s camera obviously loves her.

But the ultimate success of “Split,” no surprise, depends on McAvoy, who is able to make each of Kevin’s characters feel both authentically unique and yet part of the same overall individual.

In the end, “Split” isn’t close to being the best film that Shyamalan has ever directed. But it does show that his career may be again headed in the right direction.

So many stars have walked Spokane streets

Spokane has been the location for a number of movies. And some pretty big stars have walked the city's streets while making those movies.

Take "The Basket," for example, which will screen Friday at The Bing Crosby Theater as the Opening Gala film of the 19th Spokane International Film Festival. It stars Peter Coyote and Karen Allen, the latter of whom is famous not only for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" but also for "Animal House."

Truth is, they are just two of many actors who have made movies here. As a way of honoring all of them, I offer the following short list of some of the more famous screen stars (mentioned in no particular order):

Samuel L. Jackson: The ubiquitous Jackson starred in "Home of the Brave" (2006).

Johnny Depp: Known better as Capt. Jack Sparrow, Depp starred as Benny in "Benny & Joon" (1993).

Julianne Moore: The future Oscar winner played a supporting role in "Benny & Joon."

Chuck Norris: The man who fought Bruce Lee (and lost) starred in the low-budget crime caper "The Cutter" (2005).

Aidan Quinn: Co-starred in "Benny & Joon."

Mary Stuart Masterson: Played Joon in "Benny & Joon."

Jessica Biel: Co-starred with Jackson in "Home of the Brave." Also, Christina Ricci and 50 Cent.

Mathew Modine (pictured above): He played Louden Swain in Harold Becker's 1985 adaptation of Terry Davis' novel "Vision Quest," a film that to this day reigns as the quintessential Spokane movie.

Linda Fiorentino: Co-starred in "Vision Quest." (Note: Though Madonna was featured in Becker's movie, I'm pretty sure she never visited Spokane.)

Forest Whittaker: Another future Oscar winner, Whittaker had a small role in "Vision Quest.

William H. Macy: Played supporting role in "Benny & Joon."

Josh Hartnett: Once a near-A-list actor, Hartnett starred in "Mozart and the Whale" (2005). Also, Radha Mitchell and Gary Cole.

Cuba Gooding Jr.: Still another Oscar winner (Supporting Actor), Gooding Jr. had parts in several smaller movies shot in Spokane, including "The Hit List" (2011), "Lies and Illusions" (2009) and "End Game" (2006).

Burt Reynolds: The one-time box-office leader co-starred in "The End Game," along with James Woods, Angie Harmon and Anne Archer.

Ving Rhames: The great Rhames, best known as Marsellus Wallace in "Pulp Fiction," starred with Thomas Jane in "Give 'em Hell, Malone" (2009).

Peter Dinklage: The "Game of Thrones" was a cast member in "Knights of Badassdom" (2013), which also included Steve Zahn and Summer Glau.

So … the list could go on and on. But I think this is enough to complete my task — to those who are mentioned and the many who are not.

SpIFF 19 set to premiere on Friday

It's been 19 years since the Contemporary Arts Alliance, with the help of the late film critic Bob Glatzer, presented the first version of what would become the Spokane International Film Festival.

In those days, the festival was a brief affair, the "international" label referring mostly to a few Canadian entries. But over the years, under the guidance of Glatzer and later Pete Porter and now Adam Boyd, the festival has grown. The version that begins Friday at The Bing Crosby Theater, while perhaps more modest than in some past years, proves just how viable the annual event has become.

SpIFF 2017, most of which will screen at the Magic Lantern Theater,  will feature some two dozen features and documentaries, and six different programs of short films, representing countries as diverse as Israel and Iceland, Bulgaria and Japan — with a number of U.S. and Canadian efforts as well. And, as always, area filmmakers will be well represented in the Best of the Northwest shorts showcase.

Attention to locally made films has been a festival priority in recent years, what with revival showings of "Vision Quest." This year, the festival Opening Gala at The Bing will be Rich Cowan's 1999 film "The Basket."

The local angle? Though the movie features two big-name stars in Peter Coyote and Karen Allen, it was directed by Spokane's Cowan, written by Cowan and three other city residents — Don Caron, Frank Swoboda and Tessa Swoboda — was produced by North by Northwest Entertainment and was shot in and around Spokane.

Many of the film's principals will be at the screening to participate in a post-screening Q&A.

"The Basket" will show at 7:30 p.m. and will be followed by the SpIFF Opening Party at the Montvale Event Center.

So get your tickets now, not just for the Opening Gala but for the whole festival. And I'd advise getting them early as most of the screenings will be held at the Magic Lantern, which has limited seating.

If you're a fan of film, you won't want to miss out.

Oscar nominees get second runs

So, the Oscar nominations came out this morning. And so did all the requisite stories about snubs, etc.

One of those controversies affects a movie that will enjoy a second run in this part of the Inland Northwest: "Arrival." Though the film earned a total of eight nominations, the one conspicuous miss was for Amy Adams — who was not among those who will be vying for Best Actress.

Ah, well. It's not exactly the biggest news of the day.

Anyway, other films earning second runs as of Friday are "Hell or High Water" (four nominations, including Best Picture) and "Hacksaw Ridge" (six nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for Mel Gibson and Best Actor for Andrew Garfield).

And then there's Disney's sing-along version of the animated feature "Moana."


Friday’s openings: Dogs and the undead

As expected, two of Friday's openings — the M. Night Shyamalan feature "Split" and the action flick "xXx: The Return of Xander Cage" — topped the weekend box-office list. But the surprise continues to be how well the film "Hidden Figures" holds up.

"Split" earn some $40 million, while "xXx" took in about half that amount. "Hidden Figures" grossed an estimated $16 million — bringing its five-week total to just more than $84 million. Not bad for a film about how African-American women contributed to the then-infant U.S. space program.

Meanwhile, "Silence" — the Martin Scorsese film that opened wide in Spokane last week at virtually the last moment — has grossed barely $5 million over its five-week run.

The schedule for local theaters concerning the coming week is still up in the air. But the national schedule mentions three possibilities:

"Resident Evil: The Final Chapter": Milla Jovovich makes one last stand against the Umbrella Corporation and its army of the undead. The "final" part of the title likely will hold until the franchise reboot.

"A Dog's Purpose": A dog lives several lives, enriching the experiences of the humans it partners with. Dog owners give it two paws up.

"Gold": Two men (one of them played by Matthew McConaughey) dream of hitting an Indonesian vein of gold. Or is it just a pipe dream?

That's all for the moment. I'll update when the information becomes available.

‘Hidden Figures’ reveals our hidden past

"Hidden Figures" has, to date, grossed some $66 million in the U.S. alone. That's not bad for a film that had an estimated $25 million production budget. Following is the review of that film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Most of us think we have a fairly good sense of history. After all, it is a subject that’s taught as early as kindergarten.

Traditionally, though, school lessons don’t cover the whole story. When I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, the world was going through any number of societal upheavals: the civil rights movement, the Cold War, the growing conflict in a far-away place called Vietnam.

Yet my teachers kept us busy learning about the Mayflower Compact and the American Revolution, offering sanitized lessons on Westward expansion and the Civil War, memorizing dates and the names of men who did great things – mostly men anyway, and, yes, mostly white men. What got largely ignored were the people who implemented those great men’s plans, people seldom if ever mentioned in the history books we lugged around.

Today’s historians, though, are delving into the more obscure parts of history and, as in the case of author Margot Lee Shetterly, are sharing stories that until now have been hiding more or less in plain sight.

Shetterly wrote a nonfiction book, the subject of which is summed up succinctly in its subtitle: “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.” Fond of brevity, the movie producers who optioned Shetterly’s book deleted everything but the first two words. And they gave the job of adapting the story to screenwriter Allison Schroeder and writer-director Theodore Melfi.

What resulted from the collaboration is a version of Shetterly’s story, one that was well known to those who worked for the U.S. space agency NASA during its first years – dating from the summer of 1958 on – but virtually unknown to the general public.

Keying on the lives of three specific women – played by Taraji P. Henson, Olivia Spencer and Janelle Monáe – “Hidden Figures” explains how that trio – and dozens of other African-American women – played an important role in helping to develop the Mercury 7 project, which was the U.S.’s response to Russia’s own space program. Its immediate goal? To launch an American astronaut into orbit.

Katherine Goble (later Johnson), the woman portrayed by Henson, was a math whiz employed as a so-called “computer.” Her work was especially important in the days before electronic computers took over such tasks. Spencer and Monáe also portray real-life figures, one of whom sued to win the right to study engineering at a formerly all-white school.

Typical of Hollywood, “Hidden Figures” can’t escape Big-Moment melodrama. This is especially obvious in scenes where characters played by white actors such as Kevin Costner experience a sense of awakening racial consciousness. Thankfully, those scenes are balanced with others that depict a better feel for emotional authenticity, whether portraying shameful sequences of segregation (such as Johnson’s character not being able to use a whites-only restroom) or smaller personal studies of family intimacy.

Whatever its problems, though, the story that “Hidden Figures” unveils is one that needs to be told. It wasn’t only great men who built America.

It was all of us.

Check that, ‘Silence’ is opening locally

As it turns out, Martin Scorsese's film "Silence" will open in this part of the Inland Northwest on Friday.

Normally, such films — not particularly in the mainstream, near-three-hour running time, dealing with arcane subjects such as Jesuit evangelism — don't play in all theaters. And "Silence" fits all three criteria: a two-hour, 41-minute running time, a plot dealing with Jesuit priests attempting to introduce their version of Christianity to Japan.

Scorsese's film, however, is opening at various times in most area theaters.

It's on the schedule of all three Regal Cinemas locations (NorthTown, Spokane Valley and Coeur d'Alene), at both Village Center sites (Wandermere and Airway Heights) and downtown at AMC River Park Square.

Here are some critical comments about the film:

Bruce Kirkland, Toronto Star: " 'Silence' requires a leap of faith in its own right. The film is both repetitive and thrilling; it is boring and exhilarating; it will test your patience and expand your mind. 'Silence' is loud, in an astonishingly quiet way."
Dana Stevens, Slate: "Though it contains many scenes of prolonged suffering and a few shocking moments of graphic violence, 'Silence' bears a contemplative stillness at its heart.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times: "This anguished, contemplative new movie, which [Scorsese] spent nearly three decades coaxing into celluloid reality, carries the weight of a career summation."
So now the week's schedule should be complete. Fingers crossed.

Jewish film festival kicks off Thursday

One of Spokane's best annual movie treats kicks off Thursday night at Gonzaga University's Hemmingson Center. The Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival 2017 will screen three films, beginning Thursday and continuing on Saturday and Sunday.

The films are as follows:

"Once in a Lifetime" (7 p.m. Thursday): A teacher at an inner-city French high school has trouble reaching her students until she assigns them to study the Holocaust. (In French with English subtitles)

"Transit" (7 p.m. Saturday): Filipino migrant workers in Israel struggle to live under the threat of deportation laws. (In Hebrew, Tagalog with English subtitles)

"The Kind Words" (2 p.m. Sunday): Following their mother's death, a trio of siblings discover who their parents really were. (In Hebrew, French with English subtitles.

The Hemmingson Center is located on the GU campus, 702 E. Desmet Ave. (a block and a half west of Hamilton). Tickets to the screenings are $10 and can be purchased at the door (a festival pass costs $28).

Friday’s openings: Action, horror and more

Friday's mainstream movie offerings are out, and it's a mixed bag. For starters, Martin Scorsese's "Silence" isn't among them. As for the others, they are:

"xXx: Return of Xander Cage": Vin Diesel returns as the title character, a long-thought-dead secret agent bent on capturing something called the Pandora's Box. Sequel city. 

"20th Century Women": Annette Bening stars as a woman trying to raise her 14-year-old son as he and the women around him struggle to adjust to life in 1979 California. Not everybody, it appears, went surfing now.

"Split": James McAvoy stars as a mental case with 23-going-on-24 different personalities who kidnaps young women. For what reason, we can only imagine.

"The Founder": Michael Keaton stars as McDonald's franchise founder Ray Kroc. I'll have fries with that.

"The Resurrection of Gavin Stone": A man pretends to be a Christian but then finds that his role in a Passion Play is more profound than he imagined. Talk about method acting.

That's the lot. So go. See a movie. And enjoy.

Friday at the Magic Lantern: Pure poetry

Let's begin with the Magic Lantern this week. There's a lot of variety with the mainstream openings, so I'll post them when they become finalized. Anyway, Friday's Lantern opening is as follows:

"Neruda": Chilean director Pablo Larraín ("Jackie") explores, in fantasy and fact, the attempt by the Chilean government to pursue and arrest the Communist sympathizer Pablo Neruda — one of the world's great poets. Starring Luis Gnecco and Gael García Bernal.

The Lantern also will pick up a run of "Jackie" beginning on Friday. So if you haven't yet seen it, here's your chance to experience a Larraín double feature.

Howard St. businesses need your support

What with all the snow and cold and construction going on, it's been a hard time on downtown Spokane business. And with Howard Street being closed, as indicated in the photo above, the pain is particularly acute for the businesses situated there.

So make sure to do what the posted sign advises: Though the street is closed, the sidewalk on the east side is open — as are the businesses. Support them. They include some of the city's finest establishments, such as:

Boo Radley's

Salon Nouveau

Atticus Coffee and Gifts

Steelhead Bar & Grille

Mizuna Restaurant and Wine Bar

Indaba Coffee Roasters


‘Jackie’ reminds us of a lost ‘Camelot’

I meant to post this on Friday morning. But the best laid plans … and all that. Anyway, following is the review of the film "Jackie" that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

On Valentine’s Day, 1962, some 80 million television viewers were taken on a personal tour of the White House by then-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

The event was a public relations triumph, both for the three major networks that partnered to sponsor and broadcast the tour and for the Kennedys, especially the First Lady. Popularly known as Jackie, the woman who just 21 months later would become one of the world’s most famous icons of widowed grief had just overseen a $2 million renovation of the White House.

This, then, was her opportunity both to justify that expense – which was funded largely through volunteer labor and donations – and to give the first televised look inside one of the nation’s most historic buildings. It also gave the world an up-close-and-personal look at Kennedy herself.

It is the life that Kennedy experienced behind that public façade, though, that director Pablo Larraín (pronounced La-Rah-Een) explores in his film “Jackie.” Working from a screenplay by television executive Noah Oppenheim, Larraín focuses on the period on and around Nov. 22, 1963 – the day President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

What we see is an assembage of scenes, set up in a distinctly non-chronological sequence, that captures the events of that tragic day and what occurred in the immediate aftermath. Central to everything is Jackie Kennedy herself – portrayed by Natalie Portman.

We see Kennedy, largely in snippets, caught in the horrific moments before and after her husband’s shooting. We see her attempting to handle her grief – no small miracle under the circumstances – while the ensuing national crisis swirls around her. As political power is fought over by the new president, Lyndon Johnson, and the still-reigning attorney general, Robert Kennedy – the dead president’s brother – Jackie must attend to more personal affairs. Such as breaking the news to their young children, arranging for the presidential funeral – battling the incoming administration over the details – all while attempting to both build and enhance the Kennedy legacy.

Larraín and Oppenheim show all this through a mostly invented interview with a writer identified only as “The journalist” – based on the actual journalist Theodore H. White – who writes the magazine piece that, with Jackie’s help, ended up creating the Kennedy “Camelot” image – an image that Larraín perpetuates by using Richard Burton’s performance of that song as the film’s overarching musical score.

Larraín is an artist, and his skills show throughout, both in his ability to meld so many different sequences into a narrative whole and in how effectively he uses Portman to portray one of the world’s most memorable figures. While at first it is jarring to see the diminutive Portman dressed in the same kind of pink suit the real Jackie wore in Dallas, and to hear her talk in the trademark tones that seem strange coming from a grown woman’s mouth, by film’s end Portman has gradually transformed into the film’s title character.

Meanwhile, the film itself has given us new insight into the fortitude that character displayed in the face of more pain than anyone should ever have the misfortune to bear.