7 Blog

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

Friday’s openings: Snipers, wrestlers and bears, oh my

We're already two weeks into the new year, and that means that many of the films that have opened elsewhere — those special seven-day, Oscar-hopeful screenings in New York and L.A. — are finally arriving here in the hinterlands. Two of those films, plus a number of others — as well as a couple of Golden Globe-mentioned second runs — are on Friday's movie release schedule.

Friday's openings are as follows:

American Sniper (IMAX and regular): Clint Eastwood directed this look at Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the man billed as "the most lethal sniper in U.S history." Expect a few flags to be waved.

Foxcatcher: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo star as the Olympic wrestling Schultz brothers (Tatum and Ruffalo) who become involved with the emotionally unstable billionaire heir John du Pont (Carell). Somebody doesn't make it to the third round. 

The Wedding Ringer: Having no one else to turn to, a shy kind of guy (Josh Gad) hires a professional wedding planner (Kevin Hart) to be his best man. Two words: Kevin Hart.

Blackhat: Michael Mann gives us this story of a hacker so devious that the government enlists the services of a genius  Internet criminal (Chris Hemsworth) to battle him. What, Edward Snowden wasn't available?

Paddington: Based on Michael Bond's popular children's-book character, this PG-rated movie follows a talking bear that finds refuge with a London family — and predictable mayhem ensues. Think of what might have happened had the family adopted Babar the elephant.

The second-run Golden Globe winners are Boyhood (Best Dramatic Motion Picture, Best Director Richard Linklater) and Whiplash (Best Supporting Actor J.K. Simmons), while Nightcrawler was a nominee (Best Actor in a Motion Picture Jake Gyllenhaal).

The good movies are still coming. So go see one. And enjoy.

Let’s see what you love about where you live

We’ve been having a great time reading your responses in our What You Love About Where You Live essay contest, and we want to give artists a chance to show us what they love about their neighborhood.

Paint it, draw it, photograph it, sculpt it—use any visual medium you want to share the special, unique people and places in your neighborhood. Celebrate your favorite corner café, a volunteer local park clean-up crew or any person, place, business or organization in your neighborhood that inspires you.

Best of all, this contest is ALL-AGES, so kids are encouraged to participate as well!

Read full post ›

No false notes for ‘Keep On Keepin’ On’

It's rare that I get to preview a film before it opens in Spokane. But this week that rare occurrence indeed did happen. The documentary "Keep On Keepin' On" opens today at the Magic Lantern Theater. Following is a transcription of the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

I know next to nothing about jazz. Even though my IPod boasts the work of musicians such as Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Chet Baker, I would be lost in any discussion about their respective abilities, their styles or especially what influence each has had. As with most people, I suspect, I just listen to what I like.

So I approached the music documentary “Keep On Keepin’ On” with as open a mind as I could muster. The film, which opens today at the Magic Lantern, is an exploration of the life, the career and that elusive legacy known as influence, of the jazz trumpeter Clark Terry.

A native of St. Louis, Terry rose above a dirt-poor childhood that saw him so obsessed with the trumpet that he built one of his own, connecting a length of scrap tubing to a lead mouthpiece. The sound was so ear-splitting that friends and family collected money to buy the boy a real horn. Fast-forward a few years and, after learning the basics of his instrument, he began playing professionally. By the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, Terry was working with such bandleaders as Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

And Terry wasn’t just a journeyman. Even Dizzy Gillespie called Terry “one of the greatest, if not the greatest, trumpet players ever.” But for all his musical abilities, Terry’s greatest contribution may have been as a teacher. And it is that contribution that first-time filmmaker Alan Hicks – a musician himself – concentrates on in “Keep On Keepin’ On.”

Hicks focuses on Terry – now in his 90s – as he battles with the ravages of diabetes: blindness, ongoing pain and the threat of amputation. Hicks pairs Terry’s story with another musician’s struggle: Justin Kauflin, a prodigy jazz pianist in his early 20s, blind since the age of 11. Despite this, through effort and study with a number of music teachers, Kauflin developed his skills to a point where – under Terry’s tutelage – he receives an invitation to a prestigious musical competition. Yet the life of any jazz musician is difficult, and this is the richness that Hicks provides us: a legendary trumpet player facing the end of his life, and a talented young pianist at the cusp of what he hopes will be a career – both approaching whatever comes next with the same mix of stage fright and enduring feel for what Terry himself calls a “plateau of positivity.”

Produced in part by Quincy Jones, who credits Terry for helping him jump-start his own career, “Keep On Keepin’ On” is a tribute documentary. You’ll find nothing critical here, nothing controversial – save maybe for a brief appearance by Bill Cosby, who along with other Terry fans such as Herbie Hancock and Arturo Sandoval, attests to Terry’s talents.

Yet the film’s sentiment never feels forced. As I say, I know next to nothing about jazz. But I know enough to say that, like the music that both Clark Terry and Justin Kauflin create, “Keep On Keepin’ On” stays unerringly on key. 

Look for the BAFTAs nominees on Friday

Above: Alfonso Cuaron, Best Director of "Gravity" as determined both by the 2014 Oscar and BAFTA awards.

I've already pointed to the Producer's Guild of America as a good source for predicting not only who but what will receive an Oscar nomination. Friday, however, will give us another indicator: the nominees for the 2014 awards presented by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).

According to the website Gold Derby, though, the BAFTAs might not be the best indicator. Last year, for example, "12 Years a Slave" did double as both Oscar's and BAFTA's Best Picture. But the British went for UK actor Chiwetel Ejiofor over Oscar Best Actor Matthew McConaughey. And while Mexican-born Lupita Nyongo of "12 Years a Slave" won Oscar's Best Supporting Actress, she wasn't even nominated by BAFTA.

"Gravity" seemed to hit with both organizations, doubling in the categories of Director, Cinematography, Sound (twice) and Visual Effects. But in most cases, the BAFTAs are likely to go with their own (or with a foreign choice) over an American nominee — as they did with Best Supporting Actor Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips") over Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club").

Keep that bit of British bias in mind, though, and you just might get the help you need filling out your own Oscar ballot. Again, the Oscar nominees come out on Jan. 15.

‘The Homesman’ is moving to the Magic Lantern

If you haven't yet seen "The Homesman" — Tommy Lee Jones' adaptation of the Glendon Swarthout novel — you'll have another full week at least to catch it. The Western may be leaving AMC River Park Square, but the Magic Lantern is picking it up.

"The Homesman," which Jones co-wrote, directed and stars in (along with Hilary Swank and Meryl Streep), received an 81 percent rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes (just 54 percent for general audiences). Here's what Moira MacDonald wrote in the Seattle Times: "Swank and Streep are big stars with famous faces, and yet disappear into their roles; these characters convey both quiet strength and gentle kindness."

Historical aside: Novelist Swarthout also wrote novels that became the movies "Where the Boys Are," "They Came to Cordura," "Bless the Beasts and Children" and "The Shootist."

That last one is a Don Siegel film that stars John Wayne in his final role.

‘Birdman,’ ‘Boyhood’ among PGA nominations

One of the best indicators of potential Oscar nominations comes less from other awards shows — the Golden Globes, for example — than from actual industry honors. When looking for Best Picture nominations, one good bet is to check out the Producer's Guild preferences. And since the guild made its own nominations public yesterday, we can get an early start on those Oscar ballots.

The full list can be found here. But it's worthy to note that "Birdman," "Boyhood" and "Foxcatcher" — as well as Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" — made the grade. And if nothing else, lists such as this make good viewing suggestions to anyone who didn't catch the films first time around during their theatrical runs.

It's never too late to see a good movie. The Oscar nominations will be announced on Jan. 15.   

Friday’s openings: From SoCal to Selma

Since he broke into the public consciousness with his second full feature, 1997's "Boogie Nights," director Paul Thomas Anderson has been a cinephile favorite. Whether examining biblical plagues visiting the contemporary world ("Magnolia") or exploring the excesses of personal mania as couched in American history "There Will Be Blood"), Anderson exhibits a command of film narrative that is rare for any age.

Which is why those of us who call ourselves Anderson fans are excited at the prospect of "Inherent Vice" opening Friday. Based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon, "Inherent Vice" is a private-eye film set in the Southern California of the pot-sodden 1970s. Can't wait.

Excepting last-second schedule changes, Friday's opening are as follows:

"Inherent Vice": Joaquin Phoenix plays a perpetually stoned PI who is gets mixed up in a complicated case that involves kidnapping, extortion and murder. Imagine Philip Marlowe on the pipe.

"Taken 3": Liam Neeson returns as the former government operative so skilled he can outwit both the FBI and, seemingly, the whole Russian mob. Just remember: He will find you.

"Selma": Based on the real-life freedom march that was planned, and led, by Martin Luther King. Unlike other historical studies, this one is scoring a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Director Ava DuVernay obviously had a dream …

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Keep On Keeping' On": This documentary tells the story of legendary jazz trumpeter Clark Terry, coming to the end of his life, just as one of his students — blind pianist Justin Kauflin — is beginning his own career. Talk about the blind leading the blind.

So, as always, go to a movie. And enjoy.

New monthly giveaways with Spokane7

We’re kicking off 2015 with a new monthly giveaway! Big Night Out will highlight great entertainment and dining in our area. Monthly prizes include tickets to concerts, movies, sporting events and more, coupled with gift cards to regional restaurants.

At the end of the year, all entries for monthly giveaways will go into a drawing for a GRAND PRIZE. Remember to enter each month and increase your chances to win!

January’s giveaway is for a $25 Regal Cinemas gift card and a $50 Red Robin gift card.

This month’s contest closes Jan. 31. Visit spokane7.com/contests for rules and entry information.

Share your love for your neighborhood

What makes your neighborhood special?

Throughout January, we're collecting short essays celebrating the remarkable neighborhoods in the greater Spokane and Coeur d'Alene area. Your ideas will help us share what’s special about our communities in an upcoming publication. Plus, all entries will be entered in a random drawing for a $25 Fandango gift card!

Read full post ›

‘The Interview’ opening in Hayden

Heads up, Seth Rogan and James Franco fans. Your chance to see the much-talked about film “The Interview” on the big screen has arrived. You’ll need to go to Hayden to see it, however.

Hayden Discount Cinemas, 300 W. Centa Ave. (off Highway 95 at the Prairie Avenue Shopping Center) will be screening the film beginning Friday. Admission? A cool $3.

The film, about a television interviewer tasked by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, is at the center of a massive computer hack of Sony Pictures. The film originally was set to open on Christmas Day, but after the hackers threatened violence against moviegoers, the big theater chains backed away from screening the film. A few independent houses showed the movie, and Sony released it for home viewing through various on-demand services.

For more information, visit Hayden Discount Cinemas’ Facebook page.

Friday’s openings: a woman in black, a continent in white

No matter what time of year you can name, one genre of movie plays equally well — in cold, in heat, in rain, in … sleet? That genre is horror. Only one mainstream film is opening on Friday, and it — predictably — is an exercise in horror. Friday's openings are as follows:

"The Woman in Black: Angel of Death": Last time we saw that title character, she was haunting Daniel Radcliffe in the 2012 remake (of the 1989 original). Now it's World War II and a group of children have awakened her and … oh, please, not children.

And at the Magic Lantern?

"Antarctica: A Year on Ice": The title explains pretty much what to expect from this nature documentary. Expect to see images of what it means to spend a year on the bottom of the world. Here's a hint: It's dark. And cold.

By the way, news from AMC is that the film "American Sniper" is supposed to open on Jan. 16.

Anyway, go see a movie. And enjoy.

See a Coen Brothers double feature Jan. 11

Those of us who remember what Spokane film-going was like in the 1980s know what it means to wait, and sometimes never see, anything other than the latest big-budget Hollywood offering. Then, even following the grand openings of such now-closed theaters as the Newport Highway and Lyons Ave. Cinemas, nothing that was remotely alternative — much less foreign — ever opened locally.

Unless such a film played at the Magic Lantern, in between its occasional closing. Even then, it typically opened months after having been screened elsewhere.

Which is why I used to spend a lot of time driving to Seattle. That didn't always work, though, because often I couldn't score tickets before they sold out. I still remember being disappointed at the line for "Raising Arizona" when it opened in April 1987. It stretched down an entire city block. Months later, I finally saw it when it played Spokane (I forget where) to, I have to add, far sparser crowds.

But the wait was worth it. To this day, "Raising Arizona" remains one of my favorite Coen Brothers films. Which is why I'm happy that, in conjunction with Spokane Public Radio, I and my "Movies 101" partners Mary Pat Treuthart and Nathan Weinbender will be hosting a doubled screening — and live "Movies 101" taping — of not one but two Coen Brothers films: "Raising Arizona" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 11.

The program, "SPR Goes to the Movies With the Coen Brothers," will begin with a live taping of "Movies 101," followed by back-to-back screenings of the two films. For ticket-ordering and other information, click here.

And let's all heave a collective sigh that Spokane moviegoing '80s-style has gone the way of the mullet.  

The Bing to screen Glenn Campbell doc Jan. 17-18

One of the difficult tasks for a film festival programmer involves not just finding good movies but holding on to them. Such is the case with the documentary "Glen Campbell — I'll Be Me," which is scheduled to play the Bing Crosby Theater on Jan. 17 and 18. The Spokane International Film Festival had planned on including the film in its 2015 lineup (SpIFF is scheduled to run from Feb.5 through Feb. 14).

Instead, the film will be screened at The Bing (at 7 p.m. on Jan. 17, 3 p.m. Jan. 18), sponsored by the Riverview Retirement Community. This is a natural pairing as the film documents Campbell's battle with Alzheimer's while embarking on a 2011 concert tour. As The Bing's website explains, "The film documents this amazing journey as he and his family attempt to navigate the wildly unpredictable nature of Glen’s progressing disease using love, laughter and music as their medicine of choice."

As Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday wrote, "As difficult as it is to witness Campbell's struggles, especially when he forgets the names of his wife and children, 'I'll Be Me' is an elevating experience, inviting the audience to bear witness to Campbell's courage, humor and spiritual strength"

SpIFF may have lost out, but Spokane hasn't. You can obtain ticket information to the screening by clicking here.

Note: This post has been edited to indicate the film's second showing.

‘Wild’: Tracking the trail of simplicity

Amid the material offered up as holiday entertainment, "Wild" emerges as one worthy — if trying — view. Following is a transcription of the review of "Wild" that I recorded for Spokane Public Radio:

Most of us, I think, would agree that life is a complex process. One key to happiness, then, is to find some sense of simplicity. Jesus might have agreed with that. The Buddha certainly would have.

But that’s the irony: Searching for what’s simple ends up being hard. Because it’s hard to confront two dueling thoughts, much less emotions, at the same time. So we tend to eliminate. Things are good. Or they’re bad. Black or white. Up or down. Hot or cold.

Sometimes it works. Often it doesn’t. But even when it does work, it seldom lasts. So we’re forced to restart the process – or bear down and insist that our first reaction was correct.

OK, this is a movie review, so let me shift gears. Most mainstream movies are designed for a popular audience. To achieve that, they typically opt to tell stories in a basic format – 120 pages of script equaling two hours of screen time, three-act structure … and so on. Even if you are doing something as complex as, say, the biblical story of Moses, you pare the story down to some sort of crisis – of resolving personal destiny, say, or even just sibling rivalry – throw in some special effects and there’s your movie.

Simplicity: See what I mean?

When director Jean-Marc Vallée took the job of adapting Cheryl Strayed’s nonfiction account of her trekking the Pacific Crest Trail, he faced a number of choices. Among those was how to capture Strayed’s inner turmoil following her mother’s death without boring us by explaining who Strayed was, outlining her situation and – maybe most important – giving us a reason to care. That latter task was key: Because as Strayed makes clear in her book, whatever reasons she had for acting badly, her heroin use and random sexual encounters stretch our capacity for empathy.

It was in 1995 that Strayed, then 26 and a lost soul, decided to hike 1,100 miles of the near 2,600-hundred-mile-long PCT, which runs from California through Washington. She was woefully unprepared, but she endured and as with the best of such human-versus-nature stories she emerged as someone new.

In portraying Strayed’s story cinematically, Vallée had luck on his side: Not only did Nick Hornby (writer of “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy”) adapt the screenplay, but Reese Witherspoon doubled as both producer and star. With Witherspoon having matured even beyond her Oscar-winning performance eight years ago in “Walk the Line,” and Hornby’s proven abilities to lighten even the heaviest of emotional angst, Vallée’s job was half complete.

All he had to do then was find a way to get us inside Strayed’s head without forcing Witherspoon to narrate long sections of the book. She does some narration, but much of her character’s inner turmoil comes through encounters with others, through flashbacks and the self-questioning inner dialogue that all of us are familiar with.

Vallée’s skill at pulling everything together in just the right measure, and doing so in a way that puts a woman’s story at the forefront of a major Hollywood production, makes my final pronouncement as simple I can state it: “Wild” is one of my favorite films of 2014.

Fridays opening: An abominable snow dad

What with all the mainstream films opening on Christmas (Thursday), Friday's only premiere will be at the Magic Lantern. And true to that theater's ongoing philosophy, the offering should be thoroughly thought-provoking. Friday's opening is as follows:

"Force Majeure": Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund explores what happens to a family when, while they're vacationing in the French Alps, the threat of an avalanche causes dad to show his true colors. Reminds me of the 1950s-era television show "Make Room for Daddy" … on the rescue chopper.

So forget those post-Christmas sales specials and go to the movies.

P.S.: The Lantern continues "The Babadook," "My Old Lady," "Citizenfour" and "Awake: The Life of Yoganandya." The theater will be closed New Year's Day.

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