7 Blog

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

Friday’s openings: Sequels and videogame CGI

Big week for sequels and a movie adapted from a videogame. Friday's mainstream movie openings are as follows:

"The Conjuring 2": Another adventure into the (ahem) real-life paranormal investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren, this time in London. Scary, eh what?

"Now You See Me 2": Our crew of magicians returns to attempt an even bigger heist, this time at the behest (not entirely by choice) of a tech magnate (Daniel Radcliffe). Nothin' up my sleeve …

"Warcraft": Straight from the videogame and novel world of Azeroth, this action fantasy involves the needed partnership of groups that distrust each other so that they can fend off an invasion. It's somewhat more complicated than that, but … anyway, you'll see lots of CGI-created teeth and claws and stuff.

I'll have more when the information becomes available.

SIFF 2016, day six: The long week closes

(Pictured: “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”)

Six days, 14 movies and 550 miles of traveling later, I’m finally back in Spokane after an enjoyable but exhausting week at the 42nd annual Seattle International Film Festival. I wasn’t enthusiastic about everything I saw, but nothing was an outright disaster, and even the failures possessed admirable qualities. I’ll run down two of the three films I saw yesterday (I don’t have much to say about the third, “Paul à Québec,” though it’s quite good in its own gentle, modest way), and I’ll list every movie I saw and an accompanying letter grade at the bottom of this post.

“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” – One of the better narrative features that I saw at SIFF, this spirited lark from New Zealand writer-director Taika Waititi is a sweet coming-of-age comedy by way of a breathless chase picture.

After bouncing from one foster family to another, pre-teen troublemaker Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is placed in the country home of prickly Hec (Sam Neill) and his doting wife Bella (Rima Te Wiata). Right as Ricky is starting to feel comfortable, Bella dies unexpectedly, and Ricky escapes into the nearby bush before child protective services can take him back into custody.

Hec chases Ricky into the forest, which leads a militaristic social worker (Rachel House) to think that the kid has been abducted by his foster uncle. A manhunt ensues, with Hec and Ricky narrowly evading capture from the police and a group of advantageous hunters looking to collect the reward for Hec’s arrest.

Though nowhere near as unhinged and riotous as Waititi’s previous film, the vampire mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is, like Ricky himself, a tenacious ball of energy. Waititi’s camera whip pans and smash zooms every which way, so that the movie often resembles a scrappier, shaggier Wes Anderson comedy. “Wilderpeople” has already been a huge success in its native New Zealand, and it played like gangbusters to the sold-out SIFF crowd, so I’m anticipating this one to become a sleeper hit in the States. It’s impossible to dislike.

“The Bitter Stems” – This is a real find, a moody, darkly comic Argentinian noir from 1956 that was recently rediscovered and beautifully restored by the Film Noir Foundation.

In this lost classic, a cynical newspaper reporter named Alfredo (Carol Cores), looking to break away from the industry, goes into business with Liudas (Vassili Lambrinos), a fast-talking Hungarian bartender who offers phony journalism correspondence classes to wannabe reporters. Liudas says he wants to make enough money to move his wife and kids to Argentina, but Alfredo soon becomes convinced that his newfound friend is pulling a fast one on him.

Projected in lustrous 35mm at SIFF, “The Bitter Stems” (“Los Tallos Amargos”) is one of the most visually arresting noirs I’ve ever seen, with a smoky, shadowy style that pays obvious homage to German expressionism and Gregg Toland’s deep focus photography in “Citizen Kane.” If you’ve ever read an O. Henry story, you’ll be able to anticipate most of the film’s twists, but part of the joy of watching a plot like this unfold is relishing in its cruel, twisted ironies.

If this ever ends up on DVD – or, preferably, at a repertory screening near you – it’s absolutely worth checking out.

This year’s SIFF offerings:

“Author: The JT LeRoy Story” B+
“The Bitter Stems” A-
“The Brand New Testament” A-
“Burn Burn Burn” C+
“Complete Unknown” C
“Creepy” C
“Gleason” A-
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” B+
“Kilo Two Bravo” B+
“Morris from America” B-
“Paul à Québec” B
“Tag” B
“Wiener-Dog” C
“Zoom” B-

SIFF 2016, day five: Ashes to ashes

(Pictured: “The Brand New Testament”)

Yesterday was the busiest I’ve had thus far at the Seattle International Film Festival: From 3 to 11:30 p.m., I was in and out of the theater, leaving films and then immediately hopping in line for the next one. The three movies I saw – a religious comedy, a road trip buddy film and a serial killer thriller – were wildly different from one another, but death defined all of them. Let’s start with the best of the bunch.

“The Brand New Testament” – If “Amélie” and “Dogma” were in a head-on collision with one another, you might end up with something resembling this gleefully sacrilegious but deeply human Belgian comedy.

Nominated for best foreign language film at last year’s Golden Globes, Jaco Van Dormael’s “The Brand New Testament” is set in a world where God (Benoît Poelvoorde, the killer in “Man Bites Dog”) is an alcoholic, abusive putz who only created humanity to watch it suffer. He may have been responsible for the universe, but His most treasured creations are the everyday annoyances that plague us: The line that moves fastest is the one you’re not in, for instance, and toast that always lands jam-side down. He takes credit for headaches, too.

God’s wife and two children have come to resent Him (His oldest son – you may have heard of Him – left home years ago), and His young daughter Ea (Pili Groyne) decides to make the world a more interesting place. She first notifies everyone in the world of their exact date of death, and then, with the help of a half-literate vagrant, she goes about collecting six everyday people to bring the total number of documented apostles to 18.

With its near-constant voiceover narration, its ever-growing cast of quirky supporting characters (including the legendary Catherine Deneuve as a bored housewife who falls in love with a gorilla) and a visual style that vacillates between lush and colorful to grubby and ashen, its style is perhaps too similar to the distinctive work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It’s often hilarious and always surprising, and it’s perceptive about human nature and insightful about what would actually happen if our mortalities were suddenly made concrete.

“Burn Burn Burn” – Making its U.S. debut at SIFF, “Burn Burn Burn” is one of those indie comedies about miserable millennials who take a fabled road trip and Find Themselves Along the Way. Our protagonists are jaded 20-somethings Seph (Laura Carmichael of “Downton Abbey”) and Alex (Chloe Pirrie), old friends whose personal and professional lives are in shambles. Their buddy Dan (Jack Farthing) has just died of pancreatic cancer, and he leaves behind a video requesting they scatter his ashes (conveniently stored in a Tupperware container) in four specific locations.

Like a slightly less maudlin version of “P.S. I Love You,” Seph and Alex embark on a journey through the British countryside, with Dan’s acerbic, self-effacing videos guiding them. Of course, they encounter some eccentrics along the way, including a hippy-dippy cult and a flamboyant Airbnb host, and (of course) they fight and make up and confide in one another and bond.

Some of the film’s emotional moments land, most notably a tender, out-of-nowhere subplot in which Seph and Alex help an older woman escape her abusive husband. Others are aggressively on-the-nose: One involves Alex, who’s coerced into helping a local theater rehearse its Passion play, confessing a deep, dark secret to Seph while literally strapped to a cross.

“Burn Burn Burn,” which gets its title from a passage in Kerouac’s “On the Road,” is the first film from director Chanya Button. She clearly has a way with actors – Carmichael and Pirrie are quite good in familiar roles, and Farthing is effective as a voice of reason from beyond the grave – but the script offers nothing new, covering the same dramatic ground as every soul-searching road trip movie you’ve ever seen.

“Creepy” – In this grisly, slow-moving Japanese mystery from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Cure,” “Pulse”), a former cop working as a professor of criminal psychology is lured back to a cold case he once investigated. A family went missing six years prior; though their young daughter was left behind, no trace of them has ever been found. The cop and his wife, meanwhile, have moved into a new neighborhood, and he becomes convinced that the strange, timid man in the house next door isn’t who he says he is.

“Creepy” is built upon a decent setup, which recalls Hitchcock’s “Psycho” with its Bernard Herrmann-esque musical score and a plot point involving a bedridden woman who is spoken of but never seen. What isn’t as strong is the story, which requires too many ridiculous coincidences and characters behaving foolishly to keep it in motion. Kurosawa is a master of atmosphere and tone, but this plot has too many holes in it.

Tomorrow: My last day at SIFF includes a long-forgotten Argentinian noir and a coming-of-age comedy from New Zealand.

SIFF 2016, day four: Heartwarmers and head scratchers

(Pictured: Markees Christmas in “Morris from America”)

One of the many benefits of a film festival as far-reaching and versatile as SIFF is that the conventional gets to coexist with the wildly experimental. On any given day, you might see a film that would be right at home on a mall multiplex screen followed by something indescribably weird. Consider the two movies I saw on my fourth day at SIFF, one of which feels tailor made for fawning festival crowds and another that’s…well, it’s something else entirely.

Thursday’s crowd pleaser was “Morris from America,” writer-director Chad Hartigan’s cute but slight coming-of-age/fish-out-of-water comedy. Markees Christmas plays a black 13-year-old from New York, who’s uprooted to Germany with his single father (Craig Robinson), a soccer coach. Morris, who’s socially withdrawn and obsessed with rap, is especially conspicuous in his lily-white Heidelberg high school, where the kids are more enamored with thumping EDM music than hip-hop.

Hartigan isn’t particularly concerned with the jarring racial divides between Morris and his classmates, whose impressions of African-American culture are rooted in painful stereotypes. Instead, he focuses on the ways Morris relates to other people – his slightly older, more defiant classmate (Lina Keller), his doting German teacher (Carla Juri from “Wetlands”) and his father, whose sense of alienation in a foreign country is further exacerbated by Morris’ teenage rebellion.

“Morris from America” is perfectly pleasant, and Robinson and newcomer Christmas develop some genuinely terrific chemistry in their scenes together. But it’s so loose and amiable that it never develops much emotional weight, and it likely won’t stick in your mind long after it’s over. The movie won acclaim at Sundance, and it’s the kind of low-key charmer that could possibly find its way to loving mainstream audiences.

The same cannot be said of “Tag,” one of the newest mind benders from prolific Japanese auteur Sion Sono (I say “one of” because he directed a whopping six films last year). I’d honestly like to know what goes on inside Sono’s brain: His films are nearly impossible to describe, so lurid and bloody and cartoonish that they often resemble manga comics made flesh. Sono’s magnum opus is “Love Exposure,” a four-hour epic of teenage perversity, martial arts and religious cults that’s one of the strangest, funniest, most crazily ambitious movies I’ve ever seen.

“Tag” isn’t in the same league as “Love Exposure” (it’s also a third of its length), but its refusal to be pinned down by the basic restrictions of genre, plot or even logic makes it perversely winning. It’s a shockingly violent live action cartoon set in a world in which seemingly no men exist, and it opens as two busloads of schoolgirls are brutally vivisected in a bizarre accident. Only one girl survives, and as she escapes the supernatural force that offed her classmates, she continues stumbling into what appear to be alternate realities.

Where does it go from there? There’s a murderous gust of wind that slices people clean in half, a carnivorous lake monster, a back flipping man-pig wearing a tuxedo, a woman whose body is filled with crisscrossing wires, an all girls school that becomes a war zone and a wedding that develops into a bloodbath.

But Sono hasn’t merely assembled a grotesque catalogue of surreal, disconnected images and scenarios. When he finally explains what’s going on, “Tag” takes a hard left turn and becomes a heady allegory about the inevitability of fate and the dangers of objectifying women. (That last reveal inspires some moral whiplash, since so much of “Tag” resembles the objectification it goes on to excoriate.)

It goes without saying that Sono’s work isn’t going to appeal to everyone, especially American audiences (his temperament and sense of humor are intensely Japanese). But if you’re able to get on its own loony wavelength, “Tag” is a weird, singular whirlwind of a movie.

Tomorrow: More unexplained goings-on from Japan, France and the UK.

SIFF 2016, day three: Stranger than fiction

(Pictured: An animated Gael García Bernal in “Zoom”)

My dispatches from the 42nd annual Seattle International Film Festival continue below, with a couple of absorbing documentaries and a dirty-minded whatsit from Brazil.

“Author: The JT LeRoy Story” – The particulars of JT LeRoy’s ascendancy in the ranks of the literary world are so convoluted and so insane that it’s almost impossible to believe it really happened. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, a San Francisco writer named Laura Albert began publishing sordid tales of truck stop hookers and drug addicts under the sobriquet Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy, who was described as being a young man whose life had thus been defined by vagrancy, prostitution and physical abuse.

LeRoy’s vivid style and enigmatic persona caught the attention of the literati, so Albert hired her 20-something sister-in-law to don a short blonde wig and large sunglasses and to pose as LeRoy during public appearances. “JT” became something of a cult hero and fashion icon, rubbing elbows with film directors, rock stars and tastemakers. Everyone was fooled.

Jeff Feurerzeig’s documentary “Author: The JT LeRoy Story” is an engrossing record of the most elaborate literary ruse since Clifford Irving’s fake Howard Hughes memoir, and it only gets crazier as it rolls along. Albert herself, who posed for years as LeRoy’s British assistant, is on-screen for much of the film, explaining why and how she did what she did, and why her JT LeRoy guise shouldn’t be considered a hoax.

“Author” certainly makes us consider Albert’s pathology – think about how much energy it must have required to keep up such a complicated ploy – but it’s really about the elusive nature of fiction and how the art scene values personality and a colorful backstory above all else. Walking out of the theater, I had completely different questions than the ones I had walking in, but I don’t think any two-hour film could conceivably cover all of the strange wrinkles of this story. It’s fascinating.

“Gleason” – I’ll be writing more about “Gleason” in the coming months – I’m told it will likely play Spokane in the late summer – so I won’t spend much time on it here, except to say it’s one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had in a theater in some time. Directed by J. Clay Tweel (“Finders Keepers”), the documentary is a look at Spokane native and former NFL linebacker Steve Gleason as he and his wife Michel grapple with his intensifying ALS symptoms. It’s harrowing and life affirming in equal measure, and one of the most candid, unflinching portraits of illness I’ve ever seen. If you do have a chance to make it to SIFF, “Gleason” plays on Saturday and Sunday at the Egyptian.

“Zoom” – A crazed, ambitious, cheekily perverse nesting doll of a comedy, in which three individual plots with distinct visual styles begin to merge and eventually swallow one another whole. The film’s elliptical structure allows for each of the film’s trio of main characters – an aspiring comic book artist (Allison Pill), a womanizing film director (Gael García Bernal, rendered in rotoscoped animation) and a Brazilian fashion model (Mariana Ximenes) – to alter and influence one another’s storylines in increasingly unexpected ways.

Director Pedro Morelli and writer Matt Hansen have never made a feature before, and “Zoom” sometimes plays like they crammed every idea they’d ever had onto the screen: Subplots involve smuggled cocaine, a life-size latex sex doll, meddling Hollywood producers, an infomercial personality, plastic surgery, a lesbian bar owner and an unfortunate emasculation. The film ends up being far too pleased with its own lunatic construction – I get the sense that this was specifically tailored to find a cult audience – but it’s certainly never boring.

Tomorrow: A wannabe rapper, and the latest from Japan’s weirdest director.

Mystery invades Auntie’s tonight

Suspense and mystery will be on tap at Auntie's Bookstore tonight when three regional writers share their literary efforts.

Seattle writer Ingrid Thoft ("Identity") will read from her novel "Brutality," former Spokane Police Captain Frank Zafiro ("Under a Raging Moon") will read from his novel "The Short List" and Spokane-based writer/publisher Steve Oliver ("Moody Gets the Blues") will read from the latest issue of The Dark City Mystery Magazine.

Here's a preview, courtesy of Oliver:

"In The Dark City committing a crime doesn't mean you'll go to jail. Justice often listens to the clever rather than the innocent. Don't make too much of this, it's just life. We've all lost the girl, lost the guy, had our wallets stolen. And you don't want to assume that people, even those who love you will know that you are good and true. They just may decide to think the worst. Spring begins with stories featuring a guy who is in need of a good defense, a woman who suspects her husband of double-dealing, a drug dealer who is dishonest, an innocent who is abused, and a parrot held for ransom. Thanks for visiting The Dark City."

The reading starts at 7. It's free and open to the public, and the authors will be available to sign purchased copies of their books.

SIFF 2016, day two: Identity crisis

Attending a film festival in a city as big as Seattle requires some juggling. It’s not enough to simply show up and watch movies: You have to figure out which films are playing at the theaters nearest you, and then you have to calculate how much time it takes to get from theater A to theater B.

I’m staying for a week on Capitol Hill with some gracious friends (thanks again, Curtis and Stefan!) who live a stone’s throw away from the Egyptian Theater. That might sound convenient, but the Egyptian doesn’t start showing films until the afternoon on weekdays. Most of the festival takes place downtown, and the next closest theater is a 15-minute walk away from where I’m crashing. And since most screenings require you to arrive at least a half hour early, you soon discover that you spend a lot of time simply standing around and waiting.

My schedule thus far hasn’t allowed for me to see quite as many movies as I’d ideally like (other work has conflicted with several of the press screenings), but that will change beginning today. But I still managed to check out two films on Tuesday, one a disappointment and the other a revelation.

“Complete Unknown” – I have a self-imposed rule that I like to call (for lack of a better name) the Michael Shannon Rule, which states that any film is immediately improved when graced with the presence of Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon.

That’s not to say that all films featuring Shannon are inherently good. Consider “Complete Unknown,” a shallow, too-solemn exploration of regret and heartbreak that requires Shannon to dial down his innate magnetism. He plays Tom, an agricultural analyst whose birthday party is interrupted by the appearance of a mysterious woman named Alice (Rachel Weisz).

Over the course of a particularly tumultuous evening, we learn that Tom and Alice (not her real name) have a history: He turned down her romantic gestures 15 years ago, and she’s been running from herself ever since, traveling the world and creating elaborate new personae everywhere she goes. She’s moonlighted as a surgeon, a teacher, a biologist and a Chinese magician’s assistant, which sounds less like the premise for a meditative personal drama than excised subplots from “Catch Me If You Can.”

Tom and Alice eventually break away from the party to walk and talk and opine on love and the nature of identity, but both characters feel more like dramatic symbols than real people. Director Joshua Marston (“Maria Full of Grace”) often shoots his actors in claustrophobic, handheld close-ups that render most of the frame deliberately ill-defined and bleary, a visual strategy that tidily sums up a film in which neither of its central characters come entirely into focus.

“Kilo Two Bravo” – While the dramatic stakes of “Complete Unknown” feel relatively low, they couldn’t be higher in director Paul Katis’ graphic war thriller “Kilo Two Bravo.” Based on a true story, the film centers on a group of British paratroopers stationed on a bluff overlooking Afghanistan’s Kajaki Dam in 2006.

During a routine operation in a dried-up riverbed, one of the soldiers steps on a landmine that blows off his leg. As the other men in the battalion run to his rescue, it’s discovered that the ground around him is riddled with buried explosives that subsequently take down several more soldiers. The rest of the film keeps us stranded in that riverbed with the wounded men, as the company’s medic tries to treat the injured men and as the other soldiers look on helplessly on the hills above.

“Kilo Two Bravo” doesn’t operate with the artificial urgency of an action film, moving instead with the rhythms and randomness of real life. Katis, screenwriter Tom Williams and the talented cast of mostly unknown actors have created a believable group of young men, and the hierarchies established within the camp feel authentic. And while the film is often unbearably bleak, the men use gallows humor as a way of coping with their predicament, ribbing one another even as they lay bleeding in the sand.

That this is Katis’ debut feature is a surprise. It’s remarkably assured filmmaking, an absorbing exercise in sustained tension. Every time somebody takes a step, you almost feel your body tensing up, anxious for another explosion to shatter the film’s otherwise unsettling silence. “Kilo Two Bravo” is unapologetically violent, and nearly every other word is an expletive, but when it reaches its emotional conclusion, the poignancy is more than earned.

(The film, originally titled “Kajaki,” is currently streaming on Netflix and is available for digital rental on Amazon and YouTube.)

Tomorrow: Two documentaries and a half-animated head trip.

Give thanks for the Magic Lantern

For so many reasons, it's good that Spokane still has the Magic Lantern to depend on. Yeah, the theater is a throwback, especially in these times of plush, reclining seats, big sound systems, etc. But that kind of contemporary comfort matters far less when you're watching a thoughtful exploration into some realm of cinema than when you're just gawking at exploding cars.

So it's nice to know that films such as "The Man Who Knew Infinity" and "The Meddler," whether they appeal to you or not, will get a second chance to attract an audience when the Lantern picks them up for a second run — as it will be doing beginning Friday.

There's no word yet from the Lantern whether it also will pick up the Luca Guadagnino film "A Bigger Splash," though I hope it does. But to be fair, people who want to see it in those much-publicized plush seats have two more chances. The film, which stars Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes, will play today and Thursday at AMC River Park Square before moving on.

I've always been grateful that some of the Spokane area's mainstream theaters choose, on occasion, to screen something other than the latest superhero blockbuster wannabe. One week, though, is hardly long enough for any film to play, even in Spokane. Which is why I'm thankful for the Lantern — and, more and more, for Netflix.

Friday’s openings redux: Two at the Lantern

And opening Friday at the Magic Lantern, a pair of second-run features:

"The Man Who Knew Infinity": Based on the biography by Robert Kanigel, this biopic tells the story of Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, who grew up poor but earned admittance to Cambridge University and then did groundbreaking work during the early 20th century. Bring a calculator.

"The Meddler": Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne star as a widowed mother and her independent daughter who struggle to forge a mature relationship. In other words, like most every mother-daughter relationship since the dawn of time.

That's it so far. I'll update as needed.

SIFF 2016: Life’s a bitch

The 42nd annual Seattle International Film Festival has been in progress for nearly two weeks, but I’ve just arrived right in the thick of it. People take their movies seriously here: Most screenings sell out, with lines snaking around the theaters and down the next block.

They’re also passionate – and often vocal – about their opinions on those movies. Consider last night’s screening of writer-director Todd Solondz’s new film “Wiener-Dog,” which inspired a gentleman at the front of a packed Egyptian Theater to bellow, “This movie sucks!” That outburst inspired scattered applause, and a woman sitting near me shouted back, “I agree!”

I’d expect no other response. Solondz is a polarizing, unforgiving filmmaker: His movies, which include “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and “Happiness,” are basically comedies, but they’re deadpan in the face of discomfort, humiliation and deplorable human behavior. Because they go to creepy, unpleasant places, and because his characters tend to be either reprehensible or pathetic, he’s often condemned as a sadist. That may be true – he obviously finds pleasure in making us squirm in our seats – but it’s also clear that he has certain affection for some of the losers and weirdoes he creates.

“Wiener-Dog” is structured as a quartet of increasingly depressing episodes involving a wayward dachshund (named, at various points, Doody, Cancer and Wiener-Dog) as it is shuffled from household to household. (I’m reminded of Robert Bresson’s great religious parable “Au Hasard Balthazar,” in which a donkey is passed from one horrible owner to another.)

The film opens as a pretentious married couple (Tracy Letts and Julie Delpy) adopts the dog for their young, sickly son. After the dog ingests a chocolate granola bar and nearly dies, it’s saved from euthanasia by a dowdy veterinarian’s assistant (Greta Gerwig, embodying “Welcome to Dollhouse” heroine Dawn Wiener), who embarks on a bizarre cross-country odyssey with an old high school classmate (Kieran Culkin).

The dog becomes more of a supporting player in the film’s two closing chapters, which involve (respectively) a frustrated screenwriting professor (Danny DeVito) and an ailing woman (Ellen Burstyn) who’s visited by her moneygrubbing granddaughter (Zosia Mamet).

Each of these four segments contains a few glimmering moments of humor and empathy, but none of them ever quite take off as standalone entities: Right when they’re about to hit their stride, Solondz moves on to the next scene. And despite its bizarre construction, “Wiener-Dog” doesn’t possess the structural audacity of Solondz’s “Palindromes,” which cast eight different actors as one character, or “Storytelling,” similarly episodic but far more daring.

Considering the subject matter of Solondz’s earlier films – pedophilia, obscene phone callers, abortion, racism, the Holocaust, children with disabilities, murder and suicide – “Wiener-Dog” is a walk in the park for much of its running time. That’s not to say Solondz strays from potentially upsetting material: Some of the issues he considers here, mostly in passing, include juvenile cancer, alcoholism, heroin addiction, immigration, Down’s syndrome and the crushing banality of death.

But in the end, things turn truly ugly, and the audience turned with it. I wondered with sympathy how many members of the SIFF crowd were unfamiliar with Solondz’s work, lured in by the presence of a cute dog and blindsided by its glum consideration of human nature.

For those who are familiar with Solondz, his glowering pessimism is starting to feel a bit one-note. In his ever-expanding library of grotesques, that sweet, doting canine, which becomes the casualty of the narcissism and shortsightedness of its owners, is one of the writer-director’s more pitiable creations. In that respect, “Wiener-Dog” may be the most sneakily nihilistic film Solondz has ever made: If such a pure, sweet creature can’t find solace in this world, then what hope do the rest of us have?

Friday’s openings: Turtles, romance and mockery

What with the Memorial Day holiday slowing things down a bit, it may take a while to get a final listing of the week's releases. So far, though, Friday's mainstream openings are as follows:

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows": The fraternal reptile quartet returns to battle new threats to New York City, including a pair of other mutants, a warthog and a rhinoceros. Somebody get these guys a pizza.

"Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping": Former SNL star Andy Samberg stars in this mockumentary (that he co-wrote) about a Justin Bieber-type pop/hip-hop star. Heavy, yo.

"Me Before You": A young woman, hired to aid a quadriplegic man, does the typical — she falls in love. Bring hankies.

As always, I'll update as the week progresses.

SIFF 2016: The world in a weekend

The second full weekend of the 2016 version of the Seattle International Film Festival commences this afternoon. And to think: The whole event, comprising a plethora of world cinema, is just four and a half hours away.

Some of the weekend's SIFF highlights include:


"Therapy for a Vampire": An Austrian film about a vampire seeking psychological help from none other that Sigmund Freud.

"The Island Funeral": A Thai study of three young people who head into the country's dangerous interior only to discover a mysterious new society.


"Oddball": An Australian heart-warmer about a farmer and his dog who stand between a penguin sanctuary and some hungry foxes.

"First Girl I Loved": A U.S. teen drama about a girl who falls in love with the most popular girl in her high school, which causes her more than the usual expected problems.

"Kingdom of Clay Subjects": A coming-of-age story about a 10-year-old Bangladesh boy who struggles to figure out how caste and gender work in his village.


"Seasons": The creators of "Winged Migration" tell the history of Europe told through the animals that populate the continent.

And then you'll have plenty of time to drive home Sunday afternoon.

Authors Rowland and Ray to read at Auntie’s

Tales of Montana are likely to be on tap tonight at Auntie's Bookstore when authors Russell Rowland and Shann Ray read from their various works at 7.

Rowland, who lives in Billings, will read from "Fifty-Six Counties: A Montana Journey." A Montana native, Rowland spent two years traveling around his home state attempting to assess what he describes as "our state’s essential character, where we came from and, most of all, what we might be in the process of becoming."

Ray, who teaches at Gonzaga University, is the author of the novel "American Copper," the story collection "American Masculine," the poetry collection "Balefire" and two books of nonfiction. "American Copper" was described in Esquire magazine as a “brutal beautiful vision of Montana.”

As with most Auntie's events, the reading is free and open to the public. And the authors will be available afterward to sign copies.  

And one more for Friday: ‘A Bigger Splash’

And now comes late word that the film "A Bigger Splash" will also open on Friday. The film, which was directed by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, is based on the 1969 French film "La Piscine." The story revolves around a rock star (Tilda Swinton) and her younger lover (Matthias Schoenaerts), whose life gets complicated when one of the rocker's former lovers (Ralph Fiennes) comes to visit with his Lolita-like daughter (Dakota Johnson) in tow.

As an aside: The film was shot in the Italian island of Pantelleria, a place where my wife and a spent a week recently. We spotted most of the shooting sites, which were fairly easy to find since you can drive the entire circumference in around two hours. But the stars and crew were long gone. As were the tourists. Maybe I'll write more about all that Pantelleria has to offer at a later time.

Friday’ openings redux: A bit of Austen lite

And an addition has been included in the mainstream movie lineup for Friday. The added opening is as follows:

"Love & Friendship": Whit Stillman ("The Last Days of Disco") gives us his comic take on a Jane Austen-type tale of manners. Kate Beckinsale stars as a scheming woman who invades a household intent on matchmaking, both for her daughter and herself. No doubt they drink tea, too.

Of course, if you're ambitious, you might drive to Seattle to try and catch a 7 p.m. screening of "Chimes at Midnight," the restored copy of Orson Welles' 1960 film that is a compilation of several Shakespeare plays. Welles' intent was to build a play around the character of Falstaff, who was the young King Henry V's drinking buddy. For more information, click here

But whatever you do, go see a movie. And enjoy.