Just in case I didn't make it clear in my previous post, "La La Land" opens in Spokane on Sunday — in other words, on Christmas Day. As does Denzel Washington's adaptation of the August Wilson play "Fences."
As well as a film that I didn't mention before: "Lion." Starring Dev Patel, "Lion" tells the based-on-real-events story of a young boy lost on the streets of Calcutta who, eventually adopted by an Australian couple, as an adult returns to Indian in an attempt to find his birth family.
Of the three, "La La Land" is attracting the most critical acclaim. Here are some comments:
Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times: "That not every note or dance step is perfect isn't the point; it's that the actors find perfection - and magic - in the moment, in that flight."
Dana Stevens, Slate: "For all its borrowing and bricolage, La La Land never feels like a backward-looking or unoriginal work. Even when not every one of its risks pays off the way that first song does, this movie is bold, vital, funny, and alive."
A.O. Scott, New York Times: "It doesn't so much look back longingly at past masters like Vincente Minnelli, Nicholas Ray, Stanley Donen and Jacques Demy (to name a few) as tap into their mojo, insisting on their modernity and its own classicism in the same gesture."
Forget the product tie-ins that made Lucas a fortune. The very movies themselves made Hollywood realize that its audience was skewing ever younger, was hungry for better-designed special effects, was more willing to see adventure-laced science-fiction and would pay to see an ongoing movie franchise – one, in this case, bearing a specific “Star Wars” brand.
One of the characteristics of that brand was the sense of safety and comfort it imparted. “Star Wars” had its villains: The knight of the Dark Force, Darth Vader, is one of cinema’s great villains. But at heart, Lucas wasn’t all that different in temperament from Walt Disney. Gone was the hard edge of the dystopian study “THX-1138.” The first three “Star Wars” releases in specific were more like “Treasure Island in Space”: the sense of fun and adventure eclipsed the films trio’s slight threat of danger.
Now, though, we live in a different era. And today’s “Star Wars” entry – namely Gareth Edwards’ “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” – has a different feel. Yes, the film has most of the standard conceits: the basic look of the alien worlds, the quick-cut filmmaking style, the sweeping musical score. Yet the overall look is grittier, and the special effects – demonstrating the advances that have been made over the past four decades – are nearly flawless.
The big difference, though, is in theme. And, ultimately, in tone. Boasting a familiar beginning, one that apes “A New Hope,” “Rogue One” shows us the character of Jyn Erso being painfully separated from her parents. Then a cut to 15 years later, when Jyn – now played by Felicity Jones – is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to find her father, Galen Erso, who it turns out, is the chief designer of the planet-destroying Death Star. Unbeknownst to Jyn, her erstwhile partner, Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna), has been ordered to assassinate the elder Erso.
To explain more would give too much away. It’s enough to say that “Rogue One,” for all its own collection of personal tales, is essentially a prequel to “A New Hope” – with Galen’s Death Star plans being the McGuffin.
Screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy do live up to franchise standards by adding in a bit of comedy, with the droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) delivering sarcastic asides. Also, the duo of the blind warrior monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and the mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) have their own comic moments.
But Cassian shows his dark sense of situational ethics early on, and Jyn has been twisted by her childhood betrayals. Both only gradually unite in common purpose – a purpose ultimately requiring the kind of sacrifice that definitely is not Disneyesque.
The upshot: Not all “Star Wars” fans will embrace “Rogue One.” In so many ways, though, it does fit the tenor of our time.
OK, today is Wednesday — which means, oh no, that Christmas is only four days away! — and the week's movie schedule is finally settled. More or less. And it's a weird one.
Opening today: "Sing," "Passengers" and "Assassin's Creed."
Also AMC is opening a film titled "Dangal," which is a Hindi-language production based on the true story of two Indian women who were raised to wrestle and who ended up winning medals at the Commonwealth Games. Produced by Disney.
As for what's happening at the the Magic Lantern this week, the only new film is a pickup from the mainstream theaters. "Loving" will open on Friday.
"Loving": Based on a real case, a mixed-race couple from Virginia (he's white, she's black) gets married and is arrested for breaking the state's miscegenation laws. Starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga.
Here are some critical commentaries:
Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Dispatch: "A beautiful film about daring to love, without fear or compromise."
Kate Taylor, Globe and Mail: "Negga and Edgerton make these noble people three-dimensional, turning a docile, unambitious couple with neither the self-knowledge nor the words to launch a social revolution into unlikely protagonists in the civil-rights movement."
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "Intimate, moving and superbly underplayed, 'Loving' is every bit as soft-spoken and subtly implacable as its protagonists."
Like many public school teachers, Kate McLachlan hit a patch in which — these are her words — "she developed a case of temporary insanity." Her main symptom, however, was unique: She entered law school.
McLachlan gradually recovered her senses. And she didn't just trade grading papers for writing legal briefs. She also began writing fiction, the most recent example of which she will be reading on this frigid evening at Auntie's Bookstore.
"Alias Mrs. Jones," which was released Sept. 30, is set in 1902 Spokane, specifically the neighborhood of Hillyard (McLachlan lives in Eastern Washington). It involves a woman who, in her attempts to hide her true identity, takes a job as a teacher — something she knows nothing about. But even as she begins a relationship with a woman doctor, a murderer is on her trail. Who can she trust? (For a more complete preview, click on the embed below.)
McLachlan has written a number of books in various genres, including two in a time-travel series ("Rip Van Dyke" and "Rescue at Inspiration Point") and "Return of an Impetuous Pilot" (which won a Goldie Award).
McLachlan is an interesting story in herself. In this 2014 interview, she explains her period of "temporary insanity" and how it led her to become the author she is.
As usual, the reading is free and open to the public. And, one hopes, the streets will be clear. Located at the corner of Main and Washington, Auntie's is — of course — situated right next to the Davenport Grand Hotel.
Even with the advance in home technology, nothing quite beats watching a movie on the big screen. Even with the threat of interruption — phones going off, people munching on popcorn, putting their feet up on the seats or gabbing as if they're sitting in their own living rooms — the very scope of a big screen can help convey the kind of atmosphere that movies were always intended to create.
And for those of us who enjoy classic films, the blend of a treasured film from the past — even (or especially) one that is rendered in black and white — and a big screen is a hard thing to pass up.
"From Here to Eternity" was directed by Fred Zinnemann and was adapted from the novel by James Jones. It stars Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed — the last two of whom won Best Supporting Oscars. The film won eight Oscars in all, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography (black and white).
The film tells the story of a U.S. Army company on the eve of World War II, keying on the various quarrels and love affairs — especially the secret affair involving the characters played by Lancaster and Kerr.
But I hardly need explain "From Here to Eternity" to anyone vaguely familiar with it. It feature one of Hollywood's iconic images: Lancaster and Kerr on the beach.
So, we already know what the Magic Lantern is opening (a pickup from AMC River Park Square), but what will be opening at the mainstream theaters? (As if you can't hear the Trekkers panting in anticipation.)
The week's movie openings are as follows:
"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story": As the Rebellion takes shape, a group of rebels plans to steal the plans for the vaunted Death Star. Can't imagine what happens next.
"Collateral Beauty": Will Smith plays a grieving man whose friends try to help him find his way back to a regular life. Bring a hanky.
"Manchester By the Sea": Casey Affleck stars as a man who suddenly, surprisingly, becomes the guardian of his teenage nephew. Make way for the other Affleck brother.
That's all for the moment. So make sure to go see a movie. And enjoy.
It's nice to know that the Magic Lantern is back in business. If nothing else, manager Jonathan Abramson serves up some of the best espresso in Spokane. But, too, if not for the theater we likely wouldn't be able to see some films anywhere else but on our home-entertainment systems.
"The Eagle Huntress": a 13-year-old Mongolian attempts to become the first girl in 12 generations who is allowed to hunt with eagles. Following are some of the critical comments:
John Hartl, Seattle Times: "The outline of a modern feminist epic is always there in the background. What's surprising is how fresh and charming the movie manages to be."
Abby Bender, Village Voice: "The film lends itself to grand pronouncements about feminism or animal rights or some combination of the two, but at heart this is an engaging story about a girl and her eagle."
A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Viewers jaded by daily doses of digital dazzlement might not fully register the reality of the wonders they are witnessing. But that doesn't, in the end, make 'The Eagle Huntress' any less wonderful."
The Lantern might also screen the film "Loving," too. I'll note that with the other updates when they become available.
As the weather gets colder, Oscar season starts heating up, and studios begin dropping their heavy hitters into theaters at a relentless pace. This week’s major releases feature a couple titles you’ll likely be hearing more about as the next Academy Awards ceremony approaches.
At the AMC:
“The Eagle Huntress”: This G-rated nature documentary tracks a 13-year-old Mongolian girl’s intentions to become the first female eagle hunter in her family. Narrated by Daisy Ridley.
“Miss Sloane”: Jessica Chastain plays a ruthless D.C. lobbyist who finds her personal and corporate interests shifting after she aligns herself with gun control activists.
“Nocturnal Animals”: A novelist (Jake Gyllenhaal) explores his own troubled marriage in his latest book, which his ex-wife (Amy Adams) takes as a personal threat. Fashion designer Tom Ford’s second film as director, following 2009’s excellent “A Single Man.”
“Office Christmas Party”: An all-star cast of comic ringers (Jason Bateman, Kate McKinnon, T.J. Miller and, uh, Courtney B. Vance) behave badly for our amusement when a well-meaning holiday party hurtles out of control.
At the Magic Lantern:
“The Handmaiden”: A plan to defraud an heiress in 1930s Korea doesn’t go as expected in this twisty, kinky epic from South Korean director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy,” “Stoker”). Recommended for adults only.
If you're in the mood for a trip back in time, you might want to check out "Allied." If not, then … well, I try to explain why in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:
Maybe a half hour into “Allied,” Robert Zemeckis’ World War II study of spies in love, I had a thought. What if, I wondered, this movie had been made in, say, 1947?
And instead of Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard it starred Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman? And instead of Zemeckis it was directed by Michael Curtiz? Would the script, I asked myself, have required any major revisions?
Well no. Not really.
Oh, Curtiz – who worked in a Hollywood that held a stricter view of censorship – would have been forced to tone down the love scenes, especially one that features a brief side view of Cotillard’s bare breast. Same with the scene where Cotillard gives birth during an air raid.
But pretty much everything else? No changes necessary.
That tells you pretty much everything you need to know about “Allied,” the trailers for which have been playing in theaters for months. Based on an original idea from screenwriter Steven Knight – the British writer-producer whose previous work includes “Eastern Promises” and “Dirty Pretty Things” – “Allied” is a throwback project that feels every bit as old as World War II itself.
The film begins in 1942, in French Morocco. The Canadian operative Max Vatan (played by Pitt) has just parachuted into the desert and fairly quickly meets up with his partner, French resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (played by Cotillard). “Look for the hummingbird,” he is told. And so he does.
The couple’s mutual attraction is unmistakable, leading to a love scene set in a car during a desert sandstorm – which caused my brother to remark, “They share a nice big apartment, and they choose to make love in a cramped car?” Oh, but the sequence is so picturesque.
Flush from having successfully completed their mission, the two fall prey to biology and decide to continue their relationship in England. Marriage, pregnancy and the birth amid fire and bombs bursting in air ensue.
Then comes the complication: Max is told that Marianne may be a German spy. And he is given an ultimatum: Go along with a plan to trap her, or be executed as a traitor. Max is torn between duty and love, which leaves him only one option: Do what he can to prove Marianne’s innocence.
Having directed such films as “Forrest Gump,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “The Polar Express,” Zemeckis owns a well-earned reputation as a forward-thinking filmmaker. And when it comes to how “Allied” looks, he doesn’t disappoint. The effort is apparent in every frame.
Same with the performances. Pitt and Cotillard feel as if they have stepped out of the past, their emotional responses tied to an era when passion was a needed salve against the enduring threat of sudden death.
But until the final 15 minutes, nothing about “Allied” feels the slightest bit original. It’s as if the whole preceding hour and 50 minutes were merely a set-up for the finale.
Zemeckis has said in interviews that Hollywood doesn’t make this kind of movie anymore. Too true. And there’s an obvious reason why.
It's barely past Thanksgiving and Christmas is already in the air. Lights are up in neighborhoods across the city, TV ads feature all shapes and sizes of Santa Claus and every business is offering some sort of holiday discount.
So, yes, Christmas is coming. It's only natural, then, that I should share a link to a poem titled "The Carolers.
The poem was written by Ed Skoog, a poet who will be reading at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. A native of Kansas, Skoog earned a MFA from the University of Montana and is the author of both chapbooks and full-length collections (such as 2013's "Rough Day").
Skoog will be reading from his new book, "Run the Red Lights." Sounds like something that might make a good gift.
The Magic Lantern hasn't even reopened yet (that happens on Thursday) and already manager Jonathan Abramson is scheduling the kind of special events that Spokane's alternative moviehouse is known for.
For two straight Sunday nights at 7, on Jan. 1 and Jan. 8, the Lantern will screen the documentary "Seed: The Untold Story." Codirected by Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel, the film is a look at the struggle over control of the world's seed inventory, many types of which are being hybridized — and patented — by multinational corporations.
Here are a few comments about the film:
Daphne Howland, The Village Voice: " 'Seed: The Untold Story' is the rare documentary from filmmakerswho are not just capable but also in love with their craft. It's a wonder of photography, animation, and sound, and it's a testament to its editors that the many interviews with activists and scientists are compelling and informative, sometimes even poetic."
John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter: "After treating us to some lovely macro photography and time-lapse footage of seeds doing their thing in the soil, the directors introduce the well-known specter of genetically modified crops. There may be no one in the theater who doesn't already know of the troubles Monsanto has made for farmers who don't want to buy their engineered seeds, but Siegel and Betz package those stories up with a quick history of hybrid seeds and the Green Revolution."
Kimber Myers, Los Angeles Times: "Multiple people in the documentary compare seeds to jewels, both for their varied, colorful appearance as well as for their value. The film reveals the beauty present in the every day, and a variety of stunning animation styles further illustrate the wonder of nature."
Tickets for the screenings are $9 and are available at the Magic Lantern box-office.
More local movie news: After its long closure, the Magic Lantern Theatre is scheduled to reopen on Friday with a regular series of screenings. A special Thursday-night event will be held at 5:30, including a screening of a mystery short and a loop of upcoming trailers (refreshments will be served).
Beginning on Friday, the Lantern will show the following:
"A Man Called Ove": A retired Swedish guy badgers his neighbors, who keep interrupting his plans to commit suicide.
"Harry & Snowman": After buying a horse for $80, and saving him from the glue factory, Harry deLeyer and Snowman become champion show jumpers. A Ron Davis documentary.