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

Catch author DiCamillo on Saturday

The intersection of books and film is a common process anymore. But few authors have negotiated that process more efficiently than Kate DiCamillo.

DiCamillo's 2000 children's novel "Because of Winn-Dixie" became a 2005 movie starring AnnaSophia Robb. Her 2003 fantasy book "The Tale of Desperaux" was made into a 2008 animated film featuring the voice of narrator Sigourney Weaver.

Other of her books, notably 2006's "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane" and 2009's "The Magician's Elephant," have been opted for movie production.

I mention the movie adaptations of DiCamillo's books because that's how many people are aware of them, since most of the above are aimed at children (and the parents who will read to them aloud). But movie success is aside from the many awards that DiCamillo's books have garnered, including two Newbery Medals, an honor that is awarded by the American Library Association.

Inland Northwest residents will have the opportunity to see (and meet) DiCamillo — who lives in Minneapolis — will be featured in an event 7 p.m. Saturday at the downtown branch of Spokane Public Library. Tickets have been on sale since Jan. 22, so they may be limited. And they require purchase of the children's book the author is presenting — "La, La, La," illustrated by Jaime Kim (each book comes with two tickets; no tickets will be sold separately).

The event is being held in conjunction with our favorite area bookstore, Auntie's Books.

Prepare for Sunday’s Oscars broadcast

Yes, I know that AMC River Park Square is holding special screenings of an all-day, 11-and-a-half-hour Best Picture Showcase, highlighting the Best Picture Oscar nominees in advance of Sunday's Academy Awards broadcast.

But the movies — or most of them — have been screening for some time at the Magic Lantern. And they continue.

Again on Friday, the Lantern will screen the following films:

 "Lady Bird": Five nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Greta Gerwig), Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan) and Best Supporting Actress (Laurie Metcalf).

"Call Me by Your Name": Four nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Timothée Chalamet) and Best Adapted Screenplay (James Ivory).

"The Shape of Water": Thirteen nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Guillermo del Toro), Best Actress (Sally Hawkins), Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins), Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Best Original Screenplay (del Toro, Vanessa Taylor), etc.

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri": Seven nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Frances McDormand), Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell), Best Original Screenplay (Martin McDonagh), etc.

"I, Tonya": Three nominations, including Best Actress (Margot Robbie), Best Supporting Actress (Allison Janney), etc.

Plus, the theater is screening both Oscar Shorts programs, Animation and Live Action.

Imagine, you can both enjoy these nominees at your leisure and support Spokane's lone arthouse movie theater.

Friday’s openings redux: the things we leave behind

And here's the first update to Friday's list of opening movies:

"Nostalgia": A group of characters, all enduring loss of one sort or another, experience the meaning of life through the objects that humans tend to collect. The cast includes Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Nick Offerman, Amber Tamblyn and James Le Gros.

The film is receiving distinctly mixed reviews, a few of which are:

Dennis Harvey, Variety: "There’s no disputing the sincerity of intent, yet there’s also only so much emotion that can communicate itself effectively to an audience when one note is hit over and over again, with little backstory or tonal variation to heighten that note’s impact."

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: " 'Nostalgia' is not a perfect film but it is moving and sensitive. You leave with your head in the clouds and a new view of your precious stuff."

Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: "An episodic ensemble drama organized around the logic of theme rather than of traditional narrative, the film concerns above all else accumulation and dispersal, in the American vein."

Bring hankies … if not antidepressants.

Cumberbatch: From ‘Sherlock’ to Shakespeare

You may know the name Benedict Cumberbatch. Aside from its unusual sound, rolling as it does off the tongue, it belongs to an extremely talented actor who has starred in a number of television and movie roles.

Cumberbatch was Sherlock Holmes in the BBC-produced series "Sherlock," while he played Alan Turing in "The Imitation Game" and the various incarnations of the Marvel Comics superhero "Doctor Strange." And that's barely a beginning of his thespian accomplishments.

Cumberbatch is also a talented stage actor as he proved when he starred in the title role for a 12-week of "Hamlet" in 2015. That production, which was produced by the National Theatre Company, is what can be seen in National Theatre's "Hamlet 2018 Encore," which will play in two area theaters.

"Hamlet 2018 Encore" will play at 7 p.m. March 8 at Regal's Northtown Mall cinemas and at 2 p.m. March 18 at the Bing Crosby Theater. (Ticket information is included in the above links.)

If you're wondering how good Cumberbatch is, here are some comments:

Ben Brantley, New York Times: "(Cumberbatch) is superb, meticulously tracing lines of thought into revelations that stun, elate, exasperate and sadden him. There’s not a single soliloquy that doesn’t shed fresh insight into how Hamlet thinks."

Susannah Clapp, The Guardian: "I don’t think I have ever seen a more rational Hamlet. When Benedict Cumberbatch tots up his bodkins, whips, fardels and slings in 'To be or not to be,' he might be enlisting the audience’s support in a debate about assisted dying. Each possibility is laid out with complete clarity and assessed. Like a first-rate barrister in training, he nips around his mind to argue against himself."

Be prepared: The screening is three and a half hours long. Which, for Shakespeare fans, is not long enough by half.

Friday’s openings: A new nation of droogies

Revenge, betrayal and a bit of the old ultra-violence are on tap when Friday's movies open. According to the national release schedule, we can expect the following:

"Death Wish": Bruce Willis takes over the role that Charles Bronson (Charles Bronson!) made famous in Michael Winner's 1974 original vigilante flick about a man going after the bad guys who attacked his wife and daughter. NRA approved.

"Red Sparrow": Jennifer Lawrence affects a Russian accent to play a woman who is forced to become a sex-agent/hired-killer. These are the kinds of roles that an Oscar will open up for you.

As always, I'll update when the local theaters finalize their listings.

Grahame’s last gasp makes for a worthy view

Classic film stars usually make for interesting profiles. That's the reason so many magazines are still in print. And why films such as "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool" was made. Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio: 

Gloria Grahame is one of those names most movies fans may recognize but don’t really know. And why would we?

Grahame’s time in Hollywood was relatively brief, from the mid-1940s through the late 1950s, and she never reached the height of stardom that, say, Lauren Bacall or Barbara Stanwyck did. Partly this was because she became too associated with the femme-fatale characters she played in such films as “The Good Die Young” and “The Bad and the Beautiful.”

And even though Grahame did win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for that latter film in 1953, her career lingered also because – the story goes – she was difficult to work with. That reputation, which she earned on the set of the 1955 film “Oklahoma!” plagued her almost as much as did the problems involving her four marriages – the last one to the son of her second husband, the director Nicholas Ray.

Much of this is glossed over in the movie “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” which was adapted from the memoir of the same title by actor/author Peter Turner. But Grahame’s past, which includes a bout with the same cancer that eventually killed her, lurks always in the background, threatening to – as it finally would – emerge and devour everything.

Turner, who originally hailed from Liverpool, was just 26 in 1978 when he met the then-54-year-old Grahame. Both were renting rooms in the same London boarding house. Turner was trying to break into the very theater scene that had offered the not-yet-faded-star Grahame a few featured roles. The two hit it off and began what would be an at-times turbulent three-year relationship.

But, then, what besides emotional turbulence would you expect from a pairing of someone who is young, impassioned and hungry with someone who is older, dubious yet equally hungry? Certainly not a happy ending.

And yet Turner’s story, as brought to life by director Paul McGuigan, is as full of love and support as it is the inevitable breakup of a doomed relationship. That’s because screenwriter Matt Greenhaigh focuses on Turner’s family, who took Grahame in and – for no other reason than because they were generous, good-hearted people – provided the dying movie queen solace when she most needed it.

As Grahame, Annette Bening captures both the actress’s vulnerability and her flintiness, holding her own against a case of talented British actors, including Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham as Turner’s parents, Stephen Graham as Turner’s older brother and even Vanessa Redgrave, who appears in a cameo as Grahame’s mother.

Another Brit, Jamie Bell, has the most screen time, portraying Turner as a naïve, hopeful young man, as sure of his love for this mercurial woman as he is unsure about pretty much everything else. The actor, who came of age 18 years ago in the film “Billy Elliott,” even gets to show off his dancing skills in one scene.

Yet over the whole production hovers the legacy of the late Grahame, someone who was used – and abused – by Hollywood even more than she used those who loved her for herself.

Catch Henson’s puppet-filled ‘Dark Crystal’

When he died in 1990, Jim Henson was the subject of more melancholy obituaries than I could ever hope to read. Most of the writers had grown up watching Henson's work on television, especially the shows "Sesame Street" and "The Muppet Show."

Most of the obits also mentioned Henson's film career, though only a few mentioned his 1982 film "The Dark Crystal."

The Internet Movie Database describes the plot of that film, which Henson co-directed with Frank Oz, this way: "A thousand years ago the mysterious Dark Crystal was damaged by one of the Urskeks and an age of chaos has begun. The evil race of grotesque birdlike lizards the Skeksis are gnomish dragons who rule their fantastic planet with an iron claw. Meanwhile the orphan Jen, raised in solitude by a race of the peace-loving wizards called the Mystics, embarks on a quest to find the missing shard of the Dark Crystal that gives the Skesis their power and restore the balance of the universe."

Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune was impressed. "You have to love a fantasy whose greatest peril is the Bog of Eternal Stench," he wrote.

A reviewer for Urban Cinefile was even more impressed: "A wonderfully invented world full of characters that transcend their puppet limitations thanks to the energy and creativity of the Jim Hansen and Frank Oz team of puppeteers and voice actors."

And now comes your chance to see this puppet-inspired, fantasy extravaganza. "The Dark Crystal" will screen at 2 and 7 p.m. Feb. 25 and 28, March 3 and 6 at Regal Cinemas' Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene Riverstone Stadium cinemas.

May the Henson be with you.

Calendar check: Get Lit! coming April 23-29

It's still a couple of months away, but Get Lit! 2018 — the annual literary festival sponsored by Eastern Washington University — has already released both its dates and its scheduled lineup.

The dates: April 23-29.

The locations: various event centers around Spokane, Cheney and Coeur d'Alene.

The participants: a wide range of writers representing pretty much every literary form imaginable.

Get Lit! has a long history, one that dates back to its one-day marathon reading in 1998 at The Metropolitan Performing Arts Center (now The Bing Crosby Theater). With local support, it will continue for years to come.

Finally, of the several festivals that I covered as a staff writer for The Spokesman-Review, my favorite was the 2004 event, which featured the likes of Sarah Vowell, Dave Barry, Garrison Keillor and … Kurt Vonnegut. (No less than Salman Rushdie would headline in 2005).

I couldn't find a link to the story that I wrote about Vonnegut's appearance. But I did find this blog post by a Seattle writer, who captured much of what I wrote. Enjoy.

Friday’s openings redux: This ‘Burden’ is all Radcliffe

Along with the movies that I've already mentioned, a taut little thriller is being added to Friday's openings:

"Beast of Burden": Daniel Radcliffe plays a guy, caught between the government and a drug cartel, who is playing one against the other as a means of saving his wife. Only he has to do it from the cockpit of his small plane. Yow.

As of Tuesday, the film had attracted only a single review, which you can access here.

Catch ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ Thursday at Northtown

As a teenager, I became obsessed with the plays of Tennessee Williams. I was, and still am, drawn more to the gentler, sadder studies of thwarted love such as "Summer and Smoke" and "The Glass Menagerie."

But I've also admired his rougher, more angst-filled plays such as "Night of the Iguana," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and especially "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Of course, even though over the decades I have seen various staged productions of each, my obsession was fueled mostly by the versions that I saw on film — usually viewed late at night and rendered exclusively in black and white. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" in particular has enjoyed a number of adaptations — the most famous being the 1958 version directed by Richard Brooks and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl Ives (as Big Daddy).

But there have been others. My favorite was the the 1984 "American Playhouse" version starring Jessica Lange, Tommy Lee Jones and Rip Torn. Why my favorite? Because the three principal actors, especially Torn, seemed earthier, and more believable as the characters they were portraying. And well … because they offered something different than the Brooks version.

Now we have a "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" for a new generation. Fathom Events presents the National Theatre Live version of Williams' play for one night only, 7 p.m. on Thursday, at Regal's Northtown Mall 12.

The play is a filmed production that was staged in 2017 in London's West End. It stars Jack O'Connell, Sienna Miller and Colm Meaney. "(T)his Young Vic production brings combustible conviction to a smoldering classic that has only rarely ignited in performance in recent years," wrote New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley.

Now, if only they'll do a restaging of "Summer and Smoke."

Lantern to feature Oscar-nominated shorts

If you didn't catch the Oscar-nominated Animated and Live-action Shorts that played briefly at AMC River Park Square, you might want to catch them beginning Friday when they open at the Magic Lantern.

My partners on "Movies 101," the weekly show that Mary Pat Treuthart and Nathen Weinbender do for Spokane Public Radio, discussed the two programs on a recent show. (The second half of the show we discussed Clint Eastwood's most recent feature "The 15:17 to Paris").

But if you don't want to take the time to listen to 11 minutes or so of our discussion, check out the following comments from other critics:

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times: "The Oscar-nominated (animated) shorts may have smaller running times, but the themes tackled are often big." (Note: The Animated program includes three films that did not make the final list of nominees but were added to fill out the program to a fuller running time.)

 Glenn Kenny, New York Times: "The mastery of computer animation here is staggering."

Ella Taylor, NPR: "This year's crop of Academy Award-nominated live-action shorts — several of them made as newbie filmmakers' calling cards — make up in earnest humanity for what they lack in technical sophistication."

Friday’s openings: Step into alternate reality

As the heat caused by "Black Panther" subsides a bit, a new crop of movies is set for release. And according to the national release schedule, that crop should include:

"Annihilation": Writer-director Alex Garland follows his film "Ex Machina" with this sci-fi-themed story of a team of women that heads into a mysterious area where the laws of nature are all mixed up. You don't mess with Mother Nature.

"Game Night": A group of friends gradually discover that the fantasy evening they're engaging in is a real-life mystery. Yes, it's a comedy.

"Every Day": A woman falls in love with a man who becomes someone new every day. Match.com should offer this option.

And at the Magic Lantern: The Oscar-nominated Animated and Live-action short films.

As always, I'll update when the local theaters finalize their listings.

‘15:17 to Paris’: taken from the headlines

If you've seen Clint Eastwood's new film, "The 15:17 to Paris," you might be interested in reading my review of the film, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Grammarians don’t like it when people use the word “literally” incorrectly. As in, “I literally eat like a horse.”

Wrong, though maybe it is possible to eat LIKE a horse. But literally? Not unless you gobble oats straight out of a feedbag. Or graze on the grass growing in your front yard.

So when I say that Clint Eastwood’s new film, “The 15:17 to Paris,” is a literal portrayal of real events, well … I can almost, if not literally, feel my grammarian friends wincing. But here’s my point: Eastwood’s film might be among the most realistic retellings of an actual story ever made.

And there’s one major reason for that. Beyond the fact that Eastwood shot in locations where the story took place, including on an actual train, Eastwood chose not to cast his film with professional actors.

Instead, he chose Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler to play themselves – three average American guys who, when presented the opportunity, acted heroically.

Yes, the word hero may be one of today’s most overused term. But if any three people do deserve to be called heroes, Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler fit the bill. Because it was these friends from childhood who, on Aug. 21, 2015, charged a gunman on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris and, in the process, managed to stop what almost certainly would have been a massacre.

Based on the book-length memoir of the same title, written both with the help of journalist Jeffrey E. Stern, Eastwood’s film may not be the most artistic work he has ever done. Certainly, it’s no “Mystic River” or “Letters from Iwo Jima.” But at least in technical terms it does display the professional quality that marks Eastwood’s typical filmmaking style.

That includes the script that he works from, playing as it does with chronology, the intent clearly being to build drama. Which is good because so much of “The 15:17 to Paris” is spent documenting what propelled Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler to their moment in history that it resembles a Lifetime Channel travelogue, one featuring three young guys mostly either drinking beer or taking selfies in such scenic locales as Rome, Venice and Amsterdam.

While the opening scene follows the gunman – a 25-year-old Moroccan named Ayoub El Khazzani – boarding the train, his roller bag filled with semiautomatic weapons and some 300 rounds of ammunition, we’re then transported back a dozen or so years to when Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler were attending a Christian middle school in Sacramento, Calif.

And the film unfolds from there: The three bond while playing war and visiting the principal’s office. They split up (with Sadler leaving for public school and Skarlatos going to Oregon with his father), and – later – Stone struggles to find fulfillment after joining the Air Force and washing out of para-rescue school.

Everything builds toward the final, heart-pounding confrontation, presaged by a scene of Stone, looking over the grandeur that is Venice, wondering if his life is headed toward something meaningful.

He and his pals would find out soon enough. And I mean that literally.

‘Philadelphia Story’: Hepburn at her best

Movie fans are well familiar with the name Katharine Hepburn. She's a Hollywood legend, having received a dozen Best Actress Oscar nominations, four of which she won: "Morning Glory" (1934), "Guess Who's Coming to Diner" (1968), "The Lion in Winter" (1969) and "On Golden Pond" (1982).

But you may not have known this: At one time, she was considered a failure, at least in box-office terms. Her films were flops.

All that changed, however, in 1940 when she starred in the stage-play adaptation, "The Philadelphia Story." Written By Donald Ogden Stewart (and Waldo Salt) and directed by George Cukor, the movie was taken from Philip Barry's Broadway play.

In the movie, Hepburn stars as a socialite who, on the eve of her second wedding, begins to question herself. Does she love her intended (John Howard), the reporter who has come to report on the event (James Stewart) or the man she divorced because he didn't meet her high standards (Cary Grant)?

"The Philadelphia Story" ended Hepburn's string of flops, becoming the fifth most popular U.S. film in 1941. It ended up being nominated for six Oscars, winning two: Donald Ogden Stewart for Best Writing (screenplay) and James Stewart for Best Supporting Actor.

The film also ranks high on several of the lists put out by the American Film Institute, which rates it as the No. 5 among its Top 10 romantic comedies.

And now Inland Northwest residents will have an opportunity to see why the film, and Hepburn, are held in such high esteem when the film plays at 2 and 7 p.m. on Sunday and Wednesday at two area Regal theaters: the Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

As John C. Mosher wrote in the New Yorker, "The film is a Hepburn triumph, and moviegoers who resent the theatre's habit of requisitioning their stars may feel that Miss Hepburn's time on the stage has not been spent in vain and that she simply prepared herself for this achievement."

‘Dirtbag’ snares most 2018 SpIFF awards

So, the 2018 Spokane International Film Festival — the 20th version of that annual event — has passed. And yet it's still in the news.

As in how the documentary "Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey" took just about every SpIff award it was eligible for. In the category of Juried Awards, "Dirtbag" took Best Feature and Best Documentary.

As for the audience awards, the Finnish/German/Estonian film "The Fencer" was named Best Feature, but "Dirtbag" won both Best Documentary and Best Northwest Feature.

Among the other Juried winners, the documentary "Expedition Alaska" won Best Northwest Feature and took second to "Dirtbag" as Best Documentary. The Best of the Northwest Short was Will Magness's "The Manual," with Magness taking the title of Most Promising Filmmaker.

The complete list can be found here.

The Manual - Teaser Trailer from Wil Magness on Vimeo.