7 Blog

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

Friday’ openings redux: Teens are trouble

Seems there's an addition to the mainstream movie-release schedule. And you can likely add it to the "nightmare" category:

"Thoroughbreds": Two privileged teens reunite after a long separation, rekindle their friendship and plot to fix their respective lives. One review blurb reads " 'Heathers' meets 'American Psycho.' " 

AMC River Park Square is also bringing back "Call Me by Your Name" (which is still playing at the Magic Lantern). On Sunday, "Call Me by Your Name" won James Ivory his first Academy Award, which was for Best Adapted Screenplay. Ivory had been nominated previously three times for Best Director.

I'll update when the Lantern finalizes (or maybe changes) its Oscar-heavy lineup.

‘Vertigo’: Another chance to judge its greatness

Times are changing. But for the moment, Alfred Hitchcock is still considered one of the great 20th-century filmmakers — despite his questionable attitudes toward women, both on the set and off.

The two most recent biopics of Hitchcock, "Hitchcock" and "The Girl," both released in 2012, don't show the director in the most favorable light — to say the least. That said, few filmmakers influenced the course of world cinema more than Hitchcock did.

"Vertigo," Hitchcock's 1958 suspense film starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, is a case in point. It's man's story, that of the policeman played by Stewart and his relationship — more likely obsession — for the mysterious woman (actually women) played by Novak. While Novak puts in a powerful performance, she is basically a femme-fatale prop.

Even so, "Vertigo" is considered one of the century's best films. In its 10th Anniversary edition of its 100 Greatest Films of All Time, the American Film Institute ranked "Vertigo" at No. 9 — just behind "Schindler's List" and just ahead of "The Wizard of Oz."

The late Roger Ebert explained why, in his opinion, this is so. "There is another element, rarely commented on, that makes 'Vertigo' a great film," he wrote. "From the moment we are let in on the secret, the movie is equally about Judy: her pain, her loss, the trap she's in. Hitchcock so cleverly manipulates the story that when the two characters climb up that mission tower, we identify with both of them, and fear for both of them, and in a way Judy is less guilty than Scottie."

Intrigued? Puzzled? Well, even if you've already seen "Vertigo," Fathom Events is giving you another opportunity to see the film in a new light. The film will play in a 60th-anniversary showing at 2 and 7 p.m. on March 18 and 21 at both Regal Cinemas' Northtown Mall and Riverstone Stadium theaters.

Time to see how well greatness holds up. And whether it makes a difference.

Friday’s openings: Fantasies and nightmares

Looks as if a varied week of movie is coming on Friday, featuring everything from children's fantasy to homicidal threats. The national movie-release schedule looks like the following:

"A Wrinkle in Time": Director Ava DuVernay adapts Madeline L'Engle's classic children's book to the big screen. Two words: Oprah Winfrey.

"Gringo": Davie Oyelowo plays a mild-mannered guy who suddenly finds himself caught between Mexican drug lords and his not-so-honest employers back home. It's a comedy, amigo.

"The Hurricane Heist": A Category 5 storm is approaching, giving criminals a perfect opportunity to rob a U.S. mint. When it rains …

"Strangers: Prey at Night": Another story of a family being threatened by masked sociopaths. Time for Xanax.

That's the list so far. I'll update when the local theaters finalize their schedules.

McAdams, Bateman bring ‘Game Night’ to life

I caught the movie "Game Night" on its opening weekend before a full house. And it's been a long time since I felt compelled to laugh along with everyone else at a comedy. Following is the review of "Game Night" that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Jason Bateman was a teen star who only as an adult, most notably on the series “Arrested Development,” showed a unique talent for wry comedy stylings. I remember first seeing Rachel McAdams as the nasty leader of a high school clique in “Mean Girls” and then opposite Ryan Gosling in the story of thwarted love “The Notebook.” Nothing in those first few films indicated that she could become the next Lucille Ball.

Yet “Game Night,” a comedy by the directing team John Frances Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, pairs Bateman and McAdams in an ongoing series of situations that highlight their respective talents for making audiences laugh.

Those situations involve a group of longtime friends, all of whom get together regularly to play games. Charades, for example. Or Pictionary. Or Jenga. Anything, actually, that allows one of the participants to win.

In fact, that was how the characters that Bateman and McAdams portray – Max and Annie – first met. During a trivia contest, they each guess the correct Teletubbie character and it’s love, and lust, at first sight.

Some time later they are happily married, save for the fact that Annie can’t get pregnant, presumably because Max is feeling the kind of stress that inhibits his, um, productive powers. Max is also in a perpetual state of feeling inferior to his older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who is always just a bit better at … well, everything, than his baby bro.

So when Brooks shows up for Game Night, sporting a new car and bragging about his career success, Max is again cast as the perpetual loser. And that feeling persists when Brooks invites the whole group to his house the next week for a Game Night they will never forget.

Which is where “Game Night” the movie takes off. Because, as it turns out, Brooks is a poser. While his intent is to fake a kidnapping, two strangers show up suddenly to kidnap him. And only slowly do Max, Annie and their friends realize that the game has now become real, and they have to use their skills to save Brooks before he gets murdered.

The screenplay Daley and Goldstein follow has a couple of twists that will keep you guessing, including one that involves Max and Annie’s creepy neighbor – a dog-loving divorcee who sorely wants to be part of their game-night crowd. As the neighbor, Jesse Plemons – a talented performer – is a stark contrast to everyone else, which only emphasizes how funny the rest of the cast is.

That includes Kyle Bunbury and Lamorne Morris as a squabbling husband and wife, and Billy Magnussen, who was so good the last year’s “Ingrid Goes West.” Here he plays the perpetually thick, good-looking guy whose latest date quote-unquote is a smart British woman played by Sharon Horgan.

But most of all, “Game Night” belongs to Bateman and McAdams. No one can chew on a squeaky toy more humorously than he can, and no one is better at combining comic timing and sex appeal than she.

Together, they make “Game Night” far better than it has any right to be.

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."