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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

Bigelow’s ‘Detroit’ tackles American racism

If you haven't yet see the film "Detroit," you might have questions about it. I try to address some of them in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

The riots that occurred in Detroit over five days in July 1967 were hardly the first such incidents in American history. Major cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles had seen similar outbreaks, and Detroit itself had been the site of a major three-day riot that took place in 1943.

Based on incidents such as those that happened a couple of years ago in Ferguson, Missouri, and more recently in Charlottesville, Virginia, racial strife in the United States is not going away anytime soon.

That overarching sense of history, as dark as it is, underscores everything in Kathryn Bigelow’s film “Detroit.” Written by Mark Boal, who teamed with Bigelow previously on “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Detroit” is a riveting, near-minute-by-minute look at both the beginnings of the turmoil and, even more closely, at one particular episode that occurred at a place called the Algiers Motel.

Just as Bigelow’s film overall can be seen as a larger statement about race relations in today’s America, her look at what happened at the Algiers is both her and Boal’s attempt to capture the worst of what happened in the city itself over those turbulent five days.

The filmmakers do so by keying on a number of individuals, some of whom are composites of actual historical figures, others of whom – including a trio of white Detroit police officers – have had their names changed. We follow the three officers as they patrol the burning streets, their resentment slowly growing. And we are introduced to a private black security guard whose intent is both to protect property and to act as peace-maker.

The racially mixed group congregating at the motel – which at first seems like an oasis separate from the fear and violence plaguing the adjacent streets – includes two black friends, Fred and Larry, who flirt with two young white women from Ohio, Karen and Julie.

The four join a larger group of people looking for a good time. Pretty soon, though, because of a mix of fear and adrenalin-induced rage, inflamed by a stupid if inherently harmless act, the Algiers becomes the place where all our principals end up. And the motel itself evolves into a cell of nothing less than torture and death.

Bigelow’s use of her cast is impressive, even if limited screen time means that no one actor has what amounts to a starring role. John Boyega, best known for his part in the latest “Star Wars” reboot, plays the security guard. But Will Poulter as the cop in command and Algee Smith as Larry are arguably more important in how Boal’s script plays out.

For his part, Boal has admitted that he used what he calls "poetic license" to dramatize the real story. But he insists that his script is "built on a sturdy base of journalism and history." As for Bigelow, she keeps things moving well enough, even if her trademark stylisms are lacking and the animated intro that provides a historical backdrop is fairly confounding.

Not nearly as confounding, though, as the ongoing fact of racism itself.

The ‘bugs’ will come out on Monday

In 1997, the Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven adapted Robert Heinlein's novel about elite Earth soldiers waging a war against an insect race, which the Earthers refer to simply as "bugs." Both the book and the movie were called "Starship Troopers."

Verhoeven was, in many respects, a master filmmaker. After his career in The Netherlands, in which he made such riveting studies as "Soldier of Orange," which starred future Hollywood actors Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Krabbé, he moved to Hollywood. And he was a hit.

Among Verhoeven's Hollywood films were the original "RoboCop" and "Total Recall," films that blended impressive — for the time — special effects with a rousing sense of sci-fi action. He made one of the biggest losers of all time with 1995's "Showgirls," but he rebounded two years later with the Heinlein adaptation.

His "Starship Troopers" was an overblown, effects-heavy satire on Heinlein's militaristic novel. But it had its appeal, as Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan explained: "A jaw-dropping experience, so rigorously one-dimensional and free from even the pretense of intelligence it's hard not to be astonished and even mesmerized by what is on the screen."

Now, 20 year later, Verhoeven is conspicuously absent from the animated film "Starship TroopersTraitor of Mars," a Fathom Events presentation that will screen at 7:30 and 10 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21, at Regal's NorthTown Mall Cinemas. Instead, the film was co-directed by Japanese filmmakers Shinji Aramaki and Masaru Matsumoto from a script by Edward Neumeier.

The screening will include a special introduction by Neumeier and cast member Casper Van Dien, plus behind-the-scenes footage and filmmakers' interviews.

It'll be interesting to see a version of Heinlein that isn't Verhoeven's. If nothing else, it might be closer to what Heinlein actually wrote.

Auntie’s to host signing by military historian Kelly

On Friday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., author Christopher Kelly will appear at Auntie's Bookstore in support of his new book, "America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil" (History Invasions Press, 414 pages).

"America Invaded," which Kelly, who lives in Sacramento, wrote with British co-author Stuart Laycock, is described as "tour of past conflicts waged on American soil, from the Atlantic to the Pacific."

Kelly is the author also of "America Invades: How We've Invaded or Been Involved with Almost Every Country on Earth," which a Kirkus reviewer described as "An intensive compendium of America’s interactions, both good and bad, with other countries that rightly leaves out the philosophizing."

Kelly was interviewed on Historynet.com. In it, he says this about "America Invaded": "Our new book ranges from the first arrival of Europeans in the New World to terrorism in the 21st century. In addition to history this book will offer tourist information, making it a kind of passport for readers to begin their own exploration of our nation’s amazing military history."

Considering how freely some people who Tweet are interpreting American history these days, Kelly's book is likely worth checking out. Auntie's is located at the corner of Main and Washington.

Friday’s openings redux: Mysteries, docs and more

In addition to heists and hitmen (see below), the coming week will offer an array of choices for the discerning moviegoer. An amended list of Friday movie openings follows:

"Wind River": While investigating a murder on an Indian reservation, an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) is forced to team up with a veteran tracker (Jeremy Renner). Cowboys and feds?

"Brigsby Bear": "Saturday Night Live" cast member Kyle Mooney stars as a character who, when his life is suddenly changed, becomes obsessed with finishing the story of a fictional bear named Brigsby. Not Winnie?

"13 Minutes": Based on a real story, this German film explores the story of Georg Elser, a man who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1939. Timely story.

"Step": This documentary explores the story of girls attending an inner-city school in Baltimore as they prepare for a regional step dance competition. Gotta dance.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"The Last Dalai Lama?": Another documentary, this one profiling the 14th Dalai Lama and sharing the effect he has had since leaving Tibet in 1959.

That's Friday's lineup. Now go. See a movie. And enjoy.

Friday’s openings: Heists and hitmen

Comic action, some of it no doubt farcical, will be on the movie schedule Friday when the new slate of movies opens. Friday's national openings are as follows:

"The Hitman's Bodyguard": Ryan Reynolds stars as a professional bodyguard who is hired to protect a notorious professional assassin (played by Samuel L. Jackson). Expect a few uses of the F-word. A few.

"Logan Lucky": A pair of not-so-bright brothers attempts to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race. The cast is interesting, from Adam Driver and Channing Tatum as the brothers, to Daniel Craig, Hilary Swank and Katie Holmes as supporting players. But the key hire: Steven Soderbergh as director. Can't wait.

As usual, I'll update as the local listing become final.

Catch ‘The Five Doctors’ on Thursday

Stories about the classic BBC show "Doctor Who" typically get around the asking fans who their favorite Doctor was. And the answer usually comes down to this simple formula: The Doctor you grew up with is your favorite.

That might soon change. The current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, had the misfortune of following two of the top-rated 12 "official" Doctors, David Tennant and Matt Smith. And the 13th has been named as Jody Whittaker, the first woman Doctor, a fact that has some fanboys in a furor.

Older episodes of the show, which has been airing since November 1963, are available. But if you want a shorter, maybe even funnier, primer on the show, check out "RiffTrax Live: Doctor Who," a special Fathom Events screening of the 1983 film "The Five Doctors." The movie will screen twice locally, at 8 p.m. on Thursday and on Aug. 24 at Northtown Mall and at Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium Cinemas.

I'll be curious to see how Whittaker manages to fit into what, until now, has been an exclusively male enclave. I've enjoyed seeing her on the three seasons of the BBC show "Broadchurch."

And I'll share this bit of "Doctor Who" fan info: Tom Baker was my first Doctor. I watched him on Public Television when I first discovered the show during the 1980s. But if I had to choose, it would end up in a tie: Tennant and Smith.

Don't tell the Daleks.

Friday’s openings: Snarky squirrels and haunted dolls

Movie theaters will be offering a range of entertainment on Friday, from family fare to horror to fact-finding. The opening movies are as follows:

"The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature": More adventures involving animals battling a human's attempts to bulldoze a park so that he can build an amusement center. Sounds squirrely. (Yeah, yeah, bad pun.)

"Rough Night": Four college friends get together for a Miami weekend that goes wrong every way possible. Sounds like "Girls Trip," only with Scarlett Johansson instead of Queen Latifah.

"Annabelle: Creation": A grieving couple takes in a group of orphans only to have them all haunted by a doll inhabited by their dead daughter. Another chapter in the "Conjuring" — cough, cough — series.

"The Glass Castle": A young woman (Brie Larson) must reconcile her mixed feelings about the father who raised her family outside of basic societal norms. Based on a memoir by Jeannette Walls, which sounds like "Captain Fantastic" — only true.

"An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power": The follow to "An Inconvenient Truth." Yeah, the climate is changing.

Go see a movie. And enjoy.

‘Lady Macbeth’: Beauty is seldom this dark

The film opening today at the Magic Lantern, titled "Lady Macbeth," isn't what you might think. That's what I explain in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth” was first performed around 1606, though the exact date has been lost to history. What has not been lost is the tragedy itself – a theatrical piece that superstitious actors, fearing that to say the name is bad luck, refer to as The Scottish Play.

British filmmaker William Oldroyd, it’s clear, does not share that superstition. In fact, so oblivious is he to any threat of misfortune that he agreed to call his first feature film “Lady Macbeth.”

Oldroyd’s film, though, has little to do with Shakespeare. Instead, it is based on an 1865 novella titled “Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District,” written by the Russian writer Nikolai Leskov. Previously rendered as both an opera and a 1962 film, Leskov’s novel has more in common with the novels of D.H. Lawrence and Gustav Flaubert.

Set in 19th-century northern England, on the moors made famous by Emily Bronte, Oldroyd’s film centers on a young woman named Katherine (played by newcomer Florence Pugh). Bought – and I use that term intentionally – by a landowner to give his son children, Katherine finds herself in a virtual prison, confined to the house, not a book in sight, no friends to speak to, ignored by a husband and berated by a father-in-law for not doing her wifely duties – though it is her resentful husband who has no apparent interest in marital consummation.

Katherine, though, is no Jane Austen refugee. She may have as much spunk as your typical Austen heroine, but she has something else as well: a tide of barely suppressed rage that, combined with a sense of self-regard uncommon to women in literature, if not life, leads her to embark on a path that results, ultimately, in murder.

Multiple murders, in fact. The death parade begins when, during her husband’s absence, she takes up with the household’s new groomsman, Sebastian (played by Cosmo Jarvis). It continues when she throws the affair in her father-in-law’s face. And fairly quickly come the killings – three of them in all, including that of a horse, not to mention an infanticide. All that, however, is just the beginning of Katherine’s betrayals.

Though this is his first feature, Oldroyd has a firm sense of how to make a film. His cinematographer, Ari Wegner, manages both to capture shots of the stark Yorkshire moors while giving the candle- and fireplace-lit interiors a sense of authenticity. Oldroyd himself is unafraid of long takes and silences, shown particularly by his judicious use of music.

And even though a small budget limited his choice of actors, he cast well. Pugh, just 19 when she snared the role, is a real find. But also good are the equally unknown Jarvis and Naomi Ackie as Katherine’s servant. The fact that both are black adds a racial component, complicating what otherwise is a commentary on gender and class.

In other words, though Oldroyd’s film does not use Shakespeare’s tragedy as a model, it is as dark as anything the Bard ever imagined. What’s ironic is that this darkest of tales is told in a uniquely beautiful manner.

‘Bonnie and Clyde’ celebrates 50th anniversary

While researching for a "Movies 101" show that I recorded with Nathan Weinbender and Mary Pat Treuthart, I stumbled upon a quote from the late film critic Roger Ebert. “Blockbusters," Ebert wrote, "run the mainstream (film) industry. We may never again have a decade like the 1970s, when directors were able to find such freedom.”

By "the 1970s," Ebert was actually talking about a period that included the late '60s. It was during that decade that filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick, Mike Nichols, Sam Peckinpah and Arthur Penn created some stunning cinema with films such as "2001: A Space Odyssey," "The Graduate," "The Wild Bunch" and "Bonnie and Clyde."

In many ways, that last film was a prime example of the era. Starring Warren Beatty and Fate Dunaway as the 1930s-era bank robbers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, it ushered in an era of new filmmaking norms. As was written in a 1967 Time magazine cover story, "(W)hat matters most about Bonnie and Clyde is the new freedom of its style, expressed not so much by camera trickery as by its yoking of disparate elements into a coherent artistic whole — the creation of unity from incongruity."

That "unity," so to speak, derived from Penn's style of "blending humor and horror." The "incongruity" came from how his film "draws the audience in sympathy toward its antiheroes. It is, at the same time, a commentary on the mindless daily violence of the American '60s and an esthetic evocation of the past."

And then there was the ultra-violence, which is a term freely used in another film from the 1970s, Kubrick's 1971 offering "A Clockwork Orange." Like Peckinpah, Penn splashed fake blood across the screen — in full technicolor — in a way that surprised, and shocked, audiences. And more than a few critics.

As New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote, "It is a cheap piece of bald-faced comedy."

Time, of course, has proven Crowther wrong (and not just about "Bonnie and Clyde"). As Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, " 'Bonnie and Clyde' is a milestone in the history of American movies, a work of truth and brilliance. It is also pitilessly cruel, filled with sympathy, nauseating, funny, heartbreaking, and astonishingly beautiful."

As always, though, those in the audience are free to form their own opinions. And those who haven't yet seen the film will have a chance by watching "Bonnie and Clyde," on the big screen, on Aug. 13 and 16. The screenings are part of a Fathom Events special 50th-anniversary event at select theaters.

In the Inland Northwest, those screenings will be held at Regal Cinemas' NorthTown Mall and Coeur d'Alene Riverstone Stadium theaters.

Time to step away from the films of today and see one of the films that made everything that followed possible.

Get ready for Studio Ghibli Fest 2017

Fans of animated film are familiar with Studio Ghibli. Especially with the films made by director Hayao Miyazaki.

Among his many international awards, Miyazaki won an Oscar in 2003 for his film "Spirited Away." But Miyazaki has been working in animation since 1963 (when he was just 22) and has been directing his own works since 1979.

Beginning on Aug. 27, six of those films — "My Neighbor Totoro," "Kiki's Delivery Service," ""Castle in the Sky," "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind," "Howl's Moving Castle" and "Spirited Away' — will screen as part of Ghibli Studio Fest 2017.

The movies will be available in both dubbed-in-English and original language prints. Click here for more information on the opening feature.

Critics have been overwhelming Miyazaki fans. Here is the late. critic Roger Ebert on why Miyazaki has been so successful:

"Miyazaki says he made the film specifically for 10-year-old girls. That is why it plays so powerfully for adult viewers. Movies made for 'everybody' are actually made for nobody in particular. Movies about specific characters in a detailed world are spellbinding because they make no attempt to cater to us; they are defiantly, triumphantly, themselves."

And for Miyazaki fans, that is more than enough.

Friday’s openings redux: Riots and intimate photography

Seems as if it's going to be a busy weekend at the movies. In addition to the films that I pointed to yesterday, three more movie openings are set for Friday. They are:

"Detroit": The writer-director team who gave us "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty," Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, turn their talents to this look at the deaths of three young men during the 1967 Detroit race riot. Not for the faint of heart.

"The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Photography": Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris looks at the work of acclaimed photographer Elsa Dorfman. #bigpolaroids

Also, you'll be able to catch revivals of both "The Lion King" and "The Lion King Sing-Along" (at this point only AMC River Park Square has announced any planned screenings).

Again, I'll update as more information becomes finalized.

Friday’s openings: A bit of Kingly gunplay

Ever since the novel "Carrie" was released in 1974, Stephen King has been churning out more books and stories and screenplays than any five writers combined. Now his series title "The Dark Tower" is coming to the big screen (as will a second version of "It" on Sept. 8).

The two national mainstream releases on Friday are:

"The Dark Tower": A young boy and a mysterious gunman (Idris Elba) are the only things that stand between civilization and The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). Tolkien lite.

"Kidnap": Halle Berry stars as a woman intent on retrieving her kidnapped son. Mom's mad.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Lady Macbeth": A woman sold to a middle-age man finds passionate release with a local worker. Not Shakespeare.

That's the lot so far. I'll update with the final bookings come in.

‘Valerian’: A question of casting

Another one of the summer blockbusters opened last week, Luc Besson's "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets." I reviewed the film for Spokane Public Radio

It’s impossible to imagine some movies with a different cast of actors. Think of “Gone With the Wind” without Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. Or “Star Wars” without Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Or any of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” offerings, as tiring as they’ve become, without Johnny Depp doing his Keith Richards impersonation as Captain Jack Sparrow.

The same holds true for miscasting choices. Forget the ethnic-challenged cases posed by John Wayne playing Genghis Khan in “The Conqueror” or Mickey Rooney playing a stereotypical Japanese landlord – complete with buck teeth – in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I’m talking about actors who were completely unsuitable for the roles they were hired to play. Tony Curtis as an English knight in “The Black Shield of Falworth,” for example. Or 5-feet-8-inch Tom Cruise (and I’m being generous here) as 6-feet-5-inch Jack Reacher.

You get the point. Now, consider Luc Besson, the fabulously successful French movie director whose films have more in common with Hollywood kitsch than anything vaguely European. Films such as “La Femme Nikita” and “The Fifth Element.” You’d think that Besson could get pretty much any actor he wanted to play in his films, particularly one that is – in certain respects, at least – as groundbreaking as is his adaptation of the graphic-novel series “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”

Why, then, did he decide to cast the moody, offbeat American actor Dane DeHaan as the title character in his film? It’s fairly clear why he cast Cara Delevingne as Valerian’s partner, Laureline. Models who evolve into actresses, as Delevingne is apparently in the process of doing, at least look good in closeups. But DeHaan? Not only should he avoid closeups, but he should avoid all roles that call for a young Harrison Ford. For all his Gen Y surliness, which made him perfect for Gore Verbinski’s “A Cure for Wellness,” a muscle-toned pretty boy DeHaan is not.

Not that he is the only thing wrong with Besson’s film. The director, who also wrote the screenplay and produced this mess, bears most the blame. His screenplay has DeHaan and Delevingne playing a pair of space cops tasked with recovering a mysterious object. In the process, they blunder into a plot that is tied to the genocide of a planet and most of its residents – emphasis on most.

But while much of the storyline is rendered in CGI effects that are amazing – and are likely even more amazing in 3D, if you decide to spend the extra money – those effects can’t cover up a couple of facts: one, that the story is derivative; and, two, it’s told in a manner that interrupts a series of near-indecipherable action sequences with ongoing, overtly clumsy attempts at making us believe that some sort of sexual tension exists between DeHaan and Delevingne.

Which even in a sci-fi movie, based on a French graphic-novel series that plays with both time and space, is too farfetched to believe. Having Captain Jack Sparrow step onto the scene would have been far more believable.

The test: ‘A Ghost Story’ — art or pretense?

Yeah, it's likely that most people will flock to "The Emoji Movie" when it opens on Friday. But the more interesting choice probably would be "A Ghost Story," which opens at AMC River Park Square and is attracting the kinds of positive reviews reserved for most films that premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and get purchased for wider release.

Written and directed by David Lowery, the film stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck.

Here is a sampling:

Dave McGinn, The Globe and Mail: "If you’ve ever loved anyone or anything, 'A Ghost Story' is going to break your heart. It is devastating – and devastatingly good."

A.O. Scott, The New York Times: "Starting with a quote from Virginia Woolf, it wears its literary pedigree on its sleeve, yet it manages to feel fresh and inventive rather than stale or studied. It’s like an old tale by Saki or Henry James read for the first time: hair-raising and clever, a tour de force of sensation and a triumph of craft."

Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post: "Lowery pushes the tropes of the haunted house film past the breaking point, creating something that is entirely original — and oddly, if not profoundly unsettling."

Considering mainstream tastes, though, one critic in particular puts the film in its proper perspective with an age-old observation:

Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic: " 'A Ghost Story' may be the ultimate litmus test of where you fall on the line between artistic merit and laughable pretension." (To be fair, Goodykoontz goes on to argue in the film's favor.)

Can't wait to find out for myself.

Friday’s openings: Spies, spooks and talking emojis

Looks like blonds, emoticons and ghostly spirits are on the movie menu for Friday. Here's what we expect to open in local theaters:

"Atomic Blonde": Charlize Theron brings the graphic-novel character to life in a scenario that has her battling to discover who is killing her fellow MI6 spies. #notjamesbond (And maybe that's a good thing.)

"The Emoji Movie": Here's the IMDB description: "Gene, a multi-expressional emoji, sets out on a journey to become a normal emoji." Well, they've made a couple of hit movies about Legos, so …

"A Ghost Story": This Sundance favorite features Rooney as a woman haunted by the specter of grief. Literally.

And at the Magic Lantern (along with a second-run opening of "Paris Can Wait"):

"Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All": Never has a title better described what the documentary film is about: a look at the life of Indian Swami Srila Prabhupada