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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Creed’: Rocky (again) returns to the ring

The character of Rocky Balboa debuted in 1976. Written by Sylvester Stallone, directed by John G. Avildsen and starring Stallone as the battered but tough fighter from Philadelphia, “Rocky” won three of the nine Academy Awards for which it was nominated: Best Direction for Avildsen, Best Editing and Best Picture.

Since then, Rocky has returned again and again – giving Stallone a dependable paycheck if offering, often enough, not much other than a stirring Bill Conti musical score, a series of memorable villains, and the lovable lug himself.

The latest chapter in the Rocky story is titled “Creed.” And while its title character is someone else – the son, we learn soon enough, of Rocky’s first great foe, Apollo Creed – the film is, once again, mostly about Stallone’s Italian Stallion.

Yeah, Michael B. Jordan is a good enough actor. And his back story (being the illegitimate son of a father he never knew, a fact that gives him a chip on his shoulder bigger than the Philadelphia Museum of Art) is appropriate to the genre of boxing film: the talented underdog with a point to prove.

But as with its predecessors, “Creed” is Rocky’s movie. He is the one who makes the difference in the kid’s life. He is the one who suffers a generic plot-driven problem. His storyline matches the young Creed’s at every step. And because we are more familiar with him – we know why his restaurant is called “Adrian’s,” for example – it’s difficult to forget just who the spotlight is supposed to be focused on.

This doesn’t make “Creed” any less of an experience. Young Jordan looks and acts the part of a light-heavyweight contender, and director Ryan Coogler (who directed Jordan in the powerful “Fruitvale Station”) knows how to capture action both in and out of the ring.

But “Creed” is Rocky’s movie. Same as it ever was.

Take a ‘Roman Holiday’ on Sunday

If you're into classic Hollywood films, you might want to catch a screening of the 1953 romance "Roman Holiday," which will play at 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday at Regal Cinemas' Northtown and Coeur d'Alene Riverstone Stadium theaters.

The screenings are part of a partnership between Regal Cinemas and Turner Classic Movies' Big Screen Classic Events series. The series, which has been ongoing since the summer (with the 40th Anniversary screening of "Jaws"), will continue on Dec. 20 and 23 with "A Miracle on 34th Street."

"Roman Holiday" was directed by William Wyler and stars Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, it won three: Edith Head for Best Costume Design, black and white; Dalton Trumbo for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story; and Hepburn for Best Actress.

The plot follows young Princess Ann (Hepburn) who, hating her royal duties, takes refuge in the apartment of a U.S. newsman (Peck), and the two enjoy a short respite from their real lives before returning to their respective obligations. Following are what the critics had to say:

Variety: "(Wyler) times the chuckles with a never-flagging pace, puts heart into the laughs, endows the footage with some boff bits of business and points up some tender, poignant scenes in using the smart script and the cast to the utmost advantage."

The New York Times: "It is a contrived fable but a bittersweet legend with laughs that leaves the spirits soaring."

TV Guide: "The film has enough adventure and excitement to satisfy, and the faintly bittersweet note of the ending is made deliciously palatable by its artistic rightness."

To order tickets, click here.

No, humans did not live with dinosaurs

Interesting that the new Pixar animated offering, which as my friend Nathan Weinbender points out is titled "The Good Dinosaur," features an imaginary world that includes both dinosaurs and humans. First time I saw an ad for the movie I thought, "Is this something dreamed up by the Creation Museum?"

Speaking of imaginary scenarios.

This week’s openings: Boxers, monsters and dinosaurs

Movie times were posted a little late this week – let’s just go ahead and blame the wind storm – but it looks like the last of the new releases have been announced, and just in time for Turkey Day.

Correction: The weeks Magic Lantern releases were incorrectly listed as opening Friday. The theater is closed for the week and re-opens on Saturday the 28th, which is when the new films will screen.


“Brooklyn” – Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan stars as an idealistic Irish girl who must decide between homelands after immigrating to New York in the 1950s. Scripted by Nick Hornby from Colm Toibin’s novel, this one’s getting considerable awards buzz.

“Creed” – Sly Stallone is back for round seven as Rocky Balboa, and this time he’s training aspiring boxer Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late Apollo Creed. Directed by Ryan Coogler, whose debut feature “Fruitvale Station” made Jordan a star.

“The Good Dinosaur” – Pixar’s second animated release of the year (following the brilliant “Inside Out”) imagines what the world would be like had that asteroid never wiped out the dinos. Sam Elliott, Frances McDormand, Anna Paquin, Jeffrey Wright, Steve Zahn and (of course) John Ratzenberger provide voices.

“Victor Frankenstein” – The billionth reworking of Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, this time told from the perspective of Frankenstein’s lab assistant Igor. (Or is it pronounced Eye-gore?) James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe star.


(The only non-Wednesday openings this week are at the Magic Lantern, which also picks up a second run of the historical drama “Suffragette.”)

“Finders Keepers” – Proving that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction, this documentary recalls the strange story of a grill, a storage auction and a missing amputated leg.

“Meet the Patels” – Director Ravi Patel turns the camera on himself as his traditional Indian parents set him up with potential spouses. This comic documentary won audience awards at the Traverse City and Los Angeles Film Festivals.

“Trumbo” – The inimitable Bryan Cranston plays renowned screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted from Hollywood in the 1940s and penned classics like “Roman Holiday” and “Spartacus” under pseudonyms. The all-star cast is rounded out by Diane Lane, John Goodman, Louis C.K. and Helen Mirren.

The trailer for “Trumbo”:

‘We Come as Friends’ an intimate look at Africa

With much of the city still reeling from Tuesday's storm, posting a movie review on our local Spokane Public Radio station turned out to be impossible. But I thought I'd post the review here anyway. It's a review of the documentary "We Come as Friends," which is playing at the Magic Lantern:

The best documentary films provide us with an-up-close-and-personal look at something, or someone, we might otherwise know only marginally. And they do so with just the right blend of reporting and art.

Sometimes that balance tips more in one direction. Take two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple, for example. Her award-winning films, 1976’s “Harlan County U.S.A” and 1990’s “American Dream,” are prime examples of straightforward documentary journalism. Contrast those with virtually anything done by Errol Morris, a 2004 Oscar winner for “The Fog of War.” Morris’ 1988 film “The Thin Blue Line” helped transform the entire industry from Kopple’s naturalistic style to something where pretty much anything goes.

That’s not to say that Morris’ best work is less serious than, say, Kopple’s. He just follows a different emphasis. As the late film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “Morris is much more interested in the spaces between the facts than with the facts themselves. He is fascinated by strange people, by odd word choices and manners of speech, by the way that certain symbols or beliefs can become fetishes with the power to rule human lives.”

Much the same can be said of Hubert Sauper, the Austrian-born director of the documentary “We Come as Friends,” which is playing at the Magic Lantern. Sauper has made a movie that works both as a study of contemporary African life AND as a work of art. But Sauper, like Morris, is far more interested in the rhythms of life than in the mundane facts that journalists typically use to neatly sum it up.

Sauper, whose previous film – 2004’s “Darwin’s Nightmare” – addressed the issue of economic exploitation in Tanzania, began visiting southern Sudan before the 2011 referendum that would result in the larger country’s partition. He flew around the country in his own tiny, home-made plane – a machine that served two purposes. One, it allowed him access to backwoods locations that would have been too difficult to reach any other way. Two, its very curiosity attracted attention and helped introduce Sauper to a wide-ranging cross section of Sudanese life.

He takes us into the halls of the new government, into the work rooms of a Chinese oil-production facility, into the compounds of U.S. Christian missionaries and, most distressingly, into the various tribal Sudanese communities filled with literally dirt-poor people who are promised the most but seemingly profit the least from the money being made all around them.

Hand in hand with this message, though, are the images that Sauper and his cinematographer manage to capture: shots of his tiny plane dwarfed by giant military aircraft, of Chinese workers justifying their presence in Africa while a scene from “Star Trek” plays on a nearby television set, of missionaries handing out solar-powered electronic bibles and forcing clothing on naked children, and the faces of everyone – native and newcomer – portrayed in extreme closeup.

“We Come as Friends” is an ironic title. But in Sauper’s case, it’s more true than not. Seldom has a documentary immersed itself so far inside the culture it is portraying and with such devastating effect.

Regal to live-stream opera ‘Lulu’ on Saturday

If opera is something you enjoy, then you might want to think twice about sleeping in on Saturday morning. The Regal Cinemas theaters at NorthTown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium 14 will live-stream the full 4 hour and 30 minute (including intermission) Metropolitan Opera production of Alban Berg's "Lulu" beginning at 9:30 a.m.

According the The Met's website, this production of "Lulu" is directed by William Kentridge and stars soprano Marlis Petersen, along with Susan Graham, Daniel Brenna and Johan Reuter.

Here are some of the critical comments:

The Washington Post: "Marlis Petersen was dazzling."

The New York Observer: “Spellbinding… if there’s such a thing as a gold standard for opera, this is it.”

The New York Times: “A masterful 'Lulu' at the Met… visually stunning and superbly performed… an ideal fit for William Kentridge’s darkly fantastical artistic sensibility…”

Click here to see ticket availability.

‘Suffragette’: an ardent, necessary study

Strange as it may seem now, it took a Constitutional amendment – the 19th Amendment, to be specific – for women in the United States to earn the right to vote. Even stranger, that amendment – which was ratified in 1920 – predated by eight years similar legislation in Great Britain.

That latter struggle is the central point of “Suffragette,” a stirring film directed by Sarah Gavron from a script written by Abi Morgan. Gavron focuses on Maud (played by Carey Mulligan), a working-class woman – married and the mother of a young boy – who chances into the suffragist movement but who, soon enough, embraces it heart and soul.

Combining fact and fiction, Morgan’s script includes – albeit briefly – some real-life historical characters: Meryl Streep as suffragist leader Emmeline Pankhurst, Adrian Schiller as future Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Natalie Press as the ill-fated Emily Davison. Most everyone else is fictional, though the issues – clearly enough – are not.

And while “Suffragette” overall carries the too-ardent feel of a pure message picture, it is capably directed, Mulligan as always pulls off a performance worth watching and the issues involving sexism still make everyday headlines all over the world – but especially here at home.

Friday’s mainstream openings: Are you hungry, team?

Teams are the theme for the week's opening movies. Teams of rebels, teams of best pals, teams of reporters and editors and teams of police investigators. Some of them might even be worth watching.

Friday's mainstream movie releases are as follows:

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2": The war for Panem finally reaches its climax. Do you still hunger for these games?

"The Night Before": Three friends celebrate one last annual Christmas Eve reunion. Do morons now come in trios?

"Spotlight": Based-in-fact story of the Boston Globe and its investigation of the Catholic Church's sexual-abuse scandal. The Globe is a newspaper. Remember what that is?

"The Secret in Their Eyes": A team of police investigators is shaken when the daughter of one is found murdered. Starring not one but two Oscar-winning actresses: Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman. No clue as to where the operating budget went.

‘Spectre’ portrays 007 in throwback mode

When I first emerged from seeing the latest James Bond film "Spectre," I was abuzz with all the fuss and flash of the special effects. So much so that I didn't mind that the story seemed like such a throwback. After I had time to mull things over, I began to reconsider.

Following the review of "Spectre" that I wrote for Spokane Pubic Radio:

I can’t remember the first time I saw a James Bond spy flick. I do remember going to the theater at Norfolk Naval Base with my best friend Ed sometime during the summer of 1964 to see the second of the Sean Connery Bond offerings, “From Russia With Love.”

It was a perfect time to be immersed in Ian Fleming’s world. I was barely 16, the Cold War was in full bloom and the evening news was talking about problems in a far-off place called Vietnam. Watching movies about a suave, no-nonsense British agent fight villains and bed beauties was the perfect escape.

The times, and Bond himself, have changed over the past five-plus decades. We’re now on our seventh Bond (if you count David Niven’s solo turn in the 1967 spy-spoof “Casino Royale”). And the all-pervasive War on Terrorism has replaced the tensions that seemed at least somewhat relieved after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The most recent Bond – and, arguably, at least tied with Connery for rank of the best – is Daniel Craig. Like Craig himself, whose penchant for humor seems limited, the films have taken a serious turn. Certainly more serious than was prevalent during the Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan eras, and even more serious than those featuring Connery – though the Scots-bread Connery, at least, was able to convey a slight smile through his always-cool line deliveries.

Take the latest film, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes’ second Bond effort, “Spectre.” Following the ultra-serious “Skyfall,” with its references to Bond’s past and his intimate relationship with Judi Dench’s M, “Spectre” is both a continuation of the Bond back story and a seeming culmination of Craig’s participation. Reports are that the search is on for the eighth actor to play Double-0-Seven.

It’s just as well. While full of the standard Bond gimmicks and characters, implausible plot twists and beauties-in-peril, “Spectre” seems like a hybrid of the traditional and neo-Fleming storylines. Taking up from where “Skyfall” left off, we find Bond facing the new M (played by Raph Fiennes) and new obligations while intent on completing an old assignment – which, we discover, involves a request/demand from his late and former boss.

That request takes Bond from an international incident in Mexico City – revealed in a brilliant opening sequence – to Austria and on to Morocco where he confronts the villainous secret agency SPECTRE and its leader, played by Christoph Waltz: the “author,” he claims, of all Bond’s pain. Meanwhile, Bond’s confederates – M, Q (played by Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) find themselves targeted by a new intelligence service that considers them obsolete.

It’s just at this point, where a truly serious film would delve more deeply into the richness of plot mechanics, that “Spectre” backtracks and devolves into standard Bond material: You know, the kind where our protagonist wins every fight, has every babe fall into his arms, and survives every villain’s evil, overly complex and murderous machinations.

And that’s the problem. Give us traditional wink-wink Bond or give us the new seriousness. This hybrid version feels neither shaken nor stirred.

Friday’s openings (amended): The Lantern goes to Sudan

Let's amend that opening-movies post below. "Labyrinth of Lies" is NOT opening at the Magic Lantern (I wrote that it was tentative). Instead, Friday's Lantern opening is:

"We Come As Friends": This 2014 documentary focuses on Austrian-born filmmaker Hubert Sauper who, just before the 2011 partition of Sudan, flew into the country to interview a range of the country's residents. The result, says the Christian Science Moniton, "opens a wide window into this mansion of horrors."

Friday’s openings: Football, cave-ins and Christmas

Note: This post originally listed another movie opening at the Magic Lantern. As noted below, the schedule has been changed.

Another week and another collection of big-screen openings is set to grace the area's screens. Friday's openings are as follows:

"My All American": When a smallish-but-disciplined football player gets injured, he faces the biggest fight of his life. From the same writer who gave us "Rudy," which should come as no surprise.

"The 33": Based on a true story, which occurred following a 2010 cave-in, three dozen and three Chilean miners find themselves trapped 700 meters underground. An international team of experts works on their rescue — an effort that could teach Congress a thing or two.

"Suffragette": Carey Mulligan stars as a young English working woman who sacrifices much to win women the right to vote. Leading, of  course, to a terrific David Bowie song.

"Love the Coopers": Four generations of a family gather for Christmas, and unexpected occurrences lead to the expected. A, uh, happy ending?

And at the Magic Lantern?

"We Come As Friends": A documentary filmmaker examine life in Sudan before the country's 2011 partition. Bring your outrage. 

‘The Assassin’: meditation as well as martial arts

Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien won the best director award at last May's Cannes Film Festival. His offering, "The Assassin," is playing at the Magic Lantern Theater. Following is the review of "The Assassin" that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio

Unlike many – if not most – children of the 21st century, I became a habitual movie-goer after learning how to read. And as a reader, I quickly learned to expect something specific out of the experience: namely, the ability to follow a narrative as it relates a plot or, at the very least, makes a conceptual point.

As my movie tastes grew more sophisticated, and as I began to seek out film from all over the globe, the manner in which I defined both plot and point evolved. I learned to appreciate storylines that were as scattered as they were obscure, points that were as debatable as they were abstruse … abstruse in the sense, as playwright Edward Albee would say, of recondite.

So when I watched veteran Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s award-winning movie “The Assassin,” I was prepared to not understand everything. Which, it turns out, is an understatement.

What I was NOT prepared for was just how beautiful the visuals Hou gives us would be – beautiful to the point that I ultimately didn’t care at all whether I understood what “The Assassin” was trying to say.

To be clear, “The Assassin” was one of the most acclaimed films to emerge from last May’s Cannes Film Festival. The festival jury awarded Hou its Best Director award, with composer Lim Giong picking up an award for the film’s evocative soundtrack.

Set in 9th century China, “The Assassin” focuses on a young woman who – at the age of 10 – is taken away by a mysterious nun who specializes in training assassins-for-hire. We first see our protagonist (played by the icily beautiful Taiwanese actress Shu Qi) in a black-and-white prologue that shows her dashing from a copse of trees to dispatch a man racing by on a horse. But when, in a second assignment, our killer refuses to kill a man because he is holding his son, the nun decides to remove her student’s inclinations toward mercy: Her task? To return to her home province and kill the young provincial Lord to whom she was once betrothed.

That much, it seems, is clear. But so much more isn’t. What, for example, are the motives behind the nun’s machinations? What is the relationship between the young Lord and the two women in his life? Who is the mysterious masked woman whom our protagonist fights amid the white spines of a cedar forest? Why does Hou’s camera linger for long single takes on every image from fog moving up a starkly beautiful mountainside to a pen full of goats?

Clearly, Hou is far more concerned with how “The Assassin” looks than what it has to say – at least to those Western viewers not familiar with either Chinese history or its cultural references. Virtually all the shots he uses display his mastery of framing and movement – or lack of – in a way that trivializes virtually every other filmmaking requirement.

That includes even, and perhaps especially, literal meaning. It occurs rarely, but beauty can be that stunning – which is a truism that Hou, clearly enough, embraces with more vigor than most.

On Sunday, go ‘Home Alone’ again

It’s strange to think that 25 years have passed since “Home Alone” opened across the nation. It’s seems only yesterday since I got shut out of a preview screening at the old Newport Highway Cinemas.

Remember when movies used to sell out?

“Home Alone,” which opened on Nov. 16, earned a cool $17 million on its opening weekend. It went on to rank as 1990’s No. 1 box-office earner. And to date, it has earned $285.7 million domestically, $476.7 worldwide.

And the photo of a wide-eyed, open-mouthed Macaulay Culkin – fingers splayed across his cheeks – became an instant meme.

On Sunday, you’ll get a chance to experience the original film all over again. A 25th Anniversary screening of “Home Alone” will show at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Regal Northtown Mall and Coeur d’Alene’s Regal Riverstone Stadium Cinemas.

So take the opportunity and time-travel back to 1990. To big-shoulders on women’s suits and men wearing mullets.

And to theaters that overflowed with fans.

Best movies start with the ‘goodest’ words

As somebody who has been watching movies since "Singing' in the Rain" was released, and who has been reviewing them professionally since 1984, I have lots of opinions about what makes a good screenplay. But like almost everyone else, I like hearing what those in the industry think — especially those whose work I admire.

Spokane filmmaker Sean Finley is a Facebook friend of mine. And this morning he posted a video that addresses the question "What advice do you have for screenwriters?" And though some of the respondents are questionable, others — such as Steven Spielberg, Aaron Sorkin, Brie Larson and Michael Shannon — are well worth listening to.

The video, part of the Academy Originals series, was produced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Check it out.

Oh, and thanks, Sean.

Friday’s openings: Spectre and Charlie Brown

From British Intelligence to latter-day Charles Schulz, Friday promises a variety of movie interests. The week's movie openings are as follows:

"Spectre": In what is likely to be his last James Bond outing, Daniel Craig stars as 007 bent on unveiling — and defeating — the secret organization of the film's title. Chances are he ends up both shaken and stirred.

"The Peanuts Movie": Snoopy and Charlie Brown embark on their personal quests, which involve flying and no doubt kicking footballs that keep disappearing. The doctor, again, is in.

"Miss You Already": Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette star as lifelong friends who face challenges as one gets married and the other develops an illness. Bring a hanky.

And at the Magic Lantern? A second-run opening of "Truth," the story of the controversial Dan Rather/Mary Mapes "60 Minutes" examination of George W. Bush's military service record. 

With or without that hanky, go see a movie. And enjoy.