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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

Friday’ openings: Disney meets Spielberg

Two movie traditions offer up new looks on Friday when the week's movie offerings open. Friday's scheduled openings are as follows:

"BFG": Teaming with Disney, Steven Spielberg adapts Roald Dahl's novel about a little girl who makes friend with a Big Friendly Giant. Oh, that's what those letters refer to. I always thought … never mind.

"The Legend of Tarzan": For some reason, the Tarzan stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs refuse to die. This latest effort is directed by "Harry Potter" veteran David Yates. Maybe he can instill some, er, magic into this long-lame concept.

"The Purge: Election Year": The purge is returning, and this time it's targeting a U.S. senator who wants to end it. Don't forget your barf bags.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Raiders! The Story Behind the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made": This documentary tells the story of two kids who, so in love with "Raiders of the Lost Ark," attempt to film their own version. Geeks galore.

"Dark Horse": The story of a group of working-class English horse lovers who attempt to break into the upper-class world of horse racing. Power to the people.

I'll update as needed.

‘The Conjuring 2’: More Warren malarky

If you still haven't seen "The Conjuring 2," you might want to check out the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

In 1973, when William Friedkin’s film “The Exorcist” opened, audiences were thrilled. They were frightened. They were grossed out. And they were shocked. But in the end, they were thrilled.

Based on the best-selling novel by William Peter Blatty, “The Exorcist” used a real-life case as its basis. But Blatty changed several aspects of the incident, and as Friedkin’s screenwriter of record, he included those changes in his screenplay.

One thing that neither Blatty nor Friedkin resorted to, however, was claiming that their work was “based on actual events.” They took a riveting story – one that, Friedkin later claimed, was a study of “faith” – and made a movie that many consider one of the scariest of all time.

That was then, though. And, changing with the tenor of the times, James Wan has adjusted accordingly. Known mostly for having co-created the “Saw” series – the films that helped spawn the sub-genre of torture-porn – Wan has become a virtual publicist for the QUOTE-UNQUOTE paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Based mostly on their association with the case popularly known as “The Amityville Horror,” the Warrens established a reputation. And based on that reputation, they are the stars both of Wan’s “The Conjuring” – which was released in 2013 – and now “The Conjuring 2.”

This new film is a retelling of a 1977 English case the Warrens apparently checked out. And by saying “checked out,” I’m being generous. According to the website History vs. Hollywood, the Warrens were just two of many investigators who visited a house in the North London suburb of Enfield allegedly haunted by a poltergeist. In fact, the site says, “most articles about the Enfield Poltergeist don’t even mention the Warrens.”

Never one to let facts get in the way of a movie plot, director Wan and his team of screenwriters put the Warrens – again played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga – at the center of the story. Called by the Catholic Church to investigate – the Warrens and Church officials seem to be on first-name bases – Ed and Lorraine travel to London, camp out in the Enfield home of Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four children. They’re particularly interested in Hodgson’s 11-year-old daughter Janet (played alluringly by Madison Wolfe).

What they find would creep out Bram Stoker. Mysterious noises. Slamming doors. Strange entities. Crosses that turn upside down on their own volition. A levitating Janet. And so on.

And while the movie, through the Warrens, seems to address the understandable skepticism that the real-life Enfield case aroused, it does so in a way designed to act as the straw-man argument the movie then rebuts with spectacular computer-generated bombast.

But as has been proven time and again with computer-generated imagery, camera tricks aren’t a good substitute for actual dramatic flair. After the first half hour, “The Conjuring 2” devolves into a paint-by-number CGI exercise.

In 1973, some frightened audience members actually walked out of “The Exorcist.” James Wan’s lame effort, these four decades later, is more likely to make you walk out yawning – unless, of course, you’re in the market for poppycock.

Another Friday opening: Model horror

Note: This post has been updated to reflect the news that the Magic Lantern is opening no new movies on Friday. On July 1, the Lantern will open "Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made" and "Dark Horse," plus pick up second runs of "Maggie's Plan" and "Love & Friendship."

Yep, there's an addition to the mainstream movie listing. It's the latest by cult director Nicholas Wind Refn. Friday's added opening is as follows:

"The Neon Demon": Danish-born Refn wrote and directed this contemporary horror film about a young fashion model in Los Angeles (Elle Fanning) who attracts the envy of all the models she encounters. Sounds like a scenario for a new reality show: "Desperate Supermodels of L.A."

FYI, just so you know what to expect, check out this snippet of a review by The Telegraph following the film's premiere at Cannes: "It’s by far the most divisive film to have screened in competition at Cannes this year: before the end credits had even begun to roll, some audience members were already on their feet, yelling abuse at the screen (It’s only fair to report there was also a phalanx of applauders, of which I was one.)"

Sounds like a Nathan Weinbender film if ever there was one.

Friday’s openings: Sharks, aliens and history

The final movie listing of the week seldom becomes final before Wednesday. But the Hollywood schedule is usually set months in advance. So based on what IMDB is reporting, here are Friday's supposed movie openings:

"Independence Day: Resurgence": Roland Emmerich follows his 1996 alien-invasion action flick with this sequel about the aliens invading yet again. But this time Will Smith's character isn't around to help save the day. Think that will make a difference?

"The Shallows": A young medical student (Blake Lively) goes on vacation, gets stranded on a rock as a giant shark circles her perch. It's like some Hollywood producer thought, "Hey, let's make a movie about that young woman who gets eaten during the first 10 minutes of 'Jaws!' "

"Free State of Jones": Based on actual events, this historical drama tells the story of a Mississippi man (Matthew McConaughey) who broke with the South and fought Confederate forces in defense of their own mixed-race community. Why wasn't this taught in history class?

I'll update as needed.

‘The Lobster’ cooks in lukewarm water

David, the protagonist in Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ movie “The Lobster,” is in a bad situation. Just dumped by his wife, David – played by a pudgy Colin Farrell – is forced to take up residence in the strangest hotel imaginable.

Upon checking in, he is told that he has 45 days to find a romantic partner – gay or straight, though not bisexual – or he will be transformed into an animal. He does, of course, have some choice in the matter: He’ll be able to choose what animal he wants to become. Which is what his brother did, a fact we know because his brother is the dog that accompanies David during his hotel check-in.

For David, who seems destined for transformation, the animal he wants to become is the one that Lanthimos uses for his film’s title: a lobster. Why? Because, David explains, lobsters live for 100 years and they remain sexually active the whole time.

And that’s the world that Lanthimos throws us into, one that is as dystopian as it is dismaying. It’s a world that, in so many ways, is also incomprehensible, mainly because David’s life gets progressively more weird. During his stay at the hotel, where partners come together through the sharing of common traits – near-sightedness, for example, or the tendency to bleed spontaneously from the nose – David eventually pairs up with a woman who has no heart, no feelings of tenderness whatsoever.

So he, softie that he inherently is, has to pretend that he is heartless, too – though his pretense slips when his new mate targets his canine brother, which causes David to strike back. After he does, suddenly enough, David finds himself in a forest filled with “loners,” the revolutionaries whose life outside mainstream culture involves running around and dodging the hotel’s residents, who hunt them with drug-laced dart guns.

Ultimately, David does find love – though life among the “loners” turns out to be every bit as demented as life in the hotel, where any kind of sexual activity outside of partnerships is strictly prohibited. In the forest, self-gratification is fine, but any kind of hanky-panky between humans is forbidden. And when David’s lover is dealt with harshly, he faces a choice that seems even more appalling than being transformed into a crustacean.

Lanthimos, who both co-wrote and directed “The Lobster,” creates his grotesque world-view from the opening scene. A woman driving a car, suddenly stops, gets out, stumbles a few feet across a field, pulls out a pistol and shoots what looks like a donkey. Then as she walks away, another donkey comes over and nudges the now dead animal. No context is provided, no explanation given.

Like the best theater of the absurd – Samuel Beckett’s play “Krapp’s Last Tape,” for example – some early moments in “The Lobster” seem funny. But that feeling fades, leaving us with a sense of fatalism but without a larger sense of actual meaning.

Madman that he was, Beckett could do both. Imagine what he could do with a man who yearns to be a lobster.

No ‘Dark Horse’ for the Magic Lantern

And the first adjustment to the movie schedule features a deletion: "Dark Horse" will not open at the Magic Lantern on Friday. Seems Sony Pictures wants to play the movie in Seattle first. At least that's the word from the Lantern itself.

Sorry, racing fans. I'll have other news as it becomes available.

Friday’s openings redux: Disney, horses and Hart

Looks as if we have a pair of mixmaster genre offerings on Friday, each of which should offer some bit of mainstream entertainment, along with a couple of Magic Lantern openings. The week's scheduled offerings are as follows:

"Finding Dory": A sequel to 2003's "Finding Nemo," this animated film picks up when the memory-challenged blue tang Dory (voice by Ellen Degeneres) decides that she needs to find her family. She's helped by the clown fish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Another Pixar-Disney offering, blending family entertainment, comedy and adventure.

"Central Intelligence": Ironic title aside, this Kevin Hart comedy teams the diminutive comic with the oversize Dwayne Johnson as mismatched partners involved in crime-fighting. Or something. The blend here is action, "comedy" (if you find Hart funny) and comic intrigue.

And at the Magic Lantern (in addition to a second-run screening of "The Lobster"):

"Dark Horse": The true story of the horse Dream Alliance, a race horse bankrolled by a group of ordinary people in hopes of striking it rich. No fair checking Google to see the plot spoilers.

I'll update as needed.

Friday’s openings: Disney and a little Hart

Looks as if we have a pair of mixmaster genre offerings on Friday, each of which should offer some bit of mainstream entertainment. The week's scheduled offerings are as follows:

"Finding Dory": A sequel to 2003's "Finding Nemo," this animated film picks up when the memory-challenged blue tang Dory (voice by Ellen Degeneres) decides that she needs to find her family. She's helped by the clown fish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Another Pixar-Disney offering, blending family entertainment, comedy and adventure.

"Central Intelligence": Ironic title aside, this Kevin Hart comedy teams the diminutive comic with the oversize Dwayne Johnson as mismatched partners involved in crime-fighting. Or something. The blend here is action, "comedy" (if you find Hart funny) and comic intrigue.

I'll update as needed.

See Best of EWU Film Friday at The Bing

Every filmmaker was, at one time, a beginner. Steven Spielberg made movies in his backyard. Stanley Kubrick taught himself the rudiments of photography while still in high school. P.T. Anderson made his first movie when he was just 8.

So it behooves us all to support young filmmakers. They just might be making the films that one day fill your local metroplexes.

Your opportunity to do so comes Friday night at 7:30 p.m. when a program of short films will screen at the Bing Crosby Theater. The Best of EWU Film features a number of shorts made by students in Eastern Washington University's Film Program.

The 70-minute screening will be followed by a Q&A session and a post-event reception at the Tamarack Public House. The event is free, though a $10 donation is requested.

For more information, click here.

Two late additions: plans and lobsters

Note: Just found out that "The Lobster" (below) actually opened last week. Duh.

Late additions to the week's movie openings, both at AMC River Park Square:

"Maggie's Plan": Greta Gerwig extends her stay as America's goofy sweetheart by playing a woman who, desiring a child on her own, disrupts a couple's seemingly ideal marriage. That's the plan, anyway.

"The Lobster": This dystopian story centers on a society where people have to find romantic partners or be forced to become animals. Guess what animal Colin Farrell chooses?

I'll update even further when, and if, it's called for. (As, if you read the note above, it clearly was.)

Opening at the Lantern: A ‘Weiner’ joke

And from the Magic Lantern, a documentary about a one-time New York political rising star. Opening Friday:

"Weiner": Documentary filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg look at the rise and fall of former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. Let's just say the congressman's surname is a synonym for what ultimately brought the man down.

Friday’s openings: Sequels and videogame CGI

Big week for sequels and a movie adapted from a videogame. Friday's mainstream movie openings are as follows:

"The Conjuring 2": Another adventure into the (ahem) real-life paranormal investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren, this time in London. Scary, eh what?

"Now You See Me 2": Our crew of magicians returns to attempt an even bigger heist, this time at the behest (not entirely by choice) of a tech magnate (Daniel Radcliffe). Nothin' up my sleeve …

"Warcraft": Straight from the videogame and novel world of Azeroth, this action fantasy involves the needed partnership of groups that distrust each other so that they can fend off an invasion. It's somewhat more complicated than that, but … anyway, you'll see lots of CGI-created teeth and claws and stuff.

I'll have more when the information becomes available.

SIFF 2016, day six: The long week closes

(Pictured: “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”)

Six days, 14 movies and 550 miles of traveling later, I’m finally back in Spokane after an enjoyable but exhausting week at the 42nd annual Seattle International Film Festival. I wasn’t enthusiastic about everything I saw, but nothing was an outright disaster, and even the failures possessed admirable qualities. I’ll run down two of the three films I saw yesterday (I don’t have much to say about the third, “Paul à Québec,” though it’s quite good in its own gentle, modest way), and I’ll list every movie I saw and an accompanying letter grade at the bottom of this post.

“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” – One of the better narrative features that I saw at SIFF, this spirited lark from New Zealand writer-director Taika Waititi is a sweet coming-of-age comedy by way of a breathless chase picture.

After bouncing from one foster family to another, pre-teen troublemaker Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is placed in the country home of prickly Hec (Sam Neill) and his doting wife Bella (Rima Te Wiata). Right as Ricky is starting to feel comfortable, Bella dies unexpectedly, and Ricky escapes into the nearby bush before child protective services can take him back into custody.

Hec chases Ricky into the forest, which leads a militaristic social worker (Rachel House) to think that the kid has been abducted by his foster uncle. A manhunt ensues, with Hec and Ricky narrowly evading capture from the police and a group of advantageous hunters looking to collect the reward for Hec’s arrest.

Though nowhere near as unhinged and riotous as Waititi’s previous film, the vampire mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is, like Ricky himself, a tenacious ball of energy. Waititi’s camera whip pans and smash zooms every which way, so that the movie often resembles a scrappier, shaggier Wes Anderson comedy. “Wilderpeople” has already been a huge success in its native New Zealand, and it played like gangbusters to the sold-out SIFF crowd, so I’m anticipating this one to become a sleeper hit in the States. It’s impossible to dislike.

“The Bitter Stems” – This is a real find, a moody, darkly comic Argentinian noir from 1956 that was recently rediscovered and beautifully restored by the Film Noir Foundation.

In this lost classic, a cynical newspaper reporter named Alfredo (Carol Cores), looking to break away from the industry, goes into business with Liudas (Vassili Lambrinos), a fast-talking Hungarian bartender who offers phony journalism correspondence classes to wannabe reporters. Liudas says he wants to make enough money to move his wife and kids to Argentina, but Alfredo soon becomes convinced that his newfound friend is pulling a fast one on him.

Projected in lustrous 35mm at SIFF, “The Bitter Stems” (“Los Tallos Amargos”) is one of the most visually arresting noirs I’ve ever seen, with a smoky, shadowy style that pays obvious homage to German expressionism and Gregg Toland’s deep focus photography in “Citizen Kane.” If you’ve ever read an O. Henry story, you’ll be able to anticipate most of the film’s twists, but part of the joy of watching a plot like this unfold is relishing in its cruel, twisted ironies.

If this ever ends up on DVD – or, preferably, at a repertory screening near you – it’s absolutely worth checking out.

This year’s SIFF offerings:

“Author: The JT LeRoy Story” B+
“The Bitter Stems” A-
“The Brand New Testament” A-
“Burn Burn Burn” C+
“Complete Unknown” C
“Creepy” C
“Gleason” A-
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” B+
“Kilo Two Bravo” B+
“Morris from America” B-
“Paul à Québec” B
“Tag” B
“Wiener-Dog” C
“Zoom” B-

SIFF 2016, day five: Ashes to ashes

(Pictured: “The Brand New Testament”)

Yesterday was the busiest I’ve had thus far at the Seattle International Film Festival: From 3 to 11:30 p.m., I was in and out of the theater, leaving films and then immediately hopping in line for the next one. The three movies I saw – a religious comedy, a road trip buddy film and a serial killer thriller – were wildly different from one another, but death defined all of them. Let’s start with the best of the bunch.

“The Brand New Testament” – If “Amélie” and “Dogma” were in a head-on collision with one another, you might end up with something resembling this gleefully sacrilegious but deeply human Belgian comedy.

Nominated for best foreign language film at last year’s Golden Globes, Jaco Van Dormael’s “The Brand New Testament” is set in a world where God (Benoît Poelvoorde, the killer in “Man Bites Dog”) is an alcoholic, abusive putz who only created humanity to watch it suffer. He may have been responsible for the universe, but His most treasured creations are the everyday annoyances that plague us: The line that moves fastest is the one you’re not in, for instance, and toast that always lands jam-side down. He takes credit for headaches, too.

God’s wife and two children have come to resent Him (His oldest son – you may have heard of Him – left home years ago), and His young daughter Ea (Pili Groyne) decides to make the world a more interesting place. She first notifies everyone in the world of their exact date of death, and then, with the help of a half-literate vagrant, she goes about collecting six everyday people to bring the total number of documented apostles to 18.

With its near-constant voiceover narration, its ever-growing cast of quirky supporting characters (including the legendary Catherine Deneuve as a bored housewife who falls in love with a gorilla) and a visual style that vacillates between lush and colorful to grubby and ashen, its style is perhaps too similar to the distinctive work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It’s often hilarious and always surprising, and it’s perceptive about human nature and insightful about what would actually happen if our mortalities were suddenly made concrete.

“Burn Burn Burn” – Making its U.S. debut at SIFF, “Burn Burn Burn” is one of those indie comedies about miserable millennials who take a fabled road trip and Find Themselves Along the Way. Our protagonists are jaded 20-somethings Seph (Laura Carmichael of “Downton Abbey”) and Alex (Chloe Pirrie), old friends whose personal and professional lives are in shambles. Their buddy Dan (Jack Farthing) has just died of pancreatic cancer, and he leaves behind a video requesting they scatter his ashes (conveniently stored in a Tupperware container) in four specific locations.

Like a slightly less maudlin version of “P.S. I Love You,” Seph and Alex embark on a journey through the British countryside, with Dan’s acerbic, self-effacing videos guiding them. Of course, they encounter some eccentrics along the way, including a hippy-dippy cult and a flamboyant Airbnb host, and (of course) they fight and make up and confide in one another and bond.

Some of the film’s emotional moments land, most notably a tender, out-of-nowhere subplot in which Seph and Alex help an older woman escape her abusive husband. Others are aggressively on-the-nose: One involves Alex, who’s coerced into helping a local theater rehearse its Passion play, confessing a deep, dark secret to Seph while literally strapped to a cross.

“Burn Burn Burn,” which gets its title from a passage in Kerouac’s “On the Road,” is the first film from director Chanya Button. She clearly has a way with actors – Carmichael and Pirrie are quite good in familiar roles, and Farthing is effective as a voice of reason from beyond the grave – but the script offers nothing new, covering the same dramatic ground as every soul-searching road trip movie you’ve ever seen.

“Creepy” – In this grisly, slow-moving Japanese mystery from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Cure,” “Pulse”), a former cop working as a professor of criminal psychology is lured back to a cold case he once investigated. A family went missing six years prior; though their young daughter was left behind, no trace of them has ever been found. The cop and his wife, meanwhile, have moved into a new neighborhood, and he becomes convinced that the strange, timid man in the house next door isn’t who he says he is.

“Creepy” is built upon a decent setup, which recalls Hitchcock’s “Psycho” with its Bernard Herrmann-esque musical score and a plot point involving a bedridden woman who is spoken of but never seen. What isn’t as strong is the story, which requires too many ridiculous coincidences and characters behaving foolishly to keep it in motion. Kurosawa is a master of atmosphere and tone, but this plot has too many holes in it.

Tomorrow: My last day at SIFF includes a long-forgotten Argentinian noir and a coming-of-age comedy from New Zealand.

SIFF 2016, day four: Heartwarmers and head scratchers

(Pictured: Markees Christmas in “Morris from America”)

One of the many benefits of a film festival as far-reaching and versatile as SIFF is that the conventional gets to coexist with the wildly experimental. On any given day, you might see a film that would be right at home on a mall multiplex screen followed by something indescribably weird. Consider the two movies I saw on my fourth day at SIFF, one of which feels tailor made for fawning festival crowds and another that’s…well, it’s something else entirely.

Thursday’s crowd pleaser was “Morris from America,” writer-director Chad Hartigan’s cute but slight coming-of-age/fish-out-of-water comedy. Markees Christmas plays a black 13-year-old from New York, who’s uprooted to Germany with his single father (Craig Robinson), a soccer coach. Morris, who’s socially withdrawn and obsessed with rap, is especially conspicuous in his lily-white Heidelberg high school, where the kids are more enamored with thumping EDM music than hip-hop.

Hartigan isn’t particularly concerned with the jarring racial divides between Morris and his classmates, whose impressions of African-American culture are rooted in painful stereotypes. Instead, he focuses on the ways Morris relates to other people – his slightly older, more defiant classmate (Lina Keller), his doting German teacher (Carla Juri from “Wetlands”) and his father, whose sense of alienation in a foreign country is further exacerbated by Morris’ teenage rebellion.

“Morris from America” is perfectly pleasant, and Robinson and newcomer Christmas develop some genuinely terrific chemistry in their scenes together. But it’s so loose and amiable that it never develops much emotional weight, and it likely won’t stick in your mind long after it’s over. The movie won acclaim at Sundance, and it’s the kind of low-key charmer that could possibly find its way to loving mainstream audiences.

The same cannot be said of “Tag,” one of the newest mind benders from prolific Japanese auteur Sion Sono (I say “one of” because he directed a whopping six films last year). I’d honestly like to know what goes on inside Sono’s brain: His films are nearly impossible to describe, so lurid and bloody and cartoonish that they often resemble manga comics made flesh. Sono’s magnum opus is “Love Exposure,” a four-hour epic of teenage perversity, martial arts and religious cults that’s one of the strangest, funniest, most crazily ambitious movies I’ve ever seen.

“Tag” isn’t in the same league as “Love Exposure” (it’s also a third of its length), but its refusal to be pinned down by the basic restrictions of genre, plot or even logic makes it perversely winning. It’s a shockingly violent live action cartoon set in a world in which seemingly no men exist, and it opens as two busloads of schoolgirls are brutally vivisected in a bizarre accident. Only one girl survives, and as she escapes the supernatural force that offed her classmates, she continues stumbling into what appear to be alternate realities.

Where does it go from there? There’s a murderous gust of wind that slices people clean in half, a carnivorous lake monster, a back flipping man-pig wearing a tuxedo, a woman whose body is filled with crisscrossing wires, an all girls school that becomes a war zone and a wedding that develops into a bloodbath.

But Sono hasn’t merely assembled a grotesque catalogue of surreal, disconnected images and scenarios. When he finally explains what’s going on, “Tag” takes a hard left turn and becomes a heady allegory about the inevitability of fate and the dangers of objectifying women. (That last reveal inspires some moral whiplash, since so much of “Tag” resembles the objectification it goes on to excoriate.)

It goes without saying that Sono’s work isn’t going to appeal to everyone, especially American audiences (his temperament and sense of humor are intensely Japanese). But if you’re able to get on its own loony wavelength, “Tag” is a weird, singular whirlwind of a movie.

Tomorrow: More unexplained goings-on from Japan, France and the UK.