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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

Friday’s openings redux: Murder and political mayhem

So, seems we need to do a couple of updates to Friday's movie-release schedule. In addition to the openings I've already posted, heed the following:

"Assassination Nation": When some embarrassing texts and emails become public, the town of Salem loses its collective mind. As one character says, "I hate the Internet."

As for the Magic Lantern, it, too, will be playing Michael Moore's new documentary, "Fahrenheit 11/9."

Here are a few critical comments about Moore's movie:

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: "The movie, in its way, summons something ominous and powerful. It's not a screed - it's a warning. It says, quite wisely: Take action now, or you may no longer have the opportunity to do so."

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: "What sticks… is the larger message the movie delivers in its call to private citizens on public service: Run, vote, care."

Sam Adams, Slate: "Watching Fahrenheit 11/9 often feels like getting socked in the gut, but it leaves you with your blood pumping hard and fast, ready to get up off the floor and throw the next punch."

That's it. Time to go see a movie. And enjoy. (And in the case of Moore's documentary, I'll add … "if you can.")

Friday’s openings: Magicians and the facts of life

A bit of magic, a bit of politics and a bit of contemporary life itself look to be on tap in theaters on Friday, according to the national movie-release schedule. The listing looks like this:

"The House With a Clock in its Walls": An orphan boy goes to live with his uncle (Jack Black) and learns about a magical clock with immense powers. Calling J.K. Rowling.

"Life Itself": Writer-director Dan Fogelman (of the television show "This Is Us") explores the relationship of a young couple who meet, marry and experience the birth of their first child — all set against the backdrop of exactly what the title describes.

"Fahrenheit 11/9": Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore turns his camera on our current political crisis and suggests ways to fix the problem. Just in time for the midterm elections.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Pick of the Litter": A litter of dogs is followed from birth through the process of becoming guides for the blind.

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

Jeselnik’s brand of comedy is darkly hilarious

Humor is — or at least can be — a difficult process in this era of correct speech.

And that, for the most part, is a good thing. We should all be sensitive when referring to those parts of society that have long been unrepresented (or at least under-represented and often even misrepresented) in the larger cultural conversation.

But where does satire fit into this picture? And when does satire cross over into objectionable commentary? Did the critics of Jonathan Swift have standing to criticize his call to solve Ireland's economic problems by selling Irish babies — as food? What about Lenny Bruce's pointed use of profanity? Would we even remember George Carlin if he hadn't used his comedy to tackle the dark aspects of American society?

And, speaking of the dark side, what about Anthony Jeselnik, who performed Thursday night at the Bing Crosby Theater as part of his Funny Games 2018 World Tour? What can we say about a comic who intentionally pushes just about every hot conversational button he possibly can? Buttons that involve – just to name a few controversial topics — dropping babies, domestic violence, murder-suicide (along with just plain old murder) and, as a capper, his driving a friend to an abortion clinic?

I wasn't sure how Jeselnik's humor would play in Spokane. Some member of the not-quite-sellout crowd that showed up on Thursday clearly had never heard of him. And not every one of his jokes hit comedy pay dirt.

But credit Jeselnik with being a polished professional. Whatever you might say about his material, he is a master at delivering it. Not only did he put a few obnoxious hecklers in their place — one of his specialties — but he stalked the stage with an affected air of arrogance that dares anyone not to appreciate his work, a comic pretense that is a main part of his onstage personality.

His humor is so outrageous that he dares you not to laugh. And hardly anyone on Thursday night took that dare.

I didn’t even try. At times I felt like wincing, and I groaned more than once, but I ended up laughing as much as I have in a long time.

Then again, that's no surprise. I’ve always thought Jonathan Swift’s culinary suggestions were hilarious, too.

Magic Lantern to feature two sides of literature

And at the Magic Lantern? Spokane's only arts-oriented movie theater is opening two new films:

"Gavagai": So says IMDB.com, "A German businessman travels to Norway to finish the impossible translation of some poems into Chinese, a project of his late wife." Three cultures in one.

"The Bookshop": Emily Mortimer stars as a woman who faces opposition when she opens a bookstore in a small English village. No readers in that place, evidently.

The Lantern plans to open the film "Pick of the Litter" on Sept. 21.

Friday’s openings: Killer aliens and post-war redemption

Looks as if a varied range of films is opening on Friday. According to the national movie-release schedule, here is what we can look forward to:

"The Predator": Not so much a reboot as an extension of the "Predator" series, this time the story involves a young boy's mistaken lure of the lethal hunters to Earth.

"A Simple Favor": Anna Kendrick stars as a woman investigating the mysterious disappearance of her glamorous neighbor (Blake Lively).

"White Boy Rick": Based on a real story, this is the tale of a teenager who became an FBI informant and yet ended up being sentenced to life for dealing drugs.

"Unbroken: Path to Redemption": This film picks up where Angelina Jolie's 2014 film left off, telling the second half of Louis Zamperini's true story of how he recovered from the horrors he suffered during World War II.

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

Face it, sometimes life is just a ‘Puzzle’

The film "Puzzle" continues to play at the Magic Lantern. Following is my review of the film, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

When we first meet 40-something Agnes, the protagonist of Marc Turtletaub’s small working-class study titled “Puzzle,” she doesn’t make much of an impression. In fact, even though she is played by the talented Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald (affecting, as many UK actors can, an effective American accent), Agnes seems almost to be sleepwalking, which is – we’re led to believe – maybe how she has been acting throughout her life.

Not that she just sits around the house. The wife of Louie, owner-operator of an auto-repair shop, and mother of two grown sons – the restless Ziggy and the spoiled Gabe – Agnes spends her days cleaning house, washing clothes, preparing meals and doing all the other chores necessary to take care of her boys.

At times, though, Agnes seems – well, disconnected. And not just from her family and friends but from life itself. That fact becomes evident in the movie’s opening scene in which she is shown hosting her own birthday party. Behind her questioning expression, and sad little smile, she seems to be echoing the classic Peggy Lee line: “Is that all there is?

Then providence strikes. One of her birthday presents is a jigsaw puzzle. And almost before you can say Map of the World, she has completed it. For the first time, her smile seems genuine.

This, of course, sends Agnes on a quest, as most obsessions tend to do. Soon she is taking the train into Manhattan in search of more puzzles. And not long after that she seeks out someone searching for a puzzle partner, someone with whom he – and naturally it’s a he, a man named Robert, played by Indian-born actor Irrfan Khan – can team up with to enter a national jigsaw puzzle contest.

So the plot is set. And if “Puzzle” were like several other movies, that would be where it would go, focusing on the drama inherent in any kind of competition, be it athletic or intellectual.

That, though, is where Turtletaub’s film – which was adapted from Argentine writer-director Natalia Smirnoff’s 2009 film “Rompecabezas” – breaks form. Yes, there is a competition, and Agnes and Robert do participate, but that is not the principal emphasis of “Puzzle.” Agnes’ awakening is.

Yet her awakening isn’t simplistic. She doesn’t understand what’s happening to her any more than those around her, especially her husband (played by David Denman) who despite his over-protective, paternalistic and often condescending manner, does indeed care for his wife. And who despite his limitations is fighting his own battle, choosing not to follow in the footsteps of his own father – steps that, again we’re led to believe, might lead to violence.

Which is the strength of “Puzzle,” the fact that it refuses to portray both these characters and the situations they find themselves in as mere clichés. That the film doesn’t, ultimately, offer any easy solutions either for Agnes or her family might feel to some moviegoers as too open-ended to be fully satisfying.

All too often, though, life is just like that. It’s a puzzle in which some of the pieces just don’t fit.

So many TV channels, so few chances to watch

One of the joys of being a movie fan today is the access we all can have to pretty much anything we want to watch. And to watch in the comfort of our own homes not just movie classics but also the many imaginative TV series from all over the world that are being produced.

On occasion, my "Movies 101" partners and I do special shows in which we talk about streaming services, about how easy or hard they are to navigate, but mainly things we've binge-watched recently. One point I try to emphasize always is that between the three services that we use most in my house — Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu — the range of material is overwhelming.

Which is why we so often have a hard time catching up with anything. Three series that we've gotten recently hooked on date back several years: "Hannibal" originally aired on NBC in 2013, the Danish-made "Dicte: Crime Reporter" debuted the same year on Danish television but wasn't picked up by Netflix until 2016, and the French-made "Spiral" (or "Engrenages") dates all the way back to 2005 but didn't show up on Netflix until 2012 and can currently be found on Hulu.

Of the three, "Hannibal" is the most surprising. And not just because in terms of plot it predates Thomas Harris' source novels, "Red Dragon" and "Hannibal" ("The Silence of the Lambs" occurs somewhere in between the two), which means that it is the character of Hannibal Lecter (played by the great Mads Mikkelsen) who is pulling the strings of FBI investigative consultant Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and his FBI boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne).

No, what's most surprising is that this series originally played on NBC. The surprise is that the show, even at the 10 p.m. time slot, is as graphic in its depiction of violence as any television show ever broadcast. More so, even, when you consider that during the first season one episode featured a beach-side totem pole — made out of parts of human corpses.

So … I'm not sure we'll go on to season two. But maybe. I do love the cast, which includes Gillian Anderson as Lecter's psychiatrist (if you can imagine that).

Trouble is, there's so much more to watch. To quote Gale Snoats, so many social engagement, so little time.

Friday’s openings redux: Lovers at the crossroad

Looks as if there's at least one addition to Friday's movie-openings schedule:

"Juliet, Naked": Rose Byrne plays a woman whose boyfriend (Chris O'Dowd) is obsessed with a one-time popular singer-songwriter named Ticker Crowe (played by Ethan Hawke). Then she begins seeing none other than … Tucker Crowe. And don't you hate it every time that happens.

Here are some critical comments:

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: "The plot is essentially a wisp, and Byrne is far too luminous for her sad-sack role. But Juliet still feels winning; the small, sweet grace note on a familiar melody."

Lindsay Bahr, Associated Press: "Juliet, Naked has a plot that not only builds but that keeps getting more interesting and more rewarding."

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "A charming film of an engaging, adult nature about two very different people trying to press reset in their lives, it is comic, heartfelt and smart as they come - a rare combination these days."

 

‘Perfect Blue’: another anime not for kids

Anime fans have had a lot to watch lately. The Studio Ghibli Fest 2018 has been screening such films as "Princess Mononoke" and "Grave of the Fireflies," and is set to show the children's classic "My Neighbor Totoro" on Sept. 30, Oct. 1 and 3.

But before that, on Thursday and then on Tuesday, Sept. 10, Fathom Events will present the 1997 Japanese animated feature "Perfect Blue." The film will screen at 7 p.m. both nights at the Regal Cinemas theater at Northtown Mall (Thursday dubbed in English, Sept. 10 in original language with English subtitles).

Directed by Satoshi Kon, and adapted from a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, the movie tells the story of a singer from a Japanese pop trio who quits to become an actress in a television crime series. Pretty soon, though, she begins having trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality — and then people start dying.

Like "Graveyard of the Fireflies," "Perfect Blue" is not designed for younger viewers. In fact, the film is rated R for "for animated sequences of violence and nudity, and for brief language." Yet it has earned a measure of critical acclaim.

Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle: " 'Perfect Blue' manages, through animation, to take the thriller, media fascination, psychological insight and pop culture and stand them all on their heads."

Tara Brady, Irish Times: " 'Perfect Blue' is every Spice Girl, Shirelle and Supreme of yore refashioned and recast in Bergman's persona. An edgy new career, indeed."

Edgy, indeed.

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ an old-school romance

Despite its title, "Crazy Rich Asians" is likely not what you expect. Read the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

One of the nicest experiences you can have in the movies involves surprise. You go in expecting one thing only to find something completely different.

And, of course, I mean different in a good way.

That’s exactly what happened when I went to see “Crazy Rich Asians.” All I knew about the film going in was that one of its cast members was Ken Jeong, the Korean-American comic actor who plays a particularly wild character in all three “Hangover” movies.

Jeong’s presence, plus the film’s title, led me to think that “Crazy Rich Asians” was going to be a blend of “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids” with every Asian stereotype that Hollywood could possibly come up with.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. “Crazy Rich Asians,” it turns out, is the kind of romantic comedy that Hollywood has been making since the days of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. The only real difference is the complexion of the cast.

Constance Wu plays Rachel Chu, an economics professor at New York University. For the past year, Rachel has been dating Nick Young (played by Henry Golding). Nick is a hunk of a guy who – for good reason – thinks Rachel is the cat’s meow. Yet she is surprised, pleased but surprised, when he asks her to accompany him to his best friend’s wedding.

A wedding that will take place in his home country of Singapore. Where Rachel will, for the first time, meet Nick’s family.

And the parade of Rachel’s surprises is just beginning. They fly not just in first class but in the kind of comfort fit for royalty. That’s when Rachel discovers that Nick is not the unassuming young urban professional she thought but, instead, is the heir to one of Singapore’s biggest fortunes.

Finally, Rachel learns that Nick’s family – especially his mother (played by Michelle Yeoh) – is both protective of Nick and convinced that she isn’t right for the man who is expected to take over the family business.

So the scene is set: Does Rachel have what it takes to win the man she loves? Does Nick have the nerve to oppose his family and pursue a future with the woman he loves? Will the back-biting friends and family ever allow this affair to bloom? Good questions, though the answers aren’t all that hard to figure out.

So, no, “Crazy Rich Asians” doesn’t boast a particularly original plot, even if it is based on Kevin Kwan’s semi-autobiographical novel. Instead, the quality resides both in the cast – all of whom indeed have Asian roots – and in the skill director Jon M. Chu displays in handling a tried-and-true movie formula.

Wu and Golding are totally convincing as our protagonist lovers, but also solid are the performances by Yeoh, by Gemma Chan as Nick’s beautiful cousin Astrid and rap artist Awkwafina as Rachel’s college friend.

Yes, director Chu does employ a number of Asian stereotypes. But amid the jokes and exaggerated postures, he also captures a sense of Asian authenticity.

And in the process he gives this decades-old Hollywood blueprint a welcome, refreshing makeover. 

Friday’ openings: Ways to face the afterlife

Horror, thrills and drama are on tap for Friday, if the national movie-release schedule is any indication — which it usually is. Friday's openings should look something like this:

"The Nun": Another segment in "The Conjuring" series, this horror flick is set in 1952 and involves a priest and nun investigating a suicide at a convent. Cue to what Fathers Merrin and Karras chant in "The Exorcist."

"Peppermint": Jennifer Garner plays a woman planning revenge on the drug-cartel members who killed her husband and daughter. She's pretty far from OK.

"God Bless the Broken Road": Inspired by a song by Rascal Flatts (originally the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), writer-director Harold Cronk adapted a novel by Jennifer Dornbush about a grieving widow who meets a race-car driver. For more information, see Cronk's resumé.

As always, I'll update when the local theaters finalizes their bookings.

‘The Sound of Music’ evokes memories — yet again

The first time I saw "The Sound of Music," I went with my then-girlfriend Terry Cornett to a downtown Norfolk, Va., movie house. This was either in late 1965 or early 1966 (the film premiered in New York in March 1965).

It was a special event. We'd had to buy reserved seats, which at that time was common only for concerts, not for movies. And though I was just a college freshman, I felt very grown up.

Movie memories such as these tend to rise whenever revivals occur, such as the one that will take place on two nights, Sept. 9 and 12, when "The Sound of Music" will again play locally, specifically at Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

The movie will screen at 2 and 7 p.m. on both days.

As most movie fans know, "The Sound of Music" was adapted from the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical. Directed by Robert Wise, and written for the screen by Ernest Lehman, the film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Julie Andrews was nominated as Best Actress but lost out to Julie Christie for "Darling."

My late "Movies 101" partner Bob Glatzer never liked the film, which I can respect. Our different opinions always led to some spirited discussions. But as an example of a certain kind of Hollywood product, one that offers up a simple and satisfying fantasy, "The Sound of Music" has always made me smile.

Some memories tend to do that. They are, after all, some of my favorite things.

The week’s openings redux: Lost kids and found ghosts

And so some adjustments to Friday's movie-release schedule are in order. The additions to the openings I've already noted are as follows:

"Searching": John Cho stars as a worried father trying to find his missing daughter. Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg.

"The Little Stranger": In the midst of a crumbling manor house, a doctor (Domnhal Gleeson) tries to figure out what appears to be a paranormal mystery. Ooooohhh, kids, scary.

That's the lot. If any changes crop up, I'll note them. Until then, go see a movie. And enjoy.

Magic Lantern to pick up the movie ‘Puzzle’

And what about the Magic Lantern? On Friday, Spokane's only arts movie house will pick up a little film titled "Puzzle," which opened last week at AMC River Park Square.

Directed by Marc Turtletaub, better known as a producer ("Little Miss Sunshine," "Loving"), "Puzzle" stars Kelly Macdonald as a suburban housewife whose life changes when she discovers a talent for solving jigsaw puzzles. Adapted from the 2009 Argentine film "Rompecabezas," "Puzzle" earned an 82 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Here are some of the critical comments, most of which focus on the talented Macdonald, whom movie fans should remember from such movies as "Trainspotting," "No Country for Old Men" and the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire":

Anthony Lane, The New Yorker: "In truth, there is barely enough story here to make a film. Yet the play of emotions on Macdonald's face tells of worries and wounds much deeper than anything that can be accounted for in the script."

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "In "Puzzle," Macdonald has finally found a movie that she doesn't need to steal, because it belongs to her completely."

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: "Macdonald is so good, on her own or with a scene partner, director Marc Turtletaub's movie refuses to fall apart."

The week’s openings: Aliens and abductions

The two sides of cinema, fantasy and reality, make up the basis of the week's movie openings, at least according to the national release schedule. The listed openings are:

Wednesday

"Operation Finale": Oscar Isaac stars as one of the Israeli agents who abducted Adolph Eichman (Ben Kingsley) from Argentina and took him to Israel where he was tried for the crimes he committed in World War II. Nothing polite about genocide.

Friday

"Kin": When a pair of brothers find a mysterious weapon, they find themselves the targets of a gang of other-worldly soldiers. Guns go sci-fi

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