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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Cold Blue’ revisits WWII sacrifices in the sky

The exploits of the Eighth Air Force are well known to anyone with the barest knowledge of World War II history. Yet it's difficult to understand just exactly what those brave men endured.

The HBO documentary "The Cold Blue" gives at least some sense of what took place high over the skies of Europe. Directed by Erik Nelson, and shaped from hundreds of hours of archival footage shot by a team of cinematographers overseen by veteran director William Wyler, the film puts viewers right in the seats of B-17s facing the dangers of bitter cold, deadly flak and attacks by enemy fighters.

Nelson used newly restored 4K footage and Wyler's outtakes from his 1944 documentary "The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress."

The film will screen tonight at 7:30 at two area Regal Cinemas theaters: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

Here are some critical comments:

Kyle Smith, National Review: "Surprising and strange and funny but above all horrifying. The level of everyday heroism on offer almost surpasses our capacity to absorb it."

Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: "An important companion piece to Wyler's classic and a powerful stand-alone film."

Friday’s openings redux: Nureyev and neo-noir

So, two movies have been added to Friday's opening menu. They are as follows:

"The Poison Rose": A film involving a one-time-football-star-turned-PI looking for a missing person, which ends up leading back to his long-lost daughter, this Neo-noir boasts a cast that includes John Travolta and Morgan Freeman. As of today, it had no rating on Rotten Tomatoes — never a good sign.

"The White Crow": Actor-turned-director Ralph Fiennes directed this look at the defection of former ballet master Rudolf Nureyev (with a script by David Hare). Just by comparison, as of this morning Fiennes' film has a 67 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating.

That's the update for the coming week. So far. But if you're in the mood for some nostalgia, here's what you can enjoy tonight:

"Steel Magnolias": The 30th-anniversary showing of this Herbert Ross-directed film boasting an all-star cast — everyone from Sally Field to Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine to the late Sam Shepard — will play at 7 tonight at two Regal Cinemas locations, at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

So go, see a movie. Or two. And enjoy.

Friday’s openings: Disney, teens and a super psycho

A trio of pop movies is expected to open on Friday, according to the national release schedule, which please most area film-goers. The list looks like this:

"Aladdin": Disney does another live-action adaptation of a familiar story already done in animation, this one about a kid, a genie, and three wishes. Oh, and a treasure cave and beautiful princess.

"Booksmart": Two high-school seniors, having worked hard for four years but afraid that they've missed out on the social scene, spend their final night before graduation trying to find the party of the year. An they do.

"Brightburn": A take on the Superman syndrome, but this little super being has a dark side. Uh-oh.

And at the Magic Lantern?

"Meeting Gorbachev": Werner Herzog co-directed this look at the final Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev.

"Photograph": A shy photographer convinces a young woman to let him take her photo, and things develop from there.

That's it for now. As usual, I'll update when the area theaters finalize their bookings.

‘United Skates’ celebrates a disappearing subculture

As a theater known for showing independent, often challenging cinema, the Magic Lantern has been screening an even more intriguing series of films. Its Monday Movies series, which carries the subtitle "true stories, bold visions," debuted on Feb. 18 with the Osar-nominated documentary "Hale County This Morning, This Evening."

Tonight at 7, the Lantern will show "United Skates," a 2018 documentary study of roller-skating culture. Here is a description offered by IMDB.com: "When America's last standing roller rinks are threatened with closure, a community of thousands battle in a racially charged environment to save an underground subculture — one that has remained undiscovered by the mainstream for generations, yet has given rise to some of the world's greatest musical talent."

And here are a few critical comments:

Rafer Guzman, Newsday: "A celebration of a vibrant black subculture that also shows how discrimination can pervade even the most harmless pastime."

Teo Bugbee, New York Times: "This is a passion project in the best sense of the word, a movie in which the ingenuity and dedication of the filmmakers illuminate the same qualities in their subjects."

Peter Debruge, Variety: "This kaleidoscopically vibrant, essential-viewing survey plunges audiences into a dazzling underground scene, celebrating the endangered art form it finds there."

Tickets to the Monday Movies series are $8. And the price is well worth it.

Pay attention to the punctuation of ‘Hail Satan?’

Documentary films cover all sorts of topics. But I can pretty much guarantee that you've never seen a documentary quite like "Hail Satan?" — a Magic Lantern special that proves that irony is far from dead. Following is a review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Symbols of the anti-Christ have been around pretty much as long as anything involving the Son of God himself. And, clearly, mainstream culture has always associated those symbols with evil.

Yet that’s exactly the point disputed by the documentary film, “Hail Satan?” – which has a prominent question mark at the end of its title.

Directed by Penny Lane, “Hail Satan?” focuses on a group called the Satanic Temple that wants to reclaim the identity of the anti-Christ in all its different guises, from snakes to red-faced, horned Lucifers. The group sees these guises less as religious icons and more as a symbol of rebellion and freethinking.

Of course, some people can’t, or refuse to, see the difference. One such person is the Arkansas legislator whom director Lane follows and who is insistent on placing a statue bearing the texts of the 10 Commandments on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capital.

It is this proposal, in fact, around which much of “Hail Satan?” revolves. The Satanic Temple resorts to a Constitutional argument to fight the proposed monument: Since the First Amendment ensures all Americans the right to worship as they wish, the group contends that if a symbol of Christianity can be erected on public grounds, then symbols of all religions should be represented.

In their case, to the horror of the Arkansas legislator’s followers, that symbol would be a near-9-feet-tall bronze statue of a goat-headed figure named Baphomet, flanked by two children.

While the Satanists are led by someone who could have come from a Hollywood casting studio – a guy operating under the pseudonym Lucien Greaves who has slick-back hair, a trimmed beard and most auspiciously a milky right eye – the group is serious in its intent, even if the methods it uses sometimes smack of theatrical absurdity.

Depending on your attitude toward religion, then, you may find much of “Hail Satan?” funny, despite the uncompromising intentions of its protagonists. That clash of the comic and the serious fits Lane’s style, she being the director also of the 2013 documentary “Our Nixon” that used home movies of former President Richard Nixon to give a surprisingly intimate portrait of that most complex – and, until recently, most divisive – of American politicians.

And, too, it’s not as if the Satanic Temple is without rancor within its own ranks. At least one group breaks away, wanting more direct – and possibly violent – action.

It’s ironic that Greaves and his followers – both national and international – advocate peaceful, if at times tasteless, action to achieve their ends. Irony, though, as well as being a traditional source of humor, can also help to underscore sincere aims.

When you cut through all the theatrics, the aim of the Satanic Temple is to remind us that the authors of the U.S. Constitution wanted a separation between church and state. As James Madison, fourth U.S. president and author of the Bill of Rights, once wrote, “religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.” 

And Madison, it should be pointed out, wasn’t known for his comic stylings.

Catch a ‘Booksmart’ screening a week early

The film "Booksmart" is scheduled to open wide on May 24th. Yet at least three area theaters will be hold a special "Booksmart: Early Access Screening" this coming Friday — a whole week early.

The event, according to the respective company websites, will occur at 8 p.m. Friday at AMC River Park Square and the Regal Cinemas locations at Northtown Mall and at Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

"Booksmart," which was directed by the actress Olivia Wilde from a script team written by four other women, tells the story of two graduating high-school seniors who decide to go wild on their final night — something they haven't done for the previous 12 years, having spent all their free time working hard to get into the best universities they could.

Here are some critical comments:

Caryn James, BBC.com: "A female buddy film in the guise of a high-school partying movie, 'Booksmart' is endlessly funny and outrageous, yet always grounded by its realistic central relationship."

Emily Yoshida, New York Magazine: " 'Booksmart' manages to be inclusive and progressive, without being precious about anything or sacrificing an ounce of humor."

Benjamin Lee, The Guardian: " 'Booksmart' is inclusive and progressive without feeling forced and announces Wilde, an actor who hasn't always found her groove on screen, as a major director, one of the more impressive behind-the-camera transitions I have seen for a while."

This screening is, of course, for those movie fans who … just … can't … wait.

Manga series ‘Tanya the Evil’ becomes a movie

Manga fans take note: The animated movie version of the manga series "The Saga of Tanya the Evil" is coming to a local screen.

"Saga of Tanya the Evil — the Movie" will screen at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Regal Cinemas' Northtown Mall 12. This is the film's U.S. premiere.

Directed by Yukata Uemura, the movie is an adaptation first of the young-adult novel series written by Carlo Zen and illustrated by Shinobu Shinotsuki. The series was later made into a Japanese TV series.

Here is a brief plot synopsis (courtesy of IMDB.com): "On the front lines of the war, there is a little girl. Blond hair, blue eyes, and porcelain white skin, she commands her squad with lisping voice. Her name is Tanya Degurechaff. But in reality, she is one of Japan's most elite salary men, reborn as a little girl after angering a mysterious being who calls himself God. This little girl, who prioritizes efficiency and her own career over anything else, will become the most dangerous being amongst the sorcerers of the imperial army."

Uemura's movie, which takes place after the events in the animated series, was released in Japan on Feb. 8.

Friday’s openings: Guns, dogs, poets and spies

Keanu, Keanu and more Keanu highlights the coming week of movies. According to the national release schedule, we can expect to see the following on Friday:

"John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum": When the second chapter of the "John Wick" trilogy ended (in 2017, following the 2014 first segment), our protagonist had broken a sacred rule and now has to face the consequences — dozens of killers looking to collect on a mullion-million-dollar bounty. Can Mr. Reeves handle the action?

"A Dog's Journey": A dog lives several lives. But not nine, which would make him a cat.

"The Sun Is Also a Star": Young love slowly blooms. But nothing comes easily, right?

And at the Magic Lantern?

"Wild Nights With Emily": Molly Shannon plays Emily Dickinson in this intimate view of the noted poet. Hint: It involves other women.

"Red Joan": Judi Dench plays the title character, Joan Stanley, who was a real-life KGB spy. The name is Stanley, Joan Stanley.

As usual, I'll update when area theaters finalize their bookings.

‘Burning’ tackles Murakami and Korea’s dual soul

Some of the most intriguing films I've seen in recent years hail from Korea. The most recent is "Burning," which I saw through Amazon Prime. Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Cinema and literature are inextricably linked. One uses words to create visuals, while the other – generally speaking – uses visuals to reflect what’s typically communicated through words.

The Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong is a master at combining the two art forms. In his 2010 film “Poetry,” he explores the life of an elderly woman who, while coming to grips with a gruesome crime involving a relative, tries to deal with her own developing dementia by writing … well, poetry.

Something of the same holds true in his new film, “Burning,” which is available through video-on-demand. Throughout “Burning,” which runs nearly two and a half hours, director and co-writer Lee makes literary references. One of three principal characters wants to write a novel. His own favorite writer is William Faulkner, an author whom one of the other characters then checks out. At least once someone is compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby.

And the whole of Lee’s screenplay borrows heavily from the short story “Barn Burning” by the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.

Our trio of characters comprises Jong-su, Hae-mi and Ben, all of whom live in or near Korea’s capital city of Seoul. Jong-su is the wannabe writer, a college graduate who does temp jobs and – because of legal problems involving his father – has been forced to take over dad’s farm in rural Paju, so close to the North Korean border that you can hear Communist propaganda being spouted over loudspeakers.

Hae-mi is the young woman, a one-time childhood acquaintance of his, whom he meets by chance on the street, and who – on a seeming whim – has asked him to feed her cat while she dashes off to Africa. And the third is Ben, a handsome, self-composed and decidedly mysterious guy whom Hae-mi – to Jong-su’s consternation – brings back with her

Jong-su doesn’t know what to make of Ben, especially during one night when the three get together at his father’s farm, smoke some pot and – while Jong-su admits to having had a sad childhood – Ben admits that he likes to burn down greenhouses. One every couple of months, he says. Just when he feel the urge. In fact, he has another one picked out. And it’s very near Jong-su’s house.

Then someone disappears, someone else goes in search and … well, if that isn’t enough to get you interested, not much else will.

Except maybe this: Lee is a true cineaste, one who knows how to frame a shot to full effect, whether that involves a character miming the peeling of a tangerine, a slow sweep of the Korean countryside or a languorous sequence involving a sunset striptease. And he knows how to borrow effectively from other masters, at least in terms of mood and theme, whether they be Francois Truffaut, Michelangelo Antonioni or – literarily – Patricia Highsmith.

I don’t pretend to understand everything about “Burning” as a lot of the story necessarily gets lost in translation. But it’s not hard to see the disaffection of Lee’s characters, caught up in a culture – not to mention a country – that is divided both in geography and in its societal soul.

Magic Lantern: Spokane’s cinematic treasure

Why do I love the Magic Lantern? Ah, let me count the ways.

Actually, forget the Shakespearean posturing. The main reason is because over its founding, in the early '70s, the Lantern has been the one theater in Spokane that reliably shows the movies that other theaters won't.

At one of its earlier locations, when it sat on Wall Street and screenings would be disrupted by passing trains, the theater would show foreign-language films to smallish audiences that didn't mind reading subtitles. Imagine that.

And it's still going, its two screens set back in the Saranac Building at 25 W. Main showing the widest varieties of films imaginable. Just tonight you can see the music-concert documentary (and a capturing of history) "Amazing Grace," the documentary profile "Ask Dr. Ruth" (see embed below) and the dramatic narrative feature "The Mustang."

And opening tomorrow? Both the issues-themed documentary "Hail Satan?" and the narrative profile "Tolkien."

As for "Hail Satan?" notice the punctuation. That's a question mark there, which says a lot. And to intrigue you more, here are a few critical comments:

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "A fascinating documentary about ragtag political activists making fundamentally serious mockery at a high level of media savvy."

Amy Nicholson, Variety: "(Director Penny) Lane sets out to subvert American history with intelligence and wit. Here, she asks us to question why certain religions are deemed 'normal,' even though, notes one Temple member, Catholic mass is all about the symbolic drinking of blood."

Barbara VanDenburgh, Arizona Republic: "As a study in the art of media manipulation and civic trolling, 'Hail Satan?' is informative and entertaining."

And if that weren't enough, some people say the Lantern's popcorn is the best in town. Let the arguments begin.

‘Trek’ fans go into ‘Deep Space Nine’ Monday

"Star Trek" fans tend to have their favorites. And I'm not talking just about characters.

Though I'll admit that I am partial to, among others, Spock, Worf and Data, T'Pol, Seven of Nine and Odo.

That last one is perhaps the least familiar. Played by René Auberjonois, Odo is the Changeling chief of security on "Deep Space Nine," the spin-off series that ran 176 episodes from 1993-1998.

And "Deep Space Nine" is a series that some fans still miss. So much so that it will be the focus of a one-night special event titled "What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

The event, which will feature interviews with cast members and some of the show's creators, will screen at 7 p.m. Monday at two area Regal Cinemas theaters: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

It's an evening "Star Trek" fans won't want to miss. Even those silly people who continue to think that TOS is the best that Gene Roddenberry had to offer.

Catch the 50th anniversary of ‘True Grit’

If you missed the screening on Sunday of "True Grit," Henry Hathaway's 1969 adaptation of Charles Portis' novel, you're in luck. The film, which stars John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell and Robert Duvall, will play twice on Wednesday.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the film will screen at noon and 7 p.m. at two area Regal Cinemas theaters: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

This is the original version of Portis' novel, not the 2010 version adapted by the Coen Brothers. It's also the one that earned Wayne his one and only Best Actor Oscar.

Here's what the late Roger Ebert had to say about Hathaway's film: "It is one of the most delightful, joyous scary movies of all time. It goes on the list with 'National Velvet' and 'Robin Hood' and 'The African Queen' and 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' and 'Gunga Din.' It is not a work of art, but it wouldn't be nearly as good if it were. Instead, it is the Western you should see if you only see one Western every three years (an act of denial I cannot quite comprehend in any case)."

Sometimes it's hard to argue with Ebert. This is one of those times.

Friday’s openings: Hustles, dolls and … Satan?

Another week, another series of movie openings. According to the national release schedule, this is what to expect on Friday:

"Pokemon Detective Pikachu": While other people are out collecting Pokémon, one boy encounters Pikachu — who wants to become a detective. And that's just the facts.

"The Hustle": Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson play con artists who ply their trade at the expense of duplicitous men. Or, in other words, a few dirty rotten scoundrels.

"Poms": Diane Keaton leads a cast of older actresses who play older women who want to form a cheerleading squad. Sis boom bah!

"Tolkien": Nicholas Hoult play the title character, the author of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, in this look at the man's formative years. Sorry, no Bilbo or Frodo.

And at the Magic Lantern (in addition to a run of "Tolkien"):

"Hail Satan?": Reacting to the proliferation of Christian icons on public property, a group of Arkansas protesters demand equal time for … Satan? A documentary directed by Penny Lane.

As usual, I'll update when the area theaters finalize their bookings.

‘Diane’ explores a woman’s search for peace

After a short Spokane run, Kent Jones' film "Diane" is now available only through video on demand. Following is a review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Some people are motivated by genuine altruism. The good deeds they do come from an inner sense of, for want of a better word, love.

Diane isn’t one of those people. Not that she doesn’t do good deeds. Nor is she incapable of love. It’s just that what motivates Diane, as portrayed by the veteran actress Mary Kay Place in Kent Jones' film titled, aptly enough, “Diane,” is far too complicated to be described by one single word.

Unless that word is guilt, which seems to be as much a factor in Diane’s life as anything.

Jones, who both wrote and directed, never makes clear why his protagonist should feel guilty. Instead, we get only clues. They show up in the apology she makes to her dying cousin – an apology she obviously has made before and one that has never been fully accepted. They show up in the love-hate relationship she has with her drug-addicted son (played effectively by Jake Lacy) and the memory he has of one lost weekend in their shared past.

They show up in an extended bar scene that features Diane drinking alone, enraptured by a juke-box song, dancing as if in a self-perpetuating dream – before drinking herself into a stupor that gets her eighty-sixed right into the waiting arms of her friends.

And it is the auspicious appearance of those friends that demonstrates – whatever the inner demons are that plague her – just how much so many of those around her not only appreciate Diane’s inherent goodness but are willing to forgive any transgressions she might once have committed.

Jones’ film is unusual in construction. Yes, it has a beginning, a middle and an end – though that end comes courtesy of a telescoped time frame that addresses just as much about essential human mortality as it pertains to Diane’s story in particular. But Jones is less interested in narrative than he is in mood and tone. Many of the scenes in “Diane” are set-pieces, all featuring Diane doing her daily rounds.

We see her in the hospital with her ill cousin, badgering her son to clean up his act, serving food in a public kitchen, eating meals and commiserating with her best friend (played by Andrea Martin) or just hanging out with older members of her extended family (among whom are the too-little-seen Glynnis O’Connor and the 1967 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Estelle Parsons).

And in all this, actress Place is perfect. Mostly a featured player during her long career – from the 1970s sitcom “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” to such films such as Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 ode to the past “The Big Chill” – Place fills the lead role here exceptionally well.

In the end, “Diane” the movie is mostly about the passage of time, and how time affects – and sometimes alters – our basic natures. Diane the character is a good person who is weathered by life, somber by nature, a woman looking for something – most likely redemption but, save that, a sense of inner peace – that she may never find.

But that doesn’t stop her from trying.

SIFF 45 box office opens online today

Above: Lynn Shelton's film "Sword of Trust" opens SIFF 45 on May 16.

For more than four decades now, Seattle film fans have enjoyed lineups of intriguing independent and foreign films in an annual festival. In fact, the Seattle International Film Festival has proven to be one of the most popular in the country, attracting in excess of 400 films from numerous countries.]

The 2019 version of SIFF, the 45th annual edition, will begin its 25-day run on May 16th. And, according the a festival press release, it will screen "410 films representing 86 countries and will include: 147 features (plus 4 secret films), 71 documentaries, 12 archival films, and 176 shorts. The lineup includes 33 World premieres (12 features, 21 shorts), 42 North American premieres (27 features, 15 shorts), and 19 US premieres (11 features, 8 shorts)."

Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton will open SIFF 45 with her film "Sword of Trust," which stars comedian Marc Maron. Both Shelton and Maron are expected to attend the screening, which will be at 7 p.m. at the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall.

"Sword of Trust" is described this way: "(T)wo women (Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins) attempt to unload an inherited Civil War sword onto a curmudgeonly pawnshop owner (Marc Maron) and reluctantly enter a world of conspiracy theory and Southern disillusionment."

The SIFF box office opens today online at siff.net and in person at any year round SIFF Box Office. View the full public program here: www.siff.net/festival.