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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

The weeks openings redux: Bewitched and bothered

In addition to the films I listed below, two more will open Friday in area theaters. They are:

"The Hero": Sam Elliott plays an aging movie star who is reconciling his past with what's left of his present. In other words, a variation on his own life.

"The Beguiled": Sofia Coppola resurrects Don Siegel's 1971 film, casting Colin Ferrell (in the role originated by Clint Eastwood) as a wounded Civil War soldier who chances upon a girls' boarding school overseen by Nicole Kidman. Cue the discordant music.

As usual, go and see a movie. And enjoy.

Has ‘Transformers’ finished Michael Bay?

It's fairly apparent that many, if not most, people pay little attention to what critics think. So reporting that critics don't think much of the new — and reportedly last — Michael Bay-directed movie, "Transformers: The Last Knight," isn't likely to affect anyone's movie-going intentions.

Still, it's not all that often that a multi-million-dollar film that is so well publicized attracts barely a 15 percent approval rating on the critics' website Rotten Tomatoes. So I thought it worth pointing out.

And though I haven't yet seen Bay's film, I have seen its predecessors. So the negative reviews don't surprise me one bit. Here is a sampling:

Stephanie Merry, Washington Post: "A movie that's cut like the world's longest and most tedious trailer, pinballing from scene to scene and rarely spending more than a few seconds on any single shot."

Johnny Olelsinski, New York Post: "Watching an actor of (Anthony) Hopkins' caliber swear at his robo-butler and attempt to wring out laughs by uttering the word 'dude' is painful — even for a 'Transformers' movie."

Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger: "Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop."

Oh, and the fans aren't reacting much better. Rotten Tomatoes reports only a 56 percent approval rating among regular moviegoers. Contrast that to the 92/91 percent approval rating that "Wonder Woman" is getting and you have to wonder: Has Bay finally lost his way?

The week’s openings: Heists galore

A mix of films is likely to hit the theaters on Friday, if the national release schedule can be believed. The week's offerings are as follows:

Wednesday

"Baby Driver": Forced to work for a mob boss (played by Kevin Spacey), a talented driver reluctantly agrees to provide the getaway for the gang pulling off a big heist. First gear, it's all right, second gear, hang on tight …

Friday

 "Despicable Me 3": Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) meets his brother Dru (ditto) who convinces him that they should return to crime. Beware minions.

"The House": Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler play a couple who, to pay for their daughter's college tuition, turn their house into an illegal casino. Wow, it's been five minutes since Ferrell has had a movie in the theaters.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Neither Wolf nor Dog": A writer is taken on a vision-quest road trip so that he can write the true story of native life.

"Paris Can Wait":  The wife (Diane Lane) of a movie mogul hitches a ride to Paris that opens her to new experiences.

That's it for the moment. I'll have the final lineup when the local listings become final.

Friday’s openings redux: Two more for fans of film

Note: This blog post has been updated to reflect a change in the Magic Lantern's schedule. The theater will NOT be open during the week of Jun 23-29.

Turns out Michael Bay's final directorial turn with the "Transformers" series is only one of three films openings Friday in Spokane. The others are:

"Tubelight": A man living in the hills of northern India faces challenges when a car accident leaves him with a curious disability — he can process information he hears only after a short (five or so seconds) delay.

"Beatriz at Dinner": Salma Hayek plays a holistic healer who, having been invited to dinner at a wealthy client's home, proceeds to challenge her host's conservative views.

And at the Magic Lantern: The theater will be closed during the week of Jun 23-29. On June 30, the Lantern will open:

"Neither Wolf Nor Dog": When a writer stumbles when trying to write a book about the life of a Lakota elder, he is taken on a road trip that serves as an Indian life lesson. Based a novel by Kent Nerburn.

What films would be your faves of the 21st century?

My friend and "Movies 101" partner Nathan Weinbender and I had a discussion that will be the essence of this Friday's show. It involves the New York Times story that ran under the title slightly pretentious headline "The 25 Best Films of the 25th Century."

Such lists are basically click bait, even those compiled by the likes of A.S. Scott and Manohla Dargis. But movie fans tend to fall for them, and Nathan and I are no different. Nathan, who is the movie and music editor for The Inlander, wrote about his own list in the most recent edition. So I thought I would respond with the list that I came up with, which is considerably different.

1. The Tree of Life (2011): Terrence Malick looks at a father, a mother and three sons. In the process, he explores the very meaning of life itself. 

2. There Will Be Blood (2007): Paul Thomas Anderson adapts the Upton Sinclair novel about a ruthless oil man (Daniel Day Lewis) who gets rich in early California.

3. Amores Perros (2000): Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu overpowers the screen with three interlocking stories of life in contemporary Mexico.

4. Pan's Labyrinth (2006): Guillermo del Toro combines his love for creatures with the savagery of the Spanish Civil War to make a superbly crafted political statement.

5. Mulholland Drive (2001): David Lynch gives his trademark weirdness just enough of a straight storyline to make this mystery story one of his most intriguing achievements.

6. Dancer in the Dark (2000): Dogma co-founder Lars von Trier makes a musical that doubles as a powerful anti-death-penalty statement.  

7. Spirited Away (2001): Anime master Hayao Miyazaki won an Oscar for this film about a young girl who must find a way to save her parents. 

8. The Dark Knight (2008): With the aid of an Oscar-winning performance by the late Heath Ledger, Christopher Nolan crafted a superhero blockbuster for the ages.  

9. A Prophet (2009): French filmmaker Jacques Audiard follows a young man's evolution from newly jailed prisoner to a budding Michael Corleone. 

10. Before Midnight (2013): The third in a trilogy that includes "Before Sunrise" (1995) and "Before Sunset" (2004), Richard Linklater's studies the birth, growth and possible end of a relationship. 

Other films that made my also-ran list: And Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000), Wes Anderson's "The Royal Tennenbaums (2001), Gasper Noé's "Irreversible" (2002), Pedro Almódover's "Talk to Her" (2002), Alfonso Cuarón's "Children of Men" (2006), Richard's Stanton's Pixar production "Wall-E" (2008), Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" (2013), Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" (2014), Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu's "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" (2014), Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Leviathan" (2014), Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu's "The Revenant" (2015), László Nemes' "Son of Saul" (2015), Sean Baker's "Tangerine" (2015) and Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight."

Any way you look at it, there are some pretty good films in all the lists … though to be honest, neither Nathan nor I have seen all the film listed by the NYT critics. So, clearly, we have to get busy.  

New ‘Transformers’ will be Bay’s last

If two words could capture the coming week, those words would be: Michael Bay.

Bay's latest addition to his "Transformers" series, "The Last Knight," is the fifth in the series (with two still on the design board). And it is the single major release on Friday's national schedule. Here is the skinny:

"Transformers: The Last Knight": In what is said to be Bay's final turn as director, and Mark Wahlberg's final turn as lead actor, humans struggle to save themselves by seeking out "secrets of the past and the hidden history of Transformers on Earth." Oh, and Anthony Hopkins co-stars … which may be why this looks like Bay's attempt to make a "Citizen Kane" lite.

I'll update as the local theaters finalize their bookings.

Question, what is it that comes at night?

If you're thinking of catching the film "It Comes at Night," you might want to read my review so you'll know what to expect. I wrote it for Spokane Public Radio:

By now, we’re all familiar with the various settings of a post-apocalyptic world. Some disease or disaster, either naturally occurring or the product of science gone awry, causes widespread death – often causing the undead to rise up and stalk the still living. In most cases this means zombies.

Writer-director Trey Edward Shults uses a version of this familiar trope as the backdrop to his film titled “It Comes at Night,” though what Shults offers up is a twist on the standard dystopian study. It’s far more an exploration of what people are capable of doing when they suspect their lives are at stake.

Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo play Paul and Sarah, a couple who, along with their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), have holed up in a large, creaky house set in a remote, wooded location. They’ve boarded up most of the windows, leaving just a sole doorway that is always – always – locked at night. They go out only during the day, and they always wear gas masks, hoping against hope that they can protect themselves against whatever is killing the world.

And the killing is real. This we know from the very first scene, which has Paul and Travis carrying Travis’ grandfather – who is obviously seriously ill – out to the woods where Paul burns his body … though not before putting a bullet through the old man’s brain.

All this has a disturbing effect on Travis, a teenager who is just coming into maturity, physically and emotionally. We see the effects through his dreams, which are as dark as the Bruegel painting on his bedroom wall or the sketches he draws of stark stick figures.

So imagine his discomfort when, late one night, someone comes knocking at the locked door. It turns out not to be a monster, but just a man – Will (played by Christopher Abbott) who says he is just looking for a safe place to stash his own wife and young son. And after a few safety precautions, which include tying Will to a tree for a day or so, Paul decides that it might be a good idea to invite the newcomers to join their family unit.

This turns out to be a good idea, at least at first, as the new energy makes everyone think that life is returning almost to normal. The key word there, though, is “almost” because in a dystopian world a sense of mistrust is never completely erased. And when strange things occur – like a simple confused use of words, or more important a mysteriously unlocked door – paranoia and fear return on steroids.

Much is what Shults does is admirable, from his refusal to offer only the barest of exposition to his camera-work, in which he haunts the house’s hallways, making it feel near-claustrophobic. What’s lacking is a larger sense of purpose, especially as Travis’ nightmares and budding sexual needs cloud Shults’ intentions even more.

“It Comes at Night” announces the presence of a young, new filmmaker with blazing talent for visuals (his first film, "Krisha" was released in 2015). Next time, though, he needs to hire a better story editor, one who can recognize an effective ending.

Friday’s openings redux: Three out of the mainstream

If you look hard enough — or, which is more often the case, you wait long enough — films outside the mainstream end up playing at otherwise mainstream theaters. And this is the case this week.

In addition to the films that I listed below, three other movies will open Friday in Spokane:

"Paris Can Wait": The third member of the film-directing Coppola family, Eleanor Coppola, wrote and directed this film about the wife (Diane Lane) of a major filmmaker (Alec Baldwin) who takes a self-realizing journey to Paris with a business associate (Arnaud Viard) of her husband's. Shot in France, so bring an appetite — and go to dinner afterward.

"The Book of Henry": Naomi Watts plays a single mother who gets involved in her young son's plan to help the abused girl next door. Warning for concerned parents: Rated PG-13 for "thematic elements and brief strong language."

And at the Magic Lantern:

"The Wedding Plan": Michal is in a bind. Her fiancé backed out of their scheduled wedding, but she refuses to cancel, believing that God will bring her a suitable substitute. In Hebrew with English subtitles.

That's the lot. So go, see a movie. And enjoy.

Friday’s openings: Sharks, corpses and racing cars

We've got four movies on Friday's national release schedule, though none are among the summer season's most anticipated openings. Friday's lineup (for the moment) looks like this:

"47 Meters Down": Two young women are trapped deep underwater and must struggle to get free even as their air tanks slowly empty and a school of great white sharks swim between them and escape. Did I mention the girls are wearing bikinis? (Just kidding. They're wearing skintight wetsuits.)

"All Eyez on Me": Demetrius Shipp Jr. portrays the one and only Tupac Shakur, whose 1996 death at age 25 only enhanced his status as a Thug Life hiphop legend.

Cars 3": Lightning McQueen is back at the races, this time trying to prove to a new generation that he is still the best race car ever. Yes, that is Owen Wilson as the voice of our protagonist.

"Rough Night": Four friends go on a wild night, which goes a bit haywire when the male stripper they hired ends up dead. Talk about too much of a good thing.

That's the mainstream movie news for the moment. I'll update when the local bookings get finalized.

‘The Mummy’: That’s a wrap, folks

Oh, man, the advance reviews are out for "The Mummy" and they are … well, read for yourself.

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: "The movie is a pain in the sarcophagus. I fear that it will anger the gods."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "How meh is The Mummy? Let me count the ways. For all the digital desperation from overworked computers, this Tom Cruise reboot lands onscreen with a resounding thud. Epic fail."

Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service: "Falls apart at the end, rattling its bones through a series of shockingly violent clashes with Ahmanet. Ultimately, despite her awesome powers, this goddess is reduced to participating in a love triangle with mere mortals. How pedestrian."

David Erlich, Indiewire: "Obviously the worst movie that Tom Cruise has ever made."

Ouch.

Below: Listen to the filmmakers explain what they tried to do.

Friday’s openings redux: British pomp(osity)

Some stories just won't go away. Same with famous people. Winston Churchill is a prime combination of both and, as such, is the feature of a film that is opening Friday at the Magic Lantern.

"Churchill": Brian Cox stars as the title character in this study of his life as British prime minister during the 96 hours leading the the June 6, 1944, Normany invasion of World War II.

The lantern will also pick up a second-run screening of "The Lovers."

Some critical comments about "Churchill":

Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Anglophiles and history-loving filmgoers will adore 'Churchill,' an extremely well made film that is the best example of British heroic portraiture since 'The King's Speech.' "

Glenn Kenny, The New York Times: "The movie's ambition is the good news. The bad news is that it is a hash, choosing to jumble the historical record and frame a Churchill bout with depression against the D-Day invasion of France by Allied forces."

Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times: "A superb look at iconic statesman Winston Churchill's torturous days leading up to the pivotal D-Day landings of June 6, 1944."

Friday’s openings: Mummies and war dogs

Sometimes it pays to be late. Thanks to my tardiness, I have a more definitive list of Friday's movie openings to offer. They include the usual mix of pop and art:

"The Mummy": How do you re-energize a familiar story? Hire a familiar star in a new role, I guess. Tom Cruise takes over as the lead in this CGI-rich study of a team that uncovers and ancient, Egyptian evil. But is it an impossible mission?

"Megan Leavey": Kate Mara stars in this based-on-a-true-story as a Marine whose work in the canine corps save lives, though the main life she wants to save is that of her beloved dog partner. This must be what they mean by a dog's purpose.

"My Cousin Rachel": A young heir suspects that his cousin (by marriage) has a nefarious side. Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, whose works have been most popularly adapted by Alfred Hitchcock. That should give you a clue.

"It Comes at Night": The "It" of the title involves either a strange threat that is terrorizing the world or some outsiders who seek shelter in a family's remote home. Or both.

Friday’s openings: Lowriders at the Lantern

Looks as if the Magic Lantern will be opening not just one but two movies on Friday. One, "Norman," is a pickup from AMC River Park Square. The other is a film that is enjoying a theatrical release after premiering at last year's Los Angeles Film Festival.

"Lowriders": Demián Bichir (who also is among the cast of "Alien: Covenant") plays the father of a young man who doesn't share his obsession with their community's car culture. Los carros, sí!

Some critical comments:

Christy Lemire, RogerEbert.com: "There's an earnestness and a fundamental truth to this familial saga-as well as an appealing, low-budget scrappiness-that consistently make it hum."

Neil Genzlinger, New York Times: "A mix of strong scenes and shopworn ones punctuated by clichés."

Andrew Barker, Variety: "A peek under the hood reveals a rather shopworn story that doesn't completely sell its more melodramatic narrative strands, but [also] to a trio of finely calibrated performances, an authentic sense of place and one gorgeously designed red '36 Chevy."

Friday’s openings: The Woman is a Wonder

By now we should know not to expect too much, but advance word on the new DC superhero flick "Wonder Woman" is pretty good. That movie, which stars the stunning Gal Gadot, is one of two releases on Friday's national schedule. The menu is:

"Wonder Woman": Gadot stars as the Amazon princess who decides to intervene in the affairs of men, which — as usual — involve war. Only to paraphrase the line from "Pulp Fiction," "That's how you're gonna beat 'em, Diana. They keep underestimating you."

"Captain Underpants: The Firs Epic Movie": Based on the kids' novels by Dav Pilkey, this animated venture revolves around two pals who hypnotize their school principal into thinking he is the superhero Captain Underpants. Insert laugh track here.

I'll update as the schedule settles.

SIFF 2017: Still time to see some cinema

Because I am unable to attend this year's Seattle International Film Festival

… because I think that, other than the Spokane International Film Festival, SIFF is the greatest thing for Northwest movie fans since the invention of cinema itself …

… and because I trust no one else's opinion more than I do my "Movies 101" partner Nathan Weinbender …

… I wanted to link to a blog post that Nathan wrote concerning his recent weekend sojourn to SIFF 2017.

SIFF runs through June 11, so you have plenty of time yet to score tickets and see some great shows. Click here for box office information.

Below: "Beatriz at Dinner" is scheduled for a Jun 9 theatrical release.