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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

Critics, fans finally agree: ‘Shoplifters’ is good

It's rare that a movie earns a 99 percent Tomatometer rating from critics while receiving a 90 percent rating from regular moviegoers.Yet that's what's happened with "Shoplifters," the Japanese film that is slated to open Friday at the Magic Lantern.

Seems the professionals have finally embraced their inner hoi polloi — or nearly so.

Which means either that the tastes of ordinary movie fans are improving or the critics are smoothing out their (our) typically elitist attitudes.  

In any event, "Shoplifters" is getting the kind of commentary usually reserved for something directed by, say, Alfonso Cuarón. Here are a few examples:

Tom Long, Detroit News: "Writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda fills the film with grace notes, humor and fine observations, circling and filling out each character while leaning more on innocence than corruption."

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: "It's all beautifully done, if seemingly aimless; for most of its two-hour runtime, the joy of the movie lies mostly in watching these fine actors build their beautifully flawed and lived-in characters."

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times: "Every one of master Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda's movies breaks your heart in a different way."

Again, the Magic Lantern has scheduled "Shoplifters" to open on Friday. Which is only natural for Spokane's singularly elite moviehouse. 

Friday’s openings: crowns and would-be killers

A bit of murder and some outright fantasy are on tap for the coming week of movies. According to the national release schedule, here are Friday's openings:

"Serenity": Matthew McConaughey stars as a fishing boat captain who is approached by a woman (Anne Hathaway) who wants him to murder her husband. Shades of "Body Heat."

"The Kid Who Would Be King": When a young British lad pulls a sword out of a stone, he becomes the source of hope for more than just his bullied friends. Shades of Camelot.

"The Final Wish": After the death of his father, a young guy discovers something in the old man's belongings that might hold a big secret. Shades of neo-horror.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Shoplifters": A Japanese family of thieves takes in a young girl they find living on the streets. Shades of critical raves (it was included on several 2018 Top 10 lists).

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

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’: intimately cinematic

If I had seen Barry Jenkins' adaptation of James Baldwin's novel "If Beale Street Could Talk" a few weeks ago, I would have included it among my favorite films of 2018. Unfortunately, I didn't see it until earlier this week.

Fortunately, I did see it. And loved it. As I tried to explain in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

As he demonstrated in his Oscar-winning 2016 film “Moonlight,” writer-director Barry Jenkins has perfected his own personal filmmaking style. Call it a cinema of intimacy.

Few arts are as capable of capturing the human experience as fully, and as well, as film. Live theater may feel more vital than film, especially when it’s performed in settings where the audience sits close enough to hear the actors breathe. But film, especially in the hands of someone as talented as Jenkins, has its own way of immersing an audience into its theatrical reality.

Part of what Jenkins does is pull his camera close. The faces of his cast fill the frame, allowing us – at times forcing us – to see each characters’ emotions play out through their ever-evolving expressions. But even in scenes where the emphasis is on a group, Jenkins strives to make us feel less witnesses to something than actual participants.

Of course, to get the full effect of such artistic intimacy, Jenkins needs the right actors. And in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” he succeeds every bit as well as he did with “Moonlight,” both with relative unknowns as Stephan James and Kiki Layne and with veterans such as Regina King and Colman Domingo.

It is James and Layne who have the movie’s starring roles, that of Fonny and Tish, a young African-American couple – he’s 22, she’s just 19 – who though raised together have only recently fallen in love. They live in New York City, and the era is the early 1970s – a time of particular racial turmoil. And it is that turmoil, expressed as it was both overtly and covertly, that novelist James Baldwin and filmmaker Jenkins seek to explore.

Yet it would be doing Jenkins a disservice to describe his adaptation of “If Beale Street Could Talk” as a study only of racism. Prejudice surely overshadows everything the movie’s characters hope to do. But even for them, life isn’t that simple.

Fonny possesses an artistic soul, something that runs counter to his family’s expectations. And the fact that he doesn’t hold the same Christian convictions as his mother, whose religious sentiments are as unforgiving as they are ironic, alienates him – and Tish – from her even further.

When in one powerful scene Fonny’s father hits his mother, the movie probes the theme of domestic violence. And when Fonny is unfairly accused of rape, causing Tish’s mother (played by King) to track down the accuser, the movie tackles even more aspects of the enduring threat of violence facing all women, but especially women of color.

Throughout all this strife, though, the main feeling that Jenkins conveys is one of hope. Not the sappy kind of hope that tells us love will conquer all, but a more realistic one about a love that, despite everything, endures. That’s the kind of hope, certainly that Baldwin must have wanted to communicate when he put these words in Tish’s mouth:

“Somewhere, in time, Fonny and I had met: somewhere, in time, we had loved; somewhere, no longer in time, but, now, totally, at time’s mercy, we loved.” 

‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ to screen again

If you've been fortunate enough to have already seen Peter Jackson's acclaimed documentary "They Shall Not Grow Old," then you likely agree with critics of the film who wrote — as The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik did — that it "will remain the most memorable film of the past year."

Gopnik also questions what Jackson has done, specifically his modifying old film stock to make century-old images look as if they were happening today. He refers to the expressions of the "soldiers, in the midst of their nightmare, smiling sheepishly as they realize that, for the first time in any of their lives, they are the subjects of a movie camera."

And he comments: "When it comes to film, at least, black-and-white and silent are the way the period saw itself, understood itself, made sense of itself. By altering that mirror, we fail to see the subjects staring into it quite accurately."

Whatever the merits of Gopnik's argument, the fact is that the film — which Jackson made for Britain’s Imperial War Museums, in conjunction with the BBC — is receiving great acclaim from a number of other critics.

Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press: "It's just images and the voices of those who were there, telling their own stories.And the result is riveting - an immersive, haunting and often transcendent experience that's unlike anything you've ever seen before."

Scout Tafoya, RogerEbert.com: "Once again, [Jackson] has translated something that's growing ancient into a series of images and ideas a modern audience will be able to grasp. And if we can make sense of the image, we can hopefully make sense of the horror it portends."

David Sims, The Atlantic: "The technology Jackson deploys is so advanced that the documentary, which has been colorized and enhanced, captures a surprising degree of character and realism."

And now the buried lede: "They Shall Not Grow Old" will screen again at three area theaters on Jan. 21: Regal Cinemas locations at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium, and at AMC's River Park Square.

Get your tickets now. They'll be going fast.

See ‘Wonders of the Sea’ in 3D on Thursday

If you have access to cable television, you likely can watch any number of science programs on channels such as Science, National Geographic, Animal Planet or Discovery.

But unless you have a special television set, you can't watch any of those shows in 3D. Which makes the movie that will play Thursday night at Regal Cinemas' theater at Northtown Mall so special.

"Wonders of the Sea 3D," which will screen at 7 p.m. in both 3D and standard format, is a nature documentary featuring the offspring of the late naturalist Jacques Cousteau exploring the ocean depths from Fiji to the Bahamas.

As an added treat, the film is narrated by "noted environmentalist" Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Click here to order advance tickets.

CuarĂ³n’s ‘Roma’ is an early Oscar favorite

Alfonso Cuarón's film "Roma," which opens Friday at the Magic Lantern Theater, is capturing a number of awards.

As the New York Times reports, "Roma" won two awards at the recent Golden Globes (Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film), was awarded three honors by the New York Film Critics Circle (directing, cinematography, film), two by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (cinematography, best picture) and a total of tour by the Critics' Choice Awards (foreign film, cinematography, director, best picture).

And now, because of all this, "Roma" — which despite a limited 2018 theatrical opening was available to see mostly through the streaming service Netflix — is considered the film to beat at the forthcoming Academy Awards broadcast.

That's yet to be seen. What's amazing, though, is that between Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Del Toro, Mexican filmmakers have dominated the Academy Awards of late.

Cuarón won Best Director for "Gravity" (2014), which also took home an editing Oscar. González Iñárritu won back-to-back Best Director Oscars for "Birdman" (2015) and "The Revenant" (2016), with "Birdman" winning also Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. And Del Toro is the reigning Best Director for 2018's Best Picture winner "The Shape of Water."

And to think: Just a few years ago, some critics were saying that Mexican cinema was dead. Of course, those directors named above have enjoyed their best success in Hollywood. Maybe "Roma" is a sign of better things to come for Mexico's film industry.

Shyamalan’s ‘Glass’ to open on Friday

M. Night Shyamalan made quite the impression with his third film, 1999's "The Sixth Sense." And that impression, which was built on plots that smacked both of Hitchcock and Rod Serling, continued for the next couple of films — 200's "Unbreakable" and 2002's "Signs" — despite some critics' complaints.

But things began to fall apart after that. His 2004 "The Village" was dismissed for its silly ending, 2006's "Lady in the Water" was dismissed for being both overblown and underwhelming while 2008's "The Happening" felt as if Shyamalan — while still capable of creating some creepy imagery — had run out of original ideas (nature is tying to kill us?).

He kept making movies, of course, with 2010's kids' adventure flick "The Last Airbender," 2013's sci-fi offering "After Earth" and the 2015 trek into family horror "The Visit." But it wasn't until 2016's "Split," which stars James McAvoy as a maniacally murderous split personality, that Shyamalan made something that smacked of his previous promise.

And now Shyamalan brings us "Glass," which is set to open nationally on Friday. "Glass" is a blend of "Unbreakable" and "Split," starring Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis and McAvoy, all reprising characters from those respective films.

Jackson plays Elijah Price and Willis David Dunn, the two antagonists from "Unbreakable," while McAvoy is the blend of characters — but also The Beast — from "Split." The conceit is that all three are confined to a mental asylum, under the care of a psychiatrist (played by Sarah Paulson) who thinks they are delusional.

Yeah, right.

Anyway, that's what to expect at this point from Friday's opening film schedule. Oh, and this from the Magic Lantern: a big-screen look at Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma," which is now an odds-on favorite to win a Best Picture Oscar.

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

New ‘Mary Queen of Scots’: a complex trial

Making a movie about a complex historical story isn't easy, even when the story is a familiar one — as the story of Mary Stuart is. That's what I try to explain in the review of "Mary Queen of Scots" that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

I’ve lost count of how many movies have been made about the Scottish queen Mary Stuart. Or of how many actresses have played the doomed monarch – though I mostly recall Vanessa Redgrave’s majestic portrayal in 1971’s “Mary, Queen of Scots” opposite Glenda Jackson as Mary’s arch-rival, Queen Elizabeth.

A shorthand recounting of Mary’s life includes being named Scotland’s queen shortly after her 1543 birth, being raised in France, married at age 15 to the future French king Francis II, returning to Scotland after Francis’ death in 1560, marrying twice more – both times badly – all while attempting vainly both to appease Scottish nobles and Protestant clergy (Mary was a confirmed Catholic) and to forge a relationship with Elizabeth, only to end up fleeing Scotland and ending up imprisoned in England for more than 18 years before being beheaded in 1587.

The latest version of this sad historical study is Josie Rourke’s “Mary Queen of Scots,” starring the Irish actress Saoirse Ronan as Mary and the Australian actress Margot Robbie as Elizabeth. In attempting to give this familiar tale a sense of freshness, director Rourke – working from a script by Beau Willimon – adapted the 581-page, 2004 biography by Cambridge historian John Guy.

Guy, whom the New York Times referred to as “one of the most distinguished scholars of the Tudor period,” built his book around a close study of original documents – many of which, wrote Times reviewer Gerard Kilroy, had been previously unknown. Guy’s argument is that Mary was doomed because many Catholics believed she had a better claim to the English throne than her quote-illegitimate-unquote cousin Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s chief adviser, William Cecil, took Mary’s claim seriously enough that he worked tirelessly to condemn her. As Kilroy wrote, “Cecil and … Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's secretary and Cecil's spymaster … did (Mary) more harm by altering her letters and intercepting her codes than either of her murderous Scottish husbands.”

To be fair, Guy cites the machinations of all the men surrounding both queens as being the chief cause of Mary’s dark fate. These men included nobles of both countries, the clergy – especially that of John Knox, the famous Scottish theologian – and Mary’s hapless husbands.

Director Rourke follows Guy’s lead. Trouble is, as with most two-hour film versions of complicated histories, the script she works from takes a number of shortcuts and, where time contractions and invented dialogue don’t work, Rourke resorts to outright fabrication and more than a bit of stylistic fantasy.

For the record, Mary and Elizabeth never met in person – and especially not in a remote house, dodging in and out of linen curtains hanging willy-nilly from the rafters. And while several members of the movie’s cast are people of color, that, too, is an invention.

Yet none of that matters as much as this: Rourke takes a fascinating, if familiar story, and makes a movie that leeches away most everything that is interesting and replaces it with brooding imagery involving characters almost impossible to like.

Which is what happens when you make a movie as trying to sit through as it is pretty to watch.

Literature and legality: two more openings

At least two other movies will open locally on Friday (though both will have late screenings tonight):

"If Beale Street Could Talk": Barry Jenkins ("Moonlight") adapts the 1974 James Baldwin novel of the same title about a young black couple living in 1970s New York. The film, by the way, made a number of critical Top 10 lists.

"On the Basis of Sex": Felicity Jones stars as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in this biopic about Ginsburg's struggle to become a lawyer when women were still a distinct minority in the law.

That's the lot. Slowly, as usually, the more critically acclaimed films are opening in the area. So go, see one of them. And enjoy.

Catch ‘Free Solo’ in IMAX at AMC River Park Square

One of the most intense moviegoing experiences I had during 2018 came while watching the documentary film "Free Solo."

Directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, the film captured the untethered climb that Alex Honnold made of the 3,200-foot wall of El Capitan in California's Yosemite National Park.

"Untethered," as in he climbed the whole way, alone, without any ropes to save him if he lost his grip.

Though it was clear that Honnold, who made the climb on June 3, 2017, had been successful, Chin and Vararhelvi manage to maintain a sense of suspense throughout the film. And shots of Honnod's climb, which include those made by members of the filmmaking crew and by drones, make the danger Honnold faced all that more real.

If you haven't yet seen the film, you'll have another chance. And on the big screen in IMAX format. The AMC theater at River Park Square will present a week-long run of the film beginning on Friday.

“Seeing Honnold at the peak of his skill on the biggest screen possible is an experience for everybody to savor," wrote Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times.

I couldn't agree more.

Note: I should have added that "Free Solo" is still playing at the Magic Lantern Theater in regular format.

Magic Lantern to pick up second run of ‘Vice”

Word from the Magic Lantern Theater is that it will begin screening "Vice" on Friday. The movie, which stars Christian Bale as former Vice President Dick Cheney, most recently played at a few area mainstream theaters.

Directed by Adam McKay, the filmmaker of "The Big Short," "Vice" focuses on the life and times of Cheney. And Bale, who is almost invisible under a ton of makeup, won a Gold Globe on Sunday night for his performance — making him a favorite to win at least an Oscar nomination.

Here are few critical comments regarding Bale's acting:

Bob Mondello, National Public Radio: "Growling, gruff, and grumpy Bale makes the title character a lot like his Batman - basically a psychopath-turned-vigilante."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Adam McKay's flame-throwing take on Dick Cheney, played by a shockingly brilliant Christian Bale, polarizes by being ferociously funny one minute, bleakly sorrowful the next, and ready to indict the past in the name of our scarily uncertain future."

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times: ""Vice" is quite watchable; it zips along quickly, and the cast around chameleon Bale is strong."

"Chameleon Bale" is, if anything, an understatement. Check out the embed below.

Friday’s openings: Dogs and raising the dead

While we're still waiting for some of 2018's most critically acclaimed films to open in this part of the Inland Northwest ("If Beale Street Could Talk," "Cold War," "Shoplifters," "Burning," et al), the new year continues to offer popular entertainment — even if all of them seem a bit derivative.

According to the national-release schedule, three films will open on Friday:

"A Dog's Way Home": Following in the tradition of "Lassie Come Home" and "The Incredible Journey," this canine melodrama focuses on a dog that loses its way and has to travel some 400 miles to get back home. Arf, arf!

"Replicas": This straight from the IMDB: "A scientist becomes obsessed with bringing back his family members who died in a traffic accident." That doesn't seem like such a good idea.

"The Upside": Based on the French film "Les Intouchables," this comedy-drama stars Bryan Cranston as a quadriplegic who hires a character played by Kevin Hart to be his personal aide. Oh la la.

Anyway, that's all for the moment. I'll update when the area theaters finalize their bookings.

‘Vice’: a caustic study of a private public man

My latest review for Spokane Public Radio was of "Vice," Adam McKay's study of former Vice President Dick Cheney, which I've transcribed below. It's not an easy film to gauge with a flip of your thumb. In fact, it's exactly the kind of film that provokes animated discussion, especially at a bar over beers — which is what I tried to express in my review:

As I’ve said many times, the five most dangerous words in Hollywood are “based on a true story.” Because truth, as every philosopher from Plato to the Gershwin Brothers has demonstrated, is a relative concept.

You know, as Fred Astaire once warbled, “You like tomata and I like tomahta.”

Truth is something that all good filmmakers try to capture, in whatever way they can. Or if not truth, then at least a sense of authenticity. If what you see onscreen isn’t actual, verifiable truth – a zombie invasion, say – then does what you see make you believe that a such a thing could happen?

Because if not, then why are you looking over your shoulder, wondering if that guy eating popcorn is merely coughing up a stray kernel – or caught in the initial stages of zombie gestation?

Truth, or some semblance of it, is at the heart of “Vice,” Adam McKay’s imaginative, irreverent and not-so-casually caustic look at the life of former vice president Dick Cheney. Taking up stylistically where he left off with his 2015 film “The Big Short,” which won him both a Best Director Oscar nomination and an Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay, McKay takes us on a trek through Cheney’s life from his humble origins in Wyoming all the way through his eight-year tenure as vice president to George W. Bush.

And that trek is every bit as busy as the succession of events it covers. McKay’s movie begins with the 20-something Cheney, having flunked out of Yale, working as a Casper, Wyoming, lineman – just another hard Western guy hustling by day and drinking by night. Until he gets picked up and tagged with another DUI, bringing the wrath of his then-girlfriend – and later wife, Lynne – down upon him so hard he is jolted into changing his life’s course.

Quicker than you can say Republican Party, Cheney transforms himself into a guy straitlaced – or, if you prefer, amoral – enough to win a Congressional internship, earn the trust of a Congressman named Donald Rumsfeld and – in short cinematic order – become a Congressman himself, a White House chief of staff, Secretary of Defense and, ultimately, Bush’s vice president, following the contentious – and tautly contested – election of 2000.

It was that eight-year tenure as VP for which Cheney will be most remembered, as – with Bush’s consent and support – he reshaped what had been a largely ceremonial office into a position with real power to shape policy and make decisions.

Culling from a variety of sources, McKay captures all this, playing as fast and loose with chronology as he does with sequences that serve to fill in the gaping blank spots of the famously private Cheney’s personal life. McKay uses mostly invented dialogue and, at times, fantasy sequences – such as the one where an almost unrecognizable Christian Bale as Cheney and Amy Adams as the tart-tongued Lynne engage in a Shakespearean soliloquy.

All this amounts to McKay’s version of truth. And as busy and overstuffed as that truth may be, it’s certainly plausible. More plausible, at least, than a zombie invasion. 

Get ready for a wild ride: SpIFF 2019

The 2019 version of Spokane's premier movie event, the annual Spokane International Film Festival, is just a few weeks away. And the schedule is ready to go.

Click here to access the lineup.

The festival will kick off Friday, Feb. 1, with a purely local flavor. The two programs, which will screen at the Bing Crosby Theater, will include a Best of the Northwest shorts program (eight short films beginning at 5:30 p.m.) followed by a mid-length program (three films). A single ticket earns access to both programs.

The opening-night event will conclude with the Opening Party to be held at 9:30 p.m. at the Montvale Event Center.

SpIFF 2019 will continue through the week, with films screened at the Magic Lantern Theater. The festival will close on Friday, Feb. 8, with a 7:30 p.m. screening of the Hungarian film "Jupiter's Moon."

Get your tickets now as the Magic Lantern seats barely 100 in its larger house, about 33 in the smaller space.

(Full disclosure: I serve on the board of the festival. It is a volunteer position only, and SpIFF is a nonprofit enterprise.)

Check out Season 2 premiere of ‘Mob Psycho 100’

If you're into Japanese animation, you've likely been attending the special events that play periodically at the Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

Well, more of those events are coming, beginning with the "Mob Psycho 100" season 2 premiere, which will screen in a subtitled version at 12:55 p.m. Saturday at Northtown only.

"Mob Psycho 100" is an anime series based on a manga series originally published between 2012 and 2017. It was adapted for Japanese television in 2016, and the second season will air in Japan on Jan. 7.

So, this special Fathom Events presentation is being billed as a predate to the Japanese broadcast. It will include a recap of season one.

Other anime offerings are coming. As time goes by, I'll detail as many as I can.