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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Fury’: visual flash, no meaningful center

I went to see the movie “Fury” the other day and … well, let me explain by way of the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

World War II has been over for nearly 70 years, yet filmmakers are still mining that unspeakable exercise in mass death for material. When done well, as with the two HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” and in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated “Saving Private Ryan,” the result is often a telling, tragic look at the fruitless absurdity of war. When done poorly, well … the results can be everything from pure propaganda – 1968’s “The Green Berets,” say – to simple violence porn – the prime example being any of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo” movies.

Somewhere in the mix sits “Fury,” writer-director David Ayer’s story of an American tank crew struggling to survive the final few weeks of World War II’s European campaign. Let’s not get into how the war’s major tank action was the Battle of Kursk, which took place in the summer of 1943 and involved not Americans but Russians facing the invading Germans, because that’s a whole other movie – one that Hollywood isn’t likely to waste money making.

Ayer’s film is set in April, 1945, barely a month before Germany’s fall. Hitler has called for total resistance, which means that the crew of “Fury” – the name given to the American tank commanded by SSgt. Collier (Brad Pitt) – isn’t going to enjoy an easy stroll into Berlin. In fact, Collier’s tank is the sole survivor of a recent action that killed one of its five-man crew. The replacement gunner they receive is a clerk-typist named Norman (Logan Lerman), whom Collier has to quickly indoctrinate into the ways of war.

That includes both the crimes of war – forcing him to shoot an unarmed German prisoner – and the spoils of war: ordering him to have sex with a young German woman. Both actions are certainly controversial, but they certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise: Ayer obliterates any notion of nobility in the movie’s opening scene when Collier brutally stabs a German soldier through the eye socket.

But brutality isn’t the problem with “Fury.” Not the sight of hanged children, of tanks rolling over pancaked corpses, of soldiers being immolated like grilled steaks, of stray rounds causing heads to explode like piñatas – not even the ruthless attitudes of Collier and his crew that have been honed by too much exposure to horrors that would give John Wayne nightmares.

No, the problem is that Ayer presents all this with no sense of larger purpose. The acting is competent – with Shia LeBeouf standing out – but the characters are mostly cliché. Worse, Ayer’s narrative arc features action scenes, followed by a long sequence in which Collier and Norman develop a sort of bond, then a close filled with even more action. That bond never fully develops, much of the action seems more convenient than actually believable, and Ayer leaves us with an ending that is more about visual flair than anything significantly meaningful.

War, of course, tends to lose meaning for those caught up in its barbarism. That fact obliges filmmakers such as Ayer to work that much harder to provide it.

Friday’s openings: Chapter two includes sex

After asking for, and receiving a late email from AMC River Park Square, I've decided to add a whole new post about Friday's movie openings. As you can see in the post below, I reported that the two mainstream openings in area theaters are “John Wick” and “Ouija.” I updated that post to include AMC's addition of “St. Vincent.”

Now for three more:

“Addicted”: A gallery owner's sexual obsession threatens her career. Her emotions are 50 shades of something. 

“16 Stones”: Description courtesy of IMDB: “A modern day adventure about the search for special stones touched by the hand of the Lord and brought to the Americas.” Question: Did someone trade a cow for those stones?

“23 Blast“: A sudden blindness forces a high school football player to question whether he can continue playing the sport he loves. What, he can't turn to officiating?

‘Decasia’ makes art out of film ruin

Last week I posted an announcement for a fund-raising event for the Spokane International Film Festival. It involves a special showing of the documentary “The Return to Homs,” which will be shown at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Magic Lantern.

But SpIFF isn't done. A special screening of the art film “Decasia,” in partnership with the Spokane Film Project and also planned as a fund-raiser, will be shown at 7:30 tonight at The Big Dipper. “Decasia,” which was released 2002 and was added to the National Film Registry in 2013, is described as “a beautiful, non-narrative film that is like looking at a fascinating, kinetic, abstract painting.” Filmmaker Bill Morrison compiled the film from “decomposing found footage,” 35mm prints gone bad, and paired it with an original score by Michael Gordon.

Writing in the New York Times, Dave Kehr described Morrison's film this way: ” 'Decasia' seizes on those transitional moments, when the readable images of nitrate film are slipping into the many odd and curious distortions caused by the decay of the physical medium. Some images seem to flake away; some blossom into glowing effects that suggest the solarization that was a popular technique for evoking the psychedelic experience of the ’60s; others suffer distortions like those of a fun-house mirror; still others seem to be invaded by swelling masses of bacteria, like something you would observe in a petri dish.”

Commenting on the irony of film giving way to digital technology, Kehr wrote, “No simple nostalgist, Mr. Morrison comes to emphasize the cyclical nature of creation. The new devours the old, which will be devoured in its turn.”

Tickets to this special showing of “Decasia,” which has a 70-minute running time, are a suggested $5 and will be available at the door. The Big Dipper is located at the northeast corner of Washington St. and 2nd Ave.   

Friday’s openings: Keanu and a ouija board

Note: This post has been amended to include the film “St. Vincent” at AMC River Park Square.

One of the mysteries of Hollywood is … how has Keanu Reeves managed to have a career? Yeah, he was decent in “Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure” and “The Matrix” trilogy. Overall, though, not a thespian. Yet he endures.

Which you will see on Friday when Reeves's latest movie, “John Wick,” opens. The whole of the weekend's mainstream movie offerings, as of Tuesday afternoon at least,  is as follows:

“John Wick”: Reeves plays a former hitman gradually pulled out of retirement. Does he down the blue or the red pill?

“Ouija”: Some teens play the creepy board game and get threatened by an evil force. I wonder: Does it want them to do their homework?

“St. Vincent”: Bill Murray stars as what IMDB describes as a “misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door” to a young boy whose parents have recently divorced. Can you say role model?

And at the Magic Lantern (besides picking up “My Old Lady” second run):

“Listen Up Philip”: A self-absorbed writer awaits publication of his novel. Jason Schwartzman, typecast again.

“The Return to Homs”: A documentary about young men living in the embattled Syrian city of Homs. Forget the jokes; nothing about the Syrian situation is funny.

And make sure to enjoy.

Bela Lugosi: Happy 132nd birthday

Lots of famous people were born over the years on Oct. 20. Among them, English architect Christopher Wren (in 1632), French poet Arthur Rimbaud (in 1854), Kenyan strongman Jomo Kenyatta (in 1891), Sen. Wayne Morse (in in 1900), pundit Will Rogers Jr. (in 1911), columnist Art Buchwald (in 1925), baseball Hall-of-Famer Mickey Mantle (in 1931), actor Jerry Orbach (in 1935), news broadcaster Connie Chung (in 1946), rocker Tom Petty (in 1950), rapper Calvin Broadus (Snoop Dogg, in 1971) and too many more to list here.

But my favorite: Bela Lugosi (in 1882). The star of “Dracula” had been acting in films for 14 years, mostly in what is now Romania, when he got his big break, portraying the title role in Tod Browning's 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. Though he starred in a number of other Hollywood films, from “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1932) to “The Black Cat” (1934), Lugosi's heavy accent and his growing dependence on pain drugs limited his opportunities.

He ultimately ended up working for Ed Wood, dying during filming (in 1956) of what would become what many consider one of the worst film's ever made: “Plan 9 From Outer Space” (released in 1959). Wood, who had shot footage of Lugosi for use in “Plan 9” and another unfinished film that was to be titled “The Ghoul Goes West,” completed filming of “Plan 9” by casting his wife's chiropractor as a stand-in.

Many actors have portrayed Dracula, from Lon Chaney Jr. to Louis Jordan, Christopher Lee to Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Gary Oldman to … yes, even Adam Sandler. But as with the role of James Bond, which will always be associated with Sean Connery, Lugosi's performance remains the one to which all others are compared.

Ultimate irony: Martin Landau would go on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in for portraying Lugosi in Tim Burton's 1994 film “Ed Wood.”

Anyway, happy birthday, Bela Lugosi.

‘Gone Girl’: a stylish study in gimmickry

Nathan Weinbendeer and I share movie-reviewing chores at Spokane Public Radio. This is good because, though we agree on most things, we come at movies often with a far different perspective — the product of, if nothing else, the 40-odd-year difference in our ages. Since we try to cover as many movies as we can, and since we are both limited to one review a week, we usually don't comment on the same movies — except for when we tape Movies 101.

This week, though, is an exception. We disagree so much on David Fincher's “Gone Girl” that we agreed that I should add my voice to the mix. That way, with two perspectives, you readers/listeners can better decide what your own views are.

So, then, my SPR review of “Gone Girl” follows:

A couple of summers ago, I read Gillian Flynn’s novel “Gone Girl” and, for about half of it, I was enthralled. Well, enthralled might be a little strong, but I definitely felt pulled into Flynn’s twisted exploration of marital discord.

For the life of me, though, I cannot remember how Flynn ends her novel. That’s because at a certain point, her plot goes in a completely unexpected – at least to me – direction. And from that page on, “Gone Girl” ceased to be a serious read and reverted to what I’d call an immensely readable literary curiosity. A more accomplished, if you will, Dan Brown experience.

This, then, was one reason why I wanted to see director David Fincher’s adaptation of Flynn’s novel. I’ve long been a Fincher fan, admiring both the visual narrative and intellectual backdrop he’s given to films as different as “Se7en,” “Fight Club,” “The Social Network,” “Zodiac” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” I was anticipating what he would do with “Gone Girl,” even if Flynn was listed as the resident screenwriter.

And my reaction? Mostly disappointment, which seems perfectly appropriate when talking about what is a plot line based on little more than narrative gimmickry.

“Gone Girl” tells the story of Nick and Amy Dunne. It begins with Nick (played by Ben Affleck) examining his wife, Amy (played by Rosamund Pike), musing about cracking open her skull so that he might be able to pin down her thoughts. But told from Nick’s point of view, at least at first, the narrative actually portrays Nick as a right guy soon immersed in a mystery.

One day Nick discovers Amy missing, and their living room bearing signs of a struggle. Concerned, he calls the police … and just that quick Fincher’s movie – following Flynn’s novel – becomes a curious blend of social commentary, would-be social satire and police procedural. Given Fincher’s abilities – not to mention track record – you would think that he’d find a way to handle all of that effectively. Which he does, but only to a point.

Oh, the police part works well enough, if you overlook the strange casting decisions that include Neil Patrick Harris and, yes, Tyler Perry. And so does some of the social commentary/satire, mainly because of Affleck’s natural sense of beefy smarm and Pike’s android-probe stare and ice-princess charm.

But the rest? What the movie tries to say about social media is pretty obvious, especially the points about perception being more important than reality and that a lie repeated long and hard enough can easily become an accepted representation of the truth. And Flynn’s observations about the societal roles of woman and the implicit difficulties of marriage become meaningless when that all-important plot twist – which I won’t expound upon – is revealed.

In the end, it all feels muddled, as if Fincher struggled – and failed – to find just the right plot device to help propel a movie, based on a book that is one big he-said/she-said – yes, gimmick – from beginning to end.

These are a few of my unfavorite things

If you're a baseball fan, then you probably watched — as I did, — both major league championship series games last night. In the first, the Kansas City Royals completed a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles by winning 2-1, and in the second the San Francisco Giants took a 3-1 lead by posting a 6-4 comeback win over the Si. Louis Cardinals.

(Notice I avoided using the cliche “commanding lead” in the Giants score? Hey, for nearly five years, I was a sportswriter and then page editor first at The Spokesman-Review and then The Spokane Daily Chronicle. My colleagues and I tried to avoid cliches like … like … the plague.)

Anyway, my Vancouver (WA) friend Tom Knappenberger — who recently joined the ranks of the retired — sent me a link to a story about a controversy that was inspired by something that occurred in the KC-Baltimore post-game interview. It seems that, during the interview, KC pitcher Jeremy Guthrie wore a t-shirt bearing the inscription “These O's Ain't Royal.”

And this apparently upset some baseball fans. Mostly, I presume, from Baltimore.

Wow. This has inspired me to share a few of my own dislikes. Because I began this blog in 2003 as a movie blog, let me share with you a few things that upset me about contemporary cinema:

  • Dan Aykroyd in “Get on Up.” Is he from France?
  • Neil Patrick Harris in “Gone Girl.” Doogie Howser go home.
  • Pretty much ever Michael Bay movie ever made. Except maybe “The Rock.”
  • Steve Martin in the “Pink Panther” reboots. We're sorry, Peter Sellers.
  • Seth Rogen and James Franco, period. Kim Jong-un wants you … for dinner.
  • Nicholas Sparks' scribblings. Welcome, Mr. Hanky, the Christmas poo.
  • The guy who talked all through as screening of “Kill the Messenger” on Tuesday night. OK, he was explaining the plot to a woman wearing an acoustical assistance rig. But seriously. Inside voice only, please.
  • Filmmakers who insist on using their cameras like salt shakers. It ain't art, pal, it's a business.
  • Chris Tucker. Click here, if you dare.

I could go on all day. In fact, let me add one final dislike:

  • Self-important film critics.

There. I feel so much better now — and not in the slightest way inclined to apologize for anything. Maybe I'll even print up a t-shirt.

SpiFF-Mini: Catch a taste of cinema Oct. 26

Over the past few years, the Spokane International Film Festival — for which I serve as a member of the board — has tried to be more of a presence than a several-day-long festival in February. Through such programs as the Professor's Series, and the occasional partnering with such venues as the Magic Lantern and The Bing Crosby Theater, SpIFF has attempted to make its brand better known.

Which was one of the reasons behind the formation of SpiFF-Mini, a series that began last week with a showing of the film “Dead Show 2: Red Vs. Dead” and continued Monday night with “Purgatorio: A Journey into the Heart of the Border,” a meditative 2013 documentary about the U.S.-Mexican border by Mexican director Rodrigo Reyes.

SpIFF-Mini will conclude at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Magic Lantern with a screening of “The Return to Homs,” another 2013 documentary, this one following two young men caught up in the Syrian conflict. Directed by Talal Derki, the film — wrote the Hollywood Reporter — “should endure as a viscerally direct, consistently informative account of how participants experience the hazards, tedium and lethal thrills of urban combat, and as a portrait of young men radicalized and energized by their circumstances.”

“The Return to Homs” will be introduced by Kristin Edquist, a professor of government at Eastern Washington University. For more information, go to the Magic Lantern or SpIFF websites.

Friday’s openings: War and love, oil and aging

Note: This post was edited to include a third opening film at the Magic Lantern.

Back in Spokane after an eight-day trek around Iceland, where I learned to say Eyjafjallakötull more or less correctly (thanks to the many t-shirts and refrigerator magnets providing pronunciation guides). Now, back to the business of what's opening at local theaters, which this week includes everything from World War II to the joys of aging with style.

First, at the mainstream theaters:

“Fury”: The crew of an American Sherman tank faces down German resistance during the final months of World War II. Wow, never heard that story before.

“Book of Life” (3D and regular): This CGI production follows the story of Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) as he fights to get back to the woman he loves. Family time.

“Men, Women & Children”: Characters of all ages (played by a cast including, of all actors, Adam Sandler) have to deal with how social media have affected their lives and relationships. Hint: Things don't go well.

“Best of Me”: A rekindled love affair leads to trouble for all involved. Two words: Nicholas Sparks.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Pump”: A documentary about America's addiction to oil. Think maybe it has something to do with corporate profits?

“Advanced Style”: A documentary exploring the lives of seven New Yorkers and their respective ways of dealing with aging. Substitute “flair” for “style” and you know what to expect.

“Soul of a Banquet”: A documentary on Celia Chiang, the woman who, in 1961, introduced authentic Mandarin dishes to the U.S. Chances are, after watching, an hour later you'll want to watch again.

And, finally, a second Spokane run of “The Skeleton Twins.”

So go see a movie. And enjoy.

The film fan finds a home in Rejkjavik

No matter where I go, I seem to be haunted by film. I write this in a hotel room in Reykjavik, Iceland, where I am on a week-long stay with my wife. This country, which is just slightly smaller than the state of Ohio, claims a population — about 320,000 — that is less than Spokane County. Yet it boasts a film festival that is as varied as it is impressive.

We arrived in Reykjavik at about 6 a.m. Sunday morning. And after busing from Keflavik Airport to the capital, we dropped our bags off at our hotel (the Hotel Holt), and walked around. Reykjavik is relatively small and, not unlike Spokane, has a central area that each to navigate on foot. (The above photo is my attempt to show just how different the Icelandic language is to English.)

In the late afternoon, we headed to the Bio Paradis theater where, with no problem at all, we were able to see three documentary features on the final day of the Reykjavik International Film Festival. “Evaporating Borders,” which explores the immigration problem facing Cyprus (but that has implications for the entire world). “Ballet Boys,” which explores the world of youth ballet in Oslo, Norway. And “Waiting for August,” a study of family life in contemporary Romania.

And that's how we spent our first day in Reykjavik. No film festival today. Guess we'll have to hit a few museums.

Wonder if we can find one devoted to movies?

‘The Equalizer’ is a tad bit … too, too much

I like to say that I sit through movies so that others don't have to. And I've been doing it professionally since 1984. Last week I sat through “The Equalizer,” which I … well, let me explain in the review I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

In 1970, the average price of a U.S. movie ticket was $1.55. Today, that price is closer to $8.15, some five times more expensive.

Of course, ticket prices aren’t the only thing about movies that have grown. Budgets have, also. And while the size of theaters has decreased, and then increased, depending on industry trends, the use of special effects has grown perhaps most of all. Furthermore, the tendency for CGI clutter mirrors the very way movies unfold their plots.

Take “The Equalizer,” Antoine Fuqua’s latest big-screen teaming with two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington. It has its roots in a series that hit American television nearly 30 years ago. Starring Edward Woodward, an actor as British as Earl Grey tea, TV’s “The Equalizer” focused on Robert McCall, a former intelligence – likely CIA – agent. Similar to many retirees, Woodward’s McCall took the odd job here and there, though with a difference: He used his special skills, and a variety of weapons when needed, to “help” out often powerless individuals – abused wives, for example. And he had a quiet kind of force that made bad guys listen.

Boasting Washington in the lead, Fuqua’s version of “The Equalizer” plays like a pilot for a potential series reboot. This new McCall works days at a Home Depot-type business, joking with customers, mentoring a young coworker, and skillfully dodging queries about his past. We see that his sparely furnished apartment is filled with books belonging to the Modern Library and that, often unable to sleep, he spends nights at a diner straight out of a Production Design 101 class, drinking tea and reading, among other novels, Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.”

It is here, in this diner that resembles an Edward Hopper painting, that McCall meets Teri (real name Alina), a teenage streetwalker played by Chloe Grace Moretz. It is through Teri that McCall gets his first glimpse of the Russian-speaking mobsters who control her. And it is about this time that McCall begins feeling an old pull, one that he apparently had promised his recently deceased wife he would fight. That pull concerns his tendency to draw upon his agency experience to set the world right. Problem is, that pull inevitably results in violence.

For the first half hour of “The Equalizer,” Fuqua – whose 2001 film “Training Day” won Washington his second Oscar – gives us a film that works as a slow, stylistic reveal. Even when that reveal comes, the style continues – slo-mo shots mingled with close-ups, effective use of shadows, dark colors and gimmickry involving McCall’s stopwatch.

But then, unaccountably, McCall transforms into a combination Jason Bourne and Frank Castle – aka “The Punisher” – whose expertise transforms his warehouse workplace into a tool-laden killing field. And unlike Woodward’s McCall, who might have used a corkscrew to open a good claret, Washington’s character wields the implement in ways that would make even Charles Manson blush.

All things considered, Fuqua’s “Equalizer” might not be bigger. But more brutal, more bloody? Mmmmm, about five times as much.

From myth to truth: Native American Film Festival

From almost the beginning of the U.S. film industry, mainstream America has been portraying — in most cases inventing portrayals — of its indigenous population. In recent years, though, artists representing that population — painters, photographers, poets, novelists and filmmakers — have been reworking their images. And, in the process, searching for something much closer to a truth.

That's likely what you can expect to find Oct. 11 at Sandpoint's Panida Theater when the Idaho Mythweaver will present its American Indian Film Festival. The event, which begins at 6 p.m., will include four films written and directed by native filmmakers: ”Injunuity,” “Indian Relay,” “Grab” and the documentary feature “This May Be the Last Time.”

In his review for Variety, film critic Guy Lodge wrote this about “This May Be the Last Time”: “An Oklahoma-based son of the Seminole tribe himself, (filmmaker Sterlin) Harjo begins by matter-of-factly relating the story of his grandfather’s mysterious death in 1962 — a sincere pretext for a probing examination of the singular-sounding spiritual music that nursed his family through their grief.” 

Tickets to the four-film program run $12 and are available in advance online, at various locations around Sandpoint and at the door. 

Friday’s openings: Get Gone (Girl) or be Left Behind

From the religious to the satanic, comic to mysterious, the week's movies offer a range of experiences. Some might even be worth seeing. The week's openings are as follows:

“Left Behind”: Nicolas Cage plays a man who, when his wife and child mysteriously disappear, tries to discover what happened — and why. Based on the religious novels. Warning: Don't text while driving. 

“Annabelle”: A family gets haunted by a vintage doll possessed by … satan? Or is it … Chucky?

“Hector and the Search for Happiness”: Simon Pegg plays a psychiatrist who embarks on a round-the-world trip to see what makes people happy. Hint: It's not a PS4.

“Gone Girl”: David Fincher directed this adaptation of Gillian Flynn's novel, which tells the story of a man (Ben Affleck) who is accused of murdering his wife (Rosamund Pike). And, no, he does not play in the NFL.

“Love Is Strange”: John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play an aging couple who, when one loses his teaching job, are forced to live with family members until their finances get settled. Remember what they say about friends, family and visits that last longer than three days.

The Magic Lantern is opening nothing new, but “The Trip to Italy,” “Alive Inside,” “A Most Wanted Man” and “Magic in the Moonlight” continue.

‘This Is Where I Leave You’ … meh

Some of the best shows on television revolve around family life. “Modern Family,” for example. And movies have tackled the same topic with originality and skill. “Ordinary People,” for example. Or my wife's favorite, “Home for the Holidays.”

Unfortunately, “This Is Where I Leave You,” which is in theaters now, doesn't quite live up to those standards, despite having a first-rate cast. Following is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

If you were to look the term “family dysfunction” up in a dictionary, you might see a picture of the central characters from “This Is Where I Leave You.” In adapting his own novel, screenwriter Jonathan Tropper places great emphasis on the notion that this is one screwed-up family.

Being screwed-up, of course, is a relative condition. All these characters are troubled. Depressed even. Unable, or unwilling to relate as a family might.  All, then, are definitely unhappy. But only in what we call a first-world fashion.

Yes, middle son Judd (played by Jason Bateman), is having a particularly hard time. We’ve barely opened our Milk Duds before Judd discovers, one, that his wife is having an affair with his boss and, two, that his father has died. But guess what? His siblings are all facing some sort of crisis, too. Sister Wendy (Tina Fey) is married to a jerk and still pines for her former lover. Brother Paul (Corey Stoll) is desperately – even grimly, but vainly – trying to impregnate his wife. Baby brother Philip (Adam Driver) may be the happiest of the bunch: manifesting his Peter Pan syndrome by carrying on an affair with a woman a good 15 years his elder.

One thing is clear: Each sibling feels no need to connect with any other family member. Which is why, following dad’s death, Mom Altman (Jane Fonda) calls them all home and expects them to sit Shiva – the traditional Jewish manner of grieving – for seven long days. Her intent is clear: Forced intimacy.

Of course, as Tropper’s screenplay makes clear – as clear as director Shawn Levy can make it make anything – Mom idea of intimacy is part of the problem. She wrote a best-selling book on child-rearing, a tell-all tome centered on her own family, that made her kids – to their ever-lasting shame – mini-celebrities. Not only does she seem to not realize the effect this has had on her family, Mom gushes to anyone willing to listen the juicy details of the great sex she had with her dead hubby – all while displaying the ample charms of her augmented breasts. Fonda, a two-time Oscar winner, eats her dialogue as if they were bites of kugel.

And Fonda is hardly the movie’s only skilled actor. Bateman has become one of the most reliable straight men in TV or movies. Fey’s “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” credentials make clear her comic appeal. And so with the others: Stoll (who played Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”), Driver (best known for the HBO show “Girls”) and various others, from Kathryn Hahn to Rose Byrne, Dax Shepard to Timothy Olyphant.

No, the problem with “This Is Where I Leave You” isn’t due to the cast. Nor does director Levy do much that is noticeably wrong. The movie just plays off-key from the start, with sitcom situations subbing for real emotional entanglements and subsequent resolutions feeling about as deep as – speaking of the First World – a 20-second ad for Geico car insurance.

Friday’s openings: Trolls, comedy and bad Denzel

Another coming Friday and another lineup of movie offerings. And imagine that, we actually have a few choices to work with. The week's openings are as follows:

“The Equalizer” (also IMAX): Denzel Washington stars in Antoine Fuqua's update of the 1980s-era television show about a vigilante loner who seeks justice for the powerless. Question: When did Denzel Washington transform into Wesley Snipes?

“The Skeleton Twins”: Former “Saturday Night Live” cast members Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader star as estranged twins who try to mend their relationship. Is it just me, or has Wiig been making some fairly great career choices?

“My Old Lady”: An American (Kevin Kline) takes possession of a Parisian apartment — and its unexpected inhabitant (Maggie Smith), who foils his plan of making a quick score.

“The Song”: An aspiring singer-songwriter finds success ain't what he thought it was. Here's a line from one critic's review: “There are many hurdles to overcome here, including headlines, gossip and someone who has lost his way and must find it with religion.”

“The Boxtrolls” (3D/2D): Based on the children's novel “Here Be Monsters,” this animated feature explores the underground world of creatures who come out at night. Between the creatures and their human foes, two guesses as to who the real monsters are.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Tale Me to the River”: When a few recording stars from Memphis team up to record a new album, the whole of American music is examined. Terence Howard narrates the documentary,

“A Most Wanted Man”: Don't miss the second-run showing of this adaptation of John Le Carre's novel, featuring the last great performance by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

And don't forget to enjoy.

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