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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

The week’s movie openings: Old hikers and daffy women

Another week and another series of big-screen movie offerings. And, hey, just in time to act as a nice break from Pig Out. The week's mainstream movies are as follows:


"A Walk in the Woods": Robert Redford and Nick Nolte star in what looks to be a farcical adaptation of Bill Bryson's best-selling 1998 memoir of his walking the Appalachian Trail. They must be looking for the elder hostels.


"The Transporter Refueled" (IMAX and standard): Ed Skrein steps in for Jason Statham in this continuation of the series about a former British special-operations officer who now freelances as a driver boasting specific talents. Big question: Does he still drive an Audi?

"Mistress America": Writer-director Noah Baumbach casts Greta Gerwig in another role that requires her to play a daffy-yet-lovable "Frances Ha"-type character. Read: typecasting.

"Dope": Geeky Malcolm tries to transform his inner-city L.A. high school experience into something that will earn him admittance to an Ivy League university. Think urban "Risky Business."

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Phoenix": A Jewish woman survived World War II but emerges disfigured. After facial reconstruction, she searches for her former boyfriend who may, or may not, have betrayed her to the Germans. Well, love does mean never having to say you're sorry. Right?

And you know the drill. Go see a movie. Enjoy yourself.

Friday’s openings: DJs, mountain climbers and adolescent angst

We’re now in that weird in-between period all serial moviegoers dread: Summer tent-pole season has waned, Oscar season is still a month or so away and Hollywood’s output has slowed to a trickle. This week’s new releases include an odd mix of movies, but there are some small, more independent titles worth checking out. Here’s what you have to choose from:


“No Escape” – Owen Wilson stars as the American ambassador to a crooked U.S. company who moves his family to an unnamed Southeast Asian country just as a military coup breaks out.


“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” – Set in San Francisco in the 1970s, this bittersweet coming-of-age story follows a sexually curious 15-year-old named Minnie (relative newcomer Bel Powley) as she documents her ascension to adulthood. Based on the acclaimed novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, the trailer gives me serious “Welcome to the Dollhouse”-meets-“American Splendor” vibes. And I mean that as a compliment.

“We Are Your Friends” – A sort of “Saturday Night Fever” for the Paradiso Festival set, the directorial debut of MTV personality Max Joseph stars Zac Efron as a young dreamer who just wants to be a celebrity DJ with a supermodel girlfriend. Ah, career goals.

“War Room” – The “war” of the title is a domestic one, as a seemingly perfect couple turns to (per the film’s publicity) “an older, wiser woman” about using prayer for transformative purposes. A Christian-themed film from the director of “Fireproof” and “Courageous.”

At the Magic Lantern:

“Meru” – A documentary about the 2008 attempt by three mountain climbers to scale a legendary Himalayan peak known as the Shark’s Fin. Harrowing, to say the least.

Below: The trailer for “The Diary of a Teenage Girl.”

SPR is offering everyone some ‘Help!’

Anytime you have a hard day's night, what's the thing you most need? Help, of course, which is something The Beatles knew well enough.

And so does Spokane Public Radio. Following last year's sold-out event, "SPR Goes to the Movies: 'A Hard Day's Night,' " the radio station decided to follow up with another Beatles movie extravaganza. This time it involves Richard Lester's 1965 Beatles film "Help!" which had a national U.S. opening on Aug. 25, 1965.

"Help!" will screen at the Bing Crosby Theater at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Unlike the "Hard Day's Night" screening, this event will not involve a live-taping of the "Movies 101" show. But "Movies 101" co-host Nathan Weinbender, along with longtime SPR personality Leonard Oakland, will be on hand to introduce the film.

Tickets to the screening are $10 (plus Bing operating fees) and are being sold through TickestWest. They also should be available at the Bing's box office (but as I wrote above, the "Hard Day's Night" screening sold out so …)

Anyway, I'd be there but I'm out of town. Poor me.

I can always use some … uh, "Help!"

Friday’s openings: Infinite choices, limited jests

Summer is starting to wind down, and the movies are following suit. That’s not to say the number of releases is dropping – there are six new titles scheduled to open this Friday – but the season of the blockbuster is more or less over. In fact, this week’s releases cover some pretty dark material – drugs, violence, depression and, uh, kidnapping ghosts. At least there’s a comedy in there to add a little levity. Here are the titles:

At the AMC:

“American Ultra” – Jesse Eisenberg stars as a perpetually stoned loser who discovers he’s a sleeper agent for the government, and the same people that programmed him to be a killing machine want him dead. Think “Pineapple Express” meets “The Bourne Identity.”

“The End of the Tour” – From director James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”), this film festival favorite documents the five days in 1996 when journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg, again) followed late writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) on his “Infinite Jest” book tour. Expect plenty of footnotes.

“Hitman: Agent 47” – A dead-eyed, genetically-engineered assassin must take down a top secret corporation that holds the key to his mysterious origins…or something. “American Ultra,” this ain’t. Based on a video game series, previously adapted into a long-forgotten 2007 feature.

“Sinister 2” – This sequel to the not-that-bad 2012 chiller continues the urban legend of a creepy specter that murders families and swipes the children. Not exactly an ideal bedtime story.

At the Magic Lantern:

“Cartel Land” – Documentarian Matthew Heineman explores the ins and outs of the meth trade, focusing on the cooks, smugglers and peddlers on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The Stanford Prison Experiment” – A certain-to-be-grim docudrama inspired by the notorious sociological experiment conducted in 1971, in which students were divided into groups of prisoners and guards in a makeshift prison. Things did not go very well.

Below: The trailer for “The Stanford Prison Experiment”:

McKellen is bewitching as ‘Mr. Holmes’

After playing a few weeks at AMC, the Bill Condon film "Mr. Holmes" is moving to the Magic Lantern. If you haven't yet seen it, you might want to. That, at least, is the argument I make in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

In his early years as a student at Cambridge, Sir Ian McKellen took to the stage the way Gandalf the Wizard takes to magic – with a talent and flair that is as natural as it is thrilling for others to witness.

Those of us who never got the opportunity to see McKellen onstage can see at least a vestige of what it might have been like in the 1982 release of McKellan’s televised performance “Acting Shakespeare,” which I remember seeing on Spokane Public Television. Based on a series of one-man shows, which McKellan performed between 1977 and 1990, it features McKellen both explaining – and then performing – scenes from such plays as “As You Like It,” “Macbeth” and “Richard III.”

Since the 1960s, McKellen has also been active in television and film, though it took nearly four decades for him to become a familiar face. And that was due to two blockbuster franchises: “X-Men,” in which he portrays the villainous Magneto, and the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films of Peter Jackson, in which he portrays Gandalf.

Now we have McKellen – all 76 years of him – cast in a small movie based on a novel by Mitch Cullin titled “A Slight Trick of the Mind.” Directed by Bill Condon, who worked with McKellen in 1998’s acclaimed film “Gods and Monsters” – which earned McKellan an Oscar nomination – this new film, titled simply “Mr. Holmes” – again gives evidence of McKellen’s ample acting skills.

The year is 1947. And we find the 93-year-old detective living on a remote farm with only a housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker) as companions. Having just returned from Japan, where he both witnessed the smoldering remains of a devastated Hiroshima and searched out a rare herb, Holmes occupies himself by keeping bees and by trying to re-create the one case that still plagues him with unanswered questions.

Holmes’ quest is complicated by his failing mind, which is what gives Condon’s film particular poignancy. He attempts to write about the case, hoping to capture facts that his former partner and late friend John Watson tended to embellish in the series of novels that made Holmes famous. To capture facts and, perhaps, to heal a failing mind.

Much of Condon’s film works. Young Parker is just the latest in a long line of talented British child actors. And his interplay with McKellan is smooth and unforced. Linney, though, is another story. When so many talented British actresses must have been available, why Condon chose the all-too-American Linney is a mystery that even the redoubtable Mr. Holmes couldn’t solve.

Ultimately, as the movie takes us back and forth in time – from three decades before, when Holmes works on the case of a woman recovering from not one but two miscarriages, to his recent Japan trip and the present where he is aided in his reminiscences by the capable Roger – it is McKellen whose talents are on best display.

And he doesn’t disappoint. As Holmes, Gandalf or Hamlet, McKellen never does.

Millennials meet up for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

When it comes to meeting new people, some things never change. In other words, it can be hard.

And that makes no difference if you're young or old — although those who are young probably agonize about it more than their elders. Whatever, a group in Coeur d'Alene is trying to make such meetings easier, especially for younger movie fans.

"Cheesy Superhero Movie Night," which is hosted by the Millennial Meetups — described as a "program for patrons in their 20s and 30s" — will hold a screening of "Guardians of the Galaxy" at 6:30 tonight in the Community Room of the Coeur d'Alene Public Library.

The screening is free and popcorn will provided. And if you're older (or younger) than the sponsoring millennials, don't worry. As one library employee told me, "They won't turn you away."

For more information, call (208) 769-2315.

Harrowing Cobain documentary opens Friday at the Magic Lantern

Although it premiered on HBO in May, Brett Morgen’s documentary “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” is now getting a theatrical run. You can see the film about the late Nirvana frontman at the Magic Lantern starting Friday, and this release reportedly features a previously unheard Cobain demo on its soundtrack. Below is an excerpt from my review of the film, which originally aired on Spokane Public Radio:

Few artists who emerged in the last half of the 20th century have been mythologized, scrutinized and lionized quite like Kurt Cobain. We remember him as a tortured genius, as the godfather of the grunge movement, as a vocal resister of corporate rock, and we tend to forget that he was also just a guy.

Brett Morgen’s “Montage of Heck” isn’t the first documentary to put Cobain’s life and death under a microscope, though it is the first do so with the participation of his family (Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean served as an executive producer, and his wife Courtney Love is interviewed). To say the film humanizes Cobain might suggest that it’s blindly reverential, but it is not: We come to understand him as a man scarred by rejection, terrified of humiliation and undone by addiction, and whose 1994 suicide was probably unavoidable. It’s one of the most unflinching, harrowing portraits of a renowned cultural figure ever made.

This isn’t, however, a standard film biography that sits us down and patiently explains Cobain’s legacy. Sure, we get talking head interviews, concert footage and archival material, but Morgen’s approach is more experimental and cerebral. He’s not too concerned with the whats and whens of Cobain’s life, and a lot of basic expository details are completely glossed over. Anyone with only a passing familiarity of him and his music are likely to be left dazed and confused.

“Montage of Heck” gets its title from a “Revolution 9”-type audio collage Cobain made before he was famous, an eerie patchwork of seemingly random snippets from records and TV shows, and the movie adopts the same approach to both sound and image. This is almost a mixed media art piece, leaning heavily on Cobain’s drawings and journal entries and visualizing certain chapters of his life in animation, including a gripping sequence in which Cobain himself grimly details a failed suicide attempt when he was a teenager.

Many of Cobain’s fans have tried to rationalize his suicide, since it seemed unfathomable that someone so successful and effortlessly talented could have ever been unhappy. “Montage of Heck” does a masterful job of illustrating just how messy and unforgiving Cobain’s world was, and it becomes quite apparent that it wasn’t the fame that killed him but the scrutiny that came with it. Morgen (“The Kid Stays in the Picture”) hasn’t set out to inform in the conventional sense but to capture the turbulence of a life, and in doing so he’s made a film that is, like Cobain’s music, often visceral in its impact.

Below: The trailer for “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.”

Friday’s openings: Spies, rappers and a bit of jest

Note: An earlier version of this post included "End of the Tour" among Friday's openings. "End of the Tour" has been "pushed back" a week. Sorry for the inconvenience.

And the wannabe blockbusters just keep coming'. This week it's another reboot (retread?) of a 1960s television show. Friday's movie openings are as follows:

"The Man From Uncle": Operatives Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) thaw their own Cold War to take on a super-secret criminal organization. Personal glasnost?

"Straight Outta Compton": The "true" story of how the groundbreaking Hip Hop group NWA got started. Cool as an Ice Cube..

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Testament of Youth": Second-run feature based on the bio of a woman coming of age during World War I.

"Infinitely Polare Bear": Another second run, this one starring Mark Ruffalo as a troubled dad trying to win back his wife by being a loving, responsible parent.

"Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck": This biopic portrays the late rock star through interviews, archival footage and clever use of Cobain's own art work and journals.

Late addition: The Lantern also will open a second run of "Mr Holmes," in which Ian McKellan plays an against Sherlock Holmes struggling to solve his last cast.

So, yeah, it's time. Go out. See a movie. Enjoy.

The ‘Mission’: more than implausible

Just in case you were one of the three people who did not see "Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation" last week (the movie took in nearly $56 million its opening weekend), you might be interested in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Trends in mainstream moviemaking have always involved size. Whether it be big sound, big names or big screens, bigger is considered synonymous with better – at least in the minds of Hollywood producers.

And that goes double for producers of summer blockbusters. Seeing something in IMAX or 3-D, with Dolby Surround Sound, tends to keep those of us in the audience so occupied that we typically don’t notice any lacking in the story unfolding on-screen. That realization usually comes only after the house lights go up.

Take the latest summer hit, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” fifth in the film franchise based on the popular 1960s-era television show. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie – Oscar-winning screenwriter of the 1996 thriller “The Usual Suspects” – this latest “Mission: Impossible” has the IMF team facing its biggest challenge ever: an evil doppelganger.

IMF, of course, stands for Impossible Mission Force, a super-secret group dedicated to doing jobs even the CIA can’t handle, working with stealth, deception and high-tech gadgetry to foil the enemies of the USA, USA, USA.

That doesn’t mean, however, that IMF team members, especially team leader Ethan Hunt – Tom Cruise, at age 53 still in vintage action form – aren’t above pulling off amped-up action stunts. “Rogue Nation” begins with Hunt’s riding the side of an Airbus 400 in flight to foil a theft of nerve gas.

After that, the plot begins in earnest: Attempting to prove the existence of its evil counterpart, known only as The Syndicate, Hunt faces torture by one of the group’s minions. With the timely help of one-time MI6 operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), he manages to escape. But the CIA director (Alec Baldwin) refuses to believe The Syndicate even exists. So he succeeds in getting the IMF disbanded, after which Hunt finds himself pursuing the mysterious evil organization without institutional support.

Not that Hunt is without resources. The IMF team that plays together, stays together, after all, which means that Hunt can depend on a number of former teammates, including tech-wizard Benji (Simon Pegg), old friend Luther (Ving Rhames) and reassigned-to-the-CIA cohort William (Jeremy Renner) – not to mention the who’s-side-is-she-on Ilsa.

McQuarrie clearly has a talent for rendering action, perhaps the No. 1 requirement for a “Mission: Impossible” franchise, whether we’re talking about the opening – in which Cruise actually did ride the side of an Airbus – or motorcycle chases, numerous fight scenes and a digitally constructed underwater stunt. But plot? Intrigues involving the CIA, an MI6 agent played by Simon McBurney, the head of The Syndicate (Sean Harris) not to mention the ubiquitous Ilsa, give McQuarrie’s outline an overly complicated feel.

Ultimately, though, the story progresses almost too directly – to a predictable ending that, just as predictably, keeps things open for a “Mission: Impossible 6.”

What does set “Rogue Nation” apart, beyond the dependable presence of Cruise, is the humorous subtext – best displayed by Simon Pegg, as funny here as he is in J.J. Abrams’ reboot of “Star Trek.”

The jokes Pegg tells may not be big, but they do make the movie’s concept feel … well, mission: passable.

See ‘Grease’ tonight in the great outdoors

When I first moved to Spokane, a few months before Mount St. Helens blew in 1980, I was the father of a 16-month-old girl. And anyone who is both a movie lover and a parent of a young child knows that, back in the days before video/DVD/online movie viewing, the two didn't always mix.

I remember having to leave a screening of the movie "Magic" because my daughter, then a mere infant, woke up and began fussing. I suspect she was disturbed by a creepy Anthony Hopkins, too.

In 1980 Spokane, though, we discovered the solution: drive-in movies. Off the top of my head, I can recall at least six drive-in theaters that we attended on a regular basis — none of which exists today, few of which made even to the 1990s.

Which is why I am heartened to see that "Grease" will be playing at 7 tonight at a drive-in theater set up at the Spokane County Raceway in Airway Heights. Admission is $20 per car ($25 for VIP parking, whatever that means); outdoor seating is provided, too, and concessions will be for sale.

Movies have been screening at the racetrack every other Wednesday since June 10, and George Lucas' "American Graffiti" will play on Aug. 19. (Another drive-in site in Mead has been showing movies every other Tuesday since June 9, and "Dirty Dancing" is scheduled to play Aug. 19.) So if you don't want to see John Travolta and Olivia Newton John romp around tonight, you still have a couple of more chances.

Chances, you know, to relive the past. 

Fridays openings II: Life and times in L.A.

We've covered the mainstream openings below. Now let's tackle the Magic Lantern, which opens only a single new movie. But that movie is something special. It's titled "Tangerine" and may be like nothing you've ever seen.

And that's not just because it was shot entirely on a pair of iPhone 5s.

Set in Los Angeles on a typical Southern California Christmas Eve, amid the flow of traffic mostly along Sunset Boulevard, "Tangerine" follows a transgender prostitute, just out of jail, as she prowls the night in search of her two-timing pimp. Along the way, writer-director Sean Baker introduces us to a cast of characters whose desires and dreams are no less real than any mainstream American.

Here are some of the critical shout-outs.

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "As one character observes in 'Tangerine,' Los Angeles is 'a beautifully wrapped lie.' Baker has created a fitting homage to artifice and the often tawdry, tender realities that lie beneath."

Christy Lemire: " 'Tangerine' is a great Los Angeles movie and a great indie and a great reminder of the possibilities of creativity during a time when everything is a sequel or a reboot or a comic-book spectacle."

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Little is as it seems in 'Tangerine,' a fast, raucously funny comedy about love and other misadventures."

Caution: Click on the embed below only if you aren't easily offended.

Friday’s openings: Woody and a Streep weeper

Another summer blockbuster, Woody Allen's latest and a Meryl Streep weeper highlight the coming week of movies. Friday's openings are as follows:

"Fantastic Four": Rebooting a series with mostly 20-something faces, this update of the Marvel superhero quartet stars Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell. Hear that millennial roar!

"Ricki and the Flash": Meryl Streep stars as a veteran rock star who is forced to deal with the family she deserted. Her solution: Put another dime in the jukebox, baby.

"The Gift": When an old acquaintance shows up, a man's happy life begins to unravel. This is why it's unwise to drink overmuch at office parties.

"Irrational Man": A depressed philosophy professor (Joaquin Phoenix) finds new life through action, and the consequences reverberate through his small college town. Allen's film is being called a cross between "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Match Point."

"Dark Places": A quarter century after the fact, a woman (Charlize Theron) agrees to revisit the house where her family was butchered. Can you say, "Uh-oh"?

You know the drill by now. Go. See a movie. And enjoy.

Wednesday’s opening: Acting sheepish

Looks as if AMC River Park Square is going to open a movie on Wednesday. "Shaun the Sheep Movie" is a stop-action animated film that comes to us from some of the guys who worked on such similarly made projects as "Chicken Run" and "Madagascar." It's based on the UK television series, which was a spinoff from the "Wallace and Gromit" cartoons.

Friday's final openings will be announced later. But among them, expect to see the "Fantastic Four" reboot. 

Friday’s openings: Add ‘Amy’ to the list

I laid out the week's mainstream movie openings below. The Magic Lantern, meanwhile, is opening one of the more intriguing, and better-reviewed, films ever to play the art-house theater. "Amy," Asif Kapadia's documentary about the late British singer Any Winehouse, owns a 97 percent approval rating on the movie-review website Rottentomatoes.com.

If you never heard of Winehouse, well … just know that she had loads of talent, was a critical darling, led a troubled life and — like many tortured talents before her — died young. In 2011 at age 27.

Some of the more impressive comments about the movie follow:

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "In Kapadia's assured and careful hands, the film becomes less a portrait of a tragic artist, whose downward spiral was exacerbated by opportunistic family members and colleagues, than a discomfiting mirror held up to her audience."

Jordan Levin, Miami Herald: "You don't need to be a fan of British singer Amy Winehouse to be moved by the documentary 'Amy,' a devastating examination of the deadly effect that celebrity culture, media and drugs can have on artists."

David Edelsein, New York Magazine: "Amy is alternately thrilling and devastating, throwing you back and forth until the devastation takes over and you spend the last hour watching the most supernaturally gifted vocalist of her generation chase and find oblivion.

The week’s openings: ‘Impossible’ but true

The mission might be impossible, but Hollywood just keeps Cruising along … if you know what I mean. That lame play on words is about the best I can do to intro the week's mainstream movie openings. Anyway, here they are:


"Vacation": Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold, the son played by Anthony Michael Hall in the 1983 comedy "National Lampoon's Vacation," who wants to make his own family-bonding trek to Walley World. Can you go home again? We'll find out.


"Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation" (IMAX and standard; no 3-D): The IMF team faces its greatest foe, the Syndicate, which is bent on destroying Ethan (Tom Cruise) and friends. Expect to see some stuff blown up real good.

"Twinsters": When two young girls, adopted decades before, connect on social media, they discover their new-found relationship is closer than either could have ever imagined. A documentary that Variety calls "absorbingly personal."

"Aloft": Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly portrays a woman who encounters the son she'd abandoned 20 years before. Maybe love does mean saying you're sorry.

As for the Magic Lantern, I'll list the openings when they become available.

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