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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

Friday’ openings: Once again, dinos rule the Earth

Update: Adding the Magic Lantern opening (see below).

Another one of the summer's expected blockbusters, the latest in the continuation of the "Jurassic Park" franchise, is set for release on Friday — which pretty much means that nothing else is going to challenge it.

So, according the the national movie-release schedule, the week's single mainstream opening is:

"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom": Directed by Catalan-born director J.A. Bayona, who gave us the 2007 chiller "The Orphanage," this latest offering in the dinosaur saga has our protagonists — led by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) — striving to save the island's remaining creatures from an erupting volcano. Oh, and a raging T-Rex or two.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"The Seagull": An all-star cast, including Saoirse Ronan, Elizabeth Moss and Annette Bening, star in a filmed adaptation of the Chekhov play. Vodka, please.

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

One of SpIFF’s hit, ‘Summer 1993,’ comes to the Lantern

Frida (Laia Artigas) is just 6 years old and already her life has gone wrong. Her mother has just died, preceded by her father, and the circumstances of their deaths are never made clear.

Yet the actions of those around her – especially those of a mother who won’t let her daughter near Frida’s skinned knee – suggest something familiarly dire. And the feeling those actions rouse give the film “Summer 1993” a kind of dark undercurrent uncommon in a film seen through a child’s eyes.

Clearly, though, Frida is no ordinary child. As explored by writer-director Carla Simón, a Catalan filmmaker whose movie played at February’s Spokane International Film Festival, she is full of mistrust. And she expresses that unease by appearing prenaturally calm, seemingly emotionless.

So when Frida is taken in by her uncle (her mother’s brother), his wife and their own 4-year-old daughter, she nearly sleepwalks through the experience. At times she reacts like any normal young girl, while at others she seems distant even when her new guardians treat her with kindness.

She seems to be waiting. And as she does, she pushes the limits of what would be acceptable behavior.

Which is what makes Simón’s film, which opens today at the Magic Lantern Theater, so poignant. Based on the filmmaker's own experiences, it takes us into mind of a child who has been so hurt by life that it’s questionable whether she’ll every be able to again trust anyone.

“Summer 1993,” which is in Catalan with English subtitles, was a hit at SpIFF 2018. And deservedly so. Not to give anything away, but its climax just may wrench your heart – though, if you’re open to the experience, it'll happen in a good way.

Studio Ghibli Fest 2018 continues with ‘Pom Poko’

Fans of Japanese animation will be glad to know that Studio Ghibli Fest 2018 continues Sunday, Monday and Wednesday with Isao Takahata's 1994 film "Pom Poko" (or "The Racoon War").

The film, which tells the tale of animals fighting against human development of their traditional homeland, will screen at 12:55 Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday in dubbed versions and at 7 p.m. Monday in original language with English subtitles, at the Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

Here are some critical comments:

Andy Webster, New York Times: "Its ecological concerns, nuance and occasional lyricism place it squarely within the Ghibli oeuvre."

Austin Trunick, Under the Radar: "Pom Poko isn't regarded as one of the tent poles of the Studio Ghibli canon, though it deserves to be."

MaryAnn Johnson, Flick Filosopher: "Deeply affecting and visually mesmerizing, this is one of the best animated movies I've ever seen."

Friday’s openings redux: Hustlers and horses

Looks as if there are a couple of additions to Friday's movie-release schedule. Along with those already mentioned, they are:

"The Rider": A young cowboy suffers a head injury during a rodeo event and faces the challenge of how to shape his future. What does it really mean to cowboy up?

"Gotti": John Travolta portrays the former Mafia boss in this biographical look at him and his son, John Jr. (Spencer Rosso Lofranco). Cue the "Sopranos" theme.

That seems to be the lot. Now go, see a movie. And enjoy.


Go ahead, it’s OK to laugh at ‘Space Mutiny’

No kind of movie is funnier than one that's intentionally bad. But then there is a special place in the comedy pantheon for movies that are unintentionally bad.

"Space Mutiny" is one of the latter. Which is what makes it the perfect foil for the RiffTrax guys. An offshoot of the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" series, "RiffTrax Live" uses the same movie-viewing format: A trio watches a bad movie and makes snarky remarks throughout the screening.

Which is what will happen at 8 p.m. Thursday (and again at 7:30 p.m. next Tuesday) at Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium. "RiffTrax Live: Space Mutiny" will feature the 1988 sci-fi flick "Space Mutiny," a little-known film that even devotees of bad movies dislike.

One fan reviewer had this to say: "The worst elements of 1980s style, effects, and cheesiness are present. The things that some people ironically celebrate about the decade. I could not stomach it. I had to skip through most of this garbage."

But that was the movie. And the RiffTrax guys — Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett — specialize in gag-a-moment commentary that lighten the mood … well, if not completely then at least enough.

Friday’s openings: Comedy hits the mainstream

Comedy, both animated and live-action, are on tap for Friday's moviegoing enjoyment. At least, that's what the national movie-release schedule indicates on this week of split-schedule openings. The week's major openings are:


"SuperFly": This remake of the 1972 blaxploitation flick about a drug dealer looking for one final score was directed by Director X ("Across the Line") and stars Trevor Jackson. Expect some gunplay.


"Incredibles 2": It's been some 14 years since writer-director Brad Bird gave us his take on a family with superpowers that is forced, by law, to live as normal humans. This time, the family faces more domestic issues when Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) is left to watch the kids as Mrs. Incredible (Holly Hunter) is out saving the world.

"Tag": A quintet of friends continue the same game of "tag" that they've played for decades. One of the group, though, has never been "it."

And at the Magic Lantern on Friday?

"Summer 1993": A young girl whose mother had died goes to live with her country relatives and struggles to find the sense of trust she needs to recover. In Catalan with English subtitles. Note: This film was a popular addition to the most recent Spokane International Film Festival.

Kubrick wears well, especially in Italy

For old-school movie fans, nothing beats watching a film on the big screen. And while today's theaters are ultra-contemporary, what with state-of-the-art digital projection and sound — not to mention adjustable reclining seats — some older theaters still offer the best experience.

Such a theater exists in Florence, Italy, in the Palazzo della Strozzino, just off the Piazza della Repubblica. It's called the Cinema Odeon Firenze, and it is especially valuable to English-speaking moviegoers when it screens American and British movies in "original language" presentations. Which means: no subtitles.

On Monday night, that's how I saw a revival of Stanley Kubrick's 1968 sci-fi film "2001: A Space Odyssey." Some movies you can see once and know you've learned all you need. Others you might wish you hadn't wasted the time. Kubrick's masterpiece — an overused word, I know, but appropriate in this case — is one you can see numerous times and still see (and maybe feel) something new.

This time I was intrigued to see, during Dr. Heywood Floyd's flight to the moon station, that a pair of flight attendants were watching what looked like a judo contest. As with many other Kubrick touches, that felt so utterly random that I actually laughed out loud. And yet it didn't spoil the overall, meditatively mysterious tone of the movie at all. 

I was fortunate enough to be part of a team that presented "2001: A Space Odyssey" at The Bing in 2015. It looked good then, and it looked even better at The Odeon, whose seats are as lush and comfortable as the theater itself is representative of old-world splendor.

I see movies at The Odeon every chance I get. If you ever visit Florence, and get tired of museum-hopping, you might seek it out. It's a real treat, especially during the hot, humid days of summer.

The short video below gives just a hint of how glamorous the theater is.

Catch Tom Baker’s ‘Doctor Who’ on Monday

All "Doctor Who" fans have their favorite Doctors. Often, that choice involves the actor whom the fan first began watching.

I'm a bit different. My two favorites are David Tennant (10th) and Matt Smith (11th), and on any given day I might rank them one over the other. Still, I first began watching Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor, on Spokane Public Television during the 1980s, and so I do have a certain fondness for him, too.

Which makes particularly special the fact that Baker is being featured in a special movie-length screening titled "Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks," which will screen at 7 p.m. Monday at the Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

The so-called "Director's Cut" is timed to coordinate with the Blu-ray release of Baker's first season (1974) as the Doctor. And it is no doubt designed to rouse interest in the series, which is set to debut Jodie Whittaker as the first woman Doctor Who sometime in the fall.

If you go, you might want to wear a long scarf — even if the weather wouldn't otherwise dictate it. Baker's Doctor would likely appreciate it.

Friday’s openings redux: Crises in faith and the future

We have a couple of adjustments to make to Friday's movie-release schedule. In addition to the films already mentioned, we can expect:

"First Reformed": Ethan Hawke plays a middle-age priest of a small New York church whose troubled past complicates his progressively turbulent present, leading to a personal act of penance. Be warned: It's written and directed by Paul Schrader.

And on Wednesday, June 13:

"SuperFly": A remake of the 1972 movie about a drug dealer who wants to make one big score before he retires. This is said to be a reimagination of the story for a new generation.

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

Magic Lantern set to screen ‘Purple Rose’

Above: Janel Parish ("Pretty Little Liars") stars in "The Purple Rose," which was filmed in Liberty Lake and Cheney.

So, there's at least one addition to the week's coming movie schedule. Beginning Saturday, the Magic Lantern will screen a special feature that was filmed last year in Liberty Lake.

"The Purple Rose," which was directed by Jodi Binstock, is based on a novel written by Liberty Lake author Christi Walsh. The film was adapted for the screen by Walsh's daughter, Sydney Ortman.

Here's the plot, according to a press release: " 'The Purple Rose' is a shadowy story of a beautiful young woman, Kate, who after narrowly escaping the clutches of a deadly stalker flees to a remote anonymous town where she rebuilds her life and finds the man of her dreams – until the man of her nightmares tracks her down."

According to novelist Walsh, both her novel and the movie were "inspired by the strong and independent spirit of my two daughters. Kate’s character is a vulnerable, yet tenacious woman who is determined to create the best possible life for herself.”

The movie's cast includes Janel Parrish, Rob Estes, Jonah Platt, Michael Welch and Tom Kiesche.

"The Purple Rose" will show in a limited run. So if you're interested in seeing it, check it out sooner than later.

Below: A 2017 KXLY news report on the movie.

Friday’s openings: Crime and punishment

Crime of one sort or another is on the menu for Friday, according to the national movie-release schedule. The preliminary bookings look like this:

"Ocean's 8": Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett lead a crew of jewel thieves in this variation on the original "Ocean's Eleven" heist flick. What's good for the gander …  

"Hereditary": A death in the family causes a creepy kind of reminiscence. Limited release but certainly a possibility.

"Hotel Artemis": Jodie Foster stars as the proprietor of an establishment catering to criminals. When they check out, they really check out.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"1945": It's a hot day in August when two men, dressed in black, arrive in town on the train. Fear spreads when the the villagers realize the men, Orthodox Jews, might be the first of their kind returning from the previously forced deportations. In Hungarian and Russian with English subtitles.

That's it for the moment. I'll update when the area theater finalize their listings.

‘Solo’ is quick-paced, simple summer action

I reviewed the new "Star Wars" movie for Spokane Public Radio. Here is a transcription:

No movie franchise has created more of its own mythology than what George Lucas produced with “Star Wars.” Drawing on virtually every aspect of 20th-century cinema, from theme and tone to character and crisis, Lucas made a simple story of good triumphing over evil into something that strives to carry all the weight of Greek literature.

Imagine if Homer had written science fiction and you’ll understand what I mean.

Not that Lucas can be compared to great literature in any way except for, perhaps, the intent that he gradually developed after his first movie – released in 1977 – proved more successful than even he imagined. From that humble beginning, Lucas has forged a whole mythos that has spawned not just the original trilogy, but a prequel trilogy, a sequel trilogy (the final installment of which is set for a 2019 release), a TV series, lines of toys, novels, video games, theme-park attractions and, to date, three stand-alone films.

The most recent of those latter films is titled “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and is an origin tale of one of Lucas’ most popular characters, the self-styled space pirate Han Solo – an arrogant narcissist who, true to his hero/antihero basis, ends up being one of the main figures in the Rebellion that brings down the Empire.

Long before that occurs, though, Han is just … well, Han, a guy living hand to mouth on the planet Corellia and trying to get off any way possible. After hatching a plan with his partner Qi’ra, Han does escape – but not in the way he expected and certainly the life he is forced to endure then is not the one he wants.

But mostly through brashness, he connects with a band of actual outlaws – led by the space mobster Tobias Beckett – and through him gets connected with his new best friend, the Wookie Chewbacca, reconnected with an old friend, and working for – more or less – the criminal enterprise Crimson Dawn.

All of this was originally outlined by “The Lego Movie” co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. But following their firing for "creative differences," producer Kathleen Kennedy brought in Ron Howard as a fixer. Whoever was responsible, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” unveils at breakneck speed: seldom slowing down for any viewer but the most “Star Wars”-literate to comprehend much more than a simple he’s-good-he’s-bad-shoot-fast-and-speed-off storyline.

But in this era of neo-mythology, where the likes of comic books such as “The Avengers” and young-adult novels such as “Harry Potter” are considered to be – by popular vote anyway – the modern equivalents of great storytelling, the simple adventure basis of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” feels just fine.

The casting helps. “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke effectively embodies Qi’ra, as do Woody Harrelson as Beckett and Donald Glover as a glam-happy Lando Calrissian. Playing Han, Alden Ehrenreich may not capture quite the swagger of a young Harrison Ford, but he does manage to imbue his Han with a callowness that at least hints of emotional depth.

Ehrenreich’s Han may not be Odysseus, but – then – he hardly needs to be.

Surf meets opioids: The Andy Irons story

Spokane is about as far from the surfing world as you can get and still be in the state of Washington. Yet, a bit of that world is coming to the Inland Northwest tonight.

The event is a screening of "Andy Irons: Kissed by God," a documentary film by Bruce Irons, Irons' older brother.

If you don't know the name — and I didn't — Andy Irons was a three-time World Surf League champion who rivaled Kelly Slater — whose name I do know — for the title of world's best surfer. Irons, who won world titled in 2002 through 2004, died in 2010.

Besides surfing, the cause of Irons' death is the other important aspect to the documentary. The surfer had battled with bipolar disorder and with opioid addiction, the latter of which reportedly contributed to a fatal heart attack.

The documentary, which will screen at 7 tonight at Regal Cinemas' theaters at Northtown Mall and at Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium, features a special introduction, a Q&A with the filmmakers and Irons' family and friends and an expert on opioid addiction.

Catch some sketchy comedy with ‘The Producers’

Comedy — or attempts at making comedy — is a tricky process. Just ask Daniel Tosh. Or Anthony Jeselnik. Or, most recently, Roseanne Barr.

One guy who knows something about comedy is Mel Brooks. And long before the current crop of comics came along, especially those who like to push the boundaries of comedy, Brooks was shaking things up on stage, on television and on the movie screen.

Take his original film "The Producers," which Brooks both wrote and directed. Starring two great comic talents, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, the film tells the story of two Broadway producers who seek to make money by putting on what they consider to be a sure-fire failure. So they agree to produce the musical "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden."

Yeah, a Broadway musical that is a love letter to the world's most reviled dictator. And to the shock of both our protagonists, the play is a rousing success. So, too, was Brooks' film.

Not that everybody loved it. Writing in the New Republic, Stanley Kauffman opined, "The star not only indulges himself gluttonously, but the director seems to be doubled up with laughter at how funny he is being through Mostel; and the film bloats into sogginess."

But Kauffman was part of a tiny minority. Many more critics echoed the sentiments of Susan Stark writing for the Detroit News: "This shamelessly low-brow, fearlessly satirical Brooks movie may just be Hollywood's ultimate satire, a furiously witty 'reductio ad absurdum' worthy of the great Augustans like Pope and Swift." Writing some two decades after the film's premiere, Roger Ebert had a more succinct view: "This is one of the funniest movies ever made."

Brooks' satirical film has endured, experiencing revivals both on Broadway and on the big screen. Now, however, the original is being re-released in honor of its 50th anniversary. And those of us living in this part of the Inland Northwest will be lucky enough to experience it.

"The Producers" will screen at 2 and 7 p.m. on June 3 and 6 at Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

Comedy isn't always comfortable. But the best of it tends to live on, making life that much more bearable — especially in hard times such as the ones occurring right now.

‘RBG’ doc moves to the Magic Lantern

It looks as if the three movies listed below are Friday's only mainstream openings. And "Let the Sunshine In" is opening at the Magic Lantern.

The Lantern is also picking up the documentary "RBG," which is a look at U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. That movie, which played a short run at AMC River Park, is getting a good critical reception. It scored a 94 percent fresh rating on Rottentomatoes.com.

Here are some of the comments:

Kate Erbland, IndieWire: "It's the insights into [Ginsburg's] personal life that feel the most vital, moving "RBG" beyond the kind of information you could read on a Wikipedia page (as ably and entertainingly rendered as they may be on the big screen)."

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "The movie's touch is light and its spirit buoyant, but there is no mistaking its seriousness or its passion."

Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic: "You don't have to agree with the politics of it to be impressed by the civility of the discourse, and that's something so sorely lacking today that it seems almost quaint. What a shame."