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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

SIFF 45 box office opens online today

Above: Lynn Shelton's film "Sword of Trust" opens SIFF 45 on May 16.

For more than four decades now, Seattle film fans have enjoyed lineups of intriguing independent and foreign films in an annual festival. In fact, the Seattle International Film Festival has proven to be one of the most popular in the country, attracting in excess of 400 films from numerous countries.]

The 2019 version of SIFF, the 45th annual edition, will begin its 25-day run on May 16th. And, according the a festival press release, it will screen "410 films representing 86 countries and will include: 147 features (plus 4 secret films), 71 documentaries, 12 archival films, and 176 shorts. The lineup includes 33 World premieres (12 features, 21 shorts), 42 North American premieres (27 features, 15 shorts), and 19 US premieres (11 features, 8 shorts)."

Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton will open SIFF 45 with her film "Sword of Trust," which stars comedian Marc Maron. Both Shelton and Maron are expected to attend the screening, which will be at 7 p.m. at the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall.

"Sword of Trust" is described this way: "(T)wo women (Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins) attempt to unload an inherited Civil War sword onto a curmudgeonly pawnshop owner (Marc Maron) and reluctantly enter a world of conspiracy theory and Southern disillusionment."

The SIFF box office opens today online at siff.net and in person at any year round SIFF Box Office. View the full public program here: www.siff.net/festival.

Enjoy Batman in a four-film retrospective

In this era of superhero flicks, it's hard to remember a time when such characters were pretty much a joke. Especially Batman, who in the 1960s was a cartoonish oaf played by Adam West.

Tim Burton changed all that. His 1989 reimagining of the character, starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as The Joker, was heavily influenced by Frank Miller's 1986 graphic novel "The Dark Knight Returns."

Of course, compared to where Christopher Nolan would take the series, Burton's version now seems almost quaint (especially when compared to Heath Ledger's depiction of The Joker).

Still, Burton deserves credit. And I still prefer Keaton's interpretation of Batman. In any event, you can judge for yourself at 1 p.m. on Saturday when Burton's "Batman" will screen at the Regal Cinemas theater at Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium 14.

Note: The film will play ONLY in Coeur d'Alene

The screening is the opening in a four-film retrospective celebrating the 80th anniversary of the character. Other showings (all at Riverstone Stadium): 7 p.m. Monday, "Batman Returns"; 1 p.m. May 12, "Batman Forever"; 7 p.m. May 14th, "Batman & Robin."

To cheer us all up, here are a few of my favorite lines from Burton's film:

The Joker: "Tell me something, my friend. You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?"

The Joker: "Where does he get those wonderful toys?"

The Joker: "Never rub another man's rhubarb."

Batman: "I'm Batman." (Even Christian Bale couldn't say it better.)

Magic Lantern set to unveil a hidden history

In our current era of political polarization, it's more important than ever to look to the lessons of history. And just as important, it's essential that we get that history right.

And that's exactly what the movie "Who Will Write Our History" emphasizes, focusing on the necessity of those most affected to ensure that their stories get told accurately. To be specific, the film — a blend of documentary and live-action re-creations — focuses on the action of a group who documented life as endured by those who were confined in Poland's Warsaw Ghetto of World War II.

"Who Will Write Our History" will screen at 7 p.m. both Wednesday and Thursday at the Magic Lantern Theatre. Both showings will be will be hosted by members of the area's Jewish community who will facilitate discussions following the movies. Tickets are $9.

The Warsaw group code-named Oyneg Shabes — which translates to "Joy of the Shabbat" — consisted of a number of writers and scholars who wrote down the stories of the hundreds of thousands living in the ghetto, formed when the Germans invaded in 1939. They buried the documents where they could, hoping that they would survive.

Many, though not all, of the documents did survive. Only three of the group members who compiled them did.

The movie, which is based on the book of the same title by historian Samuel Kassow, was co-written and directed by Roberta Grossman.

Writing in the New York Times, film reviewer Ken Jaworowski said the film "recounts a bold story of Nazi resistance. And inside that one story are countless others, each immensely important."

As one participant quoted in the movie says, "You don't really need guns to fight. You can fight with paper and pen."

Friday’ openings: Ugly dolls, beautiful music

A full range of movies is on the docket for Friday, according to the national release schedule. A preview of likely openings follows:

"UglyDolls": Another movie based on a line of toys, this one involves a group of dolls that discover that being true to one's self is more important than some vain search for perfection. Du-uh.

"Long Shot": Stunning Charlize Theron prepares a run for the presidency with the help of frumpish speech-writer Seth Rogen, and we're supposed to believe that a feeling of intimacy grows between them. Shades of "Knocked Up."

"The Intruder": When a young couple buys a house, they discover that the former owner (Dennis Quaid) doesn't want to let go. But will he at least clean the pool?

"El Chicano": Two brothers hailing from East L.A. take different life paths and end up on different sides of the law. Que pena.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Amazing Grace": In 1972, Aretha Franklin recorded a concert at a church in Los Angeles. After all this time, her performance is brought to the big screen. How sweet the sound.

"Ask Dr. Ruth": As she approaches her 90th birthday, Holocaust survivor and sex-therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer is profiled. Don't tell Dr. Phil.

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

‘42nd Street’ screen revival only a week away

Since it opened on Broadway in 1980, the musical "42nd Street" has won a number of awards. A Tony for Best Musical, an Olivier in 1984 in London for Best Musical, and a second Tony in 2001 for Best Revival.

And all that was before the show — book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, lyrics by Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer, and music by Harry Warren — was revived in 2017 in London's West End. That show won four Whatsonstage awards: Best Musical Revival, Best Chroegraphy, Best Set and Best Costume Design.

It's that show, now closed, that is the focus of the movie event that will screen at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1, at two Inland Northwest locations: Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

The Telegraph described the show as "an American classic right royally revived." And as a United Kingdom publication, the paper knows all about things royal-plated.

Lantern to open intriguing trio of movies

Even though mainstream theaters likely will be engaging in an "Avengers" film fest this coming Friday, Spokane's Magic Lantern Theater will continue to offer its diverse and continually intriguing slate of independent films.

Opening on Friday at the Lantern are:

"High Life": Robert Pattinson joins a cast that includes Juliette Binoche and Andre Benjamin as a man who lives with his daughter and a few others in an isolated space station. Question is, what are they doing there?

"Little Woods": Two sisters (Tessa Thompson, Lily James) struggle to make ends meet in a post-boom fracking town of Little Woods, North Dakota. Is that anywhere near, uh, Fargo?

"Her Smell": A rocker (Elizabeth Moss) past her prime attempts to clean up her act so that she can get her career back on track. Not the most attractive title, am I right?

Note: The Lantern will also open a second-run screening of "The Mustang." To hear a "Movies 101" review of the film, plus comments about "Transit" and "Ash Is Purest White," click here.

If you do drop by, say hi to the manager Jonathan.

‘Avengers: Endgame’ to open on Friday

You can aways tell when a movie scares away all the other studios. Every producer decides to find another opening date.

And that should be the case come Friday when the only major movie listed on the national release schedule is the latest (the last?) offering, courtesy of Marvel Entertainment, in one of the most popular superhero series of all time:

"Avengers: Endgame": Following the problematic ending of last year's "Avengers: Infinity War," the remnants of the Avengers team reassemble — and are joined by at least one new member — in an effort to end the destructive plans of Thanos.

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

Kidman embraces her character in ‘Destroyer’

Karyn Kusama's film "Destroyer" was publicized last year, but it never received a wide-spread release. I finally was able to see it at home and was prompted to review it for Spokane Public Radio:

Beauty may not be a guarantee of success in life. But it can’t hurt, at least when the success we’re talking about involves the film industry. (All references to the likes of Harvey Weinstein aside, of course.)

Just consider Nicole Kidman. Over the course of her career, Kidman has a played a number of different characters – and she’s imbued each one with some unique quality.

From roles as diverse as the murderous Suzanne Stone in “To Die For” to the resentful wife Alice Harford in “Eyes Wide Shut,” from the haughty school prefect Nicola Radcliffe in “Flirting” to the troubled title character in “Margot at the Wedding,” Kidman has shown an ability not only to make her characters seem believable but to garner each at least a measure of sympathy.

Even Suzanne Stone, whom I described – you’ll recall – as murderous.

It helps, of course, that Kidman possesses a kind of luminescent beauty that can’t be disguised, even when hidden behind a honker of a fake nose in the role that earned her a Best Actress Oscar – that of the doomed writer Virginia Woolf in Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours.”

And that beauty shines through almost as well in the crime thriller “Destroyer,” which though released last year never played in more than 200-odd theaters. “Destroyer” is available for streaming through Amazon Prime.

Not that director Karyn Kusama, working from an original screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, didn’t do her best to make Kidman ugly. Kidman plays Erin Bell, a Los Angeles police detective nearly two decades past an event she endured as an undercover FBI agent that nearly killed her and set her life on a self-destructive course.

Her penchant for self-abuse can be seen in the lines that mark her face, not to mention that fact that she looks at least a week past her last shower.

“Destroyer” opens with Bell coming upon a tattooed corpse that she recognizes. Then the film begins playing with time and space, not always in an easily comprehensible way, and we discover that Bell is hell-bent on a personal investigation. Someone has sent her a dye-stained 100-dollar bill, a relic from the life-changing event, and soon she is off, tracking down the principals from her past so that she can locate one in particular: a guy named Silas.

To explain much more would take us into spoiler territory. It’s enough merely to say that there’s a good reason why Bell is so intent on finding Silas – and why she’s basically been sleepwalking through life for so long.

Not that everything about “Destroyer” works. For one thing, any competent police chief would have fired Bell long ago – or, short of that, ordered her to at least wash her hair. For another, Bell’s gestapo tactics often make Kusama’s film feel too much like a “Rambo” flick.

Yet Kusama does film a couple of stirring bank robberies, and she gets solid performances from a cast that includes Sebastian Stan, Tatania Maslany and Bradley Whitford.

And, of course, Kidman, whose talent for portraying complex characters surpasses even a skilled makeup artist’s attempts to mask her natural beauty. 

‘Okko’s Inn’: another chance to see anime on a big screen

It used to be that fans of Japanese anime had to wait for films to be released on video or DVD to see the latest — or even the classic — releases of their favorite films. Those days, we can safely say, have passed.

And not just because various streaming services offer animated films of all types to be seen at home.

Yet nothing beats seeing a film on a big screen. And in a way to get more full use out of their facilities, movie theaters across the nation have been doing more and more special screenings of all types of movie entertainment, from Christian-themed films and musicals to, yes, Japanese animation.

Which is why Spokane-area film fans will be able to see the film "Okko's Inn" at 7 p.m. in both subtitled and dubbed formats on Tuesday (subtitled) and Wednesday (dubbed) at the Regal Cinemas theater at Northtown Mall.

Based on a popular series of children's novels, which then became a television series, "Okko's Inn" was directed by former Studio Ghibli animator Kitarô Kôsaka. The film tells the story of a young girl, whose parents have died, who gains fame by running her own inn — with the help of some friendly but pesky ghosts.

As Pittsburgh Magazine film reviewer Sean Collier calls the film, "an undeniably moving and difficult tale" that "does not quite achieve the magic of the best Studio Ghibli masterpieces, but bears a similar easy — and very watchable — charm."

Lantern to screen a program of local films on Thursday

Above: Ron Ford (at lectern) appeared in a 2015 Stage Left Theater production of "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later." His film "Funeral in the Park" is one of 13 shorts that will screen on Thursday at the Magic Lantern. 

Most of us go to the movies for entertainment, whether that means simply laughing, getting excited, or coming away with conflicted feelings because we've just experienced something that challenges the way we perceive the world.

Sometimes all those things occur at once.

Some of that — maybe much of it — is likely to occur at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Magic Lantern Theatre when the theater offers an event that's being labeled the "Made in Spokane Film Screening."

Some 13 films will screen over the 2-hour, 15-minute program, which include a short intermission.

Spokane has boasted a number of film events over the years, the most current annual event being the 50 Hour Slam. The 2019 version of that festival (of which I am one of several judges) will screen at 7 p.m. on May 4 at the Bing Crosby Theater.

Note: If you plan on attending Thursday's screening at the Magic Lantern, here's a bit of advice: Get your tickets early. And show up early, too. The Lantern's bigger house has only a little more than 100 seats, and they tend to go fast — especially when local artists are featured.

RiffTrax Live jeers at ‘Octaman’ (and so can you)

One of the joys of watching a movie in the comfort of your own home is that you can, if you're so moved, yell at the screen.

Of course, some people do that in theaters. Which is unpardonably rude and is one reason why I'm so glad that more and more good movies are playing on streaming services that I subscribe to.

Because at home it's fun to make fun of what you're watching, especially when what you're watching is particularly bad. The program "Mystery Science Theater 3000" was built on that concept. Then in 2006, "RiffTrax" was born.

And the nice thing about "RiffTrax" is that it feature a trio of comics who do in the theater what some of us to at home: Jeer at what we're watching.

On Thursday and on April 24, "RiffTrax Live" will makes jokes at the expense of the 1971 low-budget flick "Octaman." A science-fiction film written and directed by Harry Essex, "Octaman" tells the story of a mutated man-octopus who preys on the likes of Pier Angeli and Kerwin Matthews.

The screenings will occur at 8 p.m. on Thursday, 7:30 p.m. on April 24, at the Regal Cinemas' theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

Feel free to go. And to jeer. But mostly to laugh.

Friday’s openings redux: Quality at the Lantern

And this from the Magic Lantern Theatre: One new film is opening on Friday:

"Diane": Mary Kay Place stars as the title character, a woman who does good deeds … and who is hiding some painful memories from her past. Here are some critical comments:

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "[A] naturalistic portrait of service and self-sacrifice by way of a quietly astonishing title performance by Mary Kay Place."

Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times: "In the context of the modern multiplex, 'Diane' amounts to an act of cinematic bravery, not just in its choice of tough-sell material, but in the patience with which Jones tends it."

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: "The past hangs over 'Diane' not just as a burden or nostalgia (though it can be that too), but as an enthralling and entangling reminder of life's mystery."

As always, the Lantern offers movie fans something that challenges our expectations of what a movie should be. 

The week’s openings: Penguins for Easter

Easter weekend is coming, which is likely why the coming week will see at least two movies that tackle life beyond what we can, uh, resonably imagine. Then again, Disney will provide us some of its traditional anthropomorphism.

The week's opening include:

Wednesday

Breakthrough: A mother's prayers are answered after her son drowns in an icy pond. Sorry for the late spoiler alert.

Penguins: Disney finds a heartwarming story on the coldest continent on Earth. Hey, it's Disney's nature.

Friday

The Curse of La Llorona: A mother and her kids face an unearthly threat. And, apparently, she speaks Spanish.

As usual, I'll update when the area theaters finalize their bookings.

‘Ash Is Purest White’: a study of today’s China

For one more weekend, you'll be able to catch the Chinese film "Ash Is Purest White" at the Magic Lantern Theatre. In the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, I try to make a case for why you should:

When ejected from an erupting volcano, molten rock can reach temperatures of some 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot enough to reduce pretty much anything to ash.

Qiao, the lead character of Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke’s film “Ash is Purest White,” doesn’t get immersed in lava. Metaphorically speaking, though, what she goes through leaves her, if not exactly pure, then certainly wiser about her culture and, more important, about herself.

When we first meet Qiao, she is with Bin, a small-time gang leader who oversees gambling dens as well as doing other – often illegal – jobs for the local mob boss. Independent and confident, yet loyal to Bin, Qiao understands the code to which her partner and his jianghu – or mob – brothers adhere. 

And the dictates of that code come into play when a younger group of gangsters makes a grab for power, first eliminating Bin’s boss and then nearly killing him – which Qiao prevents, but only by facing the gang down with a pistol, a serious infraction in China that earns her a five-year prison term.

Humbled behind bars, the once-proud Qiao emerges to find that Bin has deserted her. Never one to give up, though, Qiao goes in search of him – proving along the way that she is still able to survive, whether that involves confronting and intimidating a thief or conning a naïve guy harboring a guilty conscience.

And when she does, finally, find Bin, it’s clear who is the stronger of the two.

Qiao is played by the actress Zhao Tao, director Jia’s wife, and she ably carries the film’s weighty intentions, even if not all may be readily comprehensible to Western audiences. There’s the train sequence where Qiao is tempted to go off with a humble-braggart who claims to be doing research on UFOs. And there’s another sequence in which Qiao sees lights moving across a stormy sky that could be actual UFOs or just as likely could be nature’s revenge.

Which isn’t the first time Jia has explored China’s relationship with its changing landscape. Both in “Ash in Purest White” and his 2006 film “Still Life,” Jia spends time in the cities, towns and villages – not to mention among the millions of people – that ended up being displaced by the Three Gorges Dam project.

Not that he takes an overtly political position. Jia isn’t so much a cultural commentator as he is an observer. And that’s understandable. Whatever its detriments, which are many, the Three Gorges project is part of China’s ongoing attempts to shed the remnants of colonial rule and claim what it sees as its rightful place on the world stage.

In terms of Jia’s characters, though, even more may be going on. Bin’s loss of power indicates that he may never have been all that strong to begin with, while Qiao shows that when it comes to understanding the soul of a true jianghu, she has the edge.

In the end, Qiao may not experience either purity or happiness. But she proves better equipped than Bin to bridge old-world codes with those that are new.

‘Ben-Hur’ turns 60 this year; see it on the big screen

We're all into anniversaries, right? Companies such as Hallmark have been making a living on annual birthdays and the like since they were founded. And more and more, the movie industry has followed suit.

In a recent ad for the 2019 Studio Ghibli Fest, it wasn't enough for us to know that this year's event was bringing back some of the great films of Hayao Miyazaki, we had know that some of the films — Miyazaki's 1984 animated film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which screens on May 20-21 — is celebrating its 35th anniversary.

Same for William Wyler's 1959 take on the novel "Ben-Hur." It's important, it seems, not just that we know the film will be part of special screenings on Sunday (at 1 p.m.) and Wednesday (at 1 and 6 p.m.) at the Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

No we have to know, for the math-challenged among us, that the film will be celebrating its 60th anniversary.

Anyway, it's time once again to see why Charlton Heston was, for a time, one of Hollywood's biggest stars. And, by the way, if Heston hadn't died in 2008 at age 84, he would be — on Oct. 4 — celebrating his 96th birthday.

Maybe they'll screen "The The Commandments" in his memory.