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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

Get ‘Spirited Away’ beginning on Sunday

Of all the Studio Ghibli films, Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar-winning 2001 animated study "Spirited Away" is my favorite.

Not only does the film tell a great story (a young girl must brave a mysterious world to save her parents) but Miyazaki's trademark animation has never been surpassed. Not by anyone.

And here's the good news. "Spirited Away" will screen three times over the coming week in this part of the Inland Northwest. Dubbed version of the film will show Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at the Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and at Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

The times: Sunday's dubbed version will show at 12:55 p.m., Monday's original language (subtitled) version will show at 7, and Tuesday's dubbed version will screen also at 7.

Don't miss this chance to see what may be the greatest animated movie ever made.

Fridays openings redux: Youth will be served

Time for a movie-release update. Aside from what's already been announced, here are some other of Friday's movie openings:

"Mid90s": Actor Jonah Hill wrote and directed this look at the youth culture of 1990s Los Angeles. Skateboards galore.

"Silencio": A stone from space has the power to turn back time, and some people will kill to achieve that power. Sounds like a Cher song.

"London Fields": Amber Heard plays a psychic who has seen that one of three men she is involved with … is going to murder her. Good time for a space stone.

Look for a few re-releases, too, among them "Hocus Pocus" (celebrating its 25th anniversary), "Hell Fest" and "Fahrenheit 11/9." 

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

Have ‘Tea With the Dames’ at the Magic Lantern

The Magic Lantern, Spokane's traditional screener of art movies, has announced its coming lineup. Opening on Friday are:

"Tea With the Dames": The "Dames" in question — Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins — discuss their long and distinguished careers in this documentary directed by Roger Michell ("Notting Hill").

"Colette": Though having opened last week at AMC's River Park Square, this second-run screening should still attract a crowd that prefers to see such historical dramas played on on the Lantern's screen. Keira Knightley stars as the French writer, whose early works were credited to her husband (evilly played by Dominic West).

Changes to the overall schedule are still coming. So stay tuned.

Friday’s openings: Two faces of modern war

Coming off a big week of releases, the openings for Friday seem a bit sparse with just three films listed on the national-release schedule:

"Hunter Killer": Gerard Butler stars as the captain of a U.S. submarine that is ordered to help save … the Russian president from a rogue general who has taken him hostage? I … can't … even …

"Indivisible": Remember that word from the Pledge of Allegiance? It's applied here to an American family on the verge of being torn apart by the never-ending war.

"Johnny English Strikes Again": Rowan Atkinson strikes again as the worst British secret agent since … well, ever. Think Inspector Clouseau without the cute accent.

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

‘First Man’ explores the inner life of a public hero

Though it wasn't the week's top film in terms of how much money it made, "First Man" is bound to be remembered fairly well in February when the 2018 Oscar nominations are announced. Following is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Everyone should be familiar with the name Neil Armstrong.

After all, in July 1969 Armstrong became the first human to step onto the surface of the moon. He did so as commander of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, and his achievement – which was broadcast across the Earth – was witnessed by millions.

With the likes of news anchor Walter Cronkite describing the scene, those viewers watched as Armstrong manually flew the lunar module in an effort to avoid rocks as big as cars and to find a safe landing spot. Then, a few hours later, they heard his famous garbled pronouncement: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It was a thrilling moment, one that director Damien Chazelle captures in “First Man,” his latest film since his celebrated 2016 musical “La La Land.” But Chazelle’s newest film strives to do more than merely re-create that famous event. It attempts to delve into the life of a man whom few knew intimately.

Armstrong’s pre-NASA credentials were clearly impressive. Years before, he had earned a degree in aeronautical engineering at Purdue University. He’d served as a Navy fighter pilot during the Korean War, flying 78 missions. Following the war, he’d worked as a test pilot, evaluating some 200 different aircraft including the supersonic X-15, in which he climbed to a height of 207,000 feet – or just over 39 miles.

The next time he would fly that high would be during the Gemini 8 mission, the first of his two trips into space. On his second trip, three years later, he took his first historic step onto the moon’s surface.

Though he documents much of Armstrong’s past, Chazelle has another, bigger intent: He wants us to know the man behind the mission. In doing so, “First Man” attempts to differentiate itself from the other two, arguably best known, astronaut movies: Philip Kaufman’s 1983 “The Right Stuff” and Ron Howard’s 1995 “Apollo 13,” both of which were more male-centric andmission-oriented.

Working from a screenplay by Josh Singer, who wrote scripts both for last year’s “The Post” and for 2015’s Oscar-winning “Spotlight,” Chazelle focuses on the inner Armstrong – the one who is no-nonsense in public interviews (declaring the one thing he would take to the moon is “more fuel”), terse with his family (he has to be forced by his wife Janet, played well by Claire Foy, to talk to his two sons before the moon mission) and determinedly workaholic, partly as a way to avoid the grief over the death of his daughter and a few close friends.

Capturing anyone’s inner battle on film can be a difficult task, and to do so Chazelle takes a few unfortunate shortcuts – inventing a sequence involving a child’s medical bracelet, for one. Also, Ryan Gosling – Chazelle’s “La La Land” lead whom he cast as Armstrong – isn’t always adept at portraying a complex inner struggle.

Even so, much of “First Man” works splendidly, giving a sense of authenticity, not to mention uncertainty and excitement, to a story that feels as old as the moon itself.

Friday’s openings redux: A bit of Buster Keaton

OK, in addition to the films that I've already mentioned, the Magic Lantern is opening a second film. And it's a documentary that movie fans might really enjoy:

"The Great Buster: A Celebration": Peter Bogdanovich tells the story of one of early cinema's great comic filmmakers, Buster Keaton. Including interviews with Mel Brooks, Richard Lewis, Bill Hader and … incredibly, Werner Herzog.

Here are some critical comments: 

Andrea Gronvall, Chicago Reader: "Peter Bogdanovich brings his formidable knowledge of movies to bear in this incisive portrait of Buster Keaton."

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter: "A wonderful appreciation of a great American comic and filmmaker."

Anthony Lane, The New Yorker: "Hard-core Keatonites will be familiar with much of the material, although the clips of his later work in television and commercials are an uncommon delight."

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

Friday’s openings: Cowboys and Halloween creeps

Update: Along with the movies listed below, the following also are scheduled to open in area theaters:

"The Old Man & the Gun": Robert Redford plays an elderly bank robber. Sundance didn't die in Bolivia?

"The Oath": When families gather for Thanksgiving, political discussions often become heated — especially for Mason (Billy Magnussen). Everyone has an annoying in-law.

Posted earlier:

At least two main releases are due out on Friday, according to the national movie-release schedule:

"Halloween": It's that time of trick or treating again, and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is waiting for her longtime nemesis, Michael Myers, to return … so she can kill him once and for all. Yeah, fat chance.

"The Hate U Give": A young woman witnesses the death of her friend and becomes a public symbol of resistance.

And at the Magic Lantern?

"The Sisters Brothers": Jacques Audiard ("Rust and Bone," "A Prophet") cowrote and directed this film about two brothers (Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly) in 1850s Oregon who work as trained assassins.

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

‘Blaze’ remembers a bright, doomed talent

The movie "Blaze" is playing at the Magic Lantern. Here is my review of the film, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio.

We’ve seen the story before.

A country boy discovers that he can weave a few words together in song. He ends up liking it so much it takes over his life. No time for jobs or mortgages or families. It’s all he can do to find enough time during the day to pen songs and practice his guitar pickin’, and at night to find a suitable place, in front of a suitable audience, in which to practice his art.

Oh, he can make a few bucks. Barely. And he can make time for women, especially if they serve as his muse. But maybe even important is drink. And drugs. Because, as it turns out, the very energy that fuels his music is the same energy that eats at his soul. And all of it – the women, the music and the drugs – is what he uses to ward off the dark emotions that threaten, at times, to overwhelm him.

As ultimately, despite everything, they will do.

Ethan Hawke seems to be obsessed with such stories. And with the men who inhabit them. He starred as the late jazz trumpeter Chet Baker in Robert Budreau’s 2015 biopic “Born to Be Blue.” And now he has told the story of the late country singer-songwriter Blaze Foley in a film he both wrote and directed and titled simply “Blaze.”

Born in in 1949 as Michael Fuller, the man who would become known as Blaze Foley was a musician’s musician – meaning that he was well known and appreciated by other performers both for the songs he wrote, which were recorded by the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Lucinda Williams, and for the uniqueness of his character. One of Foley’s good-natured trademarks, along with his persistent embrace of poverty, was that he wore duct tape on his boots to lampoon the glitz of pop country stars (earning him the sometimes nickname of "Duct Tape Messiah").

But his style, either because of his similarity to more well-known singers such as John Prine or because of his tendency to perform drunk – and get in fights both with audience members and bar owners – had far less appeal among the general public.

And, then, of course he died relatively young – at age 39 – which ended his playing career but might have been the best for his music. Because his friends kept it alive. And now Hawke, adapting a memoir written by Foley’s former muse Sybil Rosen, has made “Blaze” the movie.

Ben Dickey plays Foley, and his performance is revelatory. If the heavyset Dickey doesn’t resemble the slender Foley exactly, he captures what he might have been like, both in spirit and in his ability to carry a song. And Dickey is well supported by a cast that includes Alia Shawkat as Rosen, Josh Hamilton as the fictional character Zee and Charlie Sexton as Townes Van Zandt, who’s as capable at telling a tall tale as he and Foley are at playing their music.

So, yes, Ethan Hawke seems to be obsessed with such lost souls. But truth be told, in our own dark emotional corners, aren’t we all?

Catch the new ‘Doctor’ on the big screen (again)

So many things to see, so little time. What we all need in this busy era is a TARDIS.

I like to use that term, because it allows me to inform people that it is an acronym for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. And that it is the name of the machine-with-a-soul that the Time Lord Doctor Who uses to travel through both time and space.

Or should that be Doctor Whos? Because there have been 13 of them now. And, yes, they are one and the same, having "regenerated" over the years since the original show premiered on the BBC in 1963. But they have been played by 13 different actors.

The 13th, of course, is a twist on tradition, which feels refreshing. This new season of the show, which premiered on Sunday on BBC America, features the first woman Doctor: Jodie Whittaker.

You can experience that premiere on the big screen tonight (the second and final night of the showings, sorry for the late news) at 7 p.m. at two area Regal Cinemas theaters: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

It's not often you get to see the Doctor on the big screen. It may not happen again.

Unless you're lucky enough to hitch a ride in a TARDIS.

Friday’s openings redux: Famine and a free climb

It'll be a big week for movies. Other than those already announced, here is the final lineup:

"Black '47": An Irish man serving with the British army leaves his post to return home during the Great Irish Famine of 1845-49.

"Colette": Keira Knightley plays the French writer who, at the beginning of her career, wrote books under her husband's name. Guess who wasn't happy when she wanted the credit for herself?

"Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer": A faith-based look at the trial of a Philadelphia abortion doctor.

"Free Solo": A documentary look at Alex Honnold's untethered solo climb of Yosemite's 3,000-foot peak El Capitan.

And at AMC River Park Square, a re-release of 2015's "Cinderella," while the Magic Lantern will open second-run showings of "BlackkKlansman" and "The Wife."

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

Catch the epitome of ‘60s cool: McQueen in ‘Bullitt’

Today's your last chance to see Steve McQueen on the big screen in one of his most iconic performances, in Peter Yates' 1968 film "Bullitt."

McQueen plays a San Francisco police detective who is investigating the death of a man held under police protection. Turns out the murdered man is linked to the prosecution of a mobster and was being used for political ends by an ambitious Congressman (Robert Vaughn).

Typical of its era, "Bullitt" is a street-gritty story that boasts one of the most impressive car chases in cinema history. But the real draw is McQueen himself, the epitome of 1960s-era movie cool.

"Bullitt" is playing at 2 and 7 p.m. at two Regal Cinemas locations: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ yet again

In these polarized political times, it's comforting to seek out those politically themed movies that have transcended reality to become modern myths. Such as movie is Frank Capra's 1939 screed "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Written by Sidney Buchman, the son of a Russian immigrant who would be Oscar-nominated four times (winning for 1941's "Here Comes Mr. Jordan"), "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is one of actor Jimmy Stewart's best pre-WWII performances. It was based on a story titled "The Gentleman From Montana," by Lewis R. Foster.

Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, a naive appointee to the U.S. Senate from an unnamed Western state. Appointed on a whim by his state's political boss (played by Edward Arnold), who believes he can manipulate the upstart, Smith soon clashes with what clearly is corruption. And true to his nature as a Boy Scout type, he stands his ground — which nearly kills him.

The key word there being "nearly." Like most of Capra's movies, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is a fantasy. Yes, it's a pleasing fantasy about one man's fight against evil. But it also features a five-minutes-from-the-end change of heart by one of Smith's enemies (played by Claude Rains) that's as phony as anything Hollywood has ever produced.

I actually don't mean that as criticism. I admire Capra's movies, and I particularly appreciate his trademark insistence on truth and justice for all. But what the past several decades have taught us is that truth and justice are relative notions, and the party in power defines it any way it wants. And that's never been more true than it is now.

You can make up your mind about "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" when it screens at 2 and 7 on Sunday and the following Wednesday (Oct. 17) at two local Regal Cinemas theaters: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

Friday’s openings: To infinity and beyond

Flat-Earthers won't be happy with Friday's coming movie schedule, since one of the films opening across the country insists that the world is, indeed, round. But, then, who could possibly be happy about how split the world is today between conflicting points of view?

Anyway, those Friday openings listed on the national-release schedule include one tale of space exploration, one precursor to Halloween and one riotous crime flick. They are a follows:

"First Man": In the late 1960s, the U.S. space program attempted what had never been done — a moon landing — and Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) was the mission commander. (And what did they see when he looked back? A round, blue planet, people.)

"Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween": Fans of the children's author R.L. Stine will know what to expect from this film, which captures what occurs when a pair of kids discover a book that, when opened, reveals a zoo's worth of demented characters who threaten everyone. Oh and it's rated PG for "mild action and some terror." Note the use of the word "some."

"Bad Times at the El Royale": Seven strangers meets at a run-down hotel, but secrets — often involving violence — will be unveiled. Its rating? R for "strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity."

That's it for now. As usual, I'll update when the local theaters finalize their listings.

Truth is in the title: ‘A Star Is Born’

I'm probably more surprised than anything else that I ended up liking Bradley Cooper's first feature film, "A Star Is Born," as much as I do. I never connected that much with the other versions that I've seen. But Cooper's is different, and here is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio to prove it:

By now, everyone must know the basic plot of the film “A Star Is Born.” The original 1937 version was directed by William A. Wellman from an original team-written script that included the great Dorothy Parker and starred Janet Gaynor and Frederic March.

Gaynor was the ingénue who becomes a big movie star, March the established actor who shepherds her along – eventually marrying her – but falls prey to the alcoholism that has sidetracked his own career and … well, the ending is sad for him, devastating – though ultimately inspiring – for her.

Remade twice, in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason and then in 1976 with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand, the basic storyline now has been interpreted by actor Bradley Cooper – in his first directorial stint – as a project that stars him and the musical prodigy/slash/curiosity Lady Gaga.

Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a rock star able to fill a stadium full of fans, who – once he leaves the stage – is likely to slouch in the backseat of a limousine, his trademark Stetson shading his face, and suck on a bottle of vodka to wash down whatever pills he can pull from his pocket. Jackson, clearly, is a man battling demons.

At the same time, we meet Lady Gaga’s Ally, working as a waitress but harboring big dreams. Ally, no surprise, has a dynamite voice, and an even more impressive stage presence, though, as she claims, her face (particularly her prominent nose) is held against her by the male producers she meets.

The two come together when Jackson stumbles into the bar where Ally just happens to be appearing as the sole live performer during a Friday-night drag show. And, of course, sparks fly. And, equally of course, the two play out the storyline pretty much as had been done the three times prior.

But with these two differences. One, Cooper proves to be far more than just a pretty face. Yes, he’s demonstrated his acting chops in everything from “Silver Linings Playbook” to the “Hangover” franchise, but here he shows real talent behind the camera. From constructing the feel of a stadium rock show to portraying the intimate moments of burgeoning love to those painful incidents that occur between two people who can’t help but strike out emotionally when they don’t feel supported and, finally, to showing how lost hope can leave someone feeling that there’s only one lonely way out, Cooper does it all.

Two, though, is every bit as important. By casting Lady Gaga, a singer/songwriter of proven talent but a virtual unknown in terms of moviemaking, Cooper ensures that his version of this familiar story would prove to be the freshest. By playing Ally as feisty, driven, vulnerable yet hopeful, Lady Gaga makes Ally into a complete character – one that – unlike Streisand in particular – could also believably fill a stadium full of rock fans.

Not everything works in Cooper’s version of “A Star Is Born” But enough does to ensure that this film is, indeed, one of the best releases of 2018. Maybe, even, of this decade.

And, finally, a movie that can ‘Shine’

And along with the films already announced, there's one more movie opening on Friday:

"Shine": Two brothers, trained in salsa dancing, are separated and then united on opposite sides of a New York property war. "Rent" this is not.

Oh, and AMC is re-releasing the animated film "Moana."

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