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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

Friday’s openings: Dolphins, abductions and womanly woes

The local movie scene improves somewhat this week, what with the Magic Lantern offering a trio of interesting offerings, while the mainstream theaters will stick with the standard Hollywood pap involving captive mammals, abused women, mob stories and corporate apologia.

Friday's openings are as follows:

“Dolphin Tale 2”: Remember the dolphin with an artificial tail? (Can you spell homonym?) This sequel involves that dolphin, now sad, being paired with a new female. Beware four of the scariest words in the English language: “Inspired by true events.” Starring Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman and some child actors.

“No Good Deed”: When a psychopathic killer escapes captivity, he threatens a lone woman and her young daughter. You can finish the saying suggested by the title on your own, right? Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson.

“The Drop”: When a couple of guys rob a bar that is famous for handling mob money, focus narrows on the bar's owner. I'll take everything you got, pal, plus a Jack Daniels chaser. Starring James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy.

“Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt”: Third in the trilogy version of Ayn Rand's 1,000-plus-page famous fantasy about bad government and good rich guys. Paul Ryan-approved. Starring … never heard of them.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Starred Up”: When a young rebel is sentenced to prison, he rejects every attempt to help him — even when offered by the fellow inmate who happens to be his father. Brits behind bars. Starring Jack O'Connell and Ben Mendelsohn.

“A Five Star Life”: A 40-something Italian woman begins to question how happy she is with with her nomadic life as a hotel inspector. La vita non é bella? Vero? Starring Margherita Buy.

“Life of Crime”: Based on Elmore Leonard's 1978 novel “The Switch,” this comic caper follows a couple of bumbling kidnappers who abduct the wife of a man who doesn't want her back. A new twist on marriage counseling. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Mos Def, Tim Robbins. Isla Fisher and John Hawkes.

‘Calvary’ explores a dark, marginally comic Ireland

Note: An earlier version of this post misidentified the theater that “Calvary” is playing at. It is playing at the AMC River Park Square.

Love me some Brendan Gleeson. And who isn't awed by the wild Irish coastline? Still, neither was enough to keep me from scratching my head when the curtain rose after a screening of the film “Calvary.”

Following is a review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

It feels strange to criticize a film that, one, boasts good technique; two, features a number of good performances; and, three, follows a dramatic structure that feels both true to its intent and natural in its symmetry.

But what do you say, then, when even given all that, a film just leaves you shrugging your shoulders in dismay? That even as you’re accepting the ending as plausible, even inevitable, you think, “This is the best they could come up with?”

The “they” in this equation is one person, Anglo-Irish filmmaker John Michael McDonagh, writer-director of a film titled “Calvary.” And it is that film, which is playing at AMC River Park Square, that led to a shoulder shrug so intense I’m still feeling the resulting muscle pull a week later.

Let’s start with the plot: McDonagh’s film begins in a church confessional. Father James (played by the peerless Brendan Gleeson) is taking the confession of a man who starts out by describing the sexual abuse he suffered as a boy by a Catholic priest. “That’s certainly a startling opening line,” Father James says, revealing both screenwriter McDonagh’s proclivity for offbeat humor and what may be Father James’ single flaw: a sense of humor weighed down by irony.

Then something really startling happens: The confessor says that, in one week, he is going to kill the good Father. Not because the priest is bad but precisely because he is good. That, he claims, will make more of an impact.

McDonagh doesn’t identify the would-be killer, and the Father – after consulting his superior – doesn’t sound an alarm. The threat did occur, after all, during confession. And so McDonagh continues his movie, introducing us to a collection of strange characters, any one of whom might have good reason to off a priest. Or two. There’s the butcher with a penchant for hitting his wife, who is having an open affair with the African-born village mechanic. There’s the belligerent pub owner, the aging writer with a death wish, the hustler who talks like Ratso Rizzo, the doctor with the attitude of a morgue attendant and the rich guy who made millions during the recession that crippled the rest of Ireland and who loathes himself only moderately more than he loathes everyone else.

All of the cast is good, though none can quite match the Shakespeare-trained, gleefully shaggy Gleeson, who – as always – tends to steal any film he appears in.

As Father James walks through the village, which is set next to hills more emerald-green than Darby O’Gill’s eyes, we learn that his own past includes a marriage, a dead wife, bouts with alcoholism and a suicidal daughter – who shows up, apparently, to provide McDonagh the means to give us what he seems to think will provide a meaningful postscript to the follow-through promised by his film’s title.

It won’t work for everyone. It certainly didn’t for me. But then I’m not Irish, I’m not Catholic and my own skill at irony may be far less weighty than I’ve always feared.

Friday’s openings: A run through the Forrest

Not for the first time, I have to question the wisdom of those who book movies for Spokane's theaters. In this case, the folks at AMC.

Now, I like the AMC. It's convenient to where I live, and the manager — Rob Holen — is one of the nicest, most gracious guys I've ever met, personally or professionally. But Rob doesn't book his movies. Somebody who works in the corporate office does. Which explains why this week, along with the new releases, AMC is featuring both a screening of the 1994 release “Forrest Gump” (in IMAX, no less) and a second run of “Magic in the Moonlight” — one of Woody Allen's lesser creations since at least the mid-'90s.

Guess they need to find something to fill those 20 screens in the lull between Labor Day weekend and the beginning of the fall season. But “Forrest Gump” and second-rate Woody Allen? Seriously?

“A Hard Day's Night” just showed in a 50th-anniversary special event at The Bing to a full house. Imagine watching that Beatles movie in IMAX with the AMC's sound system. Ah, well. AMC never consults with me.

Anyway, here is the new stuff the week will offer:

“The Identical”: A so-called “faith-based” look at what might have happened had the twin of an Elvis Presley-type singer not died at birth but been raised separately, with one boy becoming The King and the other a gospel preacher. Sounds like the devil in disguise.

“Innocence”: After losing her mom to a surfing accident, a teen girl moves with dad to Manhattan — only to discover that her exclusive prep school is home to a coven of witches. Bubble bubble, baby.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“The One I Love”: With their marriage falling slowly apart, a couple spends a weekend examining their relationship — and the experience becomes surreal. Because … of course. (Also, the Lantern is reopening the Polish feature “Ida” and the Korean-made/English-language feature “Snowpiercer.”)

So go. Enjoy. And … run, Forrest, run!

‘Dog Day’ documentary offers reprieve from dog days of summer

It’s a pretty lousy week for movies. Next week doesn’t look much better. Yes, we’re just hitting the lull that always occurs between the end of summer movie season and the beginning of Oscar season, when Hollywood uses late August and early September as a dumping ground for one bad movie after another. (Consider that the only major release of the week worth seeing is 30 years old.)

So it’s a good thing that we’ve got the Magic Lantern to provide us with some interesting, offbeat indie selections, and tonight it’s hosting a special screening of one of the year’s most entertaining documentaries. It’s called “The Dog,” and it’s a fascinating true crime story, a warts-and-all character study and look at the inspiration behind one of the best American films of the 1970s.

Here’s my review, which I recorded for Spokane Public Radio:

When Sidney Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon” was released in 1975, it was an instant critical and commercial success, becoming the fourth highest-grossing film of that year and landing an Oscar nomination for Best Picture amongst perhaps the best batch of nominees in Academy Awards history. It’s an offbeat, darkly comic crime thriller that audiences gawked at in morbid fascination: The ad campaigns screamed, “It’s all true,” because how else would anyone have believed the story otherwise?

As “Dog Day Afternoon” garnered universal praise and awards consideration, John Wojtowicz, the inspiration for Al Pacino’s Sonny Wortzik character in the film, was serving a 20-year prison sentence in a Pennsylvania penitentiary. Three years earlier, he’d been all over the news for a failed bank robbery he had orchestrated with two accomplices in New York City, a crime that, had it been successful, would have supposedly funded a sex change operation for Wojtowicz’s male lover. It made for perfect tabloid fodder, lurid and violent and nearly impossible to fathom, but the personalities and motivations behind it turn out to be much more complex.

“The Dog,” a new documentary that steps back and allows Wojtowicz to tell his own story, begins as a quirky stranger-than-fiction crime story and slowly transforms into something more somber, a portrait of a strange man whose overblown mythology was entirely of his own creation. It’s a fascinating character study, one that directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren spent 11 years putting together, as well as a colorful look at post-Vietnam America as viewed from the fringe, when a haze of brutality and paranoia hung over everything and gay Americans struggled to find their place in society.

Wojtowicz, who passed away in 2006, is the kind of guy who the documentary form was created for. He’s intense, direct, overflowing with personality and unbelievably frank about his sexual history. Being anything other than straight in the ’70s was already a taboo, but Wojtowicz was vocal about his attraction to both men and women: He joined a number of gay advocacy groups and later (illegally) married a man named Ernie Aron (John wore his military uniform, Ernie a white wedding gown and a blonde wig), who would become Liz Eden following gender reassignment surgery.

As the film progresses, details of Wojtowicz’s home life come into sharper focus, and we sense that perhaps he lived a sadder existence than he lets on in his interviews. He ended up serving three of his 20 years, and once he was released he would stand outside the Chase Manhattan Bank he’d held up, wearing a shirt that read “I robbed this bank.” He later tells a story about applying for a job as a bank security guard, trying to convince the management that no one could better protect a bank than an honest-to-God bank robber. A TV news report from the time shows him signing autographs and taking pictures with his “fans,” while one of the bank tellers he held hostage looks on in disapproval.

It’s hard to tell if Wojtowicz’s tough guy persona was the product of delusion, posturing or insecurity; that he held up a bank and then ordered pizzas for his captors suggests that he was always operating on his own bizarre wavelength. “The Dog” is an entertaining documentary not just because of its subject matter, but because it simply gets out of Wojtowicz’s way and lets him talk, and his personal yarn grows stranger as it unravels. Wojtowicz attempts to direct the film he’s in – Berg and Karaudren leave in moments in which he yells “action” before he starts to talk and “cut” when he’s finished – just as he directed the events of his own life, and whether or not he’s a reliable source, he knows how to tell a deeply compelling story.

Movies 101: No time for stage fright

That photo above captures a moment during the “A Hard Day's Night” special event that Spokane Public Radio sponsored last week at the Bing Crosby Theater. The evening began with a special taping in front of a live audience of the “Movies 101” show, which featured four of us discussing both Richard Lester's movie and the music of The Beatles.

From left, the participants were Patrick Klausen (“Movies 101” engineer and producer), me (acting as host), Mary Pat Treuthart, Nathan Weinbender and special guest Leah Sottile.

The sold-out event continued with a screening of the movie, which was celebrating the 50th anniversary of its 1964 U.S. release, had been digitally remastered and boasted both a pristine sound track and picture. Most everyone agreed that, even if they'd seen the movie originally in a theater, they'd never experienced it as well as at The Bing.

One woman, who came up to me after the screening, was from a town just a few miles outside of Liverpool. She, too, was glowing.

In everyone's honor, I include an embedded version of my favorite Beatles tune.

The week’s openings: The horror, the horror

Bit of a slow weekend for moviegoers, but then the summer season is nearly over. Bring on the fall.

The week's opening are as follows:

“The November Man” (opens tomorrow): Pierce Brosnan plays a retired CIA agent whose duty call-back involves taking on the kid he once mentored. What, Bruce Willis wasn't available?

“As Above, So Below”: When an archaeological team explores the catacombs of Paris, they discover … horror! Another found-footage venture into … ooooh kids, scary!

“Ghostbusters”: AMC brings back the 1984 hit comedy for a special run. “This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.”

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Frank”: Michael Fassbender plays an eccentric leader of a band who insists on wearing a papier-mâché headpiece. (The Lantern will also pick up a second-run screening of Woody Allen's “Magic in the Moonlight.” “The One I Love” has been pushed back to Sept. 5.) 

Not so much ‘Magic in the Moonlight’

As a longtime fan of Woody Allen's films, I was particularly disappointed in his latest work, “Magic in the Moonlight.” The following is an edited version of the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Once Woody Allen started pursuing film direction with a passion, he commenced making films that – even when uneven in tone, plot or character – always seemed to be made with care. From the stark opening credits, plain white letters against a black backdrop, to the stunning cinematography of such artists as Gordon Willis and Sven Nykvist, Allen’s movies have been, even when all else fails, wonders to watch.

Until “Magic in the Moonlight,” that is. It’s not often that a Woody Allen movie fails on every level. But it happened here.

Take the storyline. Colin Firth plays Stanley, a world-famous magician obsessed with unmasking fake spiritualists. Called in by a friend to debunk a young would-be medium named Sophie (Emma Stone), Stanley accepts with all the alacrity of one who is self-absorbed to a fault. Stanley’s arrogance is so ingrained that he isn’t aware – or perhaps he simply doesn’t care – when he hurts someone’s feelings. We’re never told why he is this way – one of Allen’s plot oversights – and Stanley’s temperament becomes especially annoying when we are introduced to his beloved Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), a kind sort who shows an abiding fondness for her narcissistic nephew.

A hint to what makes Stanley tick comes when, after failing to prove the spiritualist a fake, he does a sudden turn-around. He admits that his obsession with fake crystal-ball-gazers comes from his insistence, reinforced by fear, that nothing exists beyond death. And since this is the case, life holds no, well, magic for him. (A magician who doesn’t believe in magic; Allen clearly hasn’t lost his ability to portray irony.)

And along with magic, Stanley doesn’t believe in love. Until, when he begins to believe that Sophie is the real thing, he finds himself falling for her. Never mind that he has a fiancé, played ever-so-briefly by Catherine McCormack, who is his perfect egotistical match. And never mind that Sophie, a poor young American, is being courted by a ukelele-playing millionaire (Hamish Linklater) who offers her a life beyond her wildest dreams. And never mind that no hint of a mutual affection passes between Stanley and Sophie ever. As Allen has said, “The heart wants what it wants.” And so, clearly, does his screenplay.

But if all that isn’t bad enough, “Magic in the Moonlight” is technically sloppy. Simon McBurney, who plays Stanley’s friend, has a hairstyle that changes in virtually every frame – and it drew my eye to it every single time. In another scene, Oscar-nominated cinematographer Darius Khondji allows a shadow to fall over an actress’ face. In yet another, the principals go out of focus.

The totality of this – thematic, structural and technical sloppiness – stands in direct contrast to the 78-year-old Allen who, in other recent films such as “Blue Jasmine” and “Midnight in Paris,” had been demonstrating a creative renaissance.

I won’t blame the flaws of “Magic in the Moonlight” on age, though. More likely, Allen — at least here — just stopped caring.

Don’t miss ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

I'm not a big fan of self-promotion, which is ironic considering I've spent a career providing promotion for most everyone I've written about. That said, I want to post a reminder here that Spokane Public Radio is sponsoring a 50th-anniversary screening of “A Hard Day's Night” tonight at the Bing Crosby Theater.

The self-promotional part of this announcement concerns the live taping of “Movies 101,” the show I do with Mary Pat Treuthart and Nathan Weinbender for SPR. We will begin a live taping the show, focusing on “A Hard Day's Night,” at The Bing at 6:40 p.m. Doors to The Bing will open at 6, and the movie itself is scheduled to begin at 7:35.

Tickets are $10 and will be available at the door. My advice: Arrive early. Last I heard more than 550 tickets had already been given out.

Friday’s openings: From sin to the afterlife

From Frank Miller grim to sports-flick inspiration and spiritual exploration, the coming week of movies offers a wide range of themes and styles. Friday's movie openings are as follows:

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” (3D and standard): Co-directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez, this graphic-novel adaptation follows in the tone and style of Rodriguez's 2005 original, blending stark black-and-white imagery with spot color and neo-noir themes of sexuality and violence. In other words, something for everyone.

“When the Game Stands Tall”: Based on the real story of a California high school's 151-game winning streak, how that streak gets broken and what the coach (Jim Caviezel) does to return the team to its winning ways. Inspiration, thy name is sports flick.

“If I Stay”: When a teen's family is involved in serious car accident, she (Chloe Grace Moretz) lapses into a coma and hovers between life and death. Her spirit watches what goes on around her as she debates whether to live or die. Based on a 2009 novel by Gayle Forman. 

“Calvary”: Brendan Gleeson plays a priest whose goodness makes him the perfect target for a man angry at the Catholic Church. I confess, I want to see it.

Also reopening, “Earth to Echo,” the “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” variation.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Alive Inside”: A documentary exploring the work of a man who uses music to treat the effects of memory loss. Considering all the problems associated with contemporary health care, his experience must involve a hard day's night.

“K2: Siren of the Himalayas”: A hit at February's Spokane International Film Festival, winning the Audience Award for Best Documentary, this feature film blends historical coverage of a 1909 attempt to summit the Himalayan peak and another expedition that set out to do the same thing a century later.

So now go. Watch. Enjoy.

HBO’s ‘Cheshire Murders’ a real-life horror story

I saw a number of movies in theaters last week. But nothing affected me more than a movie I just happened to catch on my television. So that movie, titled “The Cheshire Murders,” is what I decided to review for Spokane Public Radio.

Why? Well that is the operative word, in more ways than one. The main reason has to do with just how scary the movie is. It is a documentary that examines a horrible, deranged act committed by two men who victimize an unsuspecting family. In other words, as I try to explain in my review, the movie is a study of something that is the real-life equivalent of the bogeyman.

An edited version of my review follows:

Horror movies thrive on our innate fears. Fears of creatures bearing sharp teeth, of bloodsucking vampires and mindless zombies, of extraterrestrials wielding anal probes, of weapon-wielding sociopaths – anything, in short, that lurks in the dark zones of our imagination and threatens to pounce on us with murderous intent.

Chances of our being confronted by anything other than our fears are actually remote. Reality has no room for vampires or zombies, much less curious beings from other galaxies. And sharp-toothed animals pose no real danger to anyone who stays out of the woods, the ocean or the jungle. Even the threat posed by psychopathic killers is so low as to be virtually nil.

Yet our fears persist. And moviemakers keep playing to them. And we continue to sit in the dark, chewing on our popcorn as blends of these imagined threats haunt us on screens both big and small.

Sometimes, though, sometimes … horror is real. And as the HBO documentary feature “The Cheshire Murders” proves, when such a danger does manifest itself, it can prove senselessly, mercilessly fatal.

Released a year ago, and available both through HBO On Demand and on DVD, “The Cheshire Murders” explores a heinous crime that occurred in July 2007 when two men, Steven Hayes and Josh Komisarjevsky, broke into the suburban home of Cheshire, Connecticut, doctor William Petit. The day before, Hayes and Komisarjevsky had spotted Petit’s wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and their daughter, 11-year-old Michaela, at a local store. When they showed up at the house, the men beat Petit with a baseball bat and left him tied up in the basement. They then restrained Hawke-Petit, Michaela and the couple’s other daughter, 17-year-old Hayley.

Over the next several hours, they mulled their options before, the following morning, deciding to take Hawke-Petit to the bank and force her to withdraw some $15,000. Upon returning to the house, Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted Michaela, Hayes raped and – when it became clear that William Petit had escaped – murdered Hawke-Petit. The two then doused the house with gasoline, set everything on fire and attempted to escape.

They didn’t get far. Notified by bank officials, who had called 9-1-1, police officers were waiting outside. They arrested Hayes and Komisarjevsky but were unable to save either of the daughters, both of whom died from smoke inhalation. Petit alone survived.

The crime made national headlines, as much for its senseless nature as for the ferocity with which it was carried out. And even though co-directors Kate Davis and David Heilbroner do a comprehensive job of exploring the case, that aura of senselessness pervades everything.

We learn of the defendants’ past histories, which involved sexual abuse. We hear from police officers, lawyers, prosecutors and family members. We listen to Hayes’ taped confession. The film questions the actions of Cheshire police, who were sitting outside as the three women were being murdered. It argues the effectiveness, even worth, of the death penalty. We gets lots of theories and opinions and rants both quiet and angry. But “The Cheshire Murders” never satisfactorily answers the most basic question of all: Why?

The sound of that silence is more frightening than even Hollywood could conceive.

Movie openings: Allen’s latest and others

I remember when Woody Allen films never received a first-run release in Spokane. Or, rather, their Spokane first runs occurred long after the rest of the country had screened them. And sometimes they never opened here at all. Let's be thankful that era has passed, since it gives us the opportunity to see “Magic in the Moonlight” when it opens on Friday.

Allen's newest work is only one of eight films that open this week (the comedy “Let's Be Cops” opens Wednesday), which makes the second week of multi-movie premieres.

The week's openings are as follows:  

“Let's Be Cops” (opens Wednesday): The trailers for this offbeat comedy, which has two guys (Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr.) getting off by pretending to be police officers, seem hilarious. But director Luke Greenfield gave us Rob Schneider's 2001 comedy “The Animal.” So muting your expectations met be a safe bet.

“The Giver”: It's taken more than 20 years for Hollywood to bring Lois Lowry's Newbery Award-winning 1993 novel to the big screen. It will be interesting to see whether director Philip Noyce (“Rabbit-proof Fence”) is able to avoid Hollywood's cookie-cutter stylistic tendencies. The trailer, which is full of pretty young faces (including Taylor Swift), would seem to say not.

“The Expendables 3”: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, etc., return. Question: How many times can an “expendable” survive before becoming labeled “intrinsic”?

“Magic in the Moonlight”: Allen's newest has Colin Firth playing a magician charged with unmasking a spiritualist fake (Emma Stone). Reviews are mixed to good for what is a blend of the downbeat with romantic fluff. But beware: Rex Reed gives it a top rating.

“What If”: Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan play friends who mull over whether it's possible to blend friendship and love. Based on a stage play by T.J. Dawe, so you know there'll be lots of talking.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Rich Hill”: This hard-hitting documentary focuses on three teen boys who cope with all the trappings of poverty — anger, frustration, want, a lack of good parenting, etc. Stylistic but ever-so depressing.

“Mood Indigo”: Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) gives us this love story (based on a novel) about a wealthy guy (Romain Duris) who wants to cure his lover (Audrey Tautou) from a curious ailment involving a flower growing in her lungs. Is this death by whimsy?

Enjoy. 

Happy birthday, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

Fifty years ago today, a little movie called “A Hard Day's Night” opened in New York City. It had premiered a month before in London, which is only natural because the movie's stars — as everyone born on Earth and older than middle-school age knows — are four young lads from Liverpool who called themselves The Beatles.

Perhaps you've heard of them. John, Paul, George and Ringo?

Anyway, I'm gonna use that fact as a means of publicizing an upcoming Spokane Public Radio event. A 50th-anniversary screening of “A Hard Day's Night” will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, at the Bing Crosby Theater. The event will include a live-taping of “Movies 101,” the show I cohost with Mary Pat Treuthart and Spokesman-Review staff writer Nathan Weinbender; the three of us will be joined by former Inlander writer Leah Sottile.

Tickets to the event, which is a fund-raiser for the station, cost $10 and are available both in advance and at the door.

Oh, and here's some Beatles advice: Don't be a mod or a rocker. Be a mocker.

“Boyhood” lives up to - and transcends - its audacious concept

A lot of great films have used nifty storytelling devices to deal with what it means to grow up.

It's nothing new: Michael Apted's “Up” documentary series, for example, chronicled a group of British schoolchildren through adolescence and into adulthood, catching up with them every seven years. And director François Truffaut documented 20 years in the life of actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, who played Truffaut's alter ego Antoine Doinel in five films, beginning when he was 14 in the 1958 landmark “The 400 Blows.”

But writer-director Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused,” “School of Rock”) found a new spin on the formula, taking 12 years to tell the story of a precocious kid and his non-traditional family in a single film. The result is “Boyhood,” which finally reached Spokane's AMC Theatre today following a successful limited release.

There are still a few months left in the movie-going year, but I'm calling it now: This is the best movie of 2014. I doubt I will see anything better. Below is my review of the film, which I recorded for Spokane Public Radio - it could have easily been twice as long:

The first time we see Mason, he’s sprawled on his back on a lawn in his Texas suburb looking up at the sky. He’s five or six years old, that age when you first become aware of and start to question your surroundings, when you begin paying attention to the confusing and seemingly contradictory constraints of the adult world and discover your own way of interpreting the universe. 164 minutes later, Mason is 18, and it’s his first day of college. He’s hiked to a vista near the university with a new group of friends, and he sits on a rock as the sun sets, infinite possibilities stretching out before him.

These moments bookend Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” a film of quiet transcendence and aching authenticity, perhaps the best movie I’ve ever seen about what it’s really like to grow up. Any discussion of the film must begin with the way it was made. From the summer of 2002 to the summer of 2013, Linklater assembled his cast for several weeks each year and sculpted scenes with them, resulting in a series of snapshots documenting 12 years in the lives of its characters. The effect is unlike anything we’ve seen in a single film before: We watch the characters age and develop in real time, and the world around them follows suit.

Linklater has always been fascinated by the march of time, from his early day-in-the-life tableaux “Slacker” and “Dazed and Confused” to his superb “Before” series, which has charted a relationship over the course of three films and 18 years. “Boyhood” is his most audacious narrative experiment yet, and it’s tempting to praise the movie simply for that audacity. It’s actually something I’ve been wrestling with since seeing the film: Is my response to the movie founded on its emotional impact, or is it simply knee-jerk amazement at Linklater effortlessly pulling off such a tricky landing?

But the truth is the film’s methods simply can’t be separated from its content. This is a film about age, about the passing of time, about the formative years when our personalities and senses of humor and moral compasses come into focus, how our bodies and minds develop while our fundamental essences remain more or less the same. To see a process so nebulous and complex explored with near-documentary realism is an awe-inspiring experience. The movie works simultaneously on two equally fascinating levels – Mason grows up, but so does Ellar Coltrane, the actor playing him –and at times we catch the film functioning as a record of its own making.

As in life, there’s no clear-cut story in “Boyhood.” It sort of separates itself into chapters, though Linklater avoids the use of title cards or music cues, so that there are instances when we notice Mason has aged in a year from one shot to the next. Mason’s parents are divorced, and he and his older sister (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) live with their mother (Patricia Arquette), a hardworking woman who goes from one troubled romantic relationship to another. Mason’s father (Ethan Hawke) isn’t always around, but when he does show up (in a black muscle car he’s no doubt been driving since high school), he urges his kids to think for themselves and to take risks, perhaps to prevent them from emulating him.

Most coming-of-age tales hit all the prominent dramatic signposts of adolescence, but “Boyhood” does the opposite. We don’t see Mason’s first kiss, the first time he gets drunk or the moment he loses his virginity, but Linklater takes the time to show him choking down lukewarm beer with his friends in the basement of an unfinished house, watching his parents fight from a closed upstairs window, attending a release party for one of the “Harry Potter” novels. What’s onscreen is as telling as what’s left off, and Linklater has perfectly captured the curious nature of memory, how our minds often favor minor details over seemingly significant ones.

Linklater is one of the best, most fearless American filmmakers working today, and yet he’s rarely mentioned in the same breath as the revered likes of Paul Thomas Anderson or Joel and Ethan Coen (he deserves to be). Perhaps it’s because his movies rarely announce their greatness: Like their creator, they tend toward modesty and contemplation and favor dialogue over action; they’re unassuming portraits of wallflowers, intellectuals and outcasts that are almost romantic in their plainness.

I first saw “Boyhood” in May at a sold-out screening at the Seattle International Film Festival, where it was awarded Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress for Arquette. Crammed in the corner of the very back row of the Harvard Exit Theatre, I knew then that I was witnessing something special. Despite its central conceit, this isn’t the kind of film that sets out to astonish you. It is not an epic. It is, for all the grandeur surrounding its premise and the scope of its production, a small, intimate movie.

And yet its smallness is precisely what makes it so extraordinary. “Boyhood” doesn’t contain many epiphanies. It is about transformation, but it is not particularly interested in transforming us. It shows us life as it really is, which is often shapeless, pointless, meandering, inconsequential. We can, however, find profundity and tremendous beauty in that meandering, and so we do in this film, which rewards us in ways that movies rarely ever do.

The trailer for “Boyhood”:

Can’t get down with ‘Get on Up’

Unlike other musical biopics, such as “Lady Sings the Blues,” “Ray” and “Walk the Line” — which involved the work of singers who either weren't of my generation or of my liking — “Get on Up,” Tate Taylor's look at James Brown, hit me personally. Brown was hitting his prime just as I was graduating from high school, and he had a profound influence on those of my generation.

So, I tried to control my expectations about what a Hollywood filmmaker such as Taylor would do with Brown's story. Even so, I was disappointed, as the review I wrote for Spokane Public Radio demonstrates. A transcript of my review follows:

I used to laugh when my high school friend Billy Wells would pretend to be James Brown, lip-syncing to songs such as “Prisoner of Love” or “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” He would imitate Brown’s stage antics, which involved dancing to apparent exhaustion, collapsing, being led offstage by his bandmates – in those days the Famous Flames – only to break away, return to the spotlight and continue to sing about, mostly, that desperate, elusive emotion called love.

And so I was particularly interested in “Get on Up,” Tate Taylor’s bio-pic of Brown. Billy and I had experienced the real thing, so I wondered how Hollywood would interpret Brown’s rise-from-the-ashes, but always troubled, success story. And, to be fair, “Get on Up” gets much of the basics right. As the movie makes clear, the real James Brown was fortunate to survive his birth, much less become one of the most famous entertainers of the 20th century. The rhythmic gyrations that Brown performed onstage masked a lot of pain, rage and, the source of it all, fear.

Multiple references – including various Brown biographies – were used as source material for what Taylor (writer-director of “The Help”) has put onscreen, though in true Hollywood tradition the movie amends and even invents situations for dramatic purposes. Brown was born dead, but was quickly revived. His father was a neglectful abuser who was absent for long periods. He was abandoned by his mother. He was sent to prison for stealing clothes. He did live for a time in a brothel. He and his friend Bobby Byrd had a mercurial friendship that continued until Brown’s death in 2006. Brown himself was a single-minded, complex individual who was both a focal point of black pride and a serial womanizer known to abuse his wives – he had four in all. And, no, a plane he was traveling in while touring Vietnam wasn’t nearly shot down, but in 1988 he did engage in a wild interstate car chase with police.

Enough occurred in Brown’s life to warrant an entire miniseries. And that’s probably the route that Taylor should have taken, because as it turns out many of the artistic choices he did make to re-create all this in a mere two-hours-and-28-minutes feel as wrong as – in the context of “Get on Up” – Frankie Avalon wearing a dashiki.

Unlike other such musical biopics – “Ray,” say, or “Walk the Line” – Taylor opts for a non-chronological framework that blends far too many contrasting styles: breaking the fourth wall with irritating inconsistency, employing lengthy musical scenes filmed as if he’s Jonathan Demme shooting a Talking Heads concert, introducing characters only to drop them, letting Dan Aykroyd play Brown’s agent with all the subtlety of a bad Saturday Night Live routine. The result is a film that, even anchored by Brown’s marvelous songs lip-synced by the hard-working Chadwick Boseman, isn’t half as profound it pretends to be.

If James Brown isn’t somewhere shaking his head in frustration over “Get on Up,” I can assure you one thing: My friend Billy Wells and I certainly are.

Some actors just can’t do decent accents

Accents are hard. As someone who has embarrassed himself attempting to speak at least three languages other than his native English, I can say this with conviction. And those were attempts at full conversation. Let's not mention the memorized phrases that I've managed to mangle in Polish, Chinese and Albanian.

But then I'm no actor. And I'm not called to take roles where, 1, I have to accept the role of someone from another culture and, 2, speak in that character's native accent. The list of actors who have done so well is long, though any such list would have to start with Meryl Streep. Brits such as Daniel Day Lewis and the Australian Toni Collette aren't too bad either.

But the list of those who do accents poorly is arguably even longer. As the embed below demonstrates — though, I would take issue with Brad Pitt's performance in “Snatch.” It may not have been perfect Irish Gypsy (Pikey), but it certainly fit the role.

(I would add this the list is depressingly contemporary. Go back and check out some of the performances by such classic film actors as Paul Muni, Spencer Tracy and even Michael Caine — and we'll comment about those bad trailers on some future blog post).

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