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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Spy’ big on action, small on actual humor

I wasn't particularly amused by the film "Spy," which is Melissa McCarthy's attempt to work her way into the spy/action genre. I try to explain why in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, a transcription of which follows:

Of all the performing arts, comedy may be the most personal. I once sat through a screening of “Three Amigos” and listened to a guy sitting a few rows behind me nearly bust a gut laughing at every lame gag uttered by Steve Martin, Chevy Chase or Martin Short. For my part, I barely snickered once.

Meanwhile, the late film critic Bob Glatzer hated the Coen Brothers movie “Raising Arizona,” while I consider it comic genius. As I say, comedy – what makes us laugh – can be idiosyncratic to a fault.

Take “Spy,” for example, the latest comedy featuring the talents of Melissa McCarthy. “Spy” would seem to have everything going for it, especially for today’s cultural climate. It has McCarthy, still on a roll after breaking out of TV sitcom status by snaring an Oscar nomination in 2011 for “Bridesmaids.”

She’s backed by an impressive supporting cast, including Jude Law, Rose Byrne, the one and only Jason Statham and a surprisingly good British comic actress, Miranda Hart. And the plot by writer-director Paul Feig – the same guy who gave us “Bridesmaids” and the McCarthy 2013 follow-up with Sandra Bullock “The Heat” – follows a standard comic formula

A formula, by the way, that comic actors from Peter Sellers to Rowan Atkinson to Mike Myers have mined with a wide range of success. The twist here is that although she starts out as the sidekick, sort of a glorified Moneypenny, it’s McCarthy’s CIA character who emerges as the ultimate hero – which is what I meant by “Spy” seemingly being a perfect fit for today’s emerging cultural attitudes.

Feig’s film is another, and welcome, step in what has been a long road for women characters attempting to step into the forefront of movie action.

So what went wrong?

Part of the blame falls on McCarthy. For all her talents, she’s become – especially after roles in such films as “Identity Thief” and “Tammy” – something of a cliché: the overweight loser who ultimately wins the day, and our heart, because she – and we – haven’t dared, or taken the trouble, to look for her inner qualities. Even worse, for all her charm, McCarthy’s comic delivery already feels stale.

Yeah, it’s funny to watch her character crash a fancy, covered motor scooter during a moment of high action. But we’ve seen her do such pratfalls before.

Most of the blame, though, falls on Feig. His script moves fast, yes, but that makes it seems as if he has no faith in his gags. We’ve barely had time to digest a quip delivered by McCarthy, Byrne or – most humorously, Hart – before something, or someone, steps on the laughline. Furthermore, the range of four-letter words Feig employs in his script makes “Spy” sound like Richard Pryor attending a Tourette Syndrome convention.

No one is a fan of the F-word more than I. But the shock value of that word, even used in a variety of clever combinations, coming from Rose Byrne’s pretty mouth no longer has much comic punch.

Same for the movie “Spy” overall.

Christopher Lee: a long and varied career

It's traditional, if not respectful, to say nice things about someone who dies. That's especially true when the person is a well-known movie actor.

Christopher Lee, who died Sunday at the age of 93, wasn't the best known actor who ever graced the screen. But those of us who were raised on the horror productions of Hammer Films certainly were familiar with his name. And recent audiences, those who are fans of the "Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars" franchises, likely know of him as well.

In fact, the obit written for the website Rotten Tomatoes includes a pretty good line about Lee that flirts with disrespect but actually makes the point that Lee enjoyed a long and varied career. According to the site, Lee is the "only actor to contribute to the Lord of the RingsStar Wars, James Bond, and Police Academy franchises."

In the film world, you take the roles where you find them. 

‘Ex Machina’: Is it possible to love an android?

Here's something new: Three posts in a row that involve the Magic Lantern Theater. Thrilling, eh?

This one is an update of the theater's Friday lineup, which includes a second run of the intriguing sci-fi film "Ex Machina." Written and directed by Alex Garland, the novelist-turned-filmmaker who gave us the basis for the screenplay "The Beach" and who delivered the screenplay for the zombie flick "28 Days Later," "Ex Machina" tells the story of a young computer programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) who is recruited by his rich boss (Oscar Isaac) to test the human qualities of an android (played by Alicia Vikander).

Click here to access my review of "Ex Machina."

The Lantern will continue showing "Iris" and "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Through the Window and Disappeared."

Magic Lantern renovation moved to June 21

Re. the post below regarding the digital install at the Magic Lantern: According to theater manager Jonathan Abramson, the renovation of the theater's projections system has been postponed. Which means that movies will play at the theater as scheduled this coming week. As for the new digital system, the install has been rescheduled for the week beginning June 21.

And the previous post? In the words of Emily Litella, "Never mind."

Magic Lantern to close a week for renovation

If you're waiting, as I usually am, to see what will be opening Friday at the Magic Lantern, then I have some good and bad news for you.

The good news is that the art-house movie theater is finally converting to a digital projection format.

The bad news is that the renovation will take place between June 12 and 18. According to theater manager Jonathan Abramson, the theater will reopen "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared" on June 19.

This news reminds me of a recent experience I had while attending the Seattle International Film Festival. I was browsing in a used bookstore near the SIFF Cinema Uptown. The woman behind the counter started talking about Spokane the way Seattle residents tend to do, with a sense of apology that anyone living in Washington State has to live outside King County.

I told her that when I moved to the Northwest in 1976, my overarching ambition was to end up in Seattle. But that when I got to Spokane, I stopped. I even turned down a job offer in Bellingham that would have been one step closer. And that I've never regretted either decision, to reject the job offer or to stay put this side of the Cascades.

Still, I'm not sure she understood what I was saying.

That's OK. Those of us who live in Spokane are lucky to have places such as the Magic Lantern. And at this point, we don't have a tenth the traffic headaches.

SIFF 2015: The Golden Space Needle Awards

One of the traditional last words from any film festival involves awards. And the Seattle International Film Festival is no different. For the 2105 version of SIFF, the awards can be found by clicking here.

I saw only 10 of the 250-odd features, but I lucked into seeing the one film that won the Best Director honor for what SIFF calls the Golden Space Needle Awards, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon for "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl."

The irony, of course, is that I don't think Gomez-Rejon's film — despite being a Sundance darling — is all that well directed. Gomez-Rejon throws his camera around like a beginning film student, which reminds me of what Fred Ward's character complains about in the opening scene of "The Player," Robert Altman's 1992 smart satire on Hollywood.

As Ward's character, Walter Stuckle says, "The movies they make today are all MTV. Cut, cut, cut, cut. The opening scene of Welles' 'Touch of Evil' was six and a half minutes long." "Six and a half minutes long?" a studio messenger asks, amazed? "Well," Stuckel replies, "three or four minutes anyway."

(Digression: Note that Jeremy Piven, Ari Gold from "Entourage," has a bit part as a studio tour guide in the scene.)

Anyway, I think I'm definitely showing my age. Whatever. I think the trailer embedded below is better than the actual film itself (which will be in limited release beginning Friday and is tentatively scheduled for a July 1 release in Spokane).

Fridays openings: Dinosaurs and rock music

We're firmly ensconced in the summer movie season now, which means that the parade of blockbuster wannabes just keeps marching on. The latest on Friday features a continuing series involving killer dinosaurs.

Friday's mainstream openings are as follows (including the openings, AMC will reopen the kids movie "Paddington" as part of its AMC Cares Summer Throwbacks program): 

"Jurassic World" (in 3D, 3D IMAX and regular): Chris Pratt stars in this reboot of the Steven Spielberg-originated series about human arrogance and the dangers of DNA engineering. But, then, I'm no scientist.

"Love & Mercy": This narrative film is based on the life of Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson, whose lapse into emotional turbulence was controversially guided by therapist Eugene Landy. Listen, is that pet sounds we hear? 

"Lambert & Stamp": James D. Cooper's documentary examines the ties between a pair of would-be filmmakers and the quartet of musicians who would become known as The Who. The kids are all right, you know.

That's the lot. I'll post news of the Magic Lantern later. So anyway, go. See a movie. And enjoy.

Bodies pile up fast in ‘Slow West’

If you're interested in Westerns — and who of a certain age is not? — then you might want to check out "Slow West," which is playing at the Magic Lantern. Following is a transcription of the review I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

American filmmaking was, for a time, mired in the Western myth. Great U.S. filmmakers such as John Ford and Howard Hawks made great cinema out of tales that, to be frank, were more wish-fulfillment than actual history. And television followed the trend.

.On big screens and small, most Native Americans were portrayed as savage painted killers, most cowboys handy with a rope or a gun, most towns filled with saloons and streets that served as thoroughfares for cattle drives or high-noon pistol duels. Only on occasion did real life – the day-to-day drudgery of farming on the plains, for example – interrupt the far more dramatic narrative preferred by filmmakers. And, let’s be honest, audiences.

That all began to change in the 1970s when, one, Westerns started to become more politically correct and, two, they began to wane in popularity. Today, about the only Westerns we see are deconstructionist models such as Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” or foreign perspectives such as John Maclean’s “Slow West.”

Writer-director Maclean’s film, which is playing at Spokane’s Magic Lantern Theater, is based on the feelings he developed as a child watching such films as Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” – itself a commentary on, and alternate-telling of, the classic American Western.

So it should come as no surprise that “Slow West” blends a variety of views, some familiar, some clearly foreign, into something that both pays tribute to the work of, say, Ford and Hawks, while creating something more clearly contemporary.

Maclean gives us the story of Jay Cavendish, a 16-year-old Scottish boy (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) who has come to the 1870 American West to find the girl he considers his one true love. As we gradually discover, Jay feels responsible for Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius) and her father John having to flee Scotland.

But as we know from the beginning, through a voiceover delivered by one Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), Jay is a sheep among wolves. And it is only when Selleck saves him, then offers – for a fee – to guide him, that Jay has a chance of succeeding.

Success, though, is a relative notion, as we – and Jay – discover time and again through encounters with starving immigrants, embattled Indians, duplicitous travelers, greedy bounty hunters and a landscape (New Zealand passing for Colorado) that is as vast and breathtakingly beautiful as it is harsh and unforgiving. Sometimes success means merely surviving long enough to wake up and start the struggle anew.

Such a scenario isn’t particularly original. But, then, we are talking about a genre that is overfull of familiar tropes. And, in contrast, Maclean offers the occasional sequence that feels arrestingly original, almost magically realistic – the climax, for example, which takes place in a tiny-house-nation type cottage set at the edge of an Oz-like wheat field.

And despite all the brutality, Maclean does put a heart at the center of his story. It is, we learn, only through the sort of innocence that Jay displays that life finds an inherent value – and meaning.

You just have to trudge though dozens of corpses to get there.

SIFF 2015: Final days are here

It's no secret that the Seattle International Film Festival is one of the longest such events in the country, if not the world. And the 2015 version of SIFF is no different, what with its 25-day schedule of some 400 features and shorts.

But all things come to an end. And this 41st edition of SIFF will end on Saturday. That's the bad news. The good news is that you have three more days to enjoy what the festival has left to offer.

As a handy guide, check out what the Seattle Times is recommending you try to see.

Click here to access the schedule. And click here to purchase tickets.

Then jump in the car and drive west.

The week’s openings: Spies, ghosts and The Boys

TV comes to the big screen this week as, one, we'll have a Wednesday opening and, two, that opening will feature a movie adaptation of a popular HBO series. Otherwise, things will be normal, if busy.

Wednesday's opening is as follows:

"Entourage": The ride ain't over for the boys from Queens - Vince, Eric, Turtle and Johnny — plus their super-agent pal Ari as they move to the big screen and Vince tries to direct his first film. 

Friday's openings:

"Insidious: Chapter 3": This prequel sets up the exorcism-is-needed events that haunted us previously. Confusion is scary, am I right? 

"The Cokeville Miracle": When two disturbed people take a school hostage, tales of the supernatural ensue. Not to be confused with the "Insidious" prequel above.

"Spy": Melissa McCarthy stars as perhaps the most unlikely secret agent since Johnny English. Fun drinking game: Count the tasteless fat jokes.

"Beyond the Mask": Made by the Christian-based Burns Family Studios, this PG-rated historical adventure-romance is set during the American Revolution. Look for, no joke, Ben Franklin.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared": This quote comes from IMDB: "After living a long and colorful life, Allan Karlsson finds himself stuck in a nursing home. On his 100th birthday, he leaps out a window and begins an unexpected journey." In a variety of languages with English subtitles.

That's the lot. Go see one. Or even two. And enjoy.

‘San Andreas’: Nine essential questions

Based on NPR film critic Chris Klimek's review of the mega-disaster movie "San Andreas," which opens all over the known universe in various formats and pretty much on demand, here are the nine essential questions the movie will require you to answer:

1. How does a 6-feet-5, 260-pound man (played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) fit into a helicopter pilot's seat?

2. How does The Rock's character, a pilot for the L.A. Fire Department, avoid being charged for dereliction of duty for ignoring his job and using government equipment to save his family?

3. Where is San Francisco's Asian population?

4. Is Paul Giamatti in every movie ever made?

5. When did Casting 101 require that everyone look so pretty? Yeah, this is California, but still …

6. Hey, isn't that Hoover Da … oops, never mind.

7. How many people die in this movie, anyway?

8. Is it loud enough for you?

9. What?

Two more SpIFF winners grab awards

As a member of the Spokane International Film Festival board of directors, I'm not above giving the annual Spokane-based movie-going orgy the attention I think it deserves. But sometimes I don't have to work hard to do it.

Sometimes the accolades just come naturally.

This is one of those times. I've already written about the several awards that have been won by "Wildlike," Frank Hall Green's feature that won the Silver SpIFFY for Best of the NW Feature and SpIFF's Audience Award in the same category.

And I've also written about Canadian filmmaker Corbin Saleken, whose short in the 2013 edition of SpIFF won the Gold SpIFFY for Best of the NW Short. Saleken also took home that festival's crown for Most Promising Filmmaker.

And the two have struck again, this time at the 10th Annual Big Island Film Festival, which was held over the Memorial Day Weekend on the big island of Hawaii. "Wild" won the top prize for feature films, while Saleken's first feature, "Patterson's Wager," won for best foreign feature.

SpIFF has a number of smart and knowledgeable film programmers, young and old(er). They've proven their worth yet again.

By the way, when SpIFF director Pete Porter congratulated Saleken in an email for, in his words, "redeeming SpIFF’s Most Promising Filmmaker Award," the filmmaker posted a nice response.

"Thanks, Pete," Saleken wrote. "It is an honour (spelled the Canadian way, because I can't help myself). Thanks for seeing something in me back in 2013.  As I've said many times before, your award really did give me some much-needed encouragement."

Friday’s openings: The Rock has no time for faults

OK, seems as if I was left off somebody's email list. But then, there's no real surprise about Friday's mainstream movie openings. They include an earthquake movie and a rom-com set in Hawaii. Friday's movie openings are as follows:

"San Andreas": Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson struggles to save his family when a massive earthquake levels most of California. Check out The Rock doing his best Charlton Heston impression.

"Aloha": Bradley Cooper is a pilot who gets caught between two attractive women, played by Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone. We all should have such problems. Fun fact: Both female leads have starred in Woody Allen films that begin with the letter "M."

So, you know the drill. Go. See a movie. Enjoy.

Friday’s ML openings: Go west, young movie fan

I'm still waiting to hear from the mainstream theaters about what movies they're opening on Friday. (Other than, of course, the mega-disaster flick "San Andreas," which is opening everywhere.) But at least I have the Magic Lantern's lineup. Friday's Lantern openings are as follows:

"Clouds of Sils Maris": Juliet Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz star in this intriguing tale of two actresses, a personal assistant, meteorology, metaphysics and professional rivalry. This second-run (it already played at AMC), multi-language (English, French, German) film poses a singular question: Who knew that "Twilight" actress could act?

"Slow West": A teenage boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) teams up with a guide (Michael Fassbender) to search through the Old West for his one true love (Caren Pistorius). It, too, poses a question: Do you smell gunsmoke?

We’re in a race: Avoiding extinction is the prize

As an alternative to "Tomorrowland," which I commented on below, one of the films playing at the 41st Seattle International Film Festival is the call-to-action documentary "Racing Extinction." Directed by Louie Psihoyos, the man who gave us "The Cove," the documentary is an attempt to call attention to the devastating effects humans are having on the Earth — specifically on the numerous other species with which we share the planet.

What with the various presidential campaigns getting under way, and at least some of the candidates making some outrageously obtuse statements, movies such as "Racing Extinction" — and even "Tomorrowland" — are more important than ever. It'd be nice, though, if such calls to action included some basic, direct suggestions for how to fix the problem.

Voting your conscience is always a good thing. But when has it ever been enough?

SIFF will screen "Racing Extinction" at 7:15 p.m. Friday at the SIFF Cinema Uptown. Director Psihoyos and coproducer Gina Papabeis are scheduled to attend. Click here for information on how to score tickets. 

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