7 Blog

Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

Friday’s openings (redux): Sally Field returns

Now that the final movies bookings are in, we can … well, look to the future. Only one new mainstream movie is being added to the films I listed on Monday. The rest of Friday's openings are:

"Hello, My Name Is Doris": Sally Field stars as the title character, a frumpy sixty something woman who attends a self-help seminar, which causes her to think romantically about a younger colleague.

And at the Magic Lantern: Still pursuing a program of recent Oscar nominees, the Lantern opens Best Picture winner "Spotlight."

So, you know the drill by now. Go. See a movie. And enjoy.

Friday’s openings: Superheroes and a Greek sequel

Battling superheroes and Greek jokes are on the tentative movie docket this week. The main movie openings scheduled to open Friday are as follows:

"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice": Zack Snyder ("300," "Man of Steel") directs this story, summed up so succinctly in the title, of a galactic being with super powers coming in conflict with, among others, a human vigilante equipped with a very cool bag of tricks. First question: Ben Affleck as Batman? Second question: Seriously?

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2": Apparently the world didn't get enough Greek stereotypes in Nia Vardalos' 2002 original (or in the short-lived 2003 TV sitcom) because, as IMDB announced, "A Portokalos family secret brings the beloved characters back together for an even bigger and Greeker wedding."

I'll have the final listings, including the Magic Lantern, when they're made available.

‘Colliding Dreams’ offers a balanced view

The documentary "Colliding Dreams" opens today at the Magic Lantern Theater. Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

In a world that seems to grow more polarized by the day, some issues don’t feature much of a middle ground. Abortion, for example. Or restrictions on the Second Amendment.

Near the top of any such list, you’re likely to find disparate attitudes toward Zionism, which the Jewish Virtual Library defines as “the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.”

Take what Mahatma Ghandi had to say: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.”

In contrast, we have former Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, who once declared, “There is no difference whatever between anti-Semitism and the denial of Israel's statehood.”

Zionism, and all that term implies – for good and bad – is the topic that documentary filmmakers Joseph Dorman and Oren Rudavsky explore in “Colliding Dreams,” a study in balanced storytelling that opens today at the Magic Lantern Theater. And by balanced, I mean that the film doesn’t indict or excuse Zionism so much as attempt to explain it.

As such, Dorman and Rudavsky have created something that is ambitious in intent – covering more than a century and a third of history in just over two hours – if a bit dry in execution.

Unfolding like a college survey course, “Colliding Dreams” provides a historical overview, keying on events such as 19th-century European immigration, the 1947 United Nations vote to partition Palestine, the Six Day War of 20 years later, and the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Dorman and Rudavsky detail the work of such 19th-century social theorists as Theodor Herzl, the Austro-Hungarian journalist who was one of the first proponents of what would become modern Zionism. They document, too, the changing nature of the Zionist movement from one that focused on founding a home for Jews to founding a home exclusively for Jews.

Yet the filmmakers do strive to be fair. They augment everything with contemporary interviews that incorporate a wide range of diverse views.  Included in the film’s ongoing dialogue are both members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Orthodox Jews, both secular Jewish writers and Palestinian scholars, not to mention various on-the-street comments made by residents of Tel Aviv.

One notable interviewee is former Israeli minister of education Yuli Tamir, now a peace activist, who proclaims, “All national myths are fictions. For Jews, for Arabs, for Christians. It's all fiction. Nothing is true … that's the myth of nationalism; it really works. Like love, people are ready to die for it.”

The refreshing part of all this is, of course, the inclusion of these different opinions. Furthermore, “Colliding Dreams” – for all the fatalistic implications of that title – does offer some sense of hope, a feeling that, ultimately, time may yet soften the hard edge of history.

Time, as has been said more than once, does tend to be on humanity’s side.

Friday’s openings redux: Tarantino returns

Along with the regular openings (see below), AMC River Park Square is also offering on Friday a second run of Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight," complete with "extra content" and an intermission. The "extra" material is likely the six minutes that Tarantino cut from the original 70mm Roadshow version, which also ran with an intermission.

AMC will also add a showing of "Anomalisa" to "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" to make a special, and decidedly uncommon, double feature.

Friday’s openings: Heroes and heaven on Earth

Note: This post has been updated.

Looks as if it could be a slow week at the movie theaters, what with only two movies scheduled for the mainstream theaters and a single offering at the Magic Lantern. Final listing will come later, but the tentative openings are as follows:

"The Divergent Series: "Allegiant — Part 1": Our good looking young heroes (stepping from the pages of Veronica Roth's YA novels) continue their quest, this time to go beyond the walls of Chicago into what looks like a wasteland. But is really only the Midwest.

"Miracles From Heaven": Based on a true story, a young girl with a protective mother (Jennifer Garner) suffering from a rare disease has an accident … which leads, conveniently, to the film's title.

"The Bronze": "Big Bang Theory" star Melissa Rauch stars as a one-time Olympic bronze medal gymnast who has never adjusted to real life and resents the attention of her town's rising star. Cue the laugh track.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Colliding Dreams": Documentary filmmakers Joseph Dorman and Owen Rudavsky explore the historical roots of Zionism, revealing the ideology's good and bad points. And there are plenty of both.

I'll have the final lineup when it's made available.

‘Son of Saul’ immerses us in madness

Thursday was the last night for seeing "Son of Saul" at the Magic Lantern. You'll have to search it out through some On Demand service or watch it on DVD. However you choose to see it, assuming you do, you might want to first read the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

One of the great artistic challenges comes from trying to portray the actuality of great evil. How do you document deeds that are so horrible the mind has difficulty simply accepting them, much less comprehending them?

That’s the problem facing anyone who makes a film about genocide. Confronting the reality of what Hannah Arendt referred to as the “banality of evil,” without resorting to overtly dramatic techniques, takes a special kind of talent. And it’s one that Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes puts on splendid display with his film “Son of Saul.”

Winner of the recent Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, “Son of Saul” is set in the Poland of late 1944, specifically in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Using no framing devices of any sort, Nemes immerses immediately us in the world of the camp’s so-called “sonderkommandos” – prisoners who have been recruited to help facilitate the process of receiving, and then disposing of, prisoners from incoming trains. We watch as the sonderkommandos greet the newcomers – men, women and children, mostly Jewish – and shepherd them to the showers, all while loudspeakers spout encouraging words, telling the doomed crowds that good jobs and hot meals await them just as soon as they have been cleaned.

As all this is taking place, director and co-writer Nemes focuses our attention elsewhere. Placing his camera mostly over the shoulder of one prisoner, Saul Auslander, he plunges us into actions that, in other circumstances, might be seen as mundane: shepherding people to a certain location, overseeing their disrobing, then searching through their discarded clothing – all before loading their corpses, referred to by the German guards as “pieces,” onto gurneys and into the incinerators.

Director and co-writer László Nemes keys on the Saul of the film’s title, especially after he becomes obsessed with the corpse of a young man he claims is his son. Whether this is true never becomes clear. But that makes little difference. While everyone else in the sonderkommando corps, from the lowest worker such as Saul to the club-carrying capos, is concerned not just with their never-ending work but their own imminent demise, Saul become single-minded: He must find a rabbi to give the dead boy a proper Jewish funeral.

Which he does even as his fellow prisoners try to prepare for an armed uprising. Which he does even when his efforts put him continually in danger of being summarily shot – or worse.

And all the while, Nemes’ camera never leaves Saul’s shoulder, rendering everything beyond a couple of feet out of focus. And the stylistic effect is palpable: You’ll find no talking heads as in the documentary “Shoah,” no melodramatic sequences such as a little girl in red (a conceit Steven Spielberg used in “Schindler’s List”), no tearful goodbyes as Roberto Benigni portrayed in “La Vita è Bella.” Only Saul, intent on his obsessive task, as a virtual hell unfolds around him.

Under any other circumstances, Saul’s devotion to his mission might seem baffling. But, then, as any camp survivor can tell you, hell requires it own sense of logic.

Fridays openings: Tales from the basement

Note: This blog post has been updated to reflect the final area movie schedule.

The official word isn't yet in, but the usual mix of horror, romance and humor, blended with a bit of old-time religion, seems to be the story this week at the movies, both in mainstream theaters and the Magic Lantern.

Friday's movie openings tentatively are as follows:

"10 Cloverfield Lane": With obvious similarities to "Room," this cousin to the J.J. Abrams flick "Cloverfield" involves a woman, recovering from a car accident, wondering whether her savior (John Goodman) is crazy. Maybe someone should ask Roseanne.

"The Brothers Grimsby": Sasha Baron Cohen plays the hooligan brother of a British assassin, and comic antics ensue. Not exactly James Bond.

"The Young Messiah": Adapted from Anne Rice's novel "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," we follow the young Jesus as he grows into his spirituality. No vampires, please.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"The Lady in the Van": Maggie Smith plays the title character, a woman who would be homeless except for her vehicle, and friendless but for the man who befriends her. Miss Brodie, a bit past her prime.

I'll have the final word when it's available.

Fridays Lantern opening: the haunted past

I left out the Magic Lantern in Monday's post about Friday's opening movies. Let me fix that right now. Friday's ML openings are as follows:

"45 Years": Kate and Geoff Mercer are preparing to celebrate their 45th anniversary when news involving an old flame of Geoff's rocks their world. The Mercers are portrayed by Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar (which went to Brie Larson for "Room," a film the theater continues to screen).

The Lantern will also reopen "The Danish Girl," for which Alicia Vikander won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. On March 11, the theater is scheduled to open "The Lady in the Van," which stars Maggie Smith.

If you go to Spokane's only art moviehouse, ask Jonathan to make you an espresso (his are among the best that Spokane has to offer).

Friday’s openings: The humor … and the horror

The week's mainstream movies have been announced, and the list contains the usual suspects: action, animation, horror and humor. Friday's openings are as follows:

"London Has Fallen": Terrorist attempt to kidnap the U.S. president and only Gerard Butler stands in their way. Is this Sparta?

"The Other Side of the Door": A family loses a child then contacts dark spirits to do the unthinkable (though not the unfamiliar).

"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot": Tina Fey plays one-time Spokesman-Review reporter Kim Barker in this adaptation of her memoir as a journalist covering Afghanistan. As the title suggests …

"Zootopia": Walking/talking animals attempt to figure out why some of their number are turning savage. Maybe … hunger?

Oscar surprises? Rylance leads the list

My Oscar ballot got trashed fairly early last night. But, then, I'm hardly the only one who guessed wrong on the Motion Picture Academy's voting at the 88th Oscars broadcast.

In retrospect, it's understandable that "Spotlight" should win for Best Picture over "The Revenant." Though "The Revenant" took home Best Director for Alejandro González Iñárritu and Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio, it wasn't even nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. "Spotlight," aside from being one of the Oscar favorites, was the winner of Best Original Screenplay (for Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy). So, clearly, story counts — or at least did so this time.

More surprising, though, was the win for Best Visual Effects by "Ex Machina." While "Mad Max: Fury Road" won nearly every other technical award, six in all including Best Editing, the smaller-budget but impressively done "Ex Machina" triumphed.

Most surprising of all? Mark Rylance's win over Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor. Not that Rylance isn't deserving. His quiet but effective portrayal of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in "Bridge of Spies" is only the latest in a long line of performances the stage actor is known for.

In fact, if you want to catch an even better Rylance performance, check out the BBC/PBS Masterpiece Theatre production "Wolf Hall." In the six-part miniseries adapted from Hilary Mantel's award-winning novel, Rylance plays Thomas Cromwell — successor to Cardinal Wolsey as Henry VIII's chief minister. And he is superb as a conscientious man playing a political game as adviser to the sociopathic English monarch (played by Damian Lewis).

Oscar, as usual, confounds — even when it gets things right.

‘The Finest Hours’: old-school tale of real-life heroism

The based-on-a-real-story movie "The Finest Hours" has been playing for a while but hasn't attracted a whole lot of attention (it's taken in just less than $26 million in its first four weeks of release). But it should perfectly play to certain audiences. The review I wrote for Spokane Public Radio follows:

Time was, popular movies offered a particular kind of escape. Thanks to the Hays Code, it was an escape that typically involved stories of basic human decency, told through plots that – even when the screenwriters layered on the melodrama – usually strived to ring with strong moral purpose.

The 1970s put an end to all that, for better AND for worse.

On occasion, though, a film slips through the dictates of a contemporary market that revels in car explosions, computer-amplified violence, bodies as bare as Vin Diesel’s forehead, jokes that would make Lady Gaga blush and ironic tones thicker than Sofia Vergara’s accent.

One of those films is “The Finest Hours,” director Craig Gillespie’s adaptation of the nonfiction book of the same name. And that book, by co-authors Michael J. Touglas and Casey Sherman, captures the essence of Gillespie’s movie in its straightforward subtitle: “The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue.”

The setting of the film follows the real story: The action takes place on Cape Cod’s Chatham Coast Guard Station, during the infamous nor’easter of 1952. And the principal characters, too, resemble those from actual history.

When the oil tanker Pendleton breaks apart in high seas just off the coast, the crew – led by chief engineer Raymond Sybert (played by Casey Affleck) – struggles to keep the aft end afloat. Meanwhile, on land, the Chatham Station commander (played by Eric Bana) orders a four-man team to head out and attempt a rescue.

That attempt falls to Boatswain’s Mate Bernie Webber (played by Chris Pine) and three others (played, respectively, by Ben Foster, John Magaro and Kyle Gallner). Their task includes trying to get past the Chatham Bar, a watery morass described in the book as “a collection of ever-shifting shoals with flood currents carrying ocean waves that can splinter small boats in a matter of seconds.”

While much of the film follows the historical record, including the fact that a second ship also had broken in two, a trio of screenwriters has dramatized a number of plot points for director Gillespie. While the movie’s other main storyline involves the romance between Webber and his love interest Miriam (played by Holliday Grainger), scenes that have Miriam coming into the station and asking the commander to bring Bernie and his crew home were invented.

And neither did Sybert, to quell a near-mutiny, cut a lifeboat loose that was dashed to pieces against the Pendleton’s hull.

More of a concern, though, is the portrayal of Webber himself. Pine, who is far different from his neo-“Star Trek” James T. Kirk character, is actually quite good. But the screenplay never gives a clear picture of Webber, who is portrayed as brave but rule-oriented, intrepid while being timid. Taking the easy route, the movie creates a character arc that depends on his growing into himself – and into a hero.

None of this takes away from the actual story. “The Finest Hours” is a fine way to honor the courage of Webber and his crew. And if you’re into old-school entertainment, the movie just might entertain you as well.

Friday’ mainstream openings: bad gods and dirty cops

Friday's mainstream offerings are a mashup of screen fantasies, from sports and religion to street-tough cop stories. The week's openings are as follows:

"Gods of Egypt": One good-guy god enlists the aid of a mere mortal to fight the aims of an evil god who wants to take over the realm of the pharaohs. No doubt, someone gets the asp kicked out of himself.

"Eddie the Eagle": Based on the real story of Olympic ski-jumper Eddie Edwards, this rose-colored bio-pic offers up a feel-good story about one British guy who refused to accept failure. Well, unless it was on his own terms, of course.

"Triple 9": To pull off a heist, a coalition of criminals and corrupt cops target a rookie man in blue — only to find their plan harder to accomplish than they ever suspected. Bring earplugs.

As always, the schedule may change. I'll post any variations as soon as they become available.

Friday’s openings: Lantern goes Oscar heavy

I posted a couple of weeks ago news that the Magic Lantern was going to bring in the Oscar-nominated Hungarian film "Son of Saul" this coming Friday. Now comes word that the city's only arts movie house also plans to open another Oscar nominee, the animated film "Anomalisa." More below:

"Son of Saul": Life in a World War II death camp becomes even more complicated for a man caught between an inmate uprising and the task of giving his son a proper Jewish burial. A 95 percent rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

"Anomalisa": A man finds it possible to break out of his mundane life when he goes on a business trip and meets someone new. Co-directed by Charlie Kaufman (from his own stage play).

Both screenings are Spokane exclusives, proving once again that the Magic Lantern is the place in town to see great film.

‘Deadpool’ is a standup (comic) hero

One of my more enjoyable moviegoing experiences of late was to see, believe it or not, "Deadpool." In the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, I try to explain why:

Irony has been the basis of humor since the age of Socrates and probably long before. It’s not hard to imagine an early human, reacting to a cavemate’s taking a pratfall by muttering, “That was graceful.”

 During the late 1960s, such humor assumed a special place in U.S. popular culture when it became the primary tool for comedians to mock traditional American attitudes. To many Americans, still used to that all-pervasive sense of exceptionalism left over from World War II, it was shocking to see, say, a photo of Richard Nixon carrying the tagline “Your friendly used-care salesman”

 The humor there, of course, involves the notion that such a presumed symbol of trust – a former U.S. vice president – would screw you on a car deal. You look at one thing (supposed trusted figure) but see the opposite (ostensible crook).

 These days, no one has to explain such a contradiction. We live in an age so Seinfeldian that it’s often hard to tell the difference between something meant to be taken seriously – say, a Michael Bay film about Benghazi – and something that plays like an ongoing cartoon. Say, a Michael Bay film about Benghazi.

 Which helps explain why the movie “Deadpool” is so enjoyable. Mired in self-referential asides, all perfectly delivered by snark-master Ryan Reynolds, “Deadpool” is the perfect blend of superhero and anti-superhero movie. You get all the classic tropes of the genre accompanied by a wink-wink nod to the understanding that nothing you see is meant to be taken seriously. Or, and here is the further contradiction, maybe underneath the jokey posing something serious does lurk.

 Whatever, as directed by first-timer Tim Miller – described in the hilarious opening credits as “an overpaid tool” – “Deadpool” is based on a Marvel Comics character famous both for his antiheroic attitudes and his tendency to break the fourth wall. Which, of course, is a fancy way of saying that, on occasion, he turns away from the ongoing narrative and addresses us, his audience, directly.

 That narrative involves his actual identity, former mercenary Wade Wilson (played by Reynolds), whose love affair with the beautiful Vanessa (played by the beautiful Morena Baccarin), has been disrupted. The first problem: a diagnosis of cancer. The second: a diabolical procedure that gives him the mutant self-healing powers of virtual indestructability but that leaves him looking like he has been set on fire and then stomped out by someone wearing golf spikes.

 After adopting the cool alias of Deadpool, Wade chooses to accept two missions: one is to find and punish the guy who mutated him, a character who calls himself Ajax (played by Ed Skrein) but whose given name is Francis. The other is to protect Vanessa, who naturally becomes a target of Deadpool’s enemies.

 A lot of graphic kinds of play follow involving guns, blades, fists and what have you, along with a lot of dark humor, mostly in the form of jokes that whiz by so fast it’s easy to overlook the attendant cultural commentary.

 Hmmm, dark jokes disguising a possibly serious subtext. Now, isn’t that ironic?

Moviegoing habit offers extra rewards

I've never been much of a joiner. Three years in the army taught me never to volunteer for anything. Yet over the years I have broken that vow more times than I care to remember.

One kind of joining I don't regret involves movie theaters. I'm card-carrying member both of the AMC Stubs program and of the Regal Crown Club, both of which offer benefits to the habitual moviegoer.

Because I see so many movies, I recently amassed $20 in rewards through my Stubs card, which I applied to my "Deadpool" admission — which meant that my wife and I got in essentially free.

Now comes word that if I go to a Regal theater (for me, either NorthTown or the Spokane Valley — though I could drive to the Coeur d'A'lene Riverstone Stadium) this weekend and see "Risen," not only will I receive 2,500 extra credits but I'll also get a free coloring book (titled "Miracles From Heaven").

Click here for more information. And don't forget to bring crayons.