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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

‘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.

Fridays openings: Race relations and short docs

Note: This post has been updated since this morning.

We're only a couple of weeks from the 2016 Oscars broadcast, so the big movie news of the week comes from the Magic Lantern, which continues its preview of some of the nominated categories. The week's openings are as follows:

"Race": This movie's title offers up a double meaning as it tells the story of Jesse Owens, the black athlete who fought prejudice to participate in the 1936 Olympics. Take that, Adolph!

"Risen": We see the story of Jesus' resurrection as told through the eyes of a Roman tribune. Someone stole the plotline from "Hail, Caesar!"

"The Witch": It's 1630, we're in New England and a family is ripped apart by dark forces. And, no, not flying monkeys.

"Snowtime": Winter means the neighborhood engages in a snowball fight. Snow the way I like it best: animated.

"The Lady in the Van": Maggie Smith plays the title character, who is befriended by a resident of the English village she settles in. Don't tell the folks at Downton Abbey.

And at the Magic Lantern (which continues Oscar nominees "Brooklyn," "Carol," "Room" and the nominated live-action and animated shorts):

The Oscar-nominated Documentary Shorts Programs: Two programs, Part A consisting of three films (from Liberia, Pakistan and the U.S.), Part B consisting of two films (from the U.S./Vietnam, and the U.S.).

More mainstream films might open. I'll update when I can. 

‘Hail, Caesar!’ is amusing — slightly

Some of us get excited when the Coen brothers have a new film out. You may be one of us. If so, you might be interested in the review that I wrote of their new release, "Hail, Caesar!" for Spokane Public Radio. Following is a transcription: 

One of the best quotes about the movie business came from the pen of screenwriter William Goldman. In his book “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” Goldman said the following: “Nobody knows anything… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.”

I thought of that quote the other day as I sat through a screening of the Coen brothers movie “Hail, Caesar.” As the movie wore on, and I was only occasionally amused, I continued to wonder what the Coens were up to.

It wasn’t the first time. Joel and Ethan Coen have been making movies since 1984, when a dark little neo-noir called “Blood Simple” hit the big screen. Since then they’ve emerged from the fringe of the film industry and become a member of Hollywood’s A-list. Winners of four Oscars, including a Best Picture statuette for 2008’s “No Country for Old Men,” the Coens have written, produced and directed a number of films that would make most the top 100 list of most film fans. But along with “Fargo” and “The Big Lebowski,” they’ve also given us “The Ladykillers” and “Intolerable Cruelty.”

As Goldman says, every time out moviemaking is a guess. And for the Coens, the guess about “Hail, Caesar” is that this time they’ve given us little more than a slight amusement.

“Hail, Caesar,” it turns out, is the title of a wannabe biblical blockbuster being produced by an MGM-type movie studio called Capitol Pictures. Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin) is the studio head, and he’s busy day and night putting out small fires – whether they involve an unmarried movie star who is pregnant or quashing rumors involving another star’s shady past – before they become bonfires of controversy.

In the midst of “Hail, Caesar’s” production, studio star Baird Whitlock (played by George Clooney) gets kidnapped by a mysterious group that calls itself The Future. They want $100,000 – and maybe more. Mannix sets out to fix things – that’s what he does – even as he considers changing careers (he’s been given a generous offer to become the head of Lockheed Aircraft, which the head-hunter assures him is the wave of the future).

But that’s only the main storyline. We also meet Hobie Doyle, a Western star (played by Alden Ehrenreich) who is being groomed to become the least capable romantic lead imaginable. We meet DeeAnna Moran (played by Scarlett Johansson), an Esther Williams-type performer who needs Mannix’s help. We meet the twin-sister gossip columnists (both played by Tilda Swinton). We even meet the members of The Future itself, all of whom fit the profile of the proverbial Fellow Traveler.

But through it all – including a spirited musical number featuring Channing Tatum that is as clever as it is homoerotic – one question lingers: What does it all mean? Have the Coens crafted a biting satire? Is this a love letter to classic Hollywood? Is it both? Neither? I wish I could say.

Maybe William Goldman knows.

SpIFF 2016: The audience applauds

Above: Rich Hinz co-stars in Shirlyn Wong's film "The Mobile Stripper."

And, finally, the audience has its say. Following my posting of the juried awards for the films screened at the 2016 Spokane International Film Festival, now come the audience awards (courtesy of SpIFF co-director Adam Boyd). They are as follows:

Best Animated Short: "If I Was God"

Best Documentary: "Landfill Harmonic"

Best Feature: "My Internship in Canada"

Best Short: "Marty"

Best International Short: "Crevette"

Best of the NW Short: "The Mobile Stripper"

Best of the NW Feature: "The Glamour and the Squalor"

By the way, Boyd reports that Jason McKee's short "Marty" received 93 percent of the votes for its screening. McKee also was the jury pick for Best of NW Filmmaker.

SpIFF 2016: Here are the award-winners

Above: Fred Ewanuick and Chelah Horsdal star in O. Corbin Saleken's feature film "Patterson's Wager."

In case you missed it, here are the juried award winners from the 2016 Spokane International Film Festival, which finished its run Saturday (the audience favorites are still being compiled):

Best Feature: "Patterson's Wager"

Best Documentary: "Circus Without Borders"

Best Short Film (Gold): "Listen"

Best Short Film (Silver): "Big Boy"

Best Animated Short: "Otto"

Best NW Feature: "Frank and the Wondercat"

Best of NW Short (Gold):  "The Mobile Stripper"

Best of NW Short (Silver): "The Mayor of Ballard"

Best of NW Filmmaker (presented by STCU): Jason McKee

Most Promising Filmmaker: Travis Lien

That's it for 2016. Many thanks to the events sponsors, especially STCU and Eastern Washington University. SpIFF co-directors Adam Boyd and Pete Porter deserve special recognition, as does Volunteer of the Year Kendra Ann Sherrill.

Next up: SpIFF 2017.

Special note: Along with my "Movies 101" cohosts, I had the honor of presenting "Patterson's Wager" when it played at The Bing. As someone who is a special fan of writer-director O. Corbin Saleken, a double-winner at the 2012 SpIFF, I was happy to see his film win the festival's top award. A sweet blend of fantasy and romance, "Patterson's Wager" boasts one of the more pleasing endings of any film I've ever seen. A festival highlight, the film left everyone who walked out of The Bing feeling better for having experienced it. Let's hope this is just the beginning of Corbin's career, and that he returns to Spokane soon.

Lantern to present ‘Son of Saul’ Feb. 26

It'll probably screen too late to help you win your office Oscar pool, but the Magic Lantern just announced that it will open the Oscar-nominated Foreign Language film "Son of Saul" on Friday, Feb. 26. The Oscars broadcast will follow on Sunday, Feb. 28.

"Son of Saul," which is Hungary's Oscar entry and which won the juried Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, is perhaps the overall favorite in a field that includes France's "Mustang," Jordan's "Theeb," Colombia's "Embrace of the Serpent" and Denmark's "A War." In fact, one website — Indiewire.com — says the "Son of Saul" … "definitely seems like the film to beat here."

Rottentomatoes.com, which gives "Son of Saul" a 95 percent Tomatometer rating among critics, describes writer-director ' film this way: "In this searing drama, a concentration camp inmate tasked with burning the dead discovers the body of his young son, and must choose between participating in the clandestine uprising being planned among the prisoners, or securing a proper Jewish burial for his child." 

Here are some of the more sterling reviews:

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: "Nemes has made a gripping film almost entirely free of movie heroics or placating visual strategies. It's not an easy experience. Nor should it be."

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "Finally, a cinematic genre heretofore mired in pietistic melodrama and safe aesthetic distance has been blown open and virtually reinvented, even the well-known contours of its subject matter reinvested with urgency, meaning and mournful honesty."

Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly: "It's impossible to be a lover of cinema without having been down this road before in films like Schindler's List and The Pianist. But Nemes is telling his story in a revolutionary new way — and it's devastating."

It isn't feel-good "Brooklyn," which has been attracting audiences to the Lantern for weeks now. But it is another sign of the theater's ongoing attempt to bring the best cinema possible to Spokane.

Friday’s openings (redux): Michael Moore returns

In addition to the mainstream openings outlined in the post immediately below, I add the following:

"45 Years": Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay star as a long-married couple who are forced to face an incident from the past that threatens to disrupt their long union. Rampling is an Oscar nominee for Best Actress.

"Where to Invade Next": Michael Moore's latest documentary has the filmmaker "invading" other countries to see what qualities he can import back to the good ol' U.S. of A.

Also, AMC will open the Oscar-nominated animated and live-action short films (which are already screening at the Magic Lantern).

That should be the whole of it. So go. See a movie. And enjoy yourselves.

Friday’s openings: Deranged superhero, dimwitted supermodel

In anticipation of a specific listing from local theaters, here are the scheduled national movie openings:

"Deadpool" (IMAX and standard): Ryan Reynolds fills the titular role, that of a former soldier/mercenary who — because of a rogue experiment — has developed powers that include accelerated healing powers. Now he's on the trail of the man who nearly killed him. Expect your typical gaggle of Reynolds gaglines.

"How to be Single": Dakota Johnson ("Fifty Shades of Grey") and Rebel Wilson ("Pitch Perfect") attempt to learn how to do what the film's title suggests. Things to learn: how to cure a hangover.

"Zoolander 2": Formerly the world's leading male supermodel, but now sadly out of fashion, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and his pal Hansel (Owen Wilson) are recruited to find the person who is murdering the world's most beautiful people. No Mensa card require for admittance.

And at the Magic Lantern: Opening a Spokane second run of "Carol," reopening the Oscar-nominated "Mustang" and "Room" and continuing other Oscar nominees "Brooklyn" and the live-action and animated short films.

I'll post any changes as they are announced.

Netflix’s ‘Miss Simone’ explains what happened

While you might want to catch the penultimate night of the Spokane International Film Festival, you can always put the Oscar-nominated documentary feature "What Happened, Miss Simone" on your Netflix queue. To catch your interest, I reviewed the film for Spokane Public Radio. Following is a transcription of my review:

While the name Nina Simone may sound familiar, it’s doubtful that anyone other than a few die-hard fans of Simone’s singular blend of jazz, blues and soul could name a single tune performed by the late singer-songwriter.

That may change as Liz Garbus’  Oscar-nominated documentary feature “What Happened, Miss Simone” receives more attention. And it may occur even if the film doesn’t beat out the other four Academy Award documentary contenders. It is, after all, available to anyone who subscribes to Netflix.

If this happens, it would bring a bit of justice back to the world – the kind of justice that, for a variety of reasons, was denied to Simone during her lifetime.

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, the sixth offspring of a North Carolina handyman, the woman who would take the stage name Nina Simone was a child prodigy. She began playing the piano at age 3, and her early interest – after learning to accompany her local church services – was in becoming a classical pianist.

That path changed when, after being turned down by a prestigious musical conservatory, she ended up playing piano for $90 a week in an Atlantic City nightclub. Required also to sing, which she had never done, Simone – who adopted the pseudonym so that her mother would not know she was performing “the Devil’s music” – gradually developed the unique style that would lead to her one day being dubbed the “High Priestess of Soul.”

By the late 1950s, and into the mid-’60s, Simone would achieve popularity both through her recordings – which included her Billboard Chart-topping version of the Gershwin tune “I Love You, Porgy” – and appearances on stage and on television. By then, Simone was showing the strain caused both by the pressures of her busy career and by the abusive relationship she had with her second husband, a former New York police detective – abuse that the artist’s own daughter, one of the documentary’s producers, confirms.

Simone’s popularity waned, even as she was personally energized in the late ’60s by the civil rights movement. Her political stance led her to create some powerful music, but it stalled her appeal to a wider audience. By 1970, exhausted and perhaps even then showing signs of what would later be diagnosed as bipolar disorder, Simone left the U.S., her marriage and, for a time, her career. She lived abroad for much of the next two decades, for a time in Liberia, before finally settling in France where she resumed performing. Simone died, following a bout with breast cancer, in 2003.

Garbus portrays much of this through an effective use of stock footage and by including selections from Simone’s personal diary. And though critic Tanya Steele for one has criticized Garbus for focusing on Simone’s emotional problems, instead of keying solely on the genius that made her music unique, “What Happened, Miss Simone” does serve a necessary purpose. Much as “Amy,” Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-nominated documentary does for Amy Winehouse, it ensures that Simone’s legacy, both as a woman and an artist, won’t be soon forgotten.

SpIFF 2016: Canadian diversity and Japanese whales

Way back at the turn of the century, when Bob Glatzer ran what he called the Spokane Northwest International Film Festival, SNIFF (as we smilingly called it) used to play a lot of Canadian films. Now that the contemporary version of the festival is in being held, and is in its last three days, it's worthwhile noting that a Canadian influence still exists.

Tonight's two screenings at the 2016 Spokane International Film Festival (SpIFF), both of which are playing at the Magic Lantern Theater, are:

"My Internship in Canada" (6:30 p.m.): In the spirit of international diversity, this French-Canadian political comedy explores what happens when an astute Haitian political science student accepts an internship with an independent member of parliament in Northern Quebec and finds himself in the middle of a governmental firestorm. In French with English subtitles.

"The Name of the Whale" (7 p.m.): A Japanese film focusing on a young boy's summer in which great changes occur involving a sick grandfather, his mother's new partner, the departure of a friend and a school project involving looking for whale fossils. In Japanese with English subtitles.

For more information, click here.

SpIFF 2016: Teens in trouble

And now, with four days to go, I present tonight's lineup for the 2016 Spokane International Film Festival. Both film porgrams are screening at the Magic Lantern Theater:

"Bridgend" (6:30 p.m.): Based on real events, this film — shot in Wales — follows a young woman and her father who come to live in a small village that has been rocked by a succession of teen suicides. A first effort by Danish filmmaker Jeppe Rønde, it won three awards at the Tribeca Film Festival.

A program of U.S. and Canadian short films (7 p.m.): Five shorts, including the zombie flick "Love Is Dead." NOTE: This showing is sold out.

For more information, click here.

Spiff 2016: Cats and (not in) shorts

The 2016 Spokane International Film Festival continues tonight with a pair of screenings. They are as follows:

"Frank the Wondercat" (6:30 p.m.): This U.S. documentary explores the life of Frank Furko, an 80-year-old Pittsburgh man, and his 20-pound performing cat, Pudgie Wudgie.

World Shorts Program (7 p.m.): A collection of international shorts from Australia, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany and Switzerland. NOTE: This program is sold out.

For further festival information, click here.

Friday’s opening: Coens, Sparks and zombies

And now for the non-festival movie openings. We can wrap up the expectations in one word: Coen. Friday's openings are as follows:

"Hail, Caesar!": When a mysterious group kidnaps a studio's big star, stalling production on their latest blockbuster, the studio head has to find a way to fix the problem. The newest by the Coen brothers, so expect a bit of satire.

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies": When Elizabeth Bennet does her dance with Mr. Darcy, a band of zombies interrupt the sophisticated proceedings. One of the restless undead is no doubt Jane Austen.

"The Choice": Young love is interrupted by a serious car accident. Two words: Nicholas Sparks.

And at the Magic Lantern:

The Oscar-nominated Animated Shorts: Five nominees, including the obligatory Pixar effort, plus four other animated shorts.

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

SpIFF 2016: A road trip in 1835

Before we get to what's opening in mainstream movie theaters this week, let's check out tonight's schedule for the 2016 Spokane International Film Festival. Both screenings will be at the Magic Lantern Theater.

"Aferim!" (6:30 p.m.): The year is 1835, and two riders in search of a a run-away slave encounter a variety of contrasting cultures that make up Eastern Europe. In Romanian, Turkish, and Romany with English subtitles

"Animation Showcase" (7 p.m.): Films from Canada, Finland, Germany, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia and Spain, all with English subtitles. NOTE: This screening has been sold out.

SpIFF 2016 continues through Saturday. Get your tickets now.