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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Sing Street’ may fill you with song

If you haven't yet seen "Sing Street," you might want to read the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

When the painful realities of life come crashing at you, growth tends to follow. That’s the kind of growth that Irish 15-year-old Conor, protagonist of John Carney’s film “Sing Street,” experiences when he is pulled from his Dublin private school and thrown into the relative hell of a state-supported high school called – and here’s where Carney got the title of his film – Synge Street, spelled S-Y-N-G-E.

That name has an obvious double meaning, and it is the other meaning that becomes so important in Conor’s life. After encountering the thugs at his school, from the one that makes him dance in the bathroom to the head priest who makes him walk around school in his socks – seems his shoes don’t fit the school’s uniform requirements – Conor seeks something, anything, for emotional release.

And he finds it in Raphina, a 16-year-old beauty whom he sees standing on a stoop, looking like a glass of champagne in a sea of diet carbonated beverages. Anxious to make a connection, Conor asks Raphina to be in a video he’s making for his band. And, soon enough, she says yes. Only problem: Conor doesn’t have a band.

So he has to form one. Luckily enough, his new friend Darren is a natural enough organizer. And he leads Darren to Eamon, who can play virtually anything. Together, the three summon enough musicians to make up a band that, thanks to his older brother Brendan, Conor has been dreaming about for some time.

And dreaming is something that Conor is good at. This is 1985, times are hard in Dublin, money is tight, Conor’s parents are eternally fighting, and Conor’s only release is the music his brother plays for him – The Cure, Depeche Mode, a-Ha are just a few – and the videos that they both watch on the musical variety “Top of the Pops” show.

What happens next is fairly predictable. Conor’s parents become further estranged, his relationship with Raphina grows complicated, he has continual run-ins with the head priest, he continues to write songs with Eamon and film videos (though, truth be told, the best videos never make it out of his head). And the film builds to an end-of-school-year event at which Conor’s band – which, of course, he dubs Sing Street (S-I-N-G) – gets to perform.

Writer-director Carney is best known this side of the Atlantic for two other films: his 2007 offering “Once,” which an Oscar for Best Song, and 2013’s “Begin Again,” starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. Both films offer a blend of sweet and bitter.

Just as “Sing Street” does. Much of what occurs feels close to what Bill Forsythe gave us in his 1981 film “Gregory’s Girl,” in which a clueless Scottish boy finally gets the girl – even if the bitter is all too real, and Carney’s ending feels more fantastical than, say, an a-Ha video.

The acting, especially from Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Conor and Lucy Boynton as Raphina, is solid enough so that while, in the end, “Sing Street” may cause you to grimace, it may also inspire you to find your own song.

Even if it’s only in the shower.

Friday’s openings: Monsters, money and otherwise

Note: The post below has been edited.

Refusing to challenge the latest Avengers saga, "Captain America: Civil War," Hollywood is opening only two movies this weekend. And neither is likely to bust the box office. Friday's openings are as follows:

"Money Monster": George Clooney plays a TV finance reporter who get waylaid by a gun-toting guy who's lost all his money, and Julia Roberts is his producer. Think "The Big Short" meets "Broadcast News."

"The Darkness": A family returns from vacation only to discover that an evil spirit home has stowed away in the family roadster. Nothing is more irritating, except for that time when dad ran over a skunk.

And at the Magic Lantern?

"Dough": From IMDB: "An old Jewish baker struggles to keep his business afloat until his young Muslim apprentice drops cannabis in the dough and sends sales sky high." So to speak.

The Lantern will be closed Thursday, May 19. On May 20, the theater is scheduled to open "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe." No comment, except for this.

That's the list. So go. See a movie. And have fun.

Key, Peele and the cutest kitty ever

If you haven't yet seen "Keanu," you might want to read the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

No comedy act in recent years has been more astute at satirizing American culture than the one performed by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. For five seasons, the duo wrote and starred in their own Comedy Central show, aptly and simply named “Key & Peele.”

Whether they were poking fun at race, class, gender or sexual orientation – or any combination of the above – they weren’t afraid to tackle common cultural tropes and turn them on their topical heads. Example: the skit “Substitute Teacher,” in which a no-nonsense inner-city teacher moves to a mostly white suburban high school and chastises the students for what he considers their mispronunciation of their own names: Aaron, he says, should be pronounced A-Aron, Jacqueline should be Jay-Kwellen, Blake should be B-Lakay … and so on.

In its better moments, that same sense of lampoonery permeates Key and Peele’s first big-screen teaming, the feature-length comedy “Keanu.” Overly long and, like most skit-comedy sketches stretched past the five-minute mark, it ends up offering too little content to fill its running time. At moments, though, “Keanu” feels inspired.

Key and Peele star as cousins Clarence and Rell, characters – similar to the actors who play them – who are both biracial and nerds to the core. Rell spends most of his time stoned, while Clarence dresses like a J. Crew model and boogies to George Michael’s “Faith” album.

When Rell gets dumped by his girlfriend, Clarence heads over to offer support. But by the time he arrives, Rell has rebounded, having adopted a kitten that could easily win a Cutest-Kitty-Ever contest. Rell names his new pet Keanu – “It means heavenly breeze in Hawaiian,” he explains – and becomes newly distraught when Keanu gets stolen by drug dealers.

This makes the cat the film’s McGuffin, the object sought not only by Clarence and Rell but of at least two bands of bad guys as well. As the cousins search, and find themselves in situations that are as dangerous as they are unfamiliar – especially to the family-van-driving Clarence –  Key and Peele find opportunities to play off the kinds of routines they’ve perfected over the years.

One particularly funny sequence occurs when Clarence, stuck on lookout duty with three gang members, not only is forced to explain why he drives a van (because, he says, it makes him less suspicious to cops) but he is then able to make a case for George Michael being truly OG.

“Keanu” the movies also boasts a lot of filler, from actress Anna Faris making a cameo appearance as herself to the obligatory cliché of clueless but motivated guys proving adept at using firearms. And most of the filler serves merely as a device that allows the cousins to channel their inner-gangsta as a way of finding, then saving, the kitty of Rell’s dreams.

Yet “Keanu” is better than what a lot of veteran “Saturday Night Live” comics have brought to the big screen, no small feat. And Key and Peele will no doubt improve.

They’ll just have to learn to do it without the cat.

SIFF 2016: Here are the movies

Above: The documentary "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You" will screen at 11 a.m. Friday, May 20, at AMC Pacific Place.

This just in: The schedule for the 2016 edition of the Seattle International Film Festival is now online. Here's the accompanying message:

"We're thrilled to announce this year's lineup of films and events for the 42nd annual Seattle International Film Festival. This year, SIFF will screen 421 films representing 85 countries, including 54 World premieres, 56 North American premieres, and 27 US premieres - plus guests, tributes, parties, and more!"

Click here to see the movie treasures. The film below, Woody Allen's "Cafe Society," will screen May 19 during SIFF 2016's Gala Opening.

Friday’s openings redux: Miles of jazz

In addition to the mainstream openings (see below), Friday will feature a second-run showing of the jazz biopic "Miles Ahead" at the Magic Lantern (the film played for a week previously at AMC River Park Square).

"Miles Ahead" stars Don Cheadle as the controversial, talented trumpet player Miles Davis, who died in 1991. Following are some of the critical comments about the film, which Cheadle wrote, directed and starred in:

Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer: "Miles Ahead is more a provocative character sketch than a meaty portrait, but it's a film that should be applauded for its daring, and for Cheadle's shape-shifting, soul-baring work."

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Purists may howl, but they'll also miss the pleasure and point of this playfully impressionistic movie."

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: "Its freeform riffs on highs and lows from the musician's life are a fine example of structure emulating the ever-evolving style of an artist defined by unrelenting experimentation."

Other Magic Lantern news: The theater will be closed Thursday, May 5. On Friday, May 13, the theater is scheduled to open the Danish import "Men & Chicken."

Fridays openings: Superheroes and teen rockers

When superhero movies open, they clearly take precedence — at least in Hollywood's eyes. Which must be why only two mainstream films are opening this week. Friday's openings are as follows:

"Captain America: Civil War": Even the best of friends, and Captain American and Iron Man are hardly that, have their differences. This time, though, those difference lead to … Super War!!! Ain't the movies Mervelous?

"Sing Street": A Dublin lad forms a band to impress the girl he likes. All of which proves that you, too, can be a rock success. (Get it?)

So go, see a movie. And enjoy.

SIFF 2016: Tickets on sale Thursday

I've already written about the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival, which runs from May 19 through June 12. This post is merely to inform readers that the SIFF box office will open to the general public on Thursday, May 5 (it opens a day earlier to SIFF members). Just go to SIFF.net (or merely click here) to get more information.

Not that Seattle needs anything more to brag about, but SIFF is one of the biggest, longest and most user-friendly film festivals in the country, if not the world. The Opening Night Gala, as I've already pointed out, is Woody Allen's "Cafe Society" which stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively. Festival passes and special event tickets are already on sale.

Perhaps most important, click here to see the 2015 A-Z festival lineup. And start drooling.

Linklater looks back with fondness

Richard Linklater knows a lot about growing up. He's made several films that key on that very process, the latest one being "Everybody Want Some!!" Following is the review of Linklater's film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

When Bruce Springsteen sings about those “Glory Days,” he’s not looking back with fondness. He’s lamenting the kind of life that peaks too soon, one that no longer involves being good at baseball, being the attractive one in high school or even just being someone with a steady job.

Filmmaker Richard Linklater is noted for making films that look back. Unlike Springsteen, though, Linklater doesn’t tend to bemoan the experience. In 1993’s “Dazed and Confused,” he remembers the good and the bad – but mostly the good. Same with “Boyhood,” his Oscar-nominated 2014 film that – shot over a dozen years – follows a boy as he progresses through adolescence.

Now we have “Everybody Wants Some!!” Linklater’s nostalgic look at life as, presumably, he experienced it in college. And if the title itself isn’t clue enough that Linklater is far from lamenting anything, the fact that he places not just one but two exclamations points at the end of it certainly does.

Set a few days before college term begins in 1980 – slightly more than four years after the “Dazed and Confused” end-of-high-school party – “Everybody Wants Some!!” centers on Jake (played by Blake Jenner). Arriving on his Texas campus, Jake heads for a house set up especially for the school’s baseball team.

Once there, he is quickly drafted into the testosterone-laced atmosphere of 1980s-era Texas athletics, which includes everything from an I-hate-pitchers attitude (Jake IS a pitcher) to ritualized rule-breaking (from drinking to smoking dope to hosting young women on the taboo second floor) and impromptu philosophizing.

That latter activity is practiced by everyone, whether espousing a coda regarding the correct way to woo women or spotting the secret pro scout who supposedly haunts their every practice – but it is practiced best by the older-and-seemingly-wiser Finnegan (played by Glenn Powell) and the surfer-boy/pothead transfer Willoughby (played by Wyatt Russell, the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn).

Though clearly no pushover, freshman Jake is open to all of it. He’s especially drawn to the charms of another freshman, a performing arts major named Beverly (Zoey Deutch), who – unlike almost all of Linklater’s other films – is the movie’s sole talking/thinking female character.

And that points to the weakness of “Everybody Wants Some!!” Yes, it does portray a campus in which the “Everybody” of the film’s title seems to include women, at least in terms of what they want. Yet other than Beverly, only the guys get to talk about it.

Further, even in Texas, racial issues weren’t exactly unheard of in 1980. Yet other than a few extras, Linklater gives us a sole black character, Dale (played by J. Quinton Johnson). Dale ambles from one sequence to the next – even dancing in a country bar – with no sense of racial resentment. It’s nice to think this could be the case, but it doesn’t exactly reflect reality.

So, yes, “Everybody Wants Some!!” is a loving look back. And, at times, it is hilariously politically incorrect. But we’ve come to expect more from Linklater than a simple, genial recollection of his own “glory days.”

Pre takes the track tonight at The Bing

On anyone's list of the most charismatic runners ever born, Steve Prefontaine would ranks at or near the top. The former University of Oregon runner never won an Olympic medal, but he is among the greatest U.S. runners in history, having once held every U.S. record from 2,000 to 10,000 meters (for those counting, that would be seven different events).

You can learn more about Prefontaine at 7 tonight at the Bing Crosby Theater when the 1997 film "Prefontaine" screens. Runners Don Kardong (who competed with Prefontaine) and Gonzaga University track coach Pat Tyson (who was Prefontaine's college roommate) will be on hand to share their memories.

As for the movie, which was directed by "Hoop Dreams" director Steve James, a pre-Oscar Jared Leto stars as the title character. Here are some critical comments:

Mike Clark, USA Today: "The Super-16mm film stock gives the film a grainy look that blends in artfully with the vintage videotape of ABC's '72 Olympics coverage."

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Here is a sports movie in the tradition of the best sportswriting, where athletes are portrayed warts and all. You do not have to be nice to win races, but you have to be good."

Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle: "With hypnotic blue eyes and dirty blond hair, Leto captures the rock-star style Prefontaine affected, and he looks natural in fiery performances on the track, as well as off, where Pre affected a brash, confrontational style."

The screening is part of The Inlander's Suds & Cinema series. Admission is $5, and beer is $5 more.

SIFF 2016: Seattle plays host to world cinema

Long before every city, town village and burg organized its own film festival, a few such movie events attracted movie fans from all over. One of the most user-friendly was born 280-some miles west of Spokane in 1976. You can read a condensed history of the Seattle International Film Festival by clicking here.

From those humble beginnings, SIFF has transformed into a 25-day extravaganza featuring 100s of feature and documentary films, shorts and a year-round program of the best independent and foreign cinema imaginable.

The 2016 edition of SIFF begins May 19 and runs through June 12. Ticket packages and passes are on sale now, especially to the Opening Night Gala — Woody Allen's "Cafe Society," which stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively.

Even if you don't make the opening night, SIFF boasts a lot of good cinema during its near-month-long run. Plan a weekend and head west to experience one of the better films festivals in not just the country — but in the world.

Friday’s openings redux: Killers galore

Friday's final movie bookings are in, and we have two films — two similarly ultra-violent films — to add to the mainstream list (at least at AMC River Park Square):

"Term Life": When a heist he planned goes horribly wrong, a guy (Vince Vaughn in a bad hairdo) finds himself the target of both killer cops and killer … well, killers.

"Green Room": When a punk band witnesses a murder, the members must fight for their lives. They should have been happy with the brown M&Ms.

Friday’s openings: Kitties, robots and mommies

What with the weather switching from summer to fall and back again, usually all in one morning, the only dependably climate-controlled spot to seek out is in a movie theater. Friday's schedule opening are as follows:

"Keanu": Television won't be the same without Key & Peele, the Comedy Central duo who are now making movies. Their first team effort, this comedy about a couple of regular guys who adopt a kitty, see it get kidnapped by an urban gang and fight to retrieve it. Meooowwww, indeed.

"Ratchet & Clank": Straight from your kid's PlayStation, this game-originated, animated space duo must fight a villain bent on destroying every planet in the galaxy. It's a kids' world.

"Mother's Day": Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson and others star in this rom-com about three generations coming together to celebrate the day of the title. Are flowers and a card enough?

I'll have the official list, plus the Magic Lantern, when it's available.

Late note: The Magic Lantern will open the fashion/art documentary "The First Monday in May," which is a study of — according to Rotten Tomatoes — "The Metropolitan Museum of Art's most attended fashion exhibition in history, 'China: Through The Looking Glass,' an exploration of Chinese-inspired Western fashions by Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton."

Prince’s “Purple Rain” returns to the big screen

If you’re mourning the loss of Prince, who died Thursday at the age of 57, you now have a chance to see the icon at the peak of his powers.

“Purple Rain,” the rock musical that helped rocket Prince to superstardom, is returning to big screens for a limited engagement, and Spokane’s AMC River Park Square location is one of 87 theaters set to show the film.

Shot in Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, the semi-autobiographical film follows a struggling musician known simply as the Kid, who finds an escape from a troubled home life in the city’s lively rock scene. The story is a standard backstage melodrama, but “Purple Rain” is really worth seeing for its electric concert sequences and for its soundtrack, which features such classics as “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “I Would Die 4 U” and the title tune.

“Purple Rain” was an unexpected smash when it was released in the summer of 1984, becoming one of the highest grossing movies of the year and garnering critical adulation (it turned up on both Gene Siskel’s and Roger Ebert’s year end top 10 lists). Its accompanying soundtrack album spawned four Top 10 hits and earned Prince an Oscar and two Grammys; Entertainment Weekly recently named it the second greatest album of all time, behind only the Beatles’ “Revolver.”

The film will screen at 1:45 p.m. and 7 p.m. from Saturday through Thursday. Advance tickets can be purchased at amctheatres.com.

Friday’s openings (redux): Hanks and Miles

In addition to the two films mentioned below, Friday's movie openings include a biopic of jazz great Miles Davis, a new film from German director Tom Tykwer and another period-piece American study from Richard Linklater. The week's openings follow:

"Miles Ahead": Don Cheadle portrays Miles Davis, who for all his troubles — self-made and otherwise — was a genius on the jazz trumpet. Either way, he was kind of blue.

"A Hologram for the King": Tom Hanks portrays a man, trying to rebuild his life, whose job requires him to sell a new technology to the king of Saudi Arabia. Directed by the man who gave us "Run Lola Run."

"Everybody Wants Some!!": Linklater ("Dazed and Confused") follows the exploits of a college baseball team. Expect the same mix of sex, drugs and more than a bit of rock 'n' roll.

And at the Magic Lantern? Second-run openings of "Midnight Special" and "Hello, My Name Is Doris."

Friday’s openings: Strange tales from the past

A fictional prequel to a well known fairy tale and a fictional reimagining of a modern tale of weirdness highlight Friday's main movie releases. A tentative look at the week's main movie openings follows:

"The Huntsman: Winter's War": Taking place long before the events covered in "Snow White and the Huntsman," the world is split between two sisters — the narcissistic blond with that magic mirror and the ice queen (who, what?, emerged from "Frozen"). My favorite critical quote so far: "If all else fails, at least it’s a movie smart enough to know that, frankly, you can’t beat Charlize Theron, covered in gold, shooting lethal spiky tentacles out of her midriff."

"Elvis & Nixon": Yes, it's true that Elvis Presley did once visit President Richard Nixon in the White House. It's likely, though, that the meeting was nothing like what occurs in this film starring Michael Shannon as Elvis and Kevin Spacey as the president.

I'll have the whole lineup, including the Magic Lantern, when it's finalized.