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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

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).

Check out ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ at dusk

I've never minded watching movies alone. When I was in sixth grade, I convinced my mother to let me go and catch a matinee of “The Ten Commandments” at a local theater. It was a Saturday, and I'd been sick for the last couple of school days, so I really had to work hard to convince her. But I did. And as I sat there, alone in the dark watching Charlton Heston part the Red Sea, I was content.

I'm not sure I've ever enjoyed a movie experience more. The fact that I was sick again on Monday and had to stay home was an added treat. (Side note: Mrs. Whang, I still hate you.)

But seeing movies in a crowd can be fun, too, right? I can remember when the U.S. version of “Three Men and a Baby” was released (though I can't remember where I saw it – either the Lincoln Heights Cinemas or the North Division Cinemas, two theaters that closed down long ago). I recall the house was packed and that during one moment – it was when two of the three actors, Ted Danson, Steve Guttenberg and Tom Selleck, change the baby's diapers – the laughter was so loud it drowned out the movie's sound track.

These days the only sounds you're likely to hear in a movie theater not associated with what's happening on-screen are the crinkling-rustling of popcorn bags, people carrying on conversations as if they're in their living room or the sound of a phone going off (yeah, that still actually happens).

Still, under certain conditions, seeing the right movie in public can add to the experience. That, one can hope, will be the case tonight at 7 (which, I guess, is supposed to be the time of “dusk”) when Movies at the Rocket Market screens the 2004 offbeat comedy “Napoleon Dynamite.”

Two things: One, the folks at the Rocket admit that they got the idea from the Perry District summer-movie screenings at The Shop, so give them props for honesty; two, the movie screenings will run through August.

Oh, and they are free.

You can get all the information you need about events at The Rocket by clicking here. But my advice? If you’re interested only in seeing the movie, purchase a copy and see it in the comfort of your own home. If, on the other hand, you’re totally fine with experiencing the movie in a public, outdoor setting, then this might be just the cinematic adventure for you.

One more thing (just for “Napoleon Dynamite” buffs): Maybe bring your Moon Boots. You might want to dance.

Friday’s openings: From boys to Ninja Turtles

Few filmmakers excite the appetite of critics more than Richard Linklater does. Showing both a facility for mainstream (“School of Rock”) and independent film (“Waking Life,” his “Before” trilogy), Linklater is receiving some of the best reviews of his career for his film “Boyhood.” And lucky for area movie fans, “Boyhood” is opening on Friday here in Spokane.

Oh, so are a gaggle of other offerings, from the blockbuster (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”) to the curious (James Cameron's 3D study “Deep Sea Challenge”).

Friday's openings are as follows:

“Boyhood”: In his “Before” series, Linklater links three films over a 14-year period. Here, he follows a character (played by Ellar Coltrane) over a dozen years, from ages 5 through 18 — in real time. As Philadephia Inquirar critic Stephen Rea wrote, “Is it dumb to say, 'Wow'?” … I don't care. Wow.”

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (3D and standard): Reboots are all the rage. And Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle of Los Angeles”) does what he can with our favorite surfer-speak mutant turtles. Whoa, dude, seriously?

“I Origins”: Mike Cahill follows his haunting Sundance darling “Another Earth” with this sic-fi-based look focusing on a scientist (Michael Pitt) who discovers that eyes truly may be a path to the human soul. Even if you don't wear glasses.

“The Hundred-Foot Journey”: Lasse Hallstrom adapts the book about an upstart Indian restaurant opening across the road from a fabled top-flight French eatery run by a demanding chef (Helen Mirren). Go light on the curry, please.

“Into the Storm”: The storm of several centuries hits the big screen, instead of opening on the Syfy channel where such disaster flicks boasting no-name casts typically play.

“Step Up All In” (3D and standard): The movie franchise that helped launch the career of Channing Tatum churns on with a new cast and a sorta new storyline. Let's dance!

“Deepsea Challenge 3D”: James “Size Does Matter” Cameron follows his own self as he braves the depths of the ocean in his Deepsea Challenger submersible. Question: How did he fit that ego in such a small vehicle?

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger”: Joe Berlinger (“Paradise Lost: The Murders at Robin Hood Hills”) documents the story of a former Boston mobster who may, or may not, have been a confidential informer for the FBI. Who to believe, a murderous crook or the government? Hmmmm, hard choice.

(Opening Aug. 15: “Rich Hill”: Winner of the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, this film follows three boys who live in an impoverished Midwestern town.)

Lots to choose from. So go. See a movie. Enjoy.

Don’t eulogize Studio Ghibli just yet

I saw reports on Sunday that Japan's Studio Ghibli, the film studio synonymous both with the world's best anime and the man associated with it — Hayao Miyazaki — was closing. And I read the various eulogies bemoaning the passing.

Turns out the mourning may have been a bit premature. The reports seem to have been based on an interview with the studio's general manager, Toshio Suzuki, that aired on Japanese television. Seems Suzuki used words that were far closer to “reconstruction” — or, in English terms, restructuring — than words referring to any definite closing.

So, maybe the eulogies and cries of anguish were uncalled for. Maybe, since Miyazaki's retirement — which was announced earlier this year — Studio Ghibli is merely rethinking how it does business and will continues to churn our quality films. Whatever happens, Miyazaki himself doesn't seem too disturbed.

And if the studio does close, well, that would be too bad. But we'll always have such films as “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Grave of the Fireflies,” “Princess Mononoke,” “Howl's Moving Castle” and the Oscar-winning “Spirited Away” to comfort us.

That's some solace.

Hoffman’s final turn makes him ‘A Most Wanted Man’

One of the summer's little movie treats is “A Most Wanted Man,” made by the Dutch-born filmmaker Anton Corbijn, who emerged from the music-video world to make the Joy Division biopic “Control” and the downbeat George Clooney project “The American.” Following is the review that I wrote of “A Most Wanted Man” for Spokane Public Radio:

It’s never pleasant to memorialize someone, but the task is made even more difficult when that person was a public figure, had won an immense amount of acclaim and, for reasons involving addictive behavior, ended up dying too young. A two-fold temptation always exists: one involves inflating the impact of the person’s passing – the word “tragedy,” for example, is used far too often; the second, which applies especially to artists, involves exaggerating the legacy that gets left behind.

This is how I have chosen to begin my review of “A Most Wanted Man,” Anton Corbijn’s intense, riveting and darkly ominous adaptation of John Le Carré’s 2008 spy novel. In true Le Carré fashion, Corbijn’s film tells a story of people, some weak, others merely well-intentioned, navigating the dangerous waters of espionage in which lurk the single-minded sharks of political ideology. And standing at the film’s heart is the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

A leading man in a character actor’s body, Hoffman – who died in February of a drug overdose at age 46 – starred in more than 50 films. Moving effortlessly between independent and mainstream projects, he worked for a number of big-name directors, from the Coen Brothers to Paul Thomas Anderson. He earned four Oscar nominations and won for playing the title role in Bennett Miller’s 2005 film “Capote.”

But – and here is where I have to be careful – I would argue that Hoffman pulled off perhaps his greatest performance in Corbijn’s version of “A Most Wanted Man.” I say version because by condensing Le Carré’s 322-page novel into a 122-minute film, Corbijn’s screenwriter – Andrew Bovell – made some necessary changes to Le Carré’s story, the main one involving Hoffman.

Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann, the head of a German counter-espionage group that targets terrorists, such as those who had plotted the events of 9/11 while – to the German government’s embarrassment – living in Hamburg. A blend of rogue agent and instinctual predator, Gunther suspects an international philanthropist of helping fund Islamist terrorism. When a hapless Chechen immigrant stumbles into Hamburg, Gunther sees a chance to set a trap. The Chechen, a Hamburg banker and an altruistic immigration lawyer, all become pawns in Gunther’s plan.

Unlike the book, which splits its attention more equally between the main principals, Corbijn’s film is haunted by Hoffman’s Gunther. Overweight, chain-smoking, drinking at all hours – even while on duty – Gunther is the epitome of a man driven by past failures, by the need to do what he thinks is right even when all notions of right and wrong get twisted by political expediency. He’s a man whose strength of purpose is, ironically, what makes him most vulnerable to the sharks who pose as his allies.

Powerful in every way, and boasting the talents of actors such as Rachel McAdams and Willem Dafoe, “A Man Most Wanted” is fueled by Hoffman’s unique ability to explore the deepest recesses of his character’s soul. That it was his final performance makes his achievement – and I don’t think I’m overstating this, his very legacy – even more worthy of praise.

Friday’s openings: Beyond the ‘Galaxy’

Following Scarlett Johansson's transition into the Internet — setting her up for, hmmm, her role in “Her”? — a sci-fi week-of-sorts continues in the nation's theaters.

Friday's major openings are as follows:

“The Guardians of the Galaxy” (3D, 3D IMAX, standard): An offbeat team of space rogues must stand against dark forces to save the galaxy from a deadly menace … which is shorthand for Marvel Comics' adapting a minor band of characters dating back to 1969 (with a transition in 2008) to these contemporary comic times. Starring Chris Pratt and an almost unrecognizable Zoe Saldana.

“Get on Up”: Chadwick Boseman (“42”) stars as the great funk/soul singer James Brown. The fact that Hollywood felt it had to use the likes of Ice Cube, Pharrell Williams and Mick Jagger to inform contemporary audiences about who the Godfather of Soul was is … well, sad. And for most older audiences, unnecessary.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“The Grand Seduction”: To save itself from financial ruin, a small Newfoundland town tries to seduce a doctor into sticking around. Starring the American Taylor Kitsch and the Irishman Brendan Gleeson, this Canadian film earned four of its country's top movie awards (winning one, Gordon Pinsent for Best Supporting Actor).

Note: I''ve updated this post to include the viewing formats for “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Below: You want to know the real James Brown? Watch the documentary below.

‘Documentary Storm’ weathers well

In running down the ways that people could access “The Staircase,” the crime miniseries that I reviewed below, I found a website that offers free documentaries of all types. It's called Documentary Storm, and it gives you free access — say again, free access — to hundreds of documentaries in 24 different categories from Art to War.

It doesn't have everything (my first search, for “Val Lewton: Man in the Shadows,” was fruitless). But the overall selection does look interesting. I'm going to check it out this very afternoon.

New ‘Mad Max’ will be a Hardy adventure

I'd heard that George Miller was updating — or, you prefer, “revisiting” — his “Mad Max” series. But it wasn't until I saw the first trailer, which screened at the recent San Diego Comic-Con, that I could be sure. Enjoy the trailer, which I've embedded below.

‘The Staircase’ examines U.S. justice

Being a movie fan means that you seek film out wherever you can find it. It used to be that if nothing worthwhile was playing in the theater, you were out of luck. Then in 1961, recently released movies — instead of just oldies — started playing on television. A couple of decades later, home-video was born. And now, with Netflix, Hulu, various On Demand services and more, you can watch pretty much any movie any time you want.

That's what led me to “The Staircase,” an eight-part, six-hour 2004 miniseries that I reviewed for Spokane Public Radio. My review follows:

Being married to a law professor makes me no more of a legal expert than does my obsessive watching of the television show “Law & Order.” What those two pursuits illustrate, though, is my long-held interest in American jurisprudence – especially in how that system is interpreted though television and film.

While mainstream movie theaters have opened little of interest throughout most of July – except, of course, for fans of Michael Bay, Melissa McCarthy and talking apes – I found myself looking for something a bit more mentally stimulating. And that’s how I stumbled upon “The Staircase.”

Actually, one of my wife’s Gonzaga Law School colleagues – Professor Ann Murphy – recommended “The Staircase,” which was released in the U.S. as a 2004 miniseries. And she lent us her copy of the two-DVD set, which comprises eight 45-minute chapters.

French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade – best known for having won an Oscar in 2002 for the Documentary Feature “Murder on a Sunday Morning” – focuses “The Staircase” on a 2001 murder in Durham, North Carolina. Novelist Michael Peterson was accused of killing his wife, Kathleen, whose blood-spattered body was found at the base of a staircase in their home.

While Peterson claimed his wife’s death was an accident, Durham police suspected otherwise. And in short order, they arrested Peterson and tried him for murder. With his cameras haunting Peterson, his family and defense team – led by the charismatic attorney David Rudolf – de Lestrade gives us as much access to the inner workings of the legal process as any fictional narrative. The difference, being, of course that “The Staircase” presents real-life people.

Yet I doubt any credible novelist’s twists, subplots and dramatic discoveries could compete with what de Lestrade gives us. You have the crime itself, which devastates a seemingly happy blended family that includes five children. You have the conflicting expert opinions on whether Kathleen’s death was the result of murder or an accidental fall facilitated by wine and valium. You have questions about Michael’s past, including his connection years earlier with a woman whose manner of death eerily resembled Kathleen’s. You have questions about Michael himself that the prosecution uses as a bludgeon against the defense’s picture of a perfect Peterson marriage. And you have the last-second appearance of an important piece of possibly exculpatory evidence.

All aspects of the case and the movie – which is freely available online – are well documented. And the controversies surrounding both are still being argued, with all parties claiming to reflect the literal truth. De Lestrade has even followed up with a 2013 sequel, “The Staircase II: The Last Chance,” which I haven’t yet seen, that apparently centers on questionable forensics used by the prosecution.

But regardless of the court decision, that search for a so-called truth is what makes “The Staircase” so fascinating. Does such a truth exist? De Lestrade’s movie would seem to answer no. It holds a mirror up to the legal system, and those of us who look tend to see whatever fits our own view of the world.

Friday’s openings: ‘Hercules’ comes on strong

As the slow days of midsummer pass, and we all recover from our Michael Bay mugging, a number of films open in local theaters bearing themes as diverse as Greek mythology, 30-something angst and contemporary spies.

Friday's opening are as follows:

“Hercules” (IMAX 3D, regular 3D and standard format): Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as the Greek demigod. Still not ready for Shakespeare, Johnson takes on watered-down Aeschylus.

“And So It Goes”: Rob Reiner (“When Harry Met Sally”) returns with this senior-centered look at what happens when a working man (Michael Douglas), one, discovers that he is a grandfather and, two, is forced to take care of his preteen granddaughter (Sterling Jerins).

“Wish I Was Here”: Zach Graff (“Garden State”) continues to explore contemporary life, this time documenting the problems of a guy in his mid-30s who is having troubles reconciling his career, family and personal ambitions.

“Lucy”: Scarlett Johansson stars as a woman, used as transport for a valuable chemical, who evolves into a brainiac capable of doing marvelously nasty things to the men who had taken advantage of her. 

“A Most Wanted Man”: The late Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in this adaptation of the John le Carré novel about spies fighting international terrorism.

“The Fluffy Movie”: The comic Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias performs in concert.

And at the Magic Lantern: Nothing new is opening, though it will continue running “Life Itself,” “Belle,” “Ida,” “Snowpiercer” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Special note: AMC Riverpark Square is scheduled to open Richard Linklater's film “Boyhood” on Aug. 15. That's one to definitely put on your personal movie calendar.

‘Tammy’ is an extended series of fat jokes

Thanks to the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Margaret Cho and George Carlin, not to mention the late, great Bill Hicks (NSFW), it's possible to enjoy off-color jokes — otherwise known as politically incorrect humor — because a larger point is being made. In other words, fat jokes — as just one example — aren't just opportunities to laugh at the overweight. They are an opportunity to, maybe, laugh at our overall cultural obsession with looks. Or maybe they're the holding up of a cultural mirror inviting us to reflect on why such nasty humor is appealing. And so on.

Except in Melissa McCarthy movies. I've never watched her sitcom, “Mike and Molly,” so I can't comment on what happens there. But her movies? “Bridesmaids,” which won McCarthy — incredible as it was — an Oscar nomination, shows just how comedically talented the woman is. It uses her stature directly, forcing us to accept her as someone who doesn't fit standard norms of beauty but who still insists on blazing her own original path. And it is hilarious.

But in her succeeding films, “Identity Thief,” “The Heat” and now “Tammy,” the point has been less about the directness of McCarthy's character as it has been about using McCarthy's talents to repeat the same comic schtick over and over. Until, in “Tammy,” it's as if another lame “Saturday Night Live” routine has been adapted to the big screen.

“Tammy” is so stupid a character that she doesn't known who Mark Twain is. She doesn't know the meaning of the word “pattern.” She works at a hamburger joint and she literally has no idea what the Affordable Care Act does. In fact, the movie is so full of stupid and pathetic moments that I can't begin to list them all. The problem is that “Tammy” never actually melds McCarthy's talents (even those mired in her now tired mannerisms) with the overall story, which tries to offer up some sort of life lesson.

As in, apply yourself, get an education, find a job and work hard — no one says anything about not eating Doritos for lunch — and you give yourself a better chance to enjoying a happy life. Duh.

Without ever doing any of those, though, McCarthy's character still manages to attract the attentions of the obligatory love interest (Mark Duplass).All because he sees her inner beauty, don't you know.

The best thing I can say about “Tammy”? It isn't the worst film I've seen this year.

But it's close.

Spielberg’s shark is cousin to these ‘Apes’

I've already commented on “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which is leading the week's box-office. But I thought I'd post the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, if for no other reason than to emphasize how surprised I was at how good it is. A transcript of the review follows:

Summer hasn’t always been a hot season for cinema. In fact, until the July 4th weekend of 1975 – when Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” made it unsafe to visit the beach – summer was considered a bad time to release movies.

These days, other than the Christmas holidays – when Oscar hopefuls vie for attention – summer is the province of blockbuster wannabes. Just ask Michael Bay, who has never seen a summer-movie season he won’t mug with a handycam – which actually emphasizes something: Summer movies don’t usually rank very high on a critic’s quality list.

But Matt Reeves has changed all that. And he’s done it by making a movie about – well, talking apes. And it’s hardly the first one. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a sequel to the franchise reboot of a series dating back to 1968. That’s when the original adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s novel hit the big screen. Four sequels came in quick succession, followed by Tim Burton’s 2001 “reimagining” and this reboot’s 2011 prequel, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

That places Reeves, the talented director both of the alien-invasion flick “Cloverfield” and the vampire variation “Let Me In,” eight films along the storyline progression Boulle envisioned. Despite that late start, though, Reeves has given us one of the best “Apes” films since that moment Charlton Heston roared the memorable line: “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”

What director Franklin J. Schaffner's 1968 film boasted in originality was offset by cheesy special effects. Nearly a half century later the kinds of effects Reeves has access to not only allow him to digitally depict individual talking apes with incredible authenticity but also to create an entire Apes culture.

“Dawn” picks up a decade after “Rise,” when a human-created flu – which scientists brewed up using Apes as breathing petri dishes – has decimated the human population. A band of survivors lives in what is left of San Francisco and is running out of fuel, which has caused their leaders to eye a dam that sits in Apes-controlled territory. Caesar, the genetically evolved ape from “Rise” (played by digitally enhanced Andy Serkis) is the Apes leader – and it is he, with his mixed feelings about humans, who stands between them and members of his own troop who would exterminate anything non-ape.

Like any good summer blockbuster, things in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” blow up real good. Cars, trucks, buildings, downtown San Francisco. But thanks to his screenwriters, especially Mark Bomback, director Reeves has plenty of opportunity to explore intimate moments – between humans, between apes and even inter-species. Sure some of those moments stretch credulity: My three-year-old iPad has trouble firing up in minutes, but a decade-old one in this film powers up in seconds. Right.

Still, no matter. The summer-movie season isn’t about literal truth. It’s about virtual believability. And “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is about as believable, and poignant, as a movie about talking apes could possibly be.

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