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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

Friday’s openings: African kings and early humankind

So, finally we're heading into 2018 all by itself. No leftover 2017 films (except for those playing at the Magic Lantern), just films from the new year. And the openings on Friday's national schedule are:

"Black Panther": Chadwick Boseman stars as the title character, the superhero alter ego of an African king who is forced to fight against enemies who would threaten his homeland. Not the story of Huey Newton.

"Early Man": "Wallace & Gromit" creator Nick Park brings his claymation technique to this story of early humankind, when a guy named Dug is forced to fight against a dastardly lord who is threatening his tribe. Also, no Huey Newton.

"Samson": Hunky Taylor James stars as the biblical character who ends up duped by Delilah and, ultimately, is forced to fight against enemies who threaten his homeland. Have I taken the joke far enough?

I'll update as the local theaters, including the Magic Lantern, update their listings.  

SpIFF 2018: One legend and a closing party

And, finally, we arrive at the end of the 2018 Spokane International Film Festival. Tonight's program features not only the documentary "Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey," which screens at 7:30, but also the closing-night party at the Montvale Events Center.

The party will begin following the screening (about 9:30 p.m.) Here's my review of tonight's documentary, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Fred Beckey wasn’t the kind of guy you necessarily would want to have had standing on your doorstep, asking for a favor – a place to crash, say, even if only in your backyard.

But if you were stuck on the side of a mountain, he was someone you’d probably want tethered to the other end of your line.

Why? Because he knew better than most how to get to the summit. Jim Donini, former president of the American Alpine Club, said that Beckey knew “more about the mountains of North American than anyone who has ever lived.”

Donini is one of several people that documentary filmmaker Dave O’Leske interviewed for his film “Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey,” which plays tonight at 7:30 at the Bing Crosby Theater and which closes out the 2018 Spokane International Film Festival.

What O’Leske’s film makes clear is that Beckey, who died in October at the age of 94, never passed up an opportunity to live his life exactly as he wanted.

And the life Beckey wanted was one that allowed him to climb every mountain he could find. Just for the record, he climbed a lot over his seven-decade career, managing to achieve more first ascents than any other American mountaineer.

He also lived an existence that was uncompromising, one that earned him a number of descriptors, from “maverick” to the “dirtbag” of the film’s title, the definition of which is “a person who dedicates her or his entire existence to the pursuit of climbing, making ends meet using creative means. Often found living near major climbing destinations, the dirtbag is a rebel with a cause who finds happiness in nature."

How creative was Beckey at making ends meet? He lived a largely itinerant life, living out of his car for extended periods, scrabbling for what he needed, whether that be food, gas or lodging. In one shot, O’Leske pictures Beckey holding a sign that says, “Will belay for food,” followed by three exclamation points!

Beckey also depended on the support given to him by friends, some of whom he would cut ties with when they would – or could – no longer accompany him. Throughout the film, O’Leske interviews person after person who shares tales of how Beckey – a lively, addictive and magnetic personality – would sacrifice everything, including enduring relationships, in his quest to conquer yet another peak.

Eric Bjornstad, one of Beckey’s many climbing partners, summed the man up this way: “Just a one-track mind, most of the time. If it wasn’t on women, it was on climbing.”

And though largely unknown by the public at large, Beckey – to the end of his life – remained one of those climbers whose legendary status persists among his peers, many of whom have gone on to fame and fortune.

In chronicling Beckey’s life, which took O’Leske a decade to do, he depends on the interviews, archival film footage, the occasional animated sequence and one-on-one sessions with the famously reclusive climber himself.

The result is fascinating study both of a man and the mountain-climbing mania that drove him.

SpIFF 2018: Straight from Tehran and more

And the 2018 Spokane International Film Festival comes down to the final two days. And maybe the best is still to come. Tonight's features at the Magic Lantern are:

"Tehran Taboo" (6:30 in the 100-seat house): The sex lives of a prostitute, a musician and two young women intersect in this harsh, animated look at modern Iranian life. "All told, it’s an audacious debut" (Hollywood Reporter).

U.S. and Canada Shorts (6:45 p.m. in the 33-seat house): "The Ragman — a Hobo's Story Untold" (:16, U.S.), "The Devil Needs a Fix" (:10, U.S.), "Game" (:14, Canada), "Swim" (:12, U.S.), "It's Just a Gun" (:14, U.S.), "The Curtain" (:17, Canada), "This Place Called Nuka — Courting Adventure in Wild Alaska" (:22, U.S.).

For ticket information, click here.

SpIFF 2018: This UFO mystery is ‘Endless’

Three days are left to enjoy the 2018 Spokane International Film Festival. And tonight's movie offerings, which will screen at the Magic Lantern, offer another quality filmgoing experience.

"The Endless" (6:30 p.m. in the 100-seat house): Two brothers, having escaped a UFO cult a decade before, are tempted to return — only to face a mystery they have to solve before it's too late. "[A] rich banquet of mind-bending weirdness" (Variety).

Animation Showcase (6:45 p.m. in the 33-seat house): "Hedgehog's Home" (:10, Croatia/Canada), "Catherine" (:12, Belgium), "The Talk: True Stories About the Birds & the Bees" (:9, Canada), "Threads" (:9, Norway/Canada), "Darrel" (:3, Spain), "CORP" (:9, Argentina), "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön" (:12, Netherlands), "I Like Girls" (:8, Canada), "Min Börda" (:15, Sweden).

Tickets are still on sale for Friday's 7:30 p.m. screening of "Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey" at The Bing Crosby Theater. Access SpIFF ticket information here.

SpIFF 2018: Foils and outdoor fun

As the 2018 Spokane International Film Festival enters its second half, two films are on the schedule for tonight's screenings at the Magic Lantern. They are:

"The Fencer" (6:30 p.m. in the 100-seat house): An Estonian in trouble with the Russian secret police fencer returns home and must face the music. "This sweetly told, ’50s-set Estonian drama is essentially ‘School of Rock’ with swords instead of guitars" (The Guardian).

"Expedition Alaska" (6:45 p.m. in the 33-seat house): Teams race through 350 miles of Alaska's roughest terrain. "As much of a challenge as the race was for the competitors, it was equally daunting for the filmmakers behind the documentary" (REI at the Movies).

Click here for SpIFF ticket information.

Friday’s openings redux: Oscar dons its shorts

And the word is in: Along with the movies already announced, the two programs of Oscar-nominated shorts — animated and live-action — will open on Friday.

Oscar-nominated animation shorts: "Dear Basketball," "Garden Party," "Lou," "Negative Space," "Revolting Rhymes" (plus three other films to round out to an estimated 83-minute-long program).

Oscar-nominated live-action shorts: ""DeKalb Elementary," "The Eleven O'Clock," "My Nephew Emmett," "The Silent Child," "Watu Wote/All of Us" (estimated 93-minute-long program).

Also, for those who missed out seeing all the Oscar-nominated feature-film performances, the Magic Lantern on Friday will open second-run screenings of "Call My by Your Name" and "I, Tonya." The Lantern continues "Lady Bird," "The Shape of Water" and "Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

Note: The trailer embedded below includes the Oscar-nominated documentary shorts, which will NOT be opening.

Friday’s openings: Dangers on a train

Heroism and lustfulness — which aren't always mutually exclusive themes — will be on tap when Friday's movies debut. The national release schedule for Friday is as follows:

"The 15:17 to Paris": Clint Eastwood re-creates the events that occurred on a French train when a number of passengers, including three American off-duty soldiers, tackled a man intent on killing as many passengers as possible. Eastwood's conceit: He cast his film with the real participants (though not the gumnan, obviously).

"Fifty Shades Freed": The final (one hopes) entry in the film series based on the books by British author E.L James. Bring a cold towel.

"Peter Rabbit": An animated adaptation of Beatrix Potter's tale of a rascally rabbit. Elmer Fudd need not apply.

SpIFF 2018: Shorts and a documentary feature

Hard to believe, but we're already at the midway point of the 2018 Spokane International Film Festival. Those attending this year's festival already have enjoyed the opening-night screening of "Benny & Joon" at The Bing Crosby Theater and two days of programming at the Magic Lantern.

SpIFF 2018 continues tonight at the Lantern with two concurrent programs:

"No Man's Land" (6:30 p.m. in the 100-seat house): Documentary filmmaker David Byars had his cameras inside the compound of Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge when it was occupied by a group of armed militants protesting the national government's policies regarding public lands. As IMDB describes it, Byars' film "documents the occupation from inception to its dramatic demise and tells the story of those on the inside of this movement — the ideologues, the disenfranchised, and the dangerously quixotic, attempting to uncover what draws Americans to the edge of revolution."

World Shorts (6:45 p.m. in the 33-seat house): Six films from as many countries, ranging in length from four to 24 minutes, highlight this program. Themes range from a young UK woman fighting to control her life following her father's arrest to an elderly man from a remote part of India facing what could be his final days.

For ticket information, click here.

SpIFF 2018 begins Friday with a local feel

One of the values of a film festival is its power to highlight the work of filmmakers in its home region. That's one of the thing the Spokane International Film Festival has been known for since its inception.

The 20th versions of SpIFF commences at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Bing Crosby Theater with a program of short films, all of which were crafted by area filmmakers. They include two winners from Spokane's annual 50 Hour Slam, a couple of depictions of life during World War II, a memoir of Native American experience and even a half-hour sci-fit story.

You can access the entire 2018 SpIFF schedule here.

Note to those who buy tickets at the last minute: The eight-day festival will open and close (Feb. 9) at the 750-seat Bing, where plenty of tickets are available. The intervening six days will hold screenings at the Magic Lantern, where tickets are limited and going fast.

SpIFF 20 opens Friday with ‘Benny & Joon’

In terms of mainstream theaters, the only new film is one I've already announced, the would-be, based-on-a-true-story work of horror "Winchester." Also, AMC River Park Square is bringing back "The Greatest Showman" in IMAX.

 Yet that's hardly all the coming week will feature for area film fans. Beginning Friday, one of Spokane's annual cinematic events will begin. The 20th Spokane International Film Festival will commence an eight-day run with two screenings at the Bing Crosby Theater.

A program of short films, "Best of the Northwest," will screen at 5:30 p.m. And a presentation of "Benny & Joon," a 1993 film that was shot in Spokane, will follow at 8.

The opening-night festivities will conclude with a post-screening party beginning at 9:30 at the Montvale Event Center (MEC), 1017 W. First Ave.

From Feb. 3 through 8, movies will be screened at the Magic Lantern. The closing-night program, which will feature a premiere 7:30 screening, again at The Bing, of the documentary "Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey" and a closing-night part at the MEC

A full festival schedule and ticket-ordering information can be found here.

Friday’s openings: ‘Winchester’ houses horror

Scary movies have been around since almost the beginning of film. Certainly the Germans realized this, and directors such as F.W. Murnau put the genre to good use.

In recent years, horror has become more closely linked with real experience. As in the variations gestations of "The Amityville Horror" and "The Conjuring" franchise. But there's a difference between movies that are based on a true story and those that contend they are replicating the source story.

One of the former opens on Friday. It carries a simple title:

"Winchester": Helen Mirren plays the heir to the Winchester arms manufacturer fortune, and she has built a house full of mazes and stairwells to nowhere as a way to appease the spirits of all killed by the famous weapons that bear her family's last name. Oh, shoot!

I'll update when the area theaters finalize their listings.

‘Phantom Thread’: a master’s study in discordance

Following is an edited version of the review of "Phantom Thread" that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

No American filmmaker is more of an artist than Paul Thomas Anderson. In the eight films Anderson has directed over the past 20 years, he has shown an original touch that verges, at times, on actual bravado.

Think of “Boogie Nights,” an epic look at one man’s striving for success in – of all things – the porn industry. Or “Magnolia,” Anderson’s contemplation of the human experience that climaxes biblically with a literal rain of frogs. Or his masterpiece “There Will Be Blood,” in which the protagonist – Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview – is a resolutely self-centered bastion of pure greed.

And now we have “Phantom Thread,” a film that was recently nominated for six Academy Awards, including three of the most prestigious: Best Picture, Best Actor – again for Day-Lewis – and Best Director. All this despite, typical of Anderson, the film’s being something that doesn’t fit easily into anyone’s idea of what a mainstream movie should be.

To be clear, there is little about “Phantom Thread” that is standard.

Set in 1950s London, when England is still rebuilding from the war and not quite ready for the coming “chic” fashions of Carnaby Street, “Phantom Thread” focuses on Reynolds Woodcock, a dressmaker who has long clothed the British upper classes, those with money, those of nobility and even the occasional member of royalty.

When we first meet Reynolds, he is in the process of disposing of his latest muse, a woman who wants to be more than a mere puppet. He leaves the actual act of disposal to his sister, Cyril (played by Lesley Manville), who is both his manager and his enabler.

Then Alma (Vicky Krieps) enters the scene. A gangly waitress in a sea-side restaurant, Alma attracts Reynolds’ attention – and just that quick she becomes his … what? Companion? Newest in a long line of muses? Just another puppet to be used and then discarded?

It isn’t long before we understand that Alma is something different. And while she and Reynolds begin to play out his standard scenario – she wanting more, he growing tired of anyone who demands what he refuses to give – “Phantom Thread” leaves the realm of, say, Douglas Sirk and enters that of Alfred Hitchcock.

To say more would be cheating. In any event, I’m not sure it would illuminate Anderson’s intent. As it is, that intent – in fact the very concept behind “Phantom Thread” – is likely to arouse a different reaction in each person who sees it.

See it, though, you should. Day-Lewis has said this will be his final performance. And even if that isn’t true, it is some of the finest work done by an actor known for immersing himself in the characters he plays. Krieps and Manville, the latter of whom has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress, are very nearly his match.

But the star, as always in an Anderson movie, is the writer-director himself. As “Phantom Thread” progresses, Anderson keeps us off-balance, never quite explaining what each character is up to as he or she moves from one scene to the next.

Take the first time Reynolds brings Alma to his country house: Initially, she is flattered and her face shows the simple joy of someone attracting a potential lover’s attention. But as he begins taking her measurements, it become clear something else is going on. And when Cyril enters the room, unannounced, Alma’s expression changes, reflecting her – and our – confusion as to what is happening.

Anderson, who doubles as his own cinematographer, keeps his camera moving. It works almost as its own character, documenting equally well the claustrophobic interior of Reynolds’ London house/studio/workshop as well as those few moments of freedom when Reynolds races through the countryside in his sports car.

And just to underscore everything else, Johnny Greenwood’s musical score – also Oscar-nominated – affects a mood that often seems to clash with the storyline that “Phantom Thread” is conveying. Anderson, as he continually reminds us, is a master of discordance.

The upshot is this: Even when you walk out of a theater wondering what it is you’ve just seen, Paul Thomas Anderson does his best to make sure you understand that what you’ve seen is something extraordinary.

Friday’s openings: Beauty and the water beast

Looks as if the Inland Northwest is finally catching up with the rest of the country. Friday's openings are as follows:

"The Shape of Water": Guillermo del Toro's Golden Globe-winning film concerns a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) who risks everything to save a mysterious merman-type creature from a sadistic government official (Michael Shannon). Beauty and the water beast (not to mention 13 Oscar nominations).

""Maze Runner: The Death Cure": The third in the "Maze Runner" series has our hero Thomas (Dylan O'Brian) leaving the resistance camp in an effort to save a friend. Expect a lot of running.

"Hostiles": Christian Bale stars as a war-weary soldier on the Western frontier charged with returning an Indian chief to his tribe. The title applies to those of both sides.

"Padmavati": In its recent trend of screening Indian films, AMC River Park Square will open this epic production about what happens when a lustful sultan sets his gaze on the wife of a neighboring king — a woman known as the Queen of Mewar.

And at the Magic Lantern: The theater will also open "The Shape of Water," while AMC will bring back a second run of Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk."

I'll update if anything changes.

Who’s telling the truth in ‘I, Tonya’?

If you haven’t yet seen “I, Tonya,” the imaginative bio-pic of Tonya Harding, you might want to read my review – a variation of which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Movies based on real stories are always problematic projects. Even the most principled of filmmakers are likely to fudge the truth when forced to choose between honesty and dramatic effect.

But what is truth? If we’ve learned anything at all from “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s tell-all exposé of the Trump White House, it’s that one person’s truth is another person’s propaganda. The good journalist does the hard work needed to determine the accurate parts of conflicting stories.

Filmmakers, though, are not journalists. Their only responsibility is to art as they individually see it. And so, if they seek to explore a world filled with characters, each of whom sees a specific series of events from a different perspective, they just have to figure out which dueling storyline to follow.

In his film “I, Tonya,” director Craig Gillespie didn’t even go that far. In adapting Steven Rogers’ screenplay, Gillespie chose to follow a number of contradictory storylines at once. And like Michael Wolff, he lets the audience judge who’s telling the truth.

One aspect of that truth is this: Tonya Harding was a two-time Olympian who won the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championship. She was also the first woman to successfully complete a triple axel in championship competition – a feat she duplicated at the ’91 World Championships, where she placed second.

But the enduring truth is this: Harding was implicated in the assault on her competitor Nancy Kerrigan, whose Olympic chances were nearly ruined when a man named Shane Stant smashed her in the knee. Stant was hired by both Shawn Eckhardt, Harding’s so-called bodyguard, and Jeff Gillooly, Harding’s ex-husband.

Though never charged with direct involvement in the attack on Kerrigan, Harding pleaded guilty to “conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers” – an act that allowed her to avoid a prison sentence but ended her skating career.

Australian-born director Gillespie, working from Rogers' screenplay, tells Harding’s story in a manner that wavers between both these so-called truths. And in doing so, he flirts with both drama and comedy.

The drama is obvious: Born into poverty, raised by a demanding, abusive mother, abandoned by her father, and abused – she claims – by her husband, Harding was tough, determined and utterly unlike her more refined figure-skating peers.

The comedy comes both from the film’s attempts to meld several conflicting accounts – told by each of the central characters, from Harding, Gillooly and Eckhardt to Harding’s coach, Diane Rawlinson – into a single storyline and from its desire to make us believe that storyline, which would seem too ridiculous even for a Jerry Springer episode.

Harding claims that Gillooly beat her. Gillooly, of course, denies it, which is the movie’s way of resolving its various opposing perspectives. Much of “I, Tonya” unfolds as a kind of reality-show mockumentary, with each character – older but hardly wiser – speaking directly at the screen.

That works mostly because, for a small-budget film – Gillespie reportedly had just $11 million to work with – the cast is brilliant. Margot Robbie, who learned to skate for the film, nails Harding, while Golden-Globe winner Allison Janney is an acerbic marvel as her mother. Sebastian Stan gives a mostly understated performance as Gillooly, and Paul Walter Hauser provides darkly comic relief as Eckhardt.

Ultimately, “I, Tonya” is a sad story. In the end, though, who you have most sympathy for may just depend on whose story you choose to believe.


Catch the future of Japanese animation on Thursday

For the past couple of years, the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki has flirted with retirement. And though his name keeps being attached to new projects, the thought lingers: What will we do without him?

The answer may come in part with a movie that will screen Thursday night at both Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium theaters. Fathom Events will host a special presentation of "Mary and the Witch's Flower," an animated feature directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

The film, which will screen in an English-dubbed version at 7 and in a subtitled version at 8, is based on the 1971 book "The Little Broomstick," by Mary Stewart. It tells the story of a magic flower, one that blooms every seven years, that falls into the hands of a young girl, granting her special powers.

As critic Justin Chang wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "If Yonebayashi’s movie doesn’t have the visual richness and imaginative depth of Ghibli masterpieces like Hayao Miyazaki’s 'Spirited Away,' its emotional warmth and wondrously inviting hand-drawn imagery carry on that company’s proud tradition."

Yonebayashi was nominated for an Oscar for his 2014 film "When Marnie Was There." The spirit of Studio Ghibli lives on.