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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

Friday’ openings redux: Indian magic and more

So, as usual, there are a few additions to Friday's opening-movie list. Here they are:

"The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir": Based on the French novel "The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe," this romantic comedy tells the story of an Indian man who undergoes an incredible journey to meet up (again) with the woman he loves. It's … magic?

And at the Magic Lantern?

"Non-Fiction": A quarter of Parisians smoke, drink, have affairs and engage in all other typically French activities, at least as they're portrayed in this Olivier Assayas film. Oh la la.

"Framing John DeLorean": The controversial man behind one of the most classic 20th-cebtury cars is profiled. Let's go back to the future.

That's the lot, it seems. Go, see a movie, and enjoy.

Friday’s openings: Toys, spies and killer dolls

Luc Besson joins the group of filmmakers exploiting the "me, too" movement by exploring the world of a woman intelligence operative. That and two other mainstream efforts mark Friday's menu of movie openings (according to the national release schedule).

The main trio of openings is as follows:

"Anna": Besson gives us the title character, a dangerous government assassin. Oh, and of course, she's a knockout — in every sense of the word.

"Child's Play": They aren't even pretending to be doing remakes. They're just retreading the same material, this one about a murderous doll named Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) who just wants to, uh, play.

"Toy Story 4": Of course, some film franchises do prove delightful, as should this fourth in the series about a group of toys who face adventures and overcome obstacles — this time with a new friend named Forky. 

As always, I'll update when area theaters finalize their bookings.

Rom-com reinvention: ‘Always Be My Maybe’

The Netflix original film "Always Be My Maybe" continues the recent reinvention of the romantic comedy. I wrote the following review of the film for Spokane Public Radio:

If they are being true to their genre, romantic comedies can end in only one way: a climactic kiss.

Sure, you’ll find exceptions. Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” for example. Or his “Annie Hall.” But they’re rare.

More common are such films as “When Harry Met Sally,” “You’ve Got Mail,” “Notting Hill” or “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Or even 1969’s little-remembered “John and Mary” in which Dustin Hoffman races across New York City to lay a lip-lock on Mia Farrow.

This is the genre to which Nahnatchka Khan’s Netflix Original film “Always Be My Maybe” belongs. It features two characters, friends since childhood, who wander almost by chance into sexual intimacy, quickly become estranged, but who ultimately weather a few ups and downs to reconnect for that traditional meeting of mouths.

Tradition, though, is a funny thing. Each generation tends to view it through a different lens, even if the basic tenets remain in place. In the case of “Always Be My Maybe,” it explicitly borrows from some the films I’ve named but it does so in an environment that is pure 21st century: Namely, its principal characters are all Asian.

Ali Wong and Randall Park stars as Sasha and Marcus, a star-crossed couple who from their early years are best buds. Sasha is the only child of a hard-working (read: negligent) couple, and she ends up bonding not only with Marcus but with his whole family – which lives next door.

Sasha allies especially with Marcus’ mother, who teaches her to cook – food being a principal part of Asian cinema, particularly romantic comedies.

After their short, near-disastrous sexual encounter, and fueled by feelings caused by a family death, Sasha and Marcus break up – and remain alienated for more than a decade. When they do reconnect, Sasha is a celebrity chef, traveling the breadth of the country to open fashionable restaurants, while Marcus has remained a San Francisco home-body, working for his dad and performing with the quartet that passes for a working band.

But nothing comes easy, even in an inevitable genre such as romantic comedy, so before the two can clasp hands they have to weather a number of obstacles – from other mismatched partners to their dueling and contrasting life ambitions, not to mention the memories of lingering past hurts.

Oh, and then there’s Keanu Reeves, who shows up playing himself in a way that is as surprising as it is scene-stealing. To say more would take us too far into spoiler territory.

It’s enough to say that Nahnatchka, working from a script written by Wong, Park and Michael Gomalco, manages to weave everything into an enjoyable example of the neo-rom-com – even if her roots in television production occasionally show through (where is that laugh-track, anyway?).

Part of what makes the film work is Wong and Park, who prove to be nearly as appealing in their lead roles as Constance Wu and Henry Golding did in last year’s “Crazy Rich Asians” – another film that featured Asian leads.

That’s the new tradition, then: The lovers may look different, but the kisses remain the same.

Monday Movies at the Magic Lantern: ‘Call Her Ganda’

June's selection for the Magic Lantern's Monday Movies series is a true-crime documentary that tackles several issues, among them sexual orientation and U.S.-Philippine relations. The film is titled "Call Her Ganda" and will play at 7 p.m. on, of course, Monday.

The film, directed by PJ Raval, follows the case of a Filipina trans woman named Jennifer Laude who was murdered on Oct. 14, 2014, by a U.S. Marine.

Here are some critical comments:

Juan Barquin, L.A. Weekly: " 'Call Her Ganda' works best when it's focused on Laude and the case of her murder, an overwhelming showcase of empathy and persistence in the face of American racism and transmisogyny."

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times: "Even with its stumbling nature… 'Call Her Ganda' is still a valiant effort to fuse inquiry, testimony, heart and protest in dealing with its complex intertwining of facts and issues."

Ken Jaworski, New York Times: " 'My life has value,' Ms. Laude once declared. She was right, and this film takes that truth to heart."

Tickets to the Monday Movies series are $8. A post-screening discussion usually ensues.

Kaling, Thompson carry ‘Late Night’ load

One addition to make to Friday's opening-movies list is a comedy that will play at both mainstream theaters and the Magic Lantern:

"Late Night": Mindy Kaling plays a new writer on TV star Emma Thompson's show whose task is to save a failing format. You know it's fiction because … well, you figure it out.

 Here are some critical comments:

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Rather than scourging the complacency and hypocrisy of television, it subjects the medium to a vigorous exfoliating scrub in the name of feminism and inclusiveness."

Yolanda Machado, The Wrap: "Kaling qualifies as an expert at writing romantic comedies after five seasons of The Mindy Project. But the romance in Late Night isn't girl-meets-boy; it's girl-meets-career."

Sheila O'Malley, RogerEbert.com: "An earnest and funny comedy, with very sharp teeth."

That seems to be the lot. So go, see a movie. And enjoy.

Friday’s openings: Aliens, zombies and Shaft

It looks to be a blockbuster weekend, what with the movies projected to open on Friday (according to the national movie-release schedule):

"Men in Black International": A new crew (played by Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth) fights space creatures who have infiltrated their organization while providing said organization with a bit of gender diversity. Me, too, goes extraterrestrial.

"Shaft": The grandson (played by Jesse T. Usher) of the original character (played by Richard Roundtree) and his son (played by Samuel L. Jackson) uses his computer skills to investigate his friend's death. He's a bad mother … shut your mouth!

"The Dead Don't Die": Jim Jarmush enlists the likes of Bill Murray and Adam Driver to tell a zombie tale. Seems the dead still walk.

I'll update when area theaters finalize their bookings. As usual.

SIFF 2019 announces award winners

Above: "Tel Aviv on Fire."

The 2019 Seattle International Film Festival ended over the weekend, and as usual it ended with an awards announcement. As fitting a festival that shows some 400 films annually, SIFF boasts a lot — say again, a lot — of awards.

Following are the 2019 Golden Space Needle Awards, which are voted on by audiences in six different categories (this year more than 82,000 votes were cast):

Best Film: "Tel Aviv on Fire," directed by Sameh Zoabi (Luxembourg/France/Israel/Belgium 2018)

Best Documentary: "We Are the Radical Monarchs," directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton (USA 2019)

Best Director: Ulaa Salim, "Sons of Denmark" (Denmark 2019)

Best Actor: Julius Weckauf, "All About Me" (Germany 2019)

Best Actress: Damla Sönmez, "Sibel" (Turkey/France/Germany/Luxembourg 2018)

Best Short Film: "Stepdaddy," directed by Lisa Steen (USA 2019)

The entire list of SIFF award winners, which includes the juried honors, is far longer and eventually will be available here.

SIFF 2019: 18 films from around the globe

Above: The Italian film "Piranhas" is currently playing at festivals but is set to open in theaters on Aug. 2. Below: "Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins" doesn't yet have an opening date.

This weekend marks the final two days of the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival. I spent six days at the festival last week, and the following is a look at what I experienced (which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio):

Eighteen movies doesn’t sound like a lot.

I mean, it does to some people. I know people who don’t see that many theatrical releases in a year – poor souls.

But it doesn’t sound like a lot to those who haunt film festivals such as the Seattle International Film Festival, which finishes its 45th-annual run this weekend.

People such as Virginia, a diminutive, 70-something woman whom my wife and I met during our recent six-day sojourn at SIFF 2019 – a sojourn in which we sat through, yes, 18 different films.

Virginia, by contrast, had seen more than 100. At least she had when we first encountered her standing in line outside the SIFF Cinema Uptown, which sits in Seattle’s Lower Queen Anne neighborhood and is one of three of what festival organizers refer to as their “classic movie houses.”

At that point, the festival had a week to run, and Virginia had the opportunity to add more than 30 other movies to her watch list. But even at that number, she would have seen less than half of the 400 feature films and documentaries that SIFF will have screened over its 25-day run.

And Virginia was hardly alone. We met several other full-series passholders, our press credentials affording us the same easy access. And all of our new acquaintances could rattle off their favorites, though to a one they seemed more interested in the quantity of films they were seeing than in the quality of any single one in particular.

But I can’t be critical. Long gone are the days in which we might see a movie at, say, The Egyptian Theatre on Capitol Hill, then rush to our car and speed across the city to the University District, where we would hurry to join the line at the Neptune Theatre before the doors closed. More than once we didn’t make it.

No, these days we tend to stay in one place, whether it’s at the Uptown or at AMC’s more mainstream theater complex at Pacific Place, seeing movies back to back to back and sometimes even back one final time.

Anyway, that’s how we saw our 18 movies, which hailed from countries as diverse as Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Taiwan, the UK and the U.S.

The documentaries either tackled personalities – such as the late political columnist Molly Ivins or the late fashion designer Halston – or explored issues – such as men who have been trafficked into unpaid servitude by unprincipled fishing companies, or the young Ghanaians using their Internet wits to dupe unsuspecting sex-minded clients.

The narrative films, too, covered a range of topics, from gay romance to coming-of-age drama, Neapolitan street-kid violence to the perils of aging, family dysfunction to refugees from the Middle East facing off against Danish neo-Nazis.

Some of these films may eventually play in Spokane at the Magic Lantern. Many more may at least end up available for streaming. When they do, you’ll likely be able to see far more than our 18.

But probably not nearly as many as Virginia.

One last chance to experience SIFF 2019

The 45th Seattle International Film Festival is coming to an end. Sunday marks the final day of its 25-day 2019 run.

Still, if you're going west this weekend, you can take advantage of what's left. Movies play mostly at the SIFF Cinema Uptown (in Lower Queen Anne), at The Egyptian (on Capitol Hill) and at AMC Pacific Place (downtown near 6th and Pine).

To see what's playing, and to see how many tickets are still available, go to the SIFF schedule, available here.

It's worth the effort. I'll give a rundown on my recent SIFF experience tomorrow.

Lantern to preview ‘Framing John DeLorean’

And we have an addendum to the Magic Lantern schedule. Along with the two movies I've already listed, the theater will screen an additional film on Friday:

"Framing John DeLorean": This documentary takes a look at the late car manufacturer (think of the car in "Back to the Future") and explores whether he was a visionary or a grifter. The movie is scheduled play only as a special preview at 8 p.m. on Friday and won't open for a full run until Friday June 14th.

Following are some critical comments:

Elizabeth Weitzman, TheWrap: "Most compelling of all are the interviews with the two people who come closest to answering, or at least addressing, the question that overwhelms this entire project: DeLorean's daughter Kathryn and son Zach."

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: "A tasty and satisfying look at the rise and fall of the self-styled auto magnate of the '70s and '80s…"

Oleg Ivanov, Slant: "John DeLorean has a biography that could have been reverse-engineered from a Hollywood epic about the rise and fall of an auto-industry mogul. The story of his life suggests 'Citizen Kane' set in the world of cars."

Final note: "Framing John DeLorean" also will be available through video on demand beginning Friday.

Friday’ openings: When the X turns dark

It's time for the latest chapter in the ongoing X-themed superhero series, the newest X-Men saga. According to the national release schedule, the week's opening movies on Friday are:

"Dark Phoenix": Sophie Turner, she of "Game of Thrones" fame, continues her reinvention of the Jean Grey role (from Famke Janssen) in this X-Men spinoff focusing on Grey's transformation into the dangerous Dark Phoenix. Definitely not Famke.

"The Secret Life of Pets 2": More misadventures of animals who play while their masters are away. Woof!

And at the Magic Lantern?

"The Biggest Little Farm": A couple buys land outside Los Angeles and attempts to cultivate a sustainable habitat.

"Rafiki": Two young Kenyan women face danger when they flout the rules of their shared culture.

As usual, I'll update when area theaters finalize their bookings.

Netflix looks at ‘Extremely Wicked’ Bundy

Among the many choices for true-crime programming, Netflix is offering a new look at the serial killer Ted Bundy. Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Ted Bundy is one of those names that has long passed into the annals of our collective cultural consciousness. It rests there with those of so many other historical villains, from John Wilkes Booth to Charles Manson to Osama Bin Laden.

Bundy, you’ll recall, was the good-looking guy who charmed most everyone he met – but especially women – yet who, over the course of several years, regularly and savagely murdered scores of the women he encountered in several states, including Washington. Finally captured, brought to trial and found guilty, he was executed in Florida in 1989.

A number of books and movies have explored the Bundy phenomenon, including Ann Rule’s 1980 nonfiction account “The Stranger Beside Me” and the 1986 movie “The Deliberate Stranger” starring Mark Harmon.

And I use the word phenomenon deliberately. One of the most popular genres both in movies and on television, embodied in such shows as “Snapped” and “Homicide Hunter,” involves true-crime studies of murder. But even amid such a collection of rogues, Bundy stands out – not just for his crimes but for the fact that someone so bent and twisted hid behind a mask of such affable normality.

Bundy’s attraction is, in fact, the basis for the Netflix movie “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” which was directed by Joe Berlinger, the filmmaker best known for co-directing (with Bruce Sinofsky) the critically acclaimed 1996 documentary “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.”

Forgoing documentary this time, Berlinger opted to make a narrative adaptation of the 1981 memoir “The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy,” credited to Elizabeth Kendall – the woman who both lived with and loved Bundy – even though she was the first to report her suspicions of him to police.

We meet Kendall (played by the English actress Lily Collins), a young, divorced single mother as she is approached in a bar by Bundy (played by Zac Efron). They end up spending the night together, and she awakens to find the apron-wearing Ted fixing breakfast for her young daughter. What a catch, she thinks.

From there, though, we follow the couple as Bundy – pursuing his intent to become a lawyer – is soon targeted by police as a suspect in attacks on young women in and around Seattle. And then, progressively, he is implicated in similar crimes in Utah, Colorado and finally Florida.

Throughout, Bundy is adamant: The police have the wrong man. They are framing him. He is innocent. And, just as progressively, Kendall falls into a depressive state from which she’ll need help to escape.

As efficient a filmmaker as Berlinger is, his coup was in casting the former teen heartthrob Efron. Proving that he is more than just a pretty face atop a shredded body, Efron wears Bundy’s mask so well that it’s clear how difficult it would be for anyone to believe that underneath it lurks the person capable of such wicked, evil and vile deeds.

Efron proves so good at portraying Bundy that it's easy to believe that among those confounded by Bundy’s deception were not just Kendall — but even  the judge (played by John Malkovich) who ultimately condemned him to death.

See a regal Helen Mirren in ‘The Audience’

Ever since she won the Best Actress Oscar in 2007 for "The Queen," Helen Mirren has been associated with Queen Elizabeth II.

Not that she hadn't played royalty before that. She was the roman empress Caesonia in "Caligula" (1979), Titania the Queen of the Fairies in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1981), Queen Charlotte (wife of Britain's King George III) in "The Madness of King George" (1994), she provided the voice for the title character in the animated "The Snow Queen" (1996), the voice for The Queen in the animated "Prince of Egypt" (1998) … and so on. You get the point.

Mirren cemented her association with the current regent when she again played the queen in a West London stage-play production titled "The Audience" in 2013. That Peter Morgan play was filmed, with Stephen Daldry listed as director, and originally broadcast by the National Theater Live that same year.

Now, the film version is being rescreened. It will play at two area Regal Cinemas theaters, at Northtown Mall and at Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium, at 7 p.m. on Monday.

"The Audience" captures that moment when the queen meets with a new prime minister. What happens during those meetings is supposed to remain secret, but Morgan's play imagines what might have been said — though that's hardly the production's main draw.

"It's not the pop-up politics that is the magnet in 'The Audience,' it's the monarch," wrote Susannah Clapp for The Guardian. "Helen Mirren – sometimes interrogated by a perter, more wayward, youthful version of herself – moves through some 60 years of regality. Pinched but sturdy, she slices her vowels without overdoing it. She knocks off a few decades by lightening her voice and slightly loosening the trademark clasped hands. She has to a T that focused yet faraway gaze."

If ever there was perfect casting, this has to be it.

See ‘Saving Private Ryan’ on the big screen - again

Memorial Day has passed, and we're midway between Veterans Days (Nov. 11). But in celebration of both, two area theaters will screen Steven Spielberg's 1998 film "Saving Private Ryan."

The film, which won five Academy Awards — including Best Director and Best Cinematography — will screen at 3 p.m. on Sunday and at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (June 5th) — at the Regal Cinemas sites at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

Of course, what's interesting about the Oscars and "Saving Private Ryan" is the award it didn't win: Best Picture. That honor went to "Shakespeare in Love," John Madden's film that won seven Oscars — which also included Best Actress (for Gwyneth Paltrow), Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench) and Best Original Screenplay (Tom Stoppard, Marc Norman).

It's only fitting that the win by Madden's film is regularly mentioned in stories about the biggest upsets (see No. 5) in Oscar history. As Gary Susman wrote on Time.com, the difference was likely due to a man who has become a cultural pariah.

"Oscar tends to favor war epics over romantic comedies, but this one had Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein on its side," Susman wrote, "and he made sure that voters were impressed by its literary pedigree and by the luminous breakthrough performance of Gwyneth Paltrow."

Now's your chance to see Spielberg's film, again, and make up your own mind.

Cats and dogs will reign at the Magic Lantern on Saturday

Adding to Friday's movie schedule, the Magic Lantern will be opening a second-run showing of the teen comedy "Booksmart" on Friday.

 While a coming-of-age movie might not be what we expect from Spokane's art-house movie theater, a pair of animal-themed shorts programs that will screen on Saturday at the Lantern certainly is.

Beginning at a 1 p.m., the theater will show back-to-back the New York Cat Film Festival and (following at 3:30) the New York Dog Film Festival. The festivals are annual events that, according to the press materials, "inspire, educate and entertain, benefitting local animal welfare groups that bring people and pets together."

In Spokane terms, that means the Spokane Humane Society, which will have representatives in the Lantern's lobby before and after the shows to answer questions.

The Cat Film Festival is slated to screen nine shorts, narrative and documentary, animated and live-action. The Dog Film Festival includes 11 shorts of the same variety.

Admission to each program is $9. Part of the proceeds will go to support the Spokane Humane Society.