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

‘Shawshank Redemption’ gets 25th-anniversary release

Known mostly for exploring themes of horror and the paranormal, Stephen King at times relates stories that have more to do with the simply human experience of existence.

His novella "The Body," for example, is part of the 1982 four-part collection "Different Seasons." It tells the story of four young boys who seek out the body of a young man who is missing and presumed dead. The novella, which was adapted into Rob Reiner's 1986 film "Stand By Me," explores the boys' reaction to various forms of abuse they have each endured … and to the ultimate specter of death.

Then there is his novella from the same collection, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," which director Frank Darabont adapted into the 1994 film "The Shawshank Redemption," which stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Both the novella and movie deal with life in prison, with corruption in the legal system and with the notion of justice.

Now in its 25th year, "The Shawshank Redemption" is being re-released in a series of special screenings. The film will show at two area Regal Cinemas theaters, at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium, beginning on Sunday.

Screening times: 4 p.m. on Sunday, 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.

New York Times critic Janet Maslin had this to say about Darabont's film (which was nominated for seven Academy Awards): "Without a single riot scene or horrific effect, it tells a slow, gentle story of camaraderie and growth, with an ending that abruptly finds poetic justice in what has come before."

King, as his many fans know, is all about poetic justice — whether in this world or any of the possible alternatives.

See Disney’s ‘Dream Big, Princess: Tangled’ on Friday

Friday will see the continuation of the Disney "Dream Big, Princess" movie series with the opening of "Dream Big, Princess: Tangled," the studio's reworking of the classic fairly tale "Rapunzel."

Co-directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, and based on an updated idea for a screenplay by Dan Fogelman, 2010's "Tangled" involves a young woman — this case a princess — who is trapped in a tower by an evil woman who covet the girl's hair, which has magical qualities.

Mandy Moore provides the girl's voice, as does Zachary Levi as the young man with whom she ultimately falls in love.

Wrote Richard Corliss for Time Magazine, "This is your basic, and very enjoyable, Disney princess musical, an empowerment tale to teach bright, dreamy girls how to grow to maturity — and outgrow the adults in charge."

So your kids, especially your young girls, should love it.

Catch a bit of ‘Promare” on Tuesday, Wednesday

Studio Ghibli may not be the only Japanese animation studio. But boasting a range of popular features film including the 2003 Oscar winner "Spirited Away," it's probably the best known.

Now Studio Trigger has entered the animated feature film market. Developer of several television series, Studio Trigger has now released its first feature. And that feature, "Promare," will screen at 7 p.m. Tuesday (dubbed) and Wednesday (subtitled) at AMC River Park Square.

The plot of "Promare" is simple enough: Following a cataclysmic global fire, some humans battle the surviving majority with the help of a charismatic leader. But the movie explores topical themes, too, such as climate change.

As critic Carlos Aguilar wrote, "Injecting an intoxicating shot of frantic energy and sleek color directly into your pupils, the postapocalyptic sci-fi action saga 'Promare' plays like an anime-induced euphoric trip."

Who doesn't want a bit of euphoria?

Friday’s openings: Britroyals and space mysteries

One of the most popular Public Television series in recent years makes its big-screen debut on Friday, highlighting the coming week's movie releases. According to the national schedule, Friday's openings look like this:

"Downton Abbey": The king and queen come to stay a night at Downton Abbey, and the household is thrown into turmoil. Tea and crumpets, what?

"Ad Astra": Brad Pitt plays an astronaut who is sent on a mission to figure out what happened to his father — and to possibly save the universe. Lotta space out there.

"Rambo: Last Blood": Our titular hero (played, as ever, by Sylvester Stallone) goes on one last mission of revenge. Last? Promises, promises.

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

Ronstadt: She ‘could sing literally anything’

Amid the many music biographical studies that have been released of late, one — "Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice" — tackles the life and legacy of a noted woman singer. Following is the review of the documentary that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

As lead singer of The Doors, the late Jim Morrison holds a distinct spot in rock history. And he was popular with the group’s fans, especially during the days in which he could still fit into a pair of skinny leather pants.

Yet he didn’t have the same effect on some of his more notable contemporaries.

As is made clear in two recent rock documentaries, “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” and “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” neither Ronstadt nor Crosby had much use for the self-styled Lizard King.

Crosby tells a story of Morrison once pulling off the sunglasses that Crosby was wearing indoors. “You can’t hide in there,” Morrison told him. In response, Crosby says, “I teleported to the other side of the room. I never liked him much after that.”

Ronstadt is far more direct. The Doors, she declares, would have been better without him.

Arguable as that point might be, it says something about Ronstadt: Despite her pin-up girl looks, she was no pushover. Her will to succeed in the male-dominated music business was every bit as intense as her voice was strong.

Notice I say “was strong.” Now 73 and with a voice weakened by Parkinson’s disease, Ronstadt has been retired since 2011. Co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman make that point poignantly by, near the end of their documentary, including a scene of her attempting to sing a Mexican “canción” with a couple of her relatives.

The voice that comes out is only a pale reflection of the one that once powerfully rendered such hits as “First Cut Is the Deepest,” “When Will I Be Loved” and that foot-stomping No. 1 hit from 1975 “You’re No Good.”  Ronstadt’s career, by the way, ultimately comprised some 45 albums and 38 Billboard Hot 100 singles, 21 of which made the top 40, 10 that broke into the top 10, three that made number 2, and the No. 1 “You're No Good.”

And she did it after coming as an unknown to Los Angeles at age 18, vying with thousands of other hopefuls to achieve success. She managed that first with the Stone Poneys, then later on her own, backed by a number of first-rate musicians, including at times multi-instrumentalist Andrew Gold and two of the founding members of The Eagles, Don Henley and Glenn Frey.

Epstein and Friedman, who earlier teamed up for the 1995 documentary “The Celluloid Closet” – which followed Epstein’s two Oscar-winning documentary features, 1985’s “The Times of Harvey Milk” and 1990’s “Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt” – cover the essentials of Ronstadt’s life.

Of her learning about music from her father – who was of both German and Mexican heritage – of her earning the title of Top Female Pop Singer of the 1970s, of her romances with the likes of then-California Gov. Jerry Brown and of her desire to explore every musical form from pop to country to opera and even Mexican ballads.

As Dolly Parton tells the filmmakers, “Linda could literally sing anything.”

Which is something, Ronstadt might say, that Jim Morrison couldn’t do.

Catch ‘Downton Abbey’ advance screening tonight

All you "Downton Abbey" Fans — and it's clear you're out there — are waiting more or less patiently for the movie version of the long-running Public Television show to premiere on Sept. 20.

But wait no more. Several area theaters will be screening the film in special advance events beginning tonight. Following is a list of the theaters and respective screening times:

Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall (7 and 9:50 p.m.), Spokane Valley (7 p.m.) and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium (7 p.m.)

Village Center Cinemas Wandermere (7 and 9 p.m.)

AMC River Park Square (7 pm)

Movie and a Dinner, Northern Quest Casino (7 p.m.)

In addition to all the above, KSPS Public Television will host a special advance screening of the film at AMC at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday.

At the AMC event, at least, those attending "will be treated to bonus content and receive a collectible snow globe." And especially note this: At all events, seats will be limited, so fans should grab them up as soon as possible.

‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ on screen again

Since "Star Trek" debuted on U.S. television on Sept. 8, 1966, the show that Gene Roddenberry created has fascinated its fans.

And whether you call them Trekkies or Trekkers doesn't really matter (except, maybe, to them). Because though they weren't able to keep the original series (TOS) in production, they've kept it in syndication for the past five-plus decades.

Not to mention the various spinoff series, both live-action and animated, the merchandise and the movies.

Speaking of those big-screen events, the 40th anniversary of the first picture — "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" — is coming to two area Regal Cinemas theaters for screenings on Sunday and the following Wednesday. The film will screen at 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium, and at 4 and 7 p.m. the following Wednesday.

"Star Trek: The Motion Picture" was directed by Robert Wise, a two-time Best Director Oscar winner, and stars all of the original cast, including William Shatner as James Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy — and so on.

The plot, which is credited to Harold Livingston (and based on a story idea by Alan Dean Foster), features Kirk and crew cruising to intercept an alien object heading toward Earth and the problems that ensue, first between Kirk and his first officer (played by Stephen Collins) and then with the object itself.

The film premiered on Dec. 7, 1979, and received mostly mixed reviews. Among those was this comment from Variety: "The expensive effects (under supervision of Douglas Trumbull) are the secret of this film, and the amazing wizardry throughout would appear to justify the whopping budget."

That budget, by the way, is officially reported as $35 million. That's peanuts by today's standards but was fairly pricey for the time. As a comparison,  Ridley Scott's "Alien," which premiered on the previous May 25th, boasted a budget of $11 million.  

Yet fans could care less about such things. One more opportunity to see Kirk, Spock and the rest in action — even muted action — should suffice.

‘You Are Here’: Some 9/11 stories warm the heart

Two area Regal Cinemas theaters are holding special-event screenings at 7 p.m. Wednesday that commemorate the anniversary of an unforgettable event:

"You Are Here: A Come From Far Away Story": This 2018 documentary explores the various stories that occurred following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when some 6,500 passengers from 38 airlines were stranded in Newfoundland. Yes, Canadians are nice.

The documentary, which served as the basis for the musical "Come From Away," took Best Documentary Program and Best Picture Editing honors at the 2019 Canadian Screen Awards, the 2018 Audience Choice Best Documentary Award at Cinefest Sudbury and the jury prize at the BANFF World Media Festival.

The film will play at the Real theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

As for the coming week of movies, the schedule looks to be rounding out, what with a couple of amendments/additions:

"Brittany Runs a Marathon": This film about a young woman (Jillian Bell of "Sword of Trust" fame) training run a marathon will open at AMC River Park Square and, as I've previously noted, the Magic Lantern. Running has its rewards, or so they say.

"Dream Big, Princess: Beauty and the Beast": AMC River Park Square continues its "Dream Big, Princess" series with this screening of the Oscar-winning (Best Song, Best Original Score) 1991 animated adaptation of the classic fairy tale. "Be our guest, be our guest …"

I'll continue to post changes, additions, etc. In the meantime go, see a movie And enjoy.

Lantern to screen ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’

And as it turns out, a second film will open Friday at the Magic Lantern. Only it's not the one that I originally (and incorrectly) listed (but later omitted):

"Brittany Runs a Marathon": Jillian Bell ("Sword of Trust") stars as a woman who, tired of her life, decides to change things by training for a marathon. Twenty-six miles, 385 yards of torture … just so you can forget all those Cinnabons you devoured?

The film is getting mixed to good reviews. Among them:

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: " 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' is perfunctory, idealized, sometimes awkwardly composed, almost always predictable. But it stays the course, with admirable grit and more than a few entertaining grins."

Monica Castillo, RogerEbert.com: "In much of the same way seasoned runners make a marathon look easy, Bell makes leading this comedy look effortless."

Barbara VanDenberg, Arizona Republic: "Brittany is funny and authentic, but she can also be prickly and stubborn, even hard to like. You know, the way real people are."

I'm still waiting on final bookings. I'll update as they arrive.

Friday’s openings: Lost paintings and voices

(Note: This post formerly mentioned two movies opening Friday at the Magic Lantern. Wrong. Only one is opening, the one I list below. The other is already playing. Sorry for the confusion.)

I was taught never to craft a lede by using a question. But I have to ask this one: Is there ever more of a sign that we've entered the fall movie season than seeing a release that's based on a literary adaptation? Such is the case on Friday, based on the national release schedule:

"The Goldfinch": Donna's Tartt's 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a boy who, having witnessed a museum bombing that killed his mother, steals a priceless painting and then spends the next several years dealing with the emotional aftermath. Oh, and he becomes mired in a life of crime, too. Happy days.

"Hustlers": A group of women working as lap-dancers takes advantage of their rich clients by getting them drunk and then stealing their money. Based on a real story and involving just a tad, you suspect, of karma.

And at the Magic Lantern?

"Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice": The singer, who forged a path to musical success in 1970s Los Angeles, tells her own story. Lots of classic songs get sung.

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

David Crosby wants you to ‘Remember My Name’

The documentary film "David Crosby: Remember My Name" opens today at the Magic Lantern. Following is my review, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Few musicians can boast the resumé of singer-songwriter David Crosby.

Not only was he a founding member of The Byrds, the influential rock group that had a No. 1 hit in 1965 with the Bob Dylan song “Mr. Tambourine Man,” but he teamed up with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash to found the immensely popular trio Crosby, Stills & Nash – which later, with the addition of Neil Young, became Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Besides playing rhythm guitar, and adding his sweet harmonies to all three groups, Crosby wrote – or at least contributed to – a number of memorable songs, including “Guinnevere,” “Long Time Gone” and “Wooden Ships.”

But Crosby made an impact in other ways, too. Though it didn’t show up in D.A. Pennebaker’s 1968 documentary “Monterey Pop,” Crosby had alienated his fellow Byrds members during that 1967 music festival by spouting Kennedy-assassination conspiracy theories between songs. That and other personal conflicts got him fired from the group.

And even though Crosby rebounded with Stills and Nash – their appearance at the Woodstock festival being one of the best moments of Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 concert film – he ended up alienating both of them to the point where they, along with Young, have vowed never to play with him again. Or, for that matter, even speak to him.

And let’s not forget his ongoing bouts with drugs, a habit that earned him a nine-month stint in a Texas prison. Or his liver transplant, brought on by hepatitis C and criticized by a number of critics because of his past drug usage.

All of this is made clear in the film “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” a documentary directed by A.J. Eaton and based largely on interviews done both by Eaton and the film’s co-producer, and filmmaker in his own right, Cameron Crowe.

Along with the interviews, featuring Crosby himself and his wife Jan, but also musicians such as Jackson Brown and former Byrd Roger McGuinn, Eaton fills in his narrative with archival footage – the only appearances of Stills, Nash and Young – while following Crosby as he visits his old Laurel Canyon haunts and even as he heads out, at age 78, to headline a concert tour.

Even after all his success, he says, he still has to find a way to pay the bills.

But, of course, it’s more than that, too. Born the son of an Oscar-winning cinematographer, Crosby took to music early – and to the lavish kind of lifestyle that musical success afforded. Multiple relationships – including one with Joni Mitchell – were part of the mix, resulting in four children by as many different women.

As Crosby readily admits, he wasn’t the best of romantic partners – though he does express regret over what might have been had girlfriend Christine Hinton not died in a 1969 car accident.

He hasn’t been a particularly good friend, either, as his former bandmates would confirm.

Music, though, has been his constant. When asked if he had to choose between his comfortable Central California home and his music, he doesn’t hesitate.

Music, he says. It’s all he has to offer.

Friday’s openings redux: Return of a classic

You'll find at least a couple of adjustments to Friday's opening-movies lineup. One is thanks to Disney:

"Dream Big, Princess: The Little Mermaid": Building on its own brand, and setting the scene for its upcoming live-action adaptation of its Oscar-winning 1989 animated film, Disney is re-releasing that rousing, music-minded bit of animation. "The Little Mermaid" is part of a joint Disney-AMC series that will bring four of the studio's animated films back to theaters. Following in short order will be "Beauty and the Beast" (Sept. 13-19), "Tangled" (Sept. 20-26) and "The Princess and the Frog" (Sept. 27-Oct. 3).

  And at the Magic Lantern:

"Luce": Adapted from a play by J.C. Lee, this Julius Onah-directed film tackles the touchy subject of a white couple (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth) having to face an unpleasant truth about their adopted, Eritrean-born son (Melvin Harrison Jr.).

Los Angeles Time critic Justin Chang describes "Luce," as "a neatly constructed puzzle, an engrossing weave of suburban drama and sociopolitical whodunit."

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

See Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ on Wednesday

Thousands of filmmakers have released their movies over the past century and a quarter, but few of them have made the impression that David Lean did.

Lean's movies are wide-screen studies in cinematic beauty. Even if the stories he told and the characters whose experiences he explored had been less than enthralling — and that is hardly the case — the manner in which he portrayed them was beautifully rendered.

Trained as a cinematographer, Lean was interested in imagery first. And in the 19 films he directed over a four-decade-plus time frame, any number of scenes remain memorable.

And several of those come from his 1962 masterpiece "Lawrence of Arabia."

Think of the shot of the lone rider (played by Omar Sharif) approaching from across the desert. Think of the shots of Lawrence (played by Peter O'Toole in his breakout role) standing up against the desert sky. Think of the sky itself, with a glowing sun sinking (or rising) on the horizon.

And all of it captured in the wide-screen format that became so popular in the late 1950s and early '60s.

You can witness all of this one last time on Wednesday when "Lawrence of Arabia" will screen twice at two area Regal Cinemas theaters, at Northtown Mall and at Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium. The film will screen at 1 and 6 p.m.

If you can forgive some of the casting — the very British Alec Guinness as the Arab Prince Faisal, the Mexican-born Anthony Quinn as the Bedouin leader Auda Abu Tayi — and the obligatory twisting of history to fit dramatic ends, you just might enjoy the spectacle that Lean created.

No less a filmmaker than Steven Spielberg once said that "Lawrence of Arabia" is "between a cornerstone and a grail. It still makes me feel puny. It keeps cutting us down to size."

Friday’s openings: Clowns and David Crosby

Seems we can't get enough of Stephen King. Or killer clowns. Or something. Anyway, "It: Chapter Two" is the chief mainstream movie opening on Friday, according to the national release schedule:

"It: Chapter Two": It's been 27 years since the Losers Club defeated the dreaded clown Pennywise — or so they thought until they are drawn back for another battle. Laughter and chills and fears, oh my.

And at the Magic Lantern?

"David Crosby: Remember My Name": The former member of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) tells his story, from his early days to his continuing forays in his late 70s on the concert circuit.

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

‘Tel Aviv on Fire’: a bit of satire never hurts

Of the movies opening today in Spokane, one is a joint Israeli-French-Belgian film titled "Tel Aviv on Fire," which as I explained in my review for Spokane Public Radio is a far different production in tone than the title would suggest:

As they sing – or at least used to sing – on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the other. Let’s begin with this quartet: a car, a bus, a truck and a bicycle. Now this one: a pizza, a hamburger, a hotdog and a salad. And finally: a cat, a dog, a hamster and a Velociraptor.

You see what I’m getting at, right?

For argument’s sake, apply this model to contemporary social issues. What stands out in this grouping: Israel, Palestine, conflict and comedy?

Hint: Middle Eastern relations are about as funny as bird droppings in a hummus bowl.

Yet comedy is precisely what sits at the center of “Tel Aviv on Fire,” a movie co-written by Palestinian filmmaker Sameh Zorabi and American film professor Dan Kleinman that opens today at the Magic Lantern Theater.

Directed by Zorabi, “Tel Aviv on Fire” tells the story of a slacker named Salam (played by Kais Nashef), a nebbish version of a Palestinian who has just scored a job – thanks to his uncle – as an assistant on a television serial titled, yes, “Tel Aviv on Fire.”

A potboiler of a show, “Tel Aviv on Fire” – which is popular with both Palestinian and Israeli audiences – involves a Palestinian spy named Manal who poses as an Israeli in order to seduce an Israeli army general. Her mission is to gather as much information as she can, even if it means sacrificing herself. As I said, potboiler.

Yet Salam’s life is about to get even more complicated than the show. While on the way to work one day, as he passes through one of Israel’s infamous checkpoints, he is stopped and questioned. And when he identifies himself as the show’s writer, which is a blatant lie, he attracts the attention of the checkpoint’s overly assertive officer, Assi (played by Yaniv Biton), who – it turns out – develops some fairly strong reasons for wanting to shape the show’s plotline. 

Assi gets his chance when, through chance, Salam actually is promoted to writer. Salam, no surprise, doesn’t know the slightest thing about writing, so he turns to Assi for advice – trading Palestinian-made hummus for Assi’s technical and thematic direction.

Oh, and not only does Salam become interested in holding down the only real job he’s ever had, but he wants desperately to impress the woman he’s long desired, the lovely Mariam (played by Maisa Abd Elhadi). Trouble is, the producer of the show, his uncle, wants to please his sponsors and end things in a way that conflicts with Assi’s plans. What to do.

As Salam, Nashef is a real find. He hits the right balance between a clueless loser and someone who could conceivably change the course of his life and achieve the success he’d always dreamed of. Among the several awards “Tel Aviv on Fire” has won, including Best Film at the most recent Seattle International Film Festival, Nashef snared Best Actor honors at the 2018 Venice Film Festival.

Which is fitting. If only peace in the Middle East were as easy to achieve as the laughs in Zorabi’s satire.