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

Friday’s openings redux: Racism and a poet’s muse

In addition to "Wild Rose," which I've already written about, the Magic Lantern plans to open two more films on Friday. They are:

"Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love": Documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield explores the relationship between poet-singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and his "muse," the Norwegian Marianne Ihlen. So long, Marianne.

"Skin": In this based-on-a-true-story drama, Jamie Bell plays a young man, raised by racist skinheads, who changes his views — and as a consequence his life. Shades of recent events.

I'll update the mainstream theaters' schedules probably by tomorrow.

‘Wild Rose’ lead Buckley is still a rising star

Above: Jessie Buckley stars as Lyudmilla Ignatenko in the HBO miniseries "Chernobyl."

Assuming that all goes as planned and the film "Wild Rose" does open at the Magic Lantern on Friday, here is a link to a New York Times story about the movie's star Jessie Buckley.

Curiously enough, my wife and I just finished watching the five-part HBO miniseries "Chernobyl." In it Buckley stars as Lyudmilla Ignatenko, the wife of a firefighter who died of radiation poisoning after battling the blaze following the 1986 nuclear power plant catastrophe.

Buckley is barely recognizable in the miniseries, and that's a testament to her acting ability. As the embed below demonstrates, Buckley has come a long way from when she was the runner-up in the 2008 BBC series "I'd Do Anything."

Friday’s openings: Getting even more ‘Furious”

It's not as if we didn't give the "Fast and Furious" franchise a chance. We've seen (in some cases endured) eight films since 2001's "The Fast and the Furious" first hit the screen. And two more are on the production board.

So of course why not take two of the (at first) peripheral characters — both (at first) bad guys — and make a stand-alone film starring them? That's the thinking behind the coming week's single big-budget (estimated at $200 million) release:

"Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw": Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs) and Jason Statham (Shaw) are forced to join forces, which they do ever so reluctantly, to battle a cyber-enhanced super-villain played by Idris Elba. Bets are the two will be driving a fast car or two … and handling some guns.

And at the Magic Lantern?

"Wild Rose": Irish singer-actress Jessie Buckley plays a troubled Scottish woman named Rose-Lynn who dreams of becoming a country-and-western star. From Glasgow to Nashville … yeah, no difficulty making that transition.

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

Confused by ‘Diamantino’ but love the puppies

It's happened to every movie fan: Sometimes you walk out of the theater (or your living room) feeling confounded about a film you just saw. Even if you kind of liked what you saw, you're simply not sure why.

That was the feeling I had after watching "Diamantino," a film that opens today at the Magic Lantern. Following is my review of the film, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Over the course of the 28 years, two months, 11 days and more or less three hours that I worked as a staff writer for The Spokesman-Review, I spent roughly 25 years reviewing movies.

And one of the most common comments that I recall hearing during that time went something like, “It sure must be fun to watch movies for a living.” To which I would always answer, “I don’t get paid to watch movies. I get paid to write about movies.”

And as anyone who has spent more than five minutes in a movie theater knows, writing about some movies isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that crafting a movie review even begins to compare with, say, delivering a baby, frying burgers over a hot grill or even writing a traffic ticket. 

What I am saying is that sometimes – not often, maybe, but sometimes – movies show up at your local neighborhood theaters that so defy description they would pose a critical challenge even to James Agee.

I mention Agee – who died in 1965 at the tender age of 45 – because he, arguably, was the first serious American film critic. And yet I doubt that Agee, for all his cinematic knowledge, would know what to say about the Portuguese film “Diamantino,” which opens today at the Magic Lantern Theater.

Here, for example, are just a few of the issues that “Diamantino” tackles: lesbian love affairs, government conspiracies, sibling disloyalty, tax evasion, unethical medical research, populist political movements, the plight of refugees, social-media ostracism, Portugal’s resentful attitude toward the European Union, gender fluidity, the basis of genius and – at the root of it all – the obsession behind what Americans refer to as soccer but what the rest of the world calls simply football.

And let’s not forget the platoon of giant fluffy puppies that Diamantino envisions whenever he’s on a football pitch.

In short, Diamantino (played by popular Portuguese actor Carloto Cotta) is an intellectually challenged, physically gifted football player who – suddenly and inexplicably – finds himself so unfocused that he blows his chance at winning international football glory. Subsequently made into an ongoing Internet joke, and devastated by a death in his family, Diamantino responds by adopting what he thinks is a refugee – though he’s so uninformed, he admits, that he calls his new ward a “fugee.”

It’s at this point where the conspiracy takes over and Diamantino – already a suspect in a government money-laundering investigation – becomes a pawn both in an attempt to clone him – yes, clone him – in the interests of Portuguese nationalism and in the plan of his twin sisters to rob him blind.

The question that co-writer-directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt ask involves whether Diamantino can overcome all obstacles and, ultimately, find true love.

Left unanswered are the causes of Diamantino’s Candide-like innocence, the source of his sisters’ truculence, not to mention how the filmmakers expect anyone to make sense of this enjoyably wacky project they’ve put on the screen.

Maybe the giant fluffy puppies could explain.

GU professors host Toni Morrison documentary

A month ago, I wrote a blog post that was, ummmm, a bit early. And, at first, wrong. The post concerned a screening of the documentary film "Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am." Or, more specifically, it concerned a special event tagged to that film.

Well, now that event — the actual event — is occurring. And it's occurring tonight. A special screening of the documentary will take place at 7 at the Magic Lantern Theater. Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, the film premiered on Jan. 27 at the Sundance Film Festival.

And here's the special part: The film will be presented by two Gonzaga University professors, Jessica Maucione and Inga Laurent. Maucione is an Associate Professor of English and Women's & Gender Studies, while Laurent is an Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Externship Program at the GU School of Law.

Admission to the screening is $9. That's a small price to pay for what is sure to be an educational experience.

Note: The embed below captures a Sundance Film Festival interview with director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.

Tonight is last time to catch a bit of ‘Glory’

Until Edward Zwick's 1989 film "Glory" was released, the deeds of the 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry were known mostly only to a few historians and Civil War enthusiasts.

An all-black regiment headed by a white officer, Col. Robert Gould Shaw (played in the movie by Matthew Broderick), the 54th was initially treated poorly. It was given substandard equipment and the black troops were paid less than white soldiers.

Then on July 18, 1863, Shaw led 600 of his troops in an attack on Fort Wagner, which guarded the Port of Charleston, S.C. Some 281 of the regiment were killed, wounded or captured, including Shaw.

Though the 54th continued to fight over the next two years, taking part in operations throughout the South, the 54th Massachusetts is remembered for its single night of … well, for want of a better word, glory. The 54th returned to Boston in September 1865 where a statue of Shaw and his men was erected in 1897.

Zwick's movie, which will screen today at 4 and 7 p.m. at the Regal Cinemas theater at Northtown Mall, ended up winning three Academy Awards, one of which went to Denzel Washington (Best Supporting Actor).

Learn how to pick up girls … ‘in a Dungeon’?

If you've never heard of the intriguingly titled Japanese franchise known as "Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?" you're not alone. And you're probably not Japanese.

First a "light novel" (a kind of young-adult novel) series, then both a manga series and an anime television series (of three seasons), "Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?" is now a movie. Directed by Katsushi Sakurabi, it was written by Fujino Omori.

Subtitled "Arrow of the Orion," the movie is set in the fantasy world of Orario, where gods forego their divine powers and adventurers come to fight creatures in a place dubbed The Dungeon. In "Arrow of the Orion," the goddess Artemis must team with the would-be hero Bell Cranell to battle a menace lurking in the remains of a distant, ancient city.

The film, which premiered in Japan on July 13, will screen in a subtitled version at 7:30 tonight at two area Regal Cinemas theaters: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium. In addition to a franchise retrospective, the event will include "never-before-seen interviews" with the production staff and other special features. 

As critic Nick Valdez wrote for comicbook.com, the film may be a little hard to access for those not acquainted with the series, but it should please longtime fans. It is, he wrote, "an action-packed reunion with all of your favorites. It gives you that peculiar, joyous feeling of seeing all of your friends in school after the summer break."

Friday’s openings: All hail Tarantino’s 9th

One of the most anticipated movies of the summer — and actually of the year — opens on Friday. No surprise, it's being billed simply as Quentin Tarantino's 9th film:

"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood": Harking back both to the time of Spaghetti Westerns and the end of Hollywood's Golden Era, Tarantino tells a story of the film industry as it entered the late 1960s through the lens of a fading box-office star named Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and several others … including the doomed actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Yay though I walk through the shadow of Laurel Canyon …

And at the Magic Lantern? Well, this is what is tentatively scheduled:

"Diamantino": Ostensibly a movie about a one-time soccer star trying to regain what once made him great, this Portuguese-language film is wild concoction of themes and tones. As IndieWire critic David Erlich wrote, "Part B-movie spoof, part handcrafted satire, and always driven by a genuine vision for a better tomorrow, 'Diamantino' is like looking at today’s Europe through a funhouse mirror, and somehow seeing it more clearly as a result."

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

Sandler’s ‘Murder Mystery’ no ‘Happy Gilmore’

Among the several Netflix Originals that have been released recently, the Adam Sandler comedy "Murder Mystery" has been attracting a bit of critical attention. So I decided to review it for Spokane Public Radio, and following is a transcription:

So many film stars have experienced wind-shear careers. One minute they’re riding a box-office – maybe even a critical – high. And the next they find themselves relegated to a bargain DVD bin set up at their local grocery story.

And let’s face it, in this era of streaming services, DVDs are long out of fashion.

Speaking of streaming services, it once was commonly accepted that having a movie originate anywhere other than an actual theater meant your career was headed for that dreaded grocery bargain bin. As they tend to do, though, times have changed.

Take Adam Sandler. For years – roughly comprising a decade beginning in the mid-90s – Sandler had one comedy hit after the next. I still see guys on occasion trying to imitate his “Happy Gilmore” golf swing, though never on an actual golf course.

More recently, though, Sandler has been a presence on Netflix. In fact, since 2015 Sandler has produced a half-dozen Netflix projects, the latest being the comedy “Murder Mystery.”

Not that being a Netflix regular has hurt his career any. In 2017, the service extended its deal with him, and “Murder Mystery” – which was directed by veteran TV and music-video-maker Kyle Newacheck, from a script by writer-producer James Vanderbilt – came out of that extension.

In the film, Sandler plays a New York cop named Nick who – though he can’t quite find the focus he needs to pass the detective’s test – still has managed to figure out how to stay married to Audrey, a hairdresser played by Jennifer Aniston.

And, yes, you heard that right: the one-time “Friends” star plays a hairdresser – though she may be the least believable hairdresser since Edward Scissorhands.

Tricked into paying for a long-promised European vacation – one that was supposed to have been their honeymoon some 15 years before – Nick finds himself becoming jealous on the flight over when Audrey connects with a sophisticated fellow named Charles (played by Luke Evans). Not surprisingly, Nick refuses Charles’ offer for both of them to join him on his family’s yacht and attend a birthday party for his uncle.

Pretty soon, though, for reasons that fit perfectly with this kind of comedy, Nick changes his mind, and the two working-class New Yorkers find themselves mingling with an elite crowd that might put some familiar Mar-a-Lago residents to shame.

Soon after that, they become the chief suspects when the uncle ends up mysteriously murdered. The rest of the film involves Nick and Audrey struggling – often Inspector Clouseau-like – both to prove their innocence and to find the real murderer.

Kudos to you if you figure things out before they do. I wasn’t able to. Then again, that might have been because I’d begun playing Solitaire on my iPad.

Not that “Murder Mystery” is particularly bad. It has a few funny moments, even if I never once bought Aniston as a character more appropriately played by, say, one of the Amys – Poehler or Schumer.

It’s just that if you’re familiar with Sandler’s work, you know what to expect – even if, this time, it has nothing to do with golf.

Friday’s openings redux: Karate and Quebecois crime

Along with the week's big opener, "The Lion King," movie fans will have a few other choices to pick from. They include:

"The Art of Self-Defense": Straight from the film-festival circuit, this offbeat film stars Jesse Eisenberg as a young man who responds to an attack by street toughs by signing up for karate lessons. And, no, his teacher is not Chuck Norris. (Note: The film played twice at the recent Seattle International Film Festival.)

"The Fall of the American Empire": French-Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand ("The Barbarian Invasions") tells the story of a shy young man who happens upon a crime scene, picks up a couple of bags of cash and then has to evade both the cops and the gang leader who wants his money back. Classify this under the heading "crime comedy (ou peut-être "comédie policière"). In French with English subtitles.

That appears to be the lot. So go, see a movie — maybe even the Disney flick, which is playing everywhere and around the clock — and enjoy.

Did the 13th Amendment end slavery? Find out on Sunday

You probably never have read the text of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Aside from Constitutional lawyers and a few lawmakers, few of us have.

Here is the complete text of Section 1 of the Amendment: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

And here is Section 2: "Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

Ratified on Dec. 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment put an official end to the practice of slavery, a process that President Abraham Lincoln had initiated in 1863 with his executive order — the Emancipation Proclamation (which had freed only those slaves in the Confederate States).

But don't take just my word for this. On Sunday at 6 p.m. the Magic Lantern, the Meaningful Movies Project — along with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane and the Magic Lantern itself — will present a screening of "13th," Ava DuVernay's 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary feature.

In addition to examining the history of the Amendment itself, DuVernay's film asks a pertinent question: Did the 13th Amendment truly end slavery in America? That's a topic likely to be addressed in a post-screening panel discussion featuring several area civil-rights proponents.

Panelists scheduled to participate include Carmen Pacheco-Jones, chair of the Spokane Regional Law & Justice Racial Equity Committee; Dora "Duaa-Rahemaah" Williams, YWCA Racial & Social Justice Committee; Curtis Hampton, Spokane Community Against Racism (SCAR); Kurtis Robinson, Spokane NAACP President; and Kiantha Duncan, Empire Health Foundation, Spokane NAACP.

Regarding the film itself, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis hailed it this way: "Powerful, infuriating and at times overwhelming, Ava DuVernay’s documentary '13th' will get your blood boiling and tear ducts leaking."

Admission to the screening is free (though a donation is suggested).

‘Pieces’ of Toni Morrison go on display Friday

So, finally, the Magic Lantern Theater will open the documentary film "Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am" on Friday.

I say "finally" because when I read a press release last month about the film's upcoming opening, I misread the date. I thought the film was going to be featured in a special Lantern event scheduled for June 25th. And I wrote a blog post to that effect.

Actually, though, the event is scheduled for Thursday, July 25th. Totally my bad.

Anyway, "Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am" indeed will open at the Lantern on Friday. And the special event, which will be hosted by two Gonzaga University professors — Jessica Maucione and Inga Laurent — indeed will take place on the 25th.

Anyway, here are some critical comments about the documentary itself, which was directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders:

Monica Castillo, RogerEbert.com: "Morrison's legacy is more than just the titles on a reading list, and this documentary will likely help many viewers see just how monumental her accomplishments remain."

Melissa Vincent, Globe and Mail: "As with Morrison's books, 'The Pieces I Am' invites multiple, maybe even piecemeal, encores, because few writers wield the capacity to leave their readers with an evolving parting message with each subsequent reread."

Alan Zilberman, Washington Post: "It doesn't matter whether you've have read all - or any - of Morrison books. Either way, you may leave the theater wanting to pick one up on the way home."

I'll post a reminder about the special screening sometime next week.

Friday’s openings: Disney remakes a classic

It wasn't enough for Disney to retell classic stories in animated form. They had to go and remake those retellings in live-action format.

The version of "Aladdin" starring Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott and a CGI-enhanced Will Smith as the Genie, which was released in May, is based on the 1992 animated version. And on Friday, a whole new version of another popular animated Disney film — this one released in 1994 — is scheduled to open:

"The Lion King": Jon Favreau directed and everyone from Donald Glover to Alfre Woodard, John Oliver to Beyonce add their voices to the classic story of a young lion cub who, having lost his father, must find a way to achieve his own path to greatness.

The Disney film is the only mainstream opening listed on the national movie-release schedule. As always, I'll update when the area theaters finalize their bookings.

‘Last Black Man’ is one of the year’s best films

If you haven't yet seen "The Last Black Man in San Francisco," then you're denying yourself the opportunity to see one of the year's best movies. Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Some movies tell evocative stories. Others pull you into the lives of intriguing characters. Still others create fantasy worlds that can feel more real than reality itself. And then you’ll find films that do all this at once. Joe Talbot’s “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is that latter-most kind of film.

Conjured by first-time-feature filmmaker Talbot and his longtime friend Jimmie Fails – written by Talbot and screenwriter Rob Richert – “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is both a study of frustrated hopes and a love letter to the city that San Francisco was before it became a haven for the 1 percent.

The frustration involves the film’s title character – played by Fails as a version of his real self, also called Jimmie Fails – who lives with his friend Mont (played by Jonathan Majors) and Mont’s Grandfather Allen (played by Danny Glover).

Grandfather Allen’s house sits in a downtrodden section of the city, on the Bay near a former military installation where – we are told – radioactive waste has polluted the water. Not only told, though: The movie opens with a young black girl watching as workers in hazmat suits attempt to clean up the area while a street preacher excoriates them in bible speech worthy of seven Billy Grahams.

Yet Jimmie’s heart is elsewhere. While we see him occasionally working as a geriatric care specialist, his vocation of choice is as caretaker of a house in a more upscale neighborhood. He dotes on the place, painting window trim and bemoaning the overgrown garden, to the chagrin – and irritation – of its current white owners.

I say current because, as Jimmie tells anyone who will listen, the house used to be his family home. His grandfather built it, he explains, not in the 1850s but in 1946, after taking over an empty plot of land from a Japanese family that had been interned during World War II.

Jimmie may be correct, or he may be spinning a fantasy he desperately wants to believe. Talbot ultimately reveals the truth, though what that truth actually is may be the least of his film’s many qualities.

Winner of a directing award at Sundance, Talbot affects a style that has much in common with what Barry Jenkins realized with his 2017 Best Picture Oscar winner “Moonlight.” And not just in his stunning use of cinematography but in the mood he achieves.

Whether Jimmie is skateboarding up and over San Francisco’s hilly streets, confronting the toughs who hang out in front of Grandfather Allen’s house (and who act as a kind of Greek chorus) or merely staring at the house he craves, he does so in a manner that feels mournfully meditative.

Much of the mourning revolves around race and the profound sense of dispossession that many Bay Area residents must feel over their changing hometown. Yet “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is no mere ode to sadness. It is, in the end, a powerful tribute to emotional growth and self-awareness.

It is also, without a doubt, one of 2019’s very best films.

Things ‘Rumble’ musically Monday at The Garland

Music is as old a humankind itself. No one knows exactly how it started, but cultural anthropologists suggest it might have initiated as human attempts to copy the sounds of nature — of the wind, of flowing water, of animal cries.

Whatever, it gradually became ritualized by prehistoric cultures. And as time progressed, it evolved into what (for better or worse) it's become today.

And that's true even for the native people of North America, a fact made evident by the documentary "Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World." Co-directed by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana, the film will screen at 7 p.m. Monday at the Garland Theater.

The screening, which is part of the Garland's Monday Movies series, will include a live performance by Silent Hill and Tiny Louie.

"Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World" features interviews with a number of notable musicians, a short list of which includes Iggy Pop, Buddy Guy, Stevie Van Zandt, Taj Mahal, Steve Tyler and Jackson Browne, along with performances by such Native American talents as Buffy Saint-Marie.

Writing after the documentary's screening at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Justin Lowe of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "As the film engagingly lifts the veil on Native Americans’ role in several generations of pop music, it traces their involvement from the Delta blues and jazz eras up to present-day hip hop. Brimming with revealing first-person interviews, tantalizing audio clips and dynamic concert footage, Rumble evinces the enviable potential to appeal to a broad range of audiences in a variety of formats."

Admission to the event is $8. Meanwhile, enjoy the embed below: the hit from 1974, "Come and Get Your Love," by the Native American band Redbone. It should brighten your day.