7 Blog

Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

Warning: This ‘Agrippina’ no longer just for elites

Opera isn't for everyone. But opera becomes a bit more interesting when the production notes include a warning such as the following:

"Please be aware that this production of 'Agrippina,' although containing no nudity, includes some suggestive adult content which may not be suitable for young audiences."

Hmmmm. If that attracted your attention, the warning involves "The Met Live in HD Presents Agripinna," which will screen at 9:55 a.m. on Saturday at the Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and at Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium, with an encore screening set for 1 and 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday (March 4) at Northtown only.

"Agrippina" is a three-act opera that was composed by the German composer George Frideric Handel and performed first in 1709. The opera's plot explores the machinations of Agrippina, the mother of the future Roman emperor Nero, to secure the position for her son. The Metropolitan Opera's production features mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in the title role.

And under the direction of Sir David McVicar (with Harry Bicket conducting), this version of “Agrippina” has been, according to New York Times critic Zachary Woolfe, "yanked from ancient Rome into a deliciously bleak vision of our time, played with electric vividness, and starring a guns-blazing Joyce DiDonato."

"Bold, snicker-out-loud funny, magnetic and unsettling through its power-struggle convolutions, this production musically and dramatically fills the company’s looming proscenium," Woolfe wrote. "It’s begging to be enjoyed with a bag of popcorn — or with a martini packing some of the work’s frosty heat."

And the reason for that "warning" mentioned above. It might have something to do with mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey's performance as Nero.

As Woolfe wrote, "Ms. Lindsey — groping herself and anyone she can get her hands on, her voice sometimes overwhelmed in fast passages but sly in moments of otherworldly softness — is an indelible caricature as Nero. She practically oozes across the stage, at one point singing an aria verse in a side plank position that made my abs hurt just watching it."

Now, that's opera for more than just the elite among us.

Friday’s openings redux: Seberg and kid superheroes

It looks as if a couple of other movies have been added to Friday's list of openings. One is an arthouse offering while the other is aimed at anime fans. The added films are:

"Seberg": Kristin Stewart stars as the ill-fated actress Jean Seberg who was targeted by the FBI for her political activities. Directed by Benedict Andrews, best known for his updated stage productions of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Click here for more information regarding the real Jean Seberg.

"My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising": This sequel to 2018's "My Hero Academia: Two Heroes" and the Japanese television series "My Hero Academia," all being adaptations of the popular manga, follows the further adventures of high school kids who are superheroes-in-training. Screenings are reported to be in Japanese with English subtitles.

Click here for a preview of the newest film.

And that's it for the moment. Don't forget that the 2020 Spokane International Film Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday at the Garland Theater, with the following week featuring daily screenings at the Magic Lantern.

‘Eagle Boy’ gives an insider’s view of Suicide Race

As I've made it clear in past posts on this blog, the 2020 edition of the Spokane International Film Festival opens on Friday. Following a 6 p.m. social hour at the Garland Theater, SpIFF 2020 will screen a Best of the Northwest shorts program beginning at 7, followed by a 9 p.m. screening of the documentary feature "Quiet Explosions: Healing the Brain."

After opening night, the final six days of the festival will take place at the Magic Lantern Theater. And one of the programs that will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Lantern will includes the near-hour-long documentary feature "Eagle Boy" and three shorts: "Woman Dress," "Urban.Indigenous.Proud: That Old Game La Crosse," and "Ride."

Regarding "Eagle Boy," the film — co-directed by Directed by Ruth Eddy and Samuel Wilson — takes its title from one of the horses that competed in the 2017 Suicide Race, which is a featured part of the annual Omak Stampede.

 Eddy and Wilson show us the race from the perspective of jockey Scott Abrahamson and trainer George Marchand, and along the way give viewers a unique insider's view of the culture that gave birth to the whole event.

Both, though, are quick to give credit to Eagle Boy himself.

 “He’s one of the greatest horses I’ve ever rode,” Abrahamson told the Tribal Tribune. “He wants to win this just as much as I do.”

Tickets for SpIFF 2020 are going fast. And festival passes have already sold out. Click here for more ticket information.

Personal disclaimer: I serve as a volunteer programmer for the Spokane International Film Festival, and I am an unpaid member of the festival's board of directors. I've attended every festival, as either a reporter or as a fan, since its inception in 1999.

Friday’s openings: An ‘Invisible Man’ for today

A number of movies are marked for release on Friday, but only one of them is scheduled to open widely. And that film is:

"The Invisible Man": In this new adaptation of H.G. Wells' classic novel, Elisabeth Moss plays a battered woman whose abusive ex takes his own life (supposedly) and leaves her his fortune. When strange things begin happening, though, she suspects that he never died at all.

It seems strange that Wells is mentioned in the credits for this film, since the only thing that seems anything remotely similar to Wells' 1897 novel — not to mention James Whale's 1933 film, starring Claude Rains — is the title.

Reviews of this new "Invisible Man," which was directed by "Saw" writer Leigh Whannell, have been embargoed, yet one critic has posted his commentary. And his reaction isn't particularly positive. Writing for the National Review, critic Armond White wrote, "This 'Invisible Man' is not entertainment; it’s merely a domestic-violence showcase for masochists." Ouch.

Then again, most movie fans familiar with White take his opinions for what they're worth. As fellow critic Owen Gleiberman once wrote in Entertainment Weekly, White "tosses out provocations like grenades and eats acclaimed films for breakfast."

Here, for example, is what White wrote about "Toy Story 3": "The 'Toy Story' franchise isn’t for children and adults, it’s for non-thinking children and adults. When a movie is this formulaic, it’s no longer a toy because it does all the work for you. It’s a sap’s story."

Double ouch. As usual, I'll update when area theater finalize their bookings.

SpIFF 2020: It kicks off on Friday, Feb. 28

In just one week's time, the 2020 Spokane International Film Festival will begin its week-long run. Following is a preview of the event that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Two decades ago, when what would become the Spokane International Film Festival screened its first weekend of movies, the world was a far different place.

Here’s where I could talk about how different things were before Sept. 11, 2001, long before the creation of the TSA, when mobile phones weren’t yet pocket computers, when paper maps and print newspapers were still a thing, and when people had to rewind their VHS tapes after watching the latest Hollywood release on video.

But let’s ignore that history lesson and stick to what was happening for movie fans in Spokane. No mainstream movie houses, even AMC River Park Square, were showing arthouse or international movies on a regular basis. That was the sole province of the Magic Lantern, which since its founding in 1973 had experienced a number of closings and re-openings before it found a permanent home in the Saranac Building.

Any fan of anything other than mainstream cinema haunted either the Lantern or rifled through the back shelves of the various local home-video stores – including, and maybe even especially, the long-defunct Street Music, which was owned and operated by Jack Lindberg.

But then through the combined efforts of the arts organization known as the Contemporary Arts Alliance and Spokane Public Radio film critic Bob Glatzer, things changed. And what emerged was a festival that, over the years, grew into what is now a weeklong celebration of international cinema, offering a rich collection of feature films, documentaries and shorts programs.

The latest edition of the festival – or SpIFF, as it’s referred to – will open for business a week from today at The Garland Theater. Beginning at 6 p.m. with a social hour, the festival’s opening night will feature a Best of the Northwest shorts program beginning at 7, followed by a documentary film “Quiet Explosions: Healing the Brain.”

Mark Rypien, the former Shadle Park, Washington State University and Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Washington Redskins, is expected to make an appearance.

The remainder of SpIFF 2020 will continue the next day, Feb. 29, at the Magic Lantern, and on through March 6 with a final-night screening of Chase Ogden’s documentary “Super Frenchie” and a closing party at Osprey, the newly reopened lounge at the Ruby River Hotel.

In between, the festival will screen films from such countries as diverse as Ukraine and Israel, Spain and Sweden.

Some of the highlights include:

“The Wolf House”: A Chilean study in animation, live-action and stop-motion that combines the elements of a classic dark folk tale with the real-life threats posed by cult leaders and sexual abusers – who sometimes are the same thing.

“The Woman Who Loves Giraffes”: a documentary about Anne Innis Digg, a researcher whose work on giraffes predated Jane Goodall’s work on chimpanzees.

“Song Lang”: a Vietnamese study of two men from different backgrounds whose chance meeting awakens deep-seated emotions in both.

“Balloon”: a suspenseful German feature film, based on real events, that follows the efforts of two families to escape 1979 East Germany in, of all things, a hot-air balloon.

“China Love”: a documentary that explores the lucrative pre-wedding photo industry, which sees couples spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to document their impending “happiness.”

And that’s just a taste of what SpIFF 2020 has to offer. To discover how to purchase advance tickets, which are going fast, click here (festival passes sold out weeks ago).

For full disclosure, I have to mention that I’m a volunteer member of the SpIFF board of directors. But long before I became personally involved in the festival, I attended each year’s screenings as both a reporter and as a fan.

And it’s as a fan – and someone who is glad that he no longer has to rewind his VHS tapes – that I recommend SpIFF 2020 now.

KSPS to screen ‘Guns of Navarone’ on Saturday

Going to the movies is a great way to spend your free time. Sometimes, though, you'd rather just stay home, pop your own popcorn and watch something in the comfort of your own living room.

And with all the streaming options available these days, that option is more popular then ever.

Still, even with all the services such as Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV and Amazon Prime (among others), some of the more traditional ways of watching movies remain viable. Even, at times, essential.

One of those ways is "Saturday Night Cinema," the weekly movie show offered on Saturday nights by Spokane's Public Television station KSPS. The show revels in presenting a variety of motion pictures, of all genres, for anyone who cares to tune in.

At 8 p.m. on Saturday night, for example, the featured movie is "The Guns of Navarone," J. Lee Thompson's 1961 study of a desperate World War II mission to destroy a German gun emplacement. Among the stars are Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn and Irene Pappas.

Presenter Shaun O’L. Higgins will host Saturday's screening and will no doubt say something about Carl Foreman, the author of screenplays for "High Noon" and "Bridge on the River Kwai," who produced the film from a script that he adapted from Alistair MacLean's novel.

"Say this, too," wrote the sometimes priggish New York Times critic Bosley Crowther. "Even though the picture runs more than two hours and a half, it moves swiftly and gets where it is going. J. Lee Thompson has directed it with pace and has seen to it that the actors give the impression of being stout and bold."

What was it I was saying about tradition?

‘Ride Your Wave’ features love in the surf

Japanese filmmaker Masaaki Yuasa is known for making unconventionally romantic anime films.

His 2006 effort “Kemonozume,” for example, features a love affair between monster and monster hunter. By contrast, his short "Kick-Heart" (2012) pairs off a professional wrestler and a nun.

The lovers in "Ride Your Wave," which will screen at 7 tonight at the Regal Cinemas theater at Northtown Mall, don't boast that much of a contrast. Still, a surfer and a firefighter isn't the most natural pairing.

The surfer is Hinako, a college freshman who would rather spend her time riding waves. The firefighter is Minato, who meets Hinako when he rescues her (and her surfboard) from an apartment fire.

But though love is in the air, love's path is never smooth. And after an accident, Hinako is left alone … until a vision of Minato returns to help her find a way to overcome her grief.

"Yes, the colors, the fun, the J-pop soundtrack, the breaking waves so immersive that you can almost feel the spray in your face" are all things to relish, wrote Austin (Texas) Chronicle critic Richard Whittaker. "But it all comes back to the characters growing, seeing their flaws or their troubles, and healing."

Tonight's screening is in Japanese with English subtitles. Click here to score tickets.

SpIFF 2020: ‘Ballon’ a study in courage

We're moving ever closer to the opening night of the 2020 Spokane International Film Festival, which premieres at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 28, with a social hour at The Garland Theater.

The event precedes the opening-night program of Best of the Northwest Shorts followed by the feature-length documentary "Quiet Explosions: Healing the Brain."

I've already previewed two films that this year's festival has to offer (scroll down). In this post, I'll present another: the German-made film "Balloon," which will screen at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29, at the Magic Lantern Theater. 

Based on real events, "Balloon" harks back to the late 1970s when something we used to call the Iron Curtain still split Western and Eastern Europe — specifically, in this case, West and East Germany.

Tired of the repressive East German regime, two families hatch a unique plan: to use a hot-air balloon to float over the wall that separates the two countries and seek asylum in the West.

Directed by Michael Herbig, "Balloon" tells a familiar story. In fact, the feat by the families was covered by the 1982 Disney movie "Night Crossing." This time, though, the intent was to “make a German film for an international audience.”

In any event, even if you're familiar the story, "Balloon" boasts a sense of suspense that will carry you along — much as the Oscar-winning movie "Argo" does.

Tickets for SpIFF 2020 are going fast. And festival passes have already sold out. Click here for more ticket information.

Personal disclaimer: I serve as a volunteer programmer for the Spokane International Film Festival, and I am an unpaid member of the festival's board of directors. I've attended every festival, as either a reporter or as a fan, since its inception in 1999.

Friday’s openings: Big dog and a creepy doll

Though he's known most for his adventure stories, Jack London wrote mostly about adult issues. Still, that never stopped some film studios from adapting London's stories in any way they want.

Case in point: one of London's most famous novels, "The Call of the Wild," an adaptation of which is among Friday's opening movies, according to the national release schedule:

"The Call of the Wild": Harrison Ford stars alongside a digitally created dog named Buck in London's tale about a pampered St. Bernard/Scotch Collie who ends up living in Alaska with a succession of owners. Fair warning: The book ends happily for the dog, less so for the humans — but the producing company of this film, 20th Century Pictures, is owned by Disney, so …

"Brahms: The Boy II": When a family moves into the Heelshire Mansion (see "The Boy"), they discover some strange happenings involving a doll named Brahms. Shades of Chucky, yo.

That's all for the moment. As usual, I'll update when the area theaters finalize their bookings.

Social Justice Film Festival 2020: A quick look

Above: A scene from the documentary "The Condor & the Eagle."

The best of the annual Social Justice Film Festival is coming to Spokane this weekend. This year's theme is "courage." Following is my preview of the festival that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Courage is one of those qualities that can be hard to define.

Here’s one meaning: endurance in the face of opposition, despite the threat of ostracism, of pain or even death, in an attempt to accomplish what you know intrinsically is right.

That, though, is only a definition. Labeling someone as courageous also depends on what it is they’re trying to accomplish. Lucky for us, the annual Social Justice Film Festival is here to give us a number of examples, from all over the world, to study – and in some cases to follow.

The 2020 version of the festival, which will screen this weekend at the Magic Lantern Theater and at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Gonzaga University School of Law’s Barbieri Courtroom, is a collection of the best short films and feature documentaries culled from a 10-day-long event that played last October in Seattle.

Split into separate programs, 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, plus the Tuesday night screening, the Spokane festival comprises 12 films in all – five features and seven shorts.

The Tuesday-night feature is the HBO-produced documentary “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality,” which is a profile of the civil-rights attorney whose story was dramatized in the narrative film “Just Mercy” starring Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson and Jamie Foxx.

Stevenson’s courage to work in Alabama to provide legal aid to those too poor to afford competent representation is obvious. Just as obvious, though, is the ongoing fight of indigenous populations to document their historical struggles, as occurs in the documentary feature “The Condor & the Eagle.”

Or the efforts, documented by the makers of the feature simply titled “Hurdle,” of Palestinians attempting to find a sense of freedom in the shadow of the wall that separates Israel’s two main populations.

“Guest House,” though, takes us in a different direction by focusing on the experiences of three women striving both to fight their addiction to drugs and to find some way to navigate their way following incarceration. “Patrinell: the Total Experience,” meanwhile, studies choir leader Patrinell Wright and her longtime efforts to found and manage the Seattle-based Total Experience Gospel Choir.

Those, though, are just the features. The festival’s seven short films offer just as many different experiences, beginning with the Oscar-winning Live-Action Short “Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone (if You’re a Girl).” Directed by Carol Dysinger, the film follows a group of young Afghani pre-teens as they both learn to read and, yes, attempt to skate like junior Tony Hawks.

Nation Isaac’s documentary short “Remembering Our Grandpa” – I’m sorry but I can’t pronounce the native title – recalls the 1981 raid on the Canadian native nation at Listuguj. While two other shorts, “Elegy Ending with a Cell Door Closing” and the Spanish entry “Unburied,” use animation to capture other kinds of painful personal experience.

Here’s the best part. Admission to each of the Spokane-based event’s showings is free.

But then that’s only natural. It costs nothing to show courage – nothing except the price we all pay to conquer our biggest fears.

Social Justice Film Festival: ‘Courage’ is key

Above: A scene from Michael Rowley's documentary feature "Hurdle."

Courage is a term we all understand, even if we'd have trouble coming up with a simple definition.

So let's be thankful that an upcoming film festival, the Social Justice Film Festival 2020, will screen a number of films that attempt to do just that: define courage by exploring examples of it.

And the best part? Admission is free.

The festival schedule, which will take place both at the Magic Lantern Theater (Saturday and Sunday) and the Gonzaga University School of Law's Barbieri Courtroom (Tuesday Feb. 18), is as follows:

Magic Lantern: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

An old salt miner lives in a remote village, barely scraping by from his sales of salt. His children have gone to the city to find work. The old generation working in the village is disappearing; the village is empty. (Dir. Kiumars Sarshar, 15 min, Iran)

"Mi'Gwidelmag Gnitjgamitj" (Remembering Our Grandpa)
Inspired by the 1984 documentary film "Incident at Restigouche," "Mi'gwidelmag Gnitjgamitj" is a short essay film that captures the beautiful landscapes of Listuguj, and a dark side of Canada. (Dir. Nation Isaac, 7 min, Canada)

"The Condor and the Eagle"
Four Indigenous environmental leaders embark on an extraordinary trans-continental adventure from the Canadian plains to deep into the heart of the Amazonian jungle. (Dir. Sophie Guerra, Clement Guerra, 82 min, Germany/France/U.S.)

Magic Lantern: Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

"Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if You’re a Girl)"
This film tells the story of young Afghan girls learning to read, write—and skateboard—in Kabul, Afghanistan. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Live Action Documentary Short. (dir. Carol Dysinger, 40 min, U.S.)

In the shadow of a wall stands a new generation of Palestinians. With defiant creativity they prove that no matter the height of the obstacle, one can always climb. (dir. Michael Rowley, 87 min, U.S.)

Magic Lantern: Sunday, 2:30 p.m.

"Lights Camera Representation"
This documentary asks students and professors to think about the issue of gender inequality in their profession and in their film school experiences. (dir. Nikole Chumley, 8 min, U.S.)

"Elegy Ending with a Cell Door Closing"
This animated poem by Dwayne Betts tells the story of a 15-year-old child named Fats (#RojaiFentress), currently sentenced to life in prison for a crime he did not commit. (dir. Louisa Bertman, Reginald Dwayne Betts, 2 min, U.S.)

"Guest House"
Feature documentary "Guest House" follows the stories of three women in a re-entry house as they battle addiction and attempt to acclimate to life after being released from incarceration. (dir. Hannah Dweck, Yael Luttwak, 75 min, U.S.)

A poignant account of the heart-wrenching effects that hostile migration policies can have on real people. (dir. Sally Fenaux Barleycorn, 6 min, Spain)

"Shadow Life: Shining Through Colorism & Depression"
Told through stop motion animated shadow puppetry and an intimate interview, this film explores a young woman's experiences working through colorism, racism and mental illness. (dir. Miranda Kahn, 6 min, U.S.)

"Patrinell: The Total Experience"
The story of Patrinell Wright and her Total Experience Choir, an internationally recognized Seattle institution, is told against the backdrop of the city’s gentrification and racial history. (dir. Tia Young, Andrew Elizaga, 94 min, U.S.)

Gonzaga University School of Law: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 6:30 p.m.

"True Justice: Bryan Stevenson's Fight for Equality" is a feature documentary that examines the personal journey of civil-rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, a public defender in Alabama and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, who is working to bring justice to the incarcerated, wrongfully convicted and disadvantaged. (dir. George Kinhardt, Peter W. Kunhardt, Teddy Kunhardt, 102 minutes, U.S.)

Catch Oscar-nominated ‘The Bridge’ Thursday at The MAC

It's so easy to view "the other" as something disembodied, without substance, essentially non-human. That act makes it much easier to kill them, which is the ultimate aim of war: to kill the enemy, obligatorily labeled "the other."

One film that turns that attitude on its head is "The Bridge," the 1959 work by Austrian-born filmmaker Bernhard Wicki. Set near the end of World War II, "The Bridge" is a film about a group of young men — of boys, actually — who are recruited to defend their village from invading Allied troops.

As the Criterion Collection explains it, "This expressively shot, emotionally bruising drama dared to humanize young German soldiers at a historically tender moment, and proved influential for the coming generation of New German Cinema auteurs."

"The Bridge" is the debut offering in a new monthly film series at The Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, which begins at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday and runs through May. Admission to the series, which will be presented by Shaun O’L. Higgins, a co-host of KSPS's Saturday Night Cinema.

Nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film (the award went to "Black Orpheus"), "The Bridge" was described by TV Guide this way: "Flawless first directing job from Wicki along with surprisingly good performances from no-name actors."

The rest of the film series schedule also features notable examples of late-20th century German cinema:

March 12: "Jacob the Liar" (1974, directed by Frank Beyer). Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.

April 9: "Beyond Silence" (1996, Caroline Link). Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.

May 14: "The Lives of Others" (2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck). Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film.

Among other reasons, besides the fact that he says he wanted to "showcase the work of less widely known directors," Higgins explained why he chose these specific four films.

"I like to honor the memory of directors, in particular, who transformed cinema in their time or culture, but whose names seldom arise in film talk these days," he said. "Bernhard Wicki is one of these, having inspired a generation of New German film directors, including (Werner) Herzog.

Click here for more information about the screening of "The Bridge."

SpIFF 2020: ‘Wolf House’ an exercise in originality

Looking ahead to some of the films that will screen at the 2020 Spokane International Film Festival:

One of the things that a film programmer looks for is originality. At least, that's what I do. If a film wows me with a certain unexpected quality, I immediately put it on the "maybe" list.

One such film that made the final cut at SpiFF 2020, which runs from Feb. 28 through March 6, is the stop-motion animated feature "The Wolf House" (which will screen at 3:30 p.m. Saturday Saturday at the Magic Lantern Theater).

Based loosely on a true story involving German immigrant colony in Chile run by a man named Paul Schafer, "The Wolf House" — co-directed by Chilean filmmakers Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León — tells the story of a young girl who escapes a religious community and finds refuge, of a sort, in a house in the woods. She looks after a pair of pigs even as a wolf lurks at the door.

But that brief description does very little to give potential viewers an idea of just how haunting "The Wolf House" really is. Underscoring everything we see is that fact that the filmmakers hail from a country that, during the Pinochet regime, saw widespread, government-supported torture and murder.

As the program for the Film at Lincoln Center series points out, "Using stop-motion techniques and combining elements of various fables, photography, drawing, sculpture, and stage performance, Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León have created a nightmarish shapeshifter of a film."

And as Hollywood Reporter critic Jonathan Holland wrote, "Behind all the tech wizardry, it shouldn’t be forgotten that 'The Wolf House' is tragic, the story of a young girl who is painfully learning, as did the inhabitants of Schafer’s colony, that sometimes a house can be the terrifying opposite of a home."

For tickets to SpIFF 2020, click hereNote: Festival passes are no longer available.

Personal disclaimer: I serve as a volunteer programmer for the Spokane International Film Festival, and I am an unpaid member of the festival's board of directors. I've attended every festival, as either a reporter or as a fan, since its inception in 1999.

Friday’s openings: Horror and a ‘Hedgehog’

A bit of horror, a bit of animation and a bit of Jim Carrey will be on tap when Friday's movie menu debuts. The main openings, according to the national release schedule, are:

"Sonic the Hedgehog": After a faulty start, which involved a total reconstruction of the title character, this adaptation of the popular video game opens with a combination animation/live-action story about an alien hedgehog (voice by Ben Schwartz) with super speed who comes to Earth and is targeted by a nefarious scientist (Carrey).

"The Photograph": Issa Rae stars as a woman who tries to find out the truth of a photograph of her mother, and Lakeith Stanfield stars as the journalist who falls for her. Yeah, that usually happens.

"Fantasy Island": Unlike the former television series, the fantasies of this island are a horror show of things better left undreamed of. Boss, boss, the plane!!

As usual, I'll update as the local theaters finalize their bookings.

‘Miss Americana’ reveals the price of Swift’s fame

Once in a while, a documentary comes along that surprises you. The Netflix film "Miss Americana," which features songstress Taylor Swift, did just that for me. Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Midway through watching the Netflix documentary “Miss Americana,” Lana Wilson’s study of singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, I began thinking of the 1957 Ken Nordine album titled “Word Jazz.”

Nordine’s eight spoken-word compositions explore themes as diverse as the power of thought and the essence of truth. One, though, stands out in particular: It’s titled, simply enough, “Flibberty Jib.”

“Flibberty Jib” tells the story of a tall, dark stranger who comes to town, who gets everyone together in the huge auditorium, who takes the stage and begins to chant, “The flibberty jib on the bipperty bop.”

No one knows what it means. But everyone, little by little, is taken into the world of the stranger’s magic. And, says Nordine, “the magic was in us. And he was on the stage saying yes … yes … yes.”

Such is the nature of stage magic, though, that the effect can’t last. And so the stranger, struck by remarks made by those jealous of his powers, gradually loses faith in himself, becomes smaller and smaller, and ultimately leaves town, saying “No … no … no.”

Soon another stranger comes to town, the same thing happens, and the townsfolk are put back on the narrow path. As Nordine explains, “This is the way things have been in our town for as long as anyone cares to remember. By the way. How are things in your town?”

Taylor Swift could tell us. The documentary in which she is featured, “Miss Americana,” starts out as your typical musical profile, punctuated by performance footage, backstage looks and archival coverage of her life and career – the latter that began at age 16 with the now-30-year-old Swift’s multi-platinum, self-titled country album.

But soon it becomes clear that director Wilson, if not Swift herself, is after something more serious. Because as anyone knows who is assaulted by grocery-store tabloids, who regularly watched such TV gossip shows as TMZ or who simply breathes the air of pretty much any social-media site, when it comes to Swift most people are interested in one thing: who she is dating.

Some of this, of course, is only natural: Much of Swift’s work, the quality of which has made her one of the world’s best-selling music artists, concerns her own life. Her songs cover every personal feeling from the loss of innocence to fractured friendships and love affairs to the perils of fame.

But it’s clear, too, that performers who hits the heights of success are like Ken Nordine’s strangers. Many of those around them, whether they be other artists – in Swift’s case, Kanye West comes to mind – or fickle fans, ultimately turn on them.

Very few of us can imagine what it feels like to stand on a stage, in front of thousands of screaming fans, all of whom are expecting you to do something – whether it be singing or dancing, playing an instrument or telling jokes – that they’ve paid, in some cases, hundreds of dollars to experience.

Taylor Swift can. And in the surprisingly thoughtful documentary “Miss Americana,” she has far more to say about it than just “Flibberty Jib.”