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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

Magic Lantern to give a Philippine history lesson

One of the most common sayings regarding history is the old saw, attributed to the intellectual George Santayana, is "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I realized how true this could be recently when I gave a simple response to a statement I read on Facebook.

The statement was from a site titled "History Uncovered," on which the writer referred to the "often-overlooked death camps of the Soviet Union."

My reaction? "Often-overlooked”? By whom? Alexander Solzhenitsyn won a Nobel Prize by spending his whole career writing about the Gulag."

The reactions to this simple statement of fact were all over the place, mainly from — I presume — younger readers who blamed their teachers for either ignoring the Soviet Gulag in favor of stressing The Holocaust or of overlooking the well-documented crimes of Josef Stalin. To which I remained silent, not interested in involving myself further in online arguments (because all too often they degenerate into simple name-calling, etc.).

But, of course, I thought this: Much of what I know of history I learned on my own — especially by reading books such as Solzhenitsyn's novel "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" — which apparently isn't on today's required reading lists.

Anyway, all of this is a long-winded way of announcing that a film titled "The Kingmaker" is scheduled to open on Friday at the Magic Lantern. The film is a documentary about the efforts of former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos not only to remake her own image but also to promote the political ambitions of her son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

The film explores Marcos' checkered past and provides a scary look at her potential future. Says Washington Post critic Mark Jenkins, “ 'The Kingmaker' chills the soul by presenting shantytown residents and school kids who extol the Marcos regime and even endorse its eight-year period of martial law. Imelda Marcos is not the mother of all Filipinos, but some of them are happy to proclaim themselves her children."

Sounds ever so familiar. And viewers are invited to check out that Marcos regime history on their own, and to note the dangers.

No excuses allowed.

Friday’s openings: Blondes and defused bombs

We're finally getting some movie action this holiday period, as several big-screen productions are set to open (or go wide) on Friday, according to the national movie-release schedule:

"Bombshell": Margaret Robbie, Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman play real-life blond news announcers who were involved, in one way or another, with Fox News chief Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). Fair and balanced, you know?

"Black Christmas": A stranger involved with a bizarre underground group stalks young sorority women. And not, one suspects, for dating purposes.

"Jumanji: The Next Level": The bodies are the same but the characters that inhabit them are different in this sequel to the most dangerous fantasy game. But no Pennywise, thank you very much.

"Richard Jewell": Clint Eastwood does another inspired-by-headlines movie, this one about the security guard who was accused of planting a bomb at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. Terrorist … or hero?

"Uncut Gems": Tackling one of his rare dramatic roles, Adam Sandler plays a diamond dealer who is one the verge of a big, albeit dangerous, score. Directed by the Safdie brothers.

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

‘Meet Me in St. Louis’: Garland at her greatest

If you caught the recent film "Judy," you'll have some sort of idea of just how difficult Judy Garland's life was. Which is compounded by the fact that she appeared so radiant, and happy, in so many of her movies.

And one of my favorite Garland films will be screened locally as part of a 75th-anniversary event. "Meet Me in St. Louis" will play at 1 p.m. Sunday and at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

The film, which directed by Vincente Minnelli and released in 1944, stars Garland as Esther Smith. The second-born of four children in the Smith household, Esther is in love with the boy next door (Tom Drake). And the film follows Esther and the rest of the family — especially young Tootie, played by Margaret O'Brien — throughout the year leading up to the1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

So, OK, the movie might not age well, what with the whole plot revolving around a young woman's trying to snare a man. But Esther isn't just any young woman. She's bright and resourceful and willing to stand up for what's right — especially in defense of the spunky Tootie.

O'Brien, one of the great child performers in film history, is perfect as Tootie. And Leon Ames is notable as the father. But it is Garland around whom the movie is built, and she shows off all her star power in musical numbers such as "The Trolley Song", "The Boy Next Door", and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" — the first of which is featured (and sung by Renee Zellweger) in "Judy."

"Meet Me in St. Louis" was a highlight not just in Garland's career but also in her life. She ended up marrying Minnelli and having two children with him. That they later divorced doesn't change the fact that, for at least a short while, her life resembled something close to the image she portrayed so well on screen.

The Griswold family celebrates Christmas — again

You know Christmas is coming when Clark Griswold nearly electrocutes himself.

Which is what happens to the character played by Chevy Chase in the 1989 film "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." Directed by Jeremiah Check, and following the immensely popular — and far better — "National Lampoons Vacation," the Christmas version is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

And that means a Spokane theater is bound to join in the anniversary fiesta. AMC River Park Square will screen "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" over two nights.

The film will show at 7 p.m. on Thursday and at 4 and 6:40 p.m. on Friday.

Here's a bit of trivia: Chechik is the same guy who directed "Benny & Joon," the 1993 film starring Johnny Depp that was shot in Spokane.

That's almost as shocking as what happened to Clark Griswold.

Philip Glass revisits ancient Egypt with ‘Akhnaten’

In early November, when The Metropolitan Opera staged a revival of composer Philip Glass' opera "Akhnaten," New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini explained the show's appear this way: "(T)he production largely succeeds at Mr. McDermott’s goal of presenting 'Akhnaten' as a 'weird fever dream' combining ancient Egypt and the Victorians who fetishized it."

Tommasini was referring to director Phelim McDermott, whose job it was to bring Glass' work to life for the first time since 1984. Tommasini's biggest gamble: combining jugglers with his cast of singers.

"The riskiest element involves a 12-person troupe of jugglers — Sean Gandini, the director of Gandini Juggling, is credited as choreographer — in spandex catsuits," Tommasini wrote. "The circuslike juggling provides an apt visual representation of the spiraling rhythms of Mr. Glass’ music."

Your chance to see those jugglers, not to mention singers such as countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (cast in the title role as the fabled Egyptian ruler) and J'Nai Bridges (as Nefertiti), comes at 1 and 6:30 p.m. today at the Regal Cinemas theater at Northtown Mall (this is a repeat of the Nov. 23 broadcast).

Tommasini thought the jugglers may have been a bit much. But, as he wrote, the singers were not. "Wearing gauzy red robes with extravagantly long trains, Mr. Costanzo and Ms. Bridges seem at once otherworldly and achingly real," he wrote. "His ethereal tones combine affectingly with her plush, deep-set voice."

Doing what they can to make Mr. Glass proud.

Friday’s openings: Balloons to fly, toys to buy

December seems to be starting a bit slowly movie-wise, what with only two features scheduled to open on Friday. According to the national release schedule, those movies are:

"The Aeronauts": Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne play a couple of adventurers who (based on a real event in 1862) take to unparalleled heights in a hot-air balloon. Starring Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne (teamed again the first time since 2014's "The Theory of Everything."

"Playmobil: The Movie": Following other movies based on a line of toys, this one uses the Playmobil line to tell the story of a young woman  and her younger brother who get transported (transformed) into the Playmobil world with all its challenges. Cue the musical numbers — and the villains.

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

It truly is ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’

One of the year's most pleasant movie surprises is "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," which tells the story of the relationship between Fred "Mr. Rogers" and the magazine writer Tom Junod. I explained what I like about the film in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

I remember the first time I ever had a conversation about Fred Rogers. I’d caught his children’s program “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” a couple of times in the early ’70s and, to be honest, the guy creeped me out.

I told this to a friend, a guy I’d known for years and someone whose attitudes toward most things I shared, expecting him to agree. Instead, he turned to me and said, “Don’t say that in front of my son. He loves the guy.”

I’ve carried that memory for close to five decades now. Yet it’s been only recently that I’ve fully understood its significance. It’s taken me that long to again start to see things through the eyes I had as a child, the world in general and Mr. Rogers in particular.

Of course, the movies have helped. First, there was Morgan Neville’s 2018 documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” which gives an intimate portrayal of Rogers and the program he helmed for some 33 years. And now, in theaters, we have “IA Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a narrative film directed by Marielle Heller and starring Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys.

Based on an Esquire magazine article that Tom Junod wrote in 1998, Heller’s film is as much about Junod as it is about Rogers. Though the film changes some things – Rhys’ character is called Lloyd Vogel, for example – the fundamental reality remains: A magazine writer is assigned the task of profiling a so-called hero, namely Rogers, and that writer – Junod in real life, Vogel in the film – has misgivings.

This guy Mr. Rogers, a hero? Really? He can’t be for real … can he? In answering that question, the writer eventually discovers a truth not only about Mr. Rogers but about himself that sets him on a path of self-awareness.

This may not be an original plot path, but the way Heller portrays it is. Barely two minutes into “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” she blends Rogers’ show – known for its corny set design revolving around the imaginary neighborhood – with the real characters featured in the movie itself. In a sequence portraying the show’s various characters – Lady Aberlin, for example, and Mr. McFeely – Rogers segues from the fictitious to the real by introducing Vogel, his picture showing the bruised face of a man in pain.

And we’re off, Heller taking us back and forth, weaving the writer’s path from cynical observer to someone willing to trust that good does exist in the world – and that maybe, just maybe, he has the capacity not only to pass that good on to his own baby boy but to forgive the man, his father (played by Chris Cooper), whom he has long hated.

In portraying this, Rhys – a Welsh actor best known for his role in the miniseries “The Americans” – is fine. But the heart of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is Hanks, who doesn’t impersonate Rogers so much as channel him.

It’s through Hanks – who in one scene stares directly into the camera – that the spirit of a true American hero so brightly shines.

‘When Harry Met Sally’ is turning 30

One of the great scenes in all romantic comedies involves the actress Meg Ryan. And it comes during a scene in Rob Reiner's 1989 film "When Harry Met Sally" (screenplay by the late, great Nora Ephron).

Sally (Ryan) is having lunch with Harry (Billy Crystal), and the two are arguing about whether it's possible for a woman to fake an orgasm. Harry doubts it could happen. So right there, in Manhattan's Katz’s Delicatessen, Sally shows just how easy it would be to pull off.

The topper comes when, after Sally is done, a woman sitting nearby says, "I'll have what she's having."

You can see that scene again, along with the rest of the film, on Sunday and Tuesday at two area Regal Cinemas theaters, Northtown Mall 12 and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium 14. Sunday's screenings are at 4 p.m., while Tuesday's are at 4 and 7 p.m.

The special event celebrates the movie's 30th anniversary. But as anyone who has seen the movie knows, some scenes are timeless. 

‘Galaxy Quest’: a guilty pleasure for the ages

Reactions to art have always involved individual perception. Sometimes, by force of argument, perceptions move from the individual to the generally accepted. But some commentators never join in.

Take the paintings of Jackson Pollock, some of which hang in New York's Museum of Modern Art. As one critic argues in The Guardian, Pollock has always had his detractors. But the very fact that people still get upset over Pollock's "drip" style shows just how important that still was — and still is.

Or as the critic writes, "(I)t's hard to see people getting so worked up over an artist, more than 40 years after his death, unless there's something in his work that truly matters."

That's a long-winded way of introducing the notion of the guilty pleasure, which I define as something that might not fit into everyone's idea of quality but nevertheless is enjoyable — and maybe good in its own right as well.

One of my favorite movie guilty pleasures is Dean Parisot's 1999 sci-fi parody "Galaxy Quest." One of those kinds of movies that both makes fun of a specific genre, and yet at the same time works as a good comic representation of that genre, "Galaxy Quest" is the kind of film that I can watch again and again (I've seen it at least five times in full, and in part at least twice that many).

And now we can all enjoy the stories behind the making of the film, as "Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary" is set to screen at 7 p.m. Tuesday at two area Regal Cinemas theaters: Northtown Mall 12 and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium 14.

If you go and for some reason you can't score tickets, though, don't worry. As Dr. Lazarus vows, "By Grabthar's hammer, by the suns of Worvan, you shall be avenged."

The week’s openings: Mystery and marriage

It's a short week coming up, what with Thanksgiving arriving on Thursday. So we'll have at least two movies opening on Wednesday, according to the national release schedule.

Those movies are:

"Knives Out": Writer-director Rian Johnson takes a new look at an old genre, the classic whodunnit, involving the death of a family patriarch and the relatives who may — or may not — have wanted him dead. Best line (delivered by Chris Evans to the cornpone detective played by Daniel Craig): "What is this, CSI: KFC?"

"Queen and Slim": A couple's first date is interrupted when a police offers pulls them over, an act that changes their lives drastically. And not for the better.

And at the Magic Lantern? Aside from a second-run Spokane showing of "Harriet":

"Marriage Story": Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson star as a couple mired in the throes of divorce. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach.

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

‘Ford v Ferrari’ hails from a genre that endures

For a variety of reasons, many of them tied to my latent adolescent attitudes, I tend to love racing movies. So I had to go see "Ford v Ferrari," which I then reviewed for Spokane Public Radio:

Some movie genres are timeless. War movies, for example. Teen comedies. Rom-coms. And, more and more, animated adventure stories.

But it would have seemed that the time for traditional male-bonding flicks had passed. You know, the kind that feature John Wayne/Clint Eastwood types sauntering across the big screen, exuding more testosterone than a rugby scrum. Even Eastwood, in recent years, has toned down his macho stance.

It appears, though, that the genre lives on, because we have “Ford v Ferrari” scoring big at the box office, racking up more than $30 million in its opening weekend.

Though it boasts an ample amount of dramatic, shall we say, adjustments – “Ford v Ferrari” explores the mid-1960s battle between the Ford Motor Company and the Italian car company, owned by Enzo Ferrari, for the hearts and minds of a new generation of car owners.

That generation, the first post-war set of potential car owners with ready money, wasn’t interested in the kind of family sedans favored by older drivers. At least that was the theory put forth by Lee Iacocca (played by Jon Bernthal) to Henry Ford II (played by Tracy Letts).

Iacocca’s remedy: Make Ford cool again by winning the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, something that Ferrari had for the past several years virtually monopolized. This decision (which came after Ferrari laughed off a Ford financial offer) led Iacocca to Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon), the former driver and now car builder who’d won (with teammate Roy Salvadori) the 1959 Le Mans – beating Ferrari in the process.

But, of course, there would be problems. Shelby was a noted maverick, as was his choice of chief driver, Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale). And mavericks never play well with suits, exemplified – again, if more than a bit inventively – by both Ford II and by his right-hand man Leo Beebe (played by Josh Lucas).

That tension is what director James Mangold, best known for having helmed 2005’s “Walk the Line,” rides throughout “Ford v Ferrari.” So we have scenes of Shelby fast-talking his way into Ford II’s favor, convincing not-a-company-man Miles to go along, having to replace Miles at Beebe’s insistence, suffering failure, having to again convince Ford II that his plan was sound, then again approaching the even-more-recalcitrant Miles … and all of this before they’d faced Ferrari in the race that meant the most.

Damon and Bale serve their characters well, Damon’s offbeat good looks and natural screen charisma allowing him to capture a believable version of Shelby, and Bale moving seamlessly between hard-headed driver and sensitive husband and father (his wife Mollie notably played by Irish actress Caitriona Balfe, his son Peter by Noah Jupe).

Yet for all the racing excitement that “Ford v Ferrari” offers, I was most impressed by two different kinds of scenes: one a coming-of-the-minds meeting between Miles and his wife in their family sedan, the other an obviously invented scene between Shelby and Ford II in which the company magnate is forced to face his own personal limitations.

A bit less testosterone always tends to soothe the soul.

Note: For a good idea of what made Shelby such a racing icon, check out this YouTube version of the 1963 song "Hey Little Cobra" by The Rip Chords.

Want to see ‘The Irishman’? Try Seattle’s Cinerama

OK, so as I've already announced, Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman" is scheduled to open on Friday at the Magic Lantern. Same for the notice that the film will be available for streaming's on Neflix beginning Nov. 27.

I, however, could not wait. So while spending the weekend in Seattle to visit a friend recovering from a surgical procedure, my wife and I went to the Cinerama on Sunday morning to see the near-three-and-a-half-hour movie.

And we weren't disappointed.

First of all, the movie is everything you would expect from a Scorsese film. Professionally made in every respect, augmented by the cinematography of Rodrigo Pietro and the editing of Sorsese's longtime collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, "The Irishman" is the counterpoint to Scorsese's 1990 mobster flick "Goodfellas."

Where "Goodfellas" is energetic, "The Irishman" is elegiac. Where "Goodfellas" could be seen as exploiting crime, "The Irishman" clearly shows how crime corrupts everyone in the end — perpetrators and victims alike (though it's often hard to separate the two).

And the computer graphics that have famously made the movie's principals — which include Scorsese regulars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, along with Al Pacino — don't interfere at all with Scorsese's storytelling (screenplay by Steven Zaillian).

Second, the Cinerama is a perfect place to see the film, with its raked seats giving most everyone a good view of the film on that theater's massive screen.

So, if you aren't interested in driving over the mountains, wait and see the film at the Lantern. Or wait a little longer an stream it through Netflix.

But if you can't wait, head west for the Cinerama. It's the way the best movies are meant to be seen.

Friday’s openings: Disney, Mr. Rogers and … crime?

Three completely different kinds of movies are scheduled to open on Friday, according to the national release schedule. They are:

"Frozen II": The long-awaited sequel to Disney's 2013 original — featuring that earworm of a song that young girls love to warble — follows the two sisters, intent on saving their kingdom, seeking the source of Elsa's awesome powers. All together now, "Let it goooooo …"

"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood": Nice-guy Tom Hanks plays the late nice guy Fred Rogers in this bio-pic based on the Esquire magazine profile by Tom Junod. Won't you be my neighbor?

"21 Bridges": Chadwick Boseman plays an NYPD detective who, in investigating the deaths of two police officers, discovers a larger conspiracy. And, no, it doesn't take him to Wakanda.

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

‘Jojo Rabbit’: When weakness is strength

Critics across the U.S., including the city of Spokane, are debating the worth of New Zealand-born filmmaker Taika Waititi's offbeat comedy "Jojo Rabbit." In the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, I try to explain my own reaction:

It’s not as if we’ve never seen comic depictions of Nazis in movies. Charlie Chaplin satirized the former Supreme Nazi leader of Germany in his 1940 film “The Great Dictator.” Mel Brooks made Nazis the focal point of his 1967 film “The Producers.”

And they drifted in and out of the popular television show “Hogan’s Heroes,” which ended its six-year run in 1971.

There’s something about evil that accentuates reactions, either dramatic – Steven Sielberg’s 1993 film “Schindler’s List,” for example – or comedic, as Chaplin, Brooks and now Taita Waititi’s film “Jojo Rabbit” demonstrate.

Waititi is a New Zealand-born filmmaker, whose 2016 feature “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is a comedy that tackles such topics as racism, mental illness and child abandonment. So to a certain extent, maybe making “Jojo Rabbit” – which tells the story of a 10-year-old Nazi youth whose best friend is an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler – isn’t that much of a stretch.

Maybe. Anyway, “Jojo Rabbit” is set during the final year of World War II. Jojo (played by British actor Roman Griffin Davis) is your typical pre-adolescent boy, enamored by shows of strength and power, and no organization has ever displayed more symbols of ostensible strength than Hitler’s Nazi hordes.

But Jojo is torn. His natural inclinations are those of empathy and compassion. In fact, he gets his nickname, “Jojo Rabbit” – which Waititi, in adapting Christine Leunens’ novel "Caging Skies,” took as his film’s title – following an incident in which, at a Nazi Youth training camp, he is ordered to kill a rabbit … and can’t.

Funny how simple human traits are all too often considered signs of weakness.

In fact, in trying so desperately to fit in with his fellow trainees, Jojo nearly kills himself, ending his quest to become a soldier and relegating him to lowly civilian tasks such as parading around town dressed as a robot and asking for donations of iron.

Waititi’s film really begins when Jojo discovers, to his horror, that his mother – a seemingly typical hausfrau played by Scarlett Johansson – has a secret life. And that she is hiding a Jewish teenager in their attic, which is when Jojo’s real education begins.

Of course, that process – that evolution – doesn’t come easily. His imaginary Adolf – played by Waititi himself – is never far away, cajoling him, berating him, offering him cigarettes (which Jojo refuses) and in each and every way acting not like the Hitler we’ve seen in archival news footage but like a 10-year-old’s exaggerated version of a father figure (Jojo’s own father having disappeared two years before in the war).

And it is this comic intent that seems to have caused so much dissonance among critics, some of whom question not only whether Waititi’s film is making light of the Holocaust but whether such serious subjects can ever be effective comic fodder at all.

All this ignores Chaplin and Brooks, not to mention the fact that Jojo himself is the film’s center. And fueled by 11-year-old Davis’ powerful performance, the film’s message is that simple human kindness is the greatest strength of all.

Magic Lantern to open ‘The Irishman’ Nov. 22

For reasons involving corporate maneuvering, Martin Scorsese's new film "The Irishman" is playing at only a few theaters across the nation. But Netflix is schedule to screen it beginning Nov. 27, so that service's subscribers will be able to see the 209-minute film then.

You could drive to Seattle, of course (where it's playing at the Cinerama and in theaters in Shoreline and Redmond). But if you can wait until Friday, Nov. 22, you'll be able to see the film at the Magic Lantern.

If you haven't heard, "The Irishman" is based on the book "I Heard You Paint Houses" by Charles Brandt. It details the claim that Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran that he was the triggerman who killed Jimmy Hoffa, the former head of the Teamsters Union.

Sheeran's story may, or may not, be true. But in Scorsese's hands, his story — especially with actors such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci on board — should definitely be worth watching.

And if you can see it and support Spokane's art-house, then all the better.