7 Blog

Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ really is a winner

Once in awhile, movies surprise you by being something different — or something more — from what you expect. For all of its title's obviousness, "Brittany Runs a Marathon" is one of this movies. Following is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

You’re probably familiar with the following movie formula: Troubled character indulges in self-hating behavior, hits a low point, decides to change, gets help, stumbles here and there, but finally makes a determined march toward a new and better life. And, yes, love plays a part in the process.

That’s pretty much what you would expect from a movie bearing the title “Brittany Runs a Marathon.” And, ultimately, it is what you do get.

But the film, written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Paul Downs Colaizzo – and inspired by the real-life experience of Colaizzo’s roommate Brittany O’Neill – is far more complicated than any simple formulaic manipulation. And the actress whom Colaizzo hired, Jillian Bell, gives a performance that is at times comedic, at times touching and at all times authentic.

When we first meet her, Brittany is a 28-year-old mess. Waking up in the early afternoon, she is perennially late for work – at least partly due to the fact that, the movie makes clear, she isn’t the kind of woman that anyone would hold a subway door for. Sure, she’s funny – something that comes naturally to Bell – but a lot of her humor is self-deprecating and is clearly a self-protective mask.

The other reason for her lateness is her habit of clubbing with her “influencer” roommate and other hangers-on, playing the clown and settling for the occasional sexual encounter instead of pursuing anything resembling a stable relationship.

Then while attempting to score some Adderall from a doctor, Adderall being a stimulant that can produce euphoric effects, Brittany is given some bad news: Her health, no surprise, is horrible for someone in her 20s. So slowly, and reluctantly, she gives running a try. First a single block, then a few more and, over time, she’s even entering 5K races.

And she even makes friends, including with the woman who lives above her who seems to have everything Brittany does not – from a lithe figure to a healthy bank account.

But here’s where Colaizzo’s film differs from the standard template: Brittany’s evolution never comes easy. And even as she does progress physically, she resists touching those raw, naked emotions that haunt her. And in doing so, Brittany pushes everyone away – especially the ones who want to help support her the most.

Colaizzo clearly produced his film on a small budget, and most of his cast is little known or at least underused in feature-film work – from Michaela Watkins, who starred with Bell in “Sword of Trust,” to Utkarsh Ambudkar, a comedic actor who provides a unique touch to the typical movie love interest.

Colaizzo benefits from his New York City setting, from shooting scenes that include the actual New York City Marathon, but particularly from casting Bell, who lost 40 pounds for the film – 29 before shooting started and 11 more during the actual production.

Most of all, the true value of “Brittany Runs a Marathon” is the trip that Bell’s character makes – a trip that emphasizes how the way one looks is not as important in achieving happiness as is the way one feels.

Happy birthday to ghosts and to Ellen Ripley

We all know it's just a marketing ploy, but I find it clever that movie studios keep breaking out old films and screening them as "anniversary" events.

Hey, anytime you can see something you like on a big screen instead of at home on your TV, I'm not going to complain.

The next one up is the 35th anniversary of the original "Ghostbusters," which is scheduled to play at the Regal Cinemas theater in Coeur d'Alene, the Riverstone Stadium 14. It will screen at 4 p.m. on Sunday and at 7 p.m. the following Thursday.

But the one I'm looking forward to is the 40th-anniversary showing of Ridley Scott's "Alien," which is scheduled to play at the Riverstone Stadium and at Northtown Mall at 1 p.m. on Oct. 13 and at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15 and 16.

"Alien," which stars Signourney Weaver as one of the toughest woman characters in movie history, is basically an update of the 1958 film "It! The Terror from Beyond Space." But the screenplay by Dan O'Bannon (story credit to Ronald Shusett) is a bit more sophisticated — and, of course, has been in succeeding films taken far into the realm of existential speculation.

At heart, though, the film works best as simple sci-fi horror. Because remember — in space, no one can hear you scream.

Renée Zellweger stars as ‘Judy’ Garland

Amid the round-the-clock showings of Todd Phillips' film "Joker," with Joaquin Phoenix creating his version of Batman's arch-nemesis, a biopic of a famous 20th-century entertainer is also scheduled to open:

"Judy": Renée Zellweger portrays the woman who went from being one of the biggest child stars ever to being a multi-married, troubled middle-age entertainer whose fading talents led to one comeback after the next. There was no flying over this rainbow. (At AMC River Park Square and Village Center Wandermere.)

Here are a few critical comments:

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: " 'Judy' is just such a sturdy, dependable vehicle which, in this case, carries the precious cargo of Renée Zellweger in a dazzling portrayal of Judy Garland at the end of her life."

Stephanie Zacharek, Time: "Zellweger paints shadows of nuance into her portrayal of a performer who invites easy caricature. And she sings, too."

Brian Lowry, CNN.com: "Somehow, Zellweger manages to be Judy for a full two hours, delivering an over-the-rainbow performance in a movie that otherwise, on balance, is a bit more Kansas than Oz."

And there's a special Saturday-night showing scheduled at the Regal Cinemas Theatre at Northtown Mall:

"Monty Python and the Holy Grail 50th Anniversary": The schedule shows a 7 p.m. Saturday screenng of this classic British comedy, which celebrates the troupe's first appearance in 1969. What is your favorite color?

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

Friday’s releases: a Joker, a farmer and fiddlers

The character of the Joker has been around as long as his arch-nemesis, the Batman, though both of them have gone through a range of changes in both appearance and temperament. The latest version of the makeup-wearing psychopath comes to the big screen on Friday, according to the national movie-release schedule:

"Joker": Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a man tortured by his inability to fit into Gotham society — and who turns his sense of humor into a violent avocation. Written and co-directed by Todd Phillips, who definitely knows his way around humor.

"Joker" is the only film listed on the national scene. But Spokane should have a couple of other offerings:

"Farmer of the Year": This independent film about a retired farmer (Barry Corbin) going on a road trip with his granddaughter, will play exclusively at the Village Center Cinemas at Wandermere. Directed by Metaline Falls filmmakers Vince O'Connell and Kathy Swanson, from Swanson's screenplay, the film won the Audience Choice Award at the 2018 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Fiddlin' ": Sister filmmakers Julie Simone and Vicki Vlasic capture the energy at the at the World's Oldest Fiddler's Convention in the Appalachian Mountains.

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

‘Downton Abbey’ movie: just what the fans ordered

For "Downton Abbey" fans, the recent opening of the post-series movie was clearly a special event, as evidenced by the several moviegoers — women, mostly — who showed up for an advance screening dressed in costume. Following is the review of the movie that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Beginning in 2010, and continuing over the next six seasons, Public Television aired a series that achieved immense popularity. It was called “Downton Abbey.”

The show – created and written by British screenwriter Julian Fellowes – was something of a spinoff of “Gosford Park,” the 2001 Robert Altman feature film for which Fellowes won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

But while “Gosford Park” is more or less a mystery – in the sense that Altman made anything that fit into a particular genre – “Downton Abbey” was designed as something different. Though it had the same basic setup, an exploration of life in a British country estate as it unfolds both for the aristocrats who live there and the staff members who serve them, it set that life against the historical events that occurred between 1912 and 1926.

Events that included the sinking of the Titanic, World War I and Ireland’s ongoing struggle for independence.

And the collective groan that was heard on March 6th, 2016, when the last episode was aired in the U.S. was matched only by the cheers that greeted the announcement two years later that a movie version was in the works.

Now that movie, directed by Michael Engler from a Fellowes-written screenplay, has debuted. And it’s breaking box-office records for its Distributor, Focus Features, in addition to out-earning the two other main releases it opened against, James Gray’s “Ad Astra” and “Rambo: Last Blood.” 

All the chief characters from the series have returned, headed by Robert Crawley (the Earl of Grantham, who is played by Hugh Bonneville) and his American-born wife Cora Crawley (played by Elizabeth McGovern). Other notable figures include the Earl’s daughter Lady Mary Crawley (played by Michelle Dockery), the Earl’s mother, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (played by two-time Oscar winner Maggie Smith) and her main foil Lady Merton (played by Penelope Wilton).

As for the staff, the house butler Mr. Carson (played by Jim Carter) is called back into service, while the others – particularly the butler Carson ends up replacing, Barrow (played by Robert James-Collier) – have their own intrigues to play out.

All this is set in motion by the main plotline, which involves a surprise visit by King George the Fifth and Queen Mary – an event that puts everyone on edge and adds every conceivable melodramatic touch to the mix, from a disagreement over inheritance to an attempted assassination.

It’s not as if “Downton Abbey” explores original territory. Between 1967 and ’69, the BBC ran a 26-part serial of John Galsworthy’s “Forsyte Saga” novels (with a reprise in 2002). And between 1971 and ’75, fans couldn’t get enough of the British television series “Upstairs Downstairs.”

Both took viewers behind the scenes of the British upper and/or monied classes, and – at least with the latter series – contrasted the experiences of those who owned money with those who worked for it.

Yet in his “Downton Abbey” movie, Fellows adds in a few contemporary issues – among them women’s rights and the plight of gay men. And though welcome, neither changes the overall template.

Which is just what the series fans ordered.

Friday’s openings redux: The power of water

Although "Judy," the Judy Garland biopic starring Rene Zellweger, sits prominently on the national movie-release list, it doesn't appear to be opening in Spokane on Friday. In any event, the coming week's adjusted lineup includes the following films:

"Aquarela": Russian filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky documents the power of water in its many shapes and forms around the globe. ImdieWire critic Anne Thompson wrote, "The effect is hypnotic, haunting, and terrifying."

"Dream Big, Princess: The Princess and the Frog": Disney continues its "Dream Big, Princess" series with the 2009 animated feature "The Princess and the Frog," featuring the voice talents of Anika Noni Rose, Keith David and Oprah Winfrey.

"Friends 25th Anniversary": Three Regal Cinemas theaters — Northtown Mall, Spokane Valley Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium — will screen this special event featuring the popular former TV sitcom at 7 p.m. Saturday and Wednesday.

For your "Friends" freaks, tell Ross, Rachel and the others we said hi.

‘Turnadot’ to open ‘The Met: Live’ opera season

Opera fans can expect a rousing experience when "The Met: Live in HD" series returns, beginning Oct. 12 and 16, with a production of Puccini's "Turnadot."

Staged by Franco Zeffirelli, and with Yannick Nézet-Séguin directing, the production will screen at 9:55 a.m. on Oct. 12, and then at 1 and then 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 16, at the Regal Cinemas locations at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

Featured performers include soprano Christine Goerke, tenor Yusif Eyvazov, soprano Eleonora Buratto and bass-baritone James Morris.

Though left unfinished when Puccini died in 1924, "Turnadot" was completed by Franco Alfano and premiered in 1926 in Milan, with Arturo Toscanini directing. As explained on The Metropolitan Opera's website, "Puccini’s final opera is an epic fairy tale set in a China of legend, loosely based on a play by 18th-century Italian dramatist Carlo Gozzi."

"The Met: Live in HD" season will continue as follows:

Oct. 26, 30: "Manon"

Nov. 9, 13, 16: "Madame Butterfly"

Nov. 23, Dec. 4: "Akhnaten"

Dec. 7: "The Magic Flute"

Jan. 11, 15: "Wozzeck"

Feb. 1, 5, 8: "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"

Feb. 29, March 4: "Agrippina"

March 14, 18: "Der Fliegende Holländer"

April 11, 15, 18: "Tosca"

May 9, 13: "Maria Stuarda"

Tickets are on sale now.

Studio Ghibli Fest features secret world of ‘Arrietty’

One of the events that I look forward to each year is the Studio Ghibli Fest, a collection of the best animated films from the vaunted Japanese production company.

The 2019 edition of the festival began in April with "Howl's Moving Castle," and it continues Sunday and Monday with Hiromasa Yonebayashi's 2010 film "The Secret World of Arrietty."

The film will screen in two different versions at three area locations: Regal Cinemas Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium, and AMC River Park Square. Sunday's 12:55 p.m. screenings will be dubbed, while Monday's 7 p.m. screenings will be in the original Japanese with English subtitles.

The dubbed North American version features the voices of Bridget Mendler as Arrietty and David Henrie as the boy, with other actors such as Will Arnett, Amy Poehler and Carol Burnett filling various other roles.

Originally titled in Japan "The Borrower Arrietty," the film was Yonebayashi's first as director. He has gone on to direct two other features, 2014's "When Marnie Was There" and 2017's "Mary and the Witch's Flower" — along with a segment of the 2018 compilation "Modest Heroes."

Adapted in part by the great filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki from the novel "The Borrowers" by English author Mary Norton, "The Secret World of Arrietty" tells the story of the little people who live inside the walls of a house, apart from the humans who are unaware of their existence. One of the little people, the title character Arrietty, becomes friends with a human boy and the film explores their story as the little people struggle to survive and the boy faces a serious operation.

Amy Biancolli of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "What unfolds is part adventure, part fairy tale, part star-crossed romance (she fits in his palm; can it get more doomed?). And the overall sum is enchantment."

We could all use a bit of enchantment these days.

Friday’s openings: Cuddly monster go home

After a couple of multiple movie openings, only a single film is showing on the national release schedule for this coming Friday. That film is:

"Abominable": A mysteriously magical Yeti appears on the roof of a young Shanghai teen's apartment building, and she must find a way to get it home (to the Himalayas, no less) before an conniving rich guy can capture it. Look for the cuddly toys to buy for your rugrats.

The film, a Dreamworks animated production (duh), is getting mostly good reviews, such as the following:

Sandra Hall, Sydney Morning Herald: "Jill Culton, who conceived the story and co-directed the film, was trained at Pixar and her work displays the Pixar trademark, a seamless blending of farce, wit, melancholy and the kind of reflectiveness that traverses the generational divide."

Katie Erbland, IndieWire: "The winning, warm nature of this China-set family film can't be denied, and for all its predictable elements, 'Abominable' is still well worth the trip."

But my favorite line is this observation:

Amy Nicholson, Variety: "In the film's most moving scene, Yi plays a solo so powerful it summons rain, flowers, and the Coldplay hit 'Fix You.' For an aspiring blockbuster, that culture clash is the cash-grab holy trinity."

And at the Magic Lantern, two documentaries are tentatively set:

"Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins": The late Texas-based syndicated columnist is profiled. Yee-haw.

"Miles Davis: Birth of Cool": The late jazz trumpeter is profiled. Bring sunglasses.

That's all for now. As always I'll update when the area theaters finalize their lineups.

‘Hustlers’ more serious than you might think

On a week when most adult viewers will be going to see the "Downton Abbey" movie, I decided to review "Hustlers," a film that many of those same viewers might have misjudged. I wrote the review for Spokane Public Radio:

Ever since the 2008 financial crisis occurred, people have been pointing fingers at who was responsible.

The characters in Lorene Scafaria’s film “Hustlers” offer up a simple target: men. Specifically, the kind of money men – stock brokers, venture capitalists, etc., – who love to throw thousands of dollars at women working in strip clubs.

Written and directed by Scafaria, “Hustlers” is based on a 2015 New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler. Taking the basic story, which involved a group of women who sought out rich guys, drugged them and then maxed out their credit cards – and who ultimately got caught, prosecuted and punished – Scafaria merged identities to create characters played most prominently by Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez.

Wu, the star of last year’s romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” plays Destiny, a single woman from a hard-scrabble background who works as an exotic dancer. Struggling to make enough money both to pay her rent and to provide for her grandmother, Destiny finds a way out when she meets Lopez’s Ramona.

Strikingly beautiful, but more important aggressively sexy, Ramona takes Destiny under her wing, showing her how to spot the richest marks, the best way to woo them and the most effective ways to get at their credit-card accounts. And pretty soon, Destiny is making more money than she’d ever imagined.

But then comes 2008 and just that quickly, the money dries up. Destiny finds herself struggling once again, as does – we discover – Ramona. But Ramona, at least, has a plan. Returning to the clubs this time, they decide the best way to get at the newly available money is to use drugs to more easily manipulate the men. And that’s the point at which the women evolve from being those who merely target the perverse and/or weak-minded into becoming actual criminals.

Scafaria’s previous features are 2012’s “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” and 2015’s “The Meddler.” Those, along with a couple of made-for-TV projects, put women squarely at their story’s center. “Hustlers,” in fact, was described by critic Katie Walsh as a “girlie ‘Goodfellas’ ” – a reference to Martin Scorsese’s masterful 1990 mob flick.

Like Scorsese, Scafaria employs a number of skillful directorial touches, including beginning her film with a single-take look at Destiny entering a strip club as if she were a commodity on display – which, in effect, she is. And then there’s the music, with songs by the likes of Usher and Cardi B (both of whom make appearances) and Lorde being intertwined with specific sequences.

Besides Wu and co-stars Lili Reinhart and Keke Palmer, Scafaria gets perhaps the best performance out of Lopez, who put in her best performance since Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 film “Out of Sight.” Scafaria also uses Julia Stiles as a version of magazine writer Pressler, which allows her to relate the whole story as an as-told-to study.

And while she never downplays the crimes her characters commit, Scafaria does pose a valid question: When the prey turns tables on the predator, isn’t that some sort of fitting justice?

In the "Me, Too" era, the answer has to be yes.

‘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.