Two of the last big films from 2019 — one of which won big at Sunday's Golden Globes — are set to open on Friday, according to the national movie-release schedule. Friday's movie menu should look something like this:
"1917": Not only did this film win the Golden Globe for Best Picture — Drama, but Sam Mendes won Best Director. Mendes co-wrote the script, which tells the World War I story of two British soldiers who are sent on a mission to stop a battalion of soldiers from walking into a trap.
"Just Mercy": Based on the true-life experiences of civil-rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, director and co-writer Deston Daniel Cretton tells the story of Stevenson's efforts to free a wrongly convicted death-row prisoner. Starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.
"Like a Boss": Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish play the owners of a beauty business who sell out to an entrepreneur (Salma Hayek) and live to regret the decision. Working 9 to 5 …
"Underwater": A group of scientists living deep in the ocean encounter strange beings. Oh, and they're dangerous, too (the beings, I mean, not Kristen Stewart).
As usual, I'll update when local theaters finalize their bookings.
As with many novels of enduring success, Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 collection “Little Women” has been adapted for the stage (including musical theater and opera), for television and, most notably, for the movies.
Indeed, the several movie versions produced over the years have attracted the top actresses of their day. George Cukor’s 1933 film starred the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Joan Bennett, while Mervyn LeRoy’s 1949 production featured June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor. Meanwhile, Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 offering gave us Winona Ryder and Claire Danes.
Each of these adaptations is more or less faithful to what Alcott put on the page a century and a half ago, though each abides, too, by the mores of its own era. And the latest version of “Little Women” – written and directed by Greta Gerwig – shows just how far we’ve progressed in the last eight decades in terms of movie narration, theme and tone.
Alcott’s basic plot involves the March family, mainly the four sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. With their father off fighting the Civil War, the sisters and their mother must make their own way, dependent on what little money Jo can bring in with her writing and on the kindness provided by extended family and their kind-hearted wealthy neighbor. Each sister is of a different temperament, and part of what “Little Women” portrays is how those disparate personalities strive to be independent while attempting – at the same time – to maintain a close, familial intimacy.
In terms of theme and tone, Gerwig, reflecting the quirkily energized characters she herself has portrayed in films such as 2012’s “Frances Ha” and 2015’s “Mistress America,” emphasizes the desire for self-reliance most exhibited by Jo (played by Saoirse Ronan).
At the same time, each of the sisters makes her own individual mark, Meg (Emma Watson) who marries and raises children, Amy (Florence Pugh) who pursues her art even while also marrying, and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) whose devotion to those less privileged leads to Alcott’s singular exploration of loss and grief – discounting, of course, the loss and grief felt by “Laurie” Lawrence (Timothy Chalamet) when Jo turns down his offer of marriage.
It’s how she narrates her film that most reveals Gerwig’s fresh take on Alcott’s basic plot. Instead of proceeding chronologically, she begins in the middle – with Jo marching into a publisher’s office, presenting a story she has written and negotiating what she considers to be a fair price – and then moves back and forth in time.
The effect is sometimes confusing, especially over the first half hour of the film’s two-hour-and-15 minute length. But when the movie finds its rhythm, it blossoms into an authentic and moving portrayal of Alcott’s world, smoothly melding traditional themes with contemporary attitudes. (It’s been a while since I’ve seen any of the other adaptations, but I don’t remember Hepburn or Allyson, in particular, raving against the unfairness of women being mere chattel.)
That, though, is the world in which we live as we dive into the third decade of the 21st century. And Gerwig explores it as well as anyone.
Looks as if there's at least one addition to the week's openings. In addition to the horror reboot "The Grudge," which opened on Wednesday, Friday's schedule includes:
"A Hidden Life": Terence Malick ("The Tree of Life") returns to the theaters with this study of an Austrian man who resisted the call of Adolf Hitler's fascism during World War II. History does tend to repeat itself.
Here are some critical comments:
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: " 'A Hidden Life' is indisputably the finest work Malick has produced in eight years, as an examination of faith, conviction and sacrifice, but also as proof of concept for his own idiosyncratic style."
Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine: "We shouldn't be so smug as to assume that we would always know the right thing to do, or even be brave enough to do it, Malick seems to say. A true act of resistance should crack our universe open."
And then there's the iconoclast Richard Brody, of The New Yorker: "When a giant stumbles, the thud is colossal."
Whatever. That's the week's offerings. So go, see a movie. And enjoy.
The two-hour festival boasts film from all over the world, including tales — and this comes from the Seattle International Film Festival website — "from fishing guide fairytales, to serial steelhead semantics, canyon conservation in Colorado, mountain biking for marlin, jumping jaguars and jungle fish in whitewater rapids and the audacious Aussies who explore the largest coastline in the world."
Click here for tickets. The embed below is from the 2019 festival.
When George Lucas debuted his film “Star Wars” in 1977, no one could have predicted just how much of a sensation it would ultimately become – spawning three trilogy compilations that cover an equal number of generations, stand-alone spinoffs such as “Rogue One” and “Solo” (each tagged as a “Star Wars” story), animated television series and an accountant’s dream of merchandise-generated income.
Now with “Star Wars: Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker,” that original story line, beginning with Anakin Skywalker, proceeding with Luke Skywalker and culminating with a third and final Skywalker – not to mention the various characters surrounding this trio so strong with The Force – has seemingly come to an end.
I say “seemingly” because, as with those superheroes populating the Marvel universe, no story ever really ends, and no character every really dies.
Much has been written about how Johnson’s movie departed, at least a bit, from the franchise’s standard tropes – and how much furor that caused among die-hard fans. Few are likely to make similar complaints about what Abrams offers as the finale.
Without divulging any spoilers, it’s enough to say that “Episode IX” continues the quest embarked upon by Rey (again played by Daisy Ridley). As part of the so-called Resistance, she – along with friends Finn (John Boyega), Po (Oscar Isaacs) and a number of others – spends the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time searching for the source of the new tyranny threatening the galaxy. At the same time, she keeps trying (mostly in vain) to avoid her arch foe, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), with whom she has a powerful connection that neither fully understands – but, also, that neither has the power to ignore.
If you’ve seen the previous films, you can predict how things end. Maybe you won’t be able to foresee all the specifics. But it’s safe to say that “The Rise of Skywalker” doesn’t offer any real surprises – other than the deaths of some familiar characters and the resurrection of notable others.
What’s more noteworthy is how Abrams has updated Lucas’ storyline to abide by 2019 mores. How women can now fill the role of hero, how characters of races traditionally seen as tertiary can now step into the spotlight and even how the very term gender – and the notion of sexual orientation itself – can be seen as naturally fluid.
There is value to this, of course. The problem is that it all feels a bit too calculated, as if Abrams were merely ticking off boxes instead of portraying a “Star Wars” world in which such attitudes are intrinsic.
Not that fans of action are likely to care. As Jedi Master Yoda might say, the greatest feeling, sensation is.
After Peter Capaldi gave up his TARDIS at the end of the 2017 "Doctor Who" season, the BBC spent a lot of time and money advertising its new star.
And they had good reason. For the first time, the Doctor was going to be a woman. Namely, the actress Jodie Whittaker was named the 13th Doctor, and the airwaves in both Great Britain and the U.S. (mostly on BBC America) were filled with teasers featuring her.
It seems strange, though, that all that initial hoopla faded, despite Whittaker receiving mostly good reviews. Commenting halfway through Whittaker's first season, IndieWire critic Liz Shannon Miller wrote that her only qualm was that this first female doctor wasn't being allowed to be enough of a badass.
"There’s no denying that Whittaker has found her grasp on an incredibly challenging role," Miller wrote. "In her hands, the Doctor is smart, intuitive, and compassionate. But the scripts still need to give her the moment that her predecessors have had before: the moment which makes us realize that the Doctor’s face may change, but she is always the boss of us."
Season two is about to begin, and the PR campaign is just restarting. A big part of that campaign will be a one-night special event, titled the "Doctor Who Live Q&A and Screening," which will screen at 11 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 5 at two Regal Cinemas theaters: Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.
The night will include the series 12 premiere episode, a live Q&A with Whittaker and "companions" Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill and "an exclusive early unveiling of the new season’s second episode."
"1917" is Sam Mendes' look at World War I, specifically at the mission of two young soldiers to warn some 1,600 of their compatriots that they are heading into a trap.
"Just Mercy" tells the true-life story of civil-rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Rights Initiative, and one of his first big cases. It stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson.
Look for both to show up either next week or soon after. At the moment, the schedules are still too full of "Star Wars" fans.
Headline news has always made for good movie fodder. But this seems to be true now more than ever. Which is what a film titled "The Report" does, as I try to explain in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:
In the early 1970s, the nation was shocked by a succession of news reports. The first came in 1971 with the publication of the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret government-funded study that indicated not only that the Vietnam War could not be won but that government officials had repeatedly lied about how well the war was going.
Then in 1972 came the Watergate burglary, the subsequent investigation of which led ultimately to more than a few prison sentences for some 48 government officials and, on Aug. 8, 1974, the resignation of then-president Richard Nixon.
How times have changed. Earlier this month, the Washington Post – again citing government documents – reported that senior officials from three presidential administrations had done much the same regarding the Afghanistan War as President Lyndon Johnson’s administration had done with Vietnam: by "making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable."
Yet unlike the political climate of five decades ago, this latest news wasn’t greeted with massive outcries. The overall reaction has been more of a massive shrug of the shoulders.
And it wasn’t the first recent shrug. In 2014, a U.S. Senate Select Committee headed by Sen. Diane Feinstein released a portion of a much larger report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, which lasted from 2001 to 2009. That report, led by investigator Daniel J. Jones, concluded both that the CIA’s program – particularly regarding its brutal “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or EITs – was ineffective and that the agency had repeatedly lied in an effort to fend off oversight.
The massive work that went into the writing of that report is now the subject of a film titled, simply, “The Report,” written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, and now streaming on Amazon Prime.
As with all such “this-really-happened” movie reconstructions of history, especially contemporary history, writer-director Burns has compressed time, amalgamated some characters and eliminated others. For example, 19 staffers worked with Jones on the report, far more than the three lonely investigators Burns shows laboring long hours in a windowless office.
Yet much of the film holds up to inspection. At least some of the dialogue – specifically that of former CIA chief John Brennan (played by Ted Levine) – was taken directly from official records. And the actual internal debates over the legality of the EITs – or, let’s be honest, torture – have long been public knowledge.
Burns was smart enough to cast Adam Driver – the actor of the moment – as Jones. It’s Driver’s very uniqueness, his odd leading man’s physicality, not to mention his skill at conveying a range of emotions – much of it with just a slight change of expression – that fuels the film’s narration. Annette Bening’s ability to nail Sen. Feinstein also is key.
Yet “The Report,” despite it earnestness, has a feel of been there/done that. Nothing Burns does matches, much less surpasses, what Alan J. Pakula did in 1976 with “All the President’s Men.”
Again, though, that was a different, less jaded era. Maybe the problem isn’t Burns’ movie. Maybe the problem is us.
One big omission from my previous postings of this week's movie openings involves a film drawn directly (if a bit dramatically) from real life (I had it opening last week, my bad):
"Bombshell": Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and a virtually unrecognizable John Lithgow portray the essential personalities involved in the Fox News controversies over sexual harassment, etc.
Some critical comments (some of which are somewhat negative):
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "For its part, 'Bombshell' tells a crucial chapter of that larger tale with coolheaded style and heated indignation. Its aim might be narrow, but it hits the target."
Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: "Ultimately, the film's unwillingness to go deeper makes it fall flat."
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "A ferociously entertaining dramatization of how an unlikely group of women exposed and deposed media titan Roger Ailes, it is as harrowing as it is triumphant in its depiction of the way it all came to pass."
That seems to be the lot. So go, see a movie. And enjoy.
It's been a long season for Studio Ghibli Fest 2019, but the final offering in the year's nine-film series will screen for the second and last time tonight.
That film, "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya," will screen at 7 p.m. at two Regal Cinemas theaters (Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium) and at AMC River Park Square. Tonight's film will be in the original Japanese with English subtitles (a dubbed version was screened on Monday).
Released in 2013, "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya" was directed by Isao Takahata from a script co-written by Takahata and Riko Sagaguchi. The screenplay was adapted from a 10th-century Japanese folktale titled "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter." The tale involves a miniature girl who is found inside a bamboo shoot, groomed to become a princess, courted by a series of men but who ultimately has to resolve her own fate.
Among the film's many good reviews, here are a few sample comments:
Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Mary Houlihan: "It's the beautiful and breathtaking animation that gives 'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya' a luster that is both simple and sophisticated."
Charlotte O'Sullivan, London Evening Standard: "As you'd expect from the co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Takahata has created a ravishing, technically perfect product and the hand-drawn, watercolour images explode with tender, humorous details."
Nicolas Rapold, New York Times: "Exquisitely drawn with both watercolor delicacy and a brisk sense of line, the film finds a peculiarly moving undertow of feeling in a venerable Japanese folk tale about a foundling country girl who can't shake a sense of being out of place."
Can't wait to see what Studio Ghibli Fest will offer for 2020.
If you have a "Star Wars" story, you pretty much own the movie schedule. And that should be the case on Friday when the latest entry in the popular franchise opens across the country. It faces only a single mainstream competitor, according to the national release listing:
"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker": J.J. Abrams takes over the reins of this final chapter in the Skywalker saga, which explores — and finishes — the trials of Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the Resistance fighting the forces led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
"Cats": The long-running Broadway show comes to the big screen, with an all-star cast (Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson) hidden under some of the most imaginative makeup in movie history. Imaginative, at least, is one word for it.
As for Christmas Day, several popular openings will clog the movie menu:
"Little Women": Greta Gerwig directs her own updated version of the popular Louisa May Alcott 1868 novel, starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson and Timothy Chalamet. They are women, hear them roar.
"Spies in Disguise": When a top spy (voiced by Will Smith) gets turned into a pigeon, a nerdy underling (voiced by Tom Holland) has to help him save the day. Birds of a feather, as they say.
"1917": Two British soldiers are ordered to penetrate deep into enemy territory and stop 1,600 of their countrymen from walking into a German trap. Harking to a time when Brittania indeed did rule the waves.
"Just Mercy": Defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) fights to save the life of a condemned criminal (Jamie Foxx), beginning a career that saw him develop into a lifelong battler for the rights of the underprivileged. Overcome he shall.
And at the Magic Lantern? Besides second-run openings of "Jojo Rabbit" and "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," the Lantern expects a single opening on Christmas Day:
"Uncut Gems": Adam Sandler plays a jeweler who gets caught in a variety of get-rich-quick schemes.
That's the lot. So far. I'll do my best to update when area theaters finalize their bookings.
Issues that affect the general populace have been the focus of a Magic Lantern-based film series titled "Meaningful Movies." Now, the theater has announced, that "for the foreseeable future" the series will change its screening time to the third Wednesday of each month.
That change will begin with the film "Sustainable," which will play at the theater beginning at 6:30 p.m Dec. 18. In keeping with past events, a post-screening "conversation" will be held.
"Sustainable," a 2016 film written and directed by Matt Wechsler, focuses on a few individuals who are facing what some see as the nation's future food crisis in unique ways.
"While many food-centric eco docs work to stir our indignation over clueless (or corrupt) lawmakers, 'Sustainable' avoids a muckraker tone even when that's what it's doing," wrote Hollywood Reporter critic John DeFore. "Rather than offer a five-minute coda where how-you-can-help optimism attempts to counter 90 minutes of gloom, the doc behaves from the outset as if it's simply encouraging a shift already in progress."
Admission to the screening, as with past Meaningful Movies events, is open to suggested donations.
One of the most common sayings regarding history is the old saw, attributed to the intellectual George Santayana, that "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.