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Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

Fridays openings: Lots to choose from

After weeks of single-movie, blockbuster-appeal openings, the coming week expects to be comparatively busy — at least according the national movie-release schedule. The listed openings are as follows:

"The Art of Racing in the Rain": Director Simon Curtis helms this adaptation of Seattle writer Garth Stein's 2008 novel about a dog who aids a race-car driver overcome the obstacles in his life. Woof.

"Brian Banks": A promising football player, imprisoned for a rape he did not commit, fights to clear his name. Based on a real story.

"Dora and the Lost City of Gold": A live-action version of the animated series "Dora the Explorer," this family film follows Dora as she struggles to save both her parents and find a cache of gold.

"The Kitchen": After their husbands are imprisoned, a trio of women takes up their gangsterly ways. Hmmmm, where have we seen something like this before?

"Stories to Tell in the Dark": More teens, more threats of horror. Oooooooohhhh, kids. Scary.

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

RIP, documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker

With all the headline news regarding the recent spate of horrific mass shootings in — as of this moment on Sunday afternoon — California, Ohio and Texas, the news of a filmmaker's death seems somewhat trivial. But if we ignore the normal passages involved in everyday life, the terrorists win. And I, for one, want to do what I can to keep that from happening.

So let me begin by saying that on June 12 the Spokane Public Radio show that I co-host — "Movies 101" — held a special live screening of the 1968 documentary "Monterey Pop." The show, which was taped at the Bing Crosby Theater in front of a live audience, discussed both the movie and the filmmaker who directed it.

That filmmaker, D.A. Pennebaker, died on Thursday at the age of 94.

As this obituary from The Guardian explains, Pennebaker was one of the most important — and influential — documentarians of the 20th century. Among his better known films were the 1967 Bob Dylan study "Don't Look Back" and the Oscar-nominated 1993 exploration of Bill Clinton's presidential campaign "The War Room" — and "Monterey Pop."

Another great documentary filmmaker gone. May others follow his path and continue to explore the world as it is — especially during this time of abject insanity.

Below: D.A. Pennebaker and his partner wife (and co-director/producer) Chris Hegedus discuss the 1967 film "Don't Look Back."

HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’ a sobering, prophetic view

Since more and more quality programming is coming to streaming services, my wife and I have been taking advantage. One show we recently finished watching was the HBO miniseries "Chernobyl." Following is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

On April 26, 1986, a few seconds after 1:24 a.m., the reactor at the Ukrainian Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered a catastrophic accident.

A test to, ironically, check safety protocols went horribly wrong, causing an unchecked nuclear reaction, a massive buildup of steam, two separate explosions mere seconds apart and – over the next few days – the release of radioactive particles into the air that were detected as far away as Sweden.

This is a bare-bones description of the incident that writer-producer Craig Mazin used to create a five-part HBO miniseries, titled – succinctly enough – “Chernobyl.” Directed by Johan Renck, and starring a cast of international talent that includes Britain’s Jared Harris, Sweden’s Stellan Skarsgärd and Ireland’s Jessie Buckley, “Chernobyl” is a look at how willful ignorance can – in this case almost did – lead to world-wide calamity.

Harris plays real-life nuclear engineer Valery Legasov. And as Mazin has him say, “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth.”

Lies were told at every level of the Soviet Union, from the engineer in charge of the safety test to the upper levels of the Soviet hierarchy, all members of whom reported to Mikhail Gorbachev – the last General Secretary of the USSR’s Communist Party.

Mazin centers his film on Legasov, a reluctant hero well aware of how the entrenched Soviet leadership loathes to change policy – or to admit that change might be necessary. Even after the accident occurs.

While experts still debate the specific causes of the explosions, no one disputes that the accident occurred, resulting in the near-immediate deaths of three plant workers, then in the following weeks nearly 30 more – among them many of the firefighters who labored to put out what they thought was just an ordinary fire.

The radiation claimed them, as it ultimately did thousands of others – estimates vary from a few thousand to as high as 90,000 – in the following months and years.

Mazin puts us in the plant’s control center as the workers slowly realize what is happening, badgered and then blamed by their supervisor. We see the struggle to contain the damage, and how it affects not just the workers but the nearby village of Pripyat – the residents of which were not evacuated until nearly two days later because, like so much else involving Soviet affairs, the officials didn’t want the facts to become public.

Their efforts were as fruitless as those of the firefighters, unlike those of a legion of other courageous souls: the coal-miners conscripted to dig a tunnel under the still-burning plant, those who volunteered to clean radioactive graphite from the plant’s roof, not to mention many of the Ukrainian citizens who would feel the effects of the poisoning for decades to come.

“Chernobyl” the series has been nominated for 19 Emmy Awards, and it deserves all of them – especially for Harris and Skarsgärd but also for Emily Watson, whose character is an amalgam of all the brave nuclear engineers who worked to get at the actual truth.

As Legasov, finishing his thought about the price of lying, says: “Sooner or later, the debt is paid.”

Catch ‘Pulp Fiction’ on Tuesday at the Garland

This week's big movie is, of course, Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood."

(You'll see variations of that title elsewhere, some without the ellipsis, some placing the ellipsis after "in." But this is how the title is spelled in the actual movie.)

Critical comments about the film, though mostly good (Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 84 percent positive rating), are all over the place. One of my friends in Portland assessed it fairly harshly, calling it — among other things — "disrespectful."

In fact, Tarantino's films in recent years have earned a fair amount of negative criticism. That was especially true for "Django Unchained" and "The Hateful Eight." Anthony Lane called the former "a tribute to the spaghetti Western, cooked al dente, then cooked a while more, and finally sauced to death." David Sims called the latter "too extreme, too ghoulishly violent, too besieged by its ensemble's overriding villainy, to feel like anything but a dark chamber piece."

One Tarantino film that most critics rate as Tarantino's best, though, is his 1994 film — his second full feature — "Pulp Fiction." And justifiably so. The film has long been available for home viewing, but it enjoys the occasional re-release on the big screen — as it will at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Garland Theater.

The screening is part of the Garland's Summer Camp 2019 series. All tickets are $2.50.

And remember: In France, they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese a "Royale with cheese." Or at least they did. Once upon a time …

…in Paris.

Fly high with ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ tonight

Fans of Japanese anime have one last chance to see one of the great Hayao Miyazaki's films, 1989's "Kiki's Delivery Service," at 7 tonight. A dubbed version of the film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, will screen at three area theaters: the two Regal Cinemas locations at Northtown Mall and at Coeur d'Alene's Riverpoint Stadium, also at AMC River Park Square.

"Kiki's Delivery Service" tells the story of a young trainee witch who takes advantage of her flying ability to open a delivery service. When she temporarily loses that ability, she rediscovers it when she finds her true purpose.

Here are some critical comments:

Steve Rose, The Guardian: "The film becomes a benign guided tour of femininity … gently broaching universal coming-of-age issues such as independence, insecurity, and even - more boldly than any Western children's movie would contemplate - sexuality."

J.R. Jones, The Chicago Reader: "The characters are gently and warmly rendered, and a climactic action sequence involving an unmoored dirigible hints at the stately grandiosity of Miyazaki's masterpiece 'Howl's Moving Castle.' "

The screening is part of Studio Ghibli Fest 2019. The next feature in the series is "My Neighbor Totoro," which will screen Aug. 25, 26 and 28.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Wild Rose’ lead Buckley is still a rising star

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

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

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

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

Friday’s openings: Getting even more ‘Furious”

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

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

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

And at the Magic Lantern?

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

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

Confused by ‘Diamantino’ but love the puppies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe the giant fluffy puppies could explain.

GU professors host Toni Morrison documentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday’s openings redux: Karate and Quebecois crime

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

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

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

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