January 2, 1998 in Seven

1997’S Movie Magic Review Film Critic Dan Webster Highlights The Big Movie Events Of The Past Year

By The Spokesman-Review
 

And so another movie-going year ends.

In the past, this would have meant little. Movies came, movies went. We liked some, hated others. Most of us merely chewed on our popcorn and waited for whatever came next, whether it be art-house meditation, big-budget romantic comedy, blockbuster action/thriller.

The cycle repeated as the seasons drifted by.

But 1997 brought about some noticeable changes.

For one, there were several new venues in which to see your favorite movies. The Spokane Valley 12 gave Spokane-Coeur d’Alene residents a whole new way to see films, boasting stadium seating and state-of-the-art sound technology (although you still had to stand outside, in the cold or heat, on busy days).

After several construction delays, former Magic Lantern co-owner Larry Blair gave the folks in Post Falls their own six-plex. On the flip side, Blair and Magic Lantern co-owner Kathryn Graham lost their lease and were forced to move. As of now, they’re still trying to find a place to relocate Spokane’s traditional art-house cinema.

Jumping into the presumed void, the Portland-based ACT III Theatres converted the Lincoln Heights Cinemas into an art-house. And for the first time in memory, Spokane audiences - those few who showed up - were treated to small films on bona-fide big screens.

Meanwhile, the Magic Lantern name was retained by the pub-minded consortium now in charge of the space atop the Atrium Building at 123 S. Wall. So you can see the same kinds of art/foreign films as Blair and Graham screened, along with a periodic second-run Hollywood product. And you can drink beer as you do so.

Which, of course, means you can still see movies projected through the same kinds of focus-challenged lenses on the same small screens in the same teensy space. After several beers, though, who would notice?

Discount-minded folks in Coeur d’Alene got their first taste of cheap films when Garland owner Don Clifton and his partners opened the Coeur d’Alene Discount Cinemas four-plex. After a rough start involving troublesome equipment, Clifton et al apologized publicly. And they began again.

The need for another discount complex became apparent as ACT III raised its admission prices. Prime-time showings for first-run films rose to $6.25 for adults - a pocketful for those of us who can still remember 25-cent matinees but far less than the $9 prices at some New York City theaters.

And, finally, Eastern Washington landscapes were featured in a couple of movies. “Love Always” featured downtown Spokane, while Kevin Costner’s “The Postman” invited the world to take notice of Metaline Falls.

Both, unfortunately, continued the Spokane bad-film jinx.

Now, one critic’s look at what played (and, in one case, what WILL play) on area screens:

THE BEST

“Ulee’s Gold”

As his 1993 film “Ruby in Paradise” demonstrated, independent director Victor Nunez doesn’t cater to the action-oriented. His films are leisurely paced, realistic studies of life as we really live it. Even though this film bears traits of most other neo-noirs, it refuses to condescend. So when a Florida beekeeper named Ulee (Peter Fonda) is forced to deal with a pair of bad guys who threaten his family, he responds with a quiet kind of courage instead of a blazing Smith and Wesson.

“Titanic”

Unlike many movies whose budgets get more ink than its storyline, this James Cameron-conceived blockbuster boasts state-of-the-art special effects wrapped around an epic love story that is every bit as affecting as last year’s “The English Patient.” What’s most surprising, though, is Cameron’s ability to tell a woman’s story, for “Titanic” truly is a tale of how young Rose (Kate Winslet) finds the strength she needs to seek out her own life after having enjoyed the love of a penniless artist (Leonardo DiCaprio).

“Boogie Nights”

No other film of 1997 dealt with contrast in quite the same way as this effort by Paul Thomas Anderson. At heart a morality tale, it involves a group of characters working in the porno-film industry during the late 1970s-early ‘80s. Resorting to classic storytelling style, beginning with the ascent, proceeding through descent and culminating with a second climb toward redemption, Anderson gets the most from an ensemble cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy - and Burt Reynolds, who doesn’t stretch himself but who, nonetheless, lends the film its underlying sense of stability. In addition, Anderson is a master of his medium, using a variety of shots, styles and music to tell his seamless story. His is a talent indeed worth watching.

“L.A. Confidential”

A critical darling, this film by Curtis Jackson comes as a surprise. A specialist at thrillers such as “The River Wild” and “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” Hanson astounded everyone by pulling off that rare feat - namely, make art out of pulp fiction. In this case the fiction is novelist James Ellroy’s, and the art belongs not only to writer-director Hanson but to co-screenwriter Brian Helgeland, cinematographer Dante Spinotti, production designer Jeannine Oppewall and to a cast that includes the likes of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell and Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey. Truly an ensemble effort, “L.A. Confidential” is the “Chinatown” of 1997.

“Amistad”

After “Schindler’s List,” it was fashionable to wonder where Steven Spielberg would go next. Well, he went hunting dinosaurs, of course. But then he took on this true story about a slave-ship uprising and, with his typical superb storytelling skills, managed to weave a modern myth. Only Spielberg, the modern Frank Capra, could point out the warts of American history while at the same time reaffirming the principles upon which the country was founded. But his most notable achievement was to keep the slaves themselves, especially in the person of actor Djimon Honsou, clearly at the heart of his story. Sure, figures played by such actors as Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Hopkins, enjoy great lines and lots of screen time. But we never for a moment forget that this is a human tale involving subjugated people from a foreign land.

“Shall We Dance?”

In a world of worker-drones, the imaginative man is free - even if freedom is represented by his willingness to take lessons in ballroom dancing. Writer-director Masayuki Suo’s evocative study of conformity’s high price manages to be a study both of one man’s character and the Japanese culture as a whole. It’s also an object lesson, one that seeks to resolve the lure of dreams while coming to an acceptance of real life. Ultimately, “Shall We Dance?” is all about taking the first step toward that resolution - even if it is in time to music.

“Washington Square”

Capturing a society that defines women only in terms of the men they are with, either as fathers or husbands, this adaptation of Henry James’ novel explores the story of a woman forced to forge her own destiny. As that woman, Jennifer Jason Leigh proves that she is as adept at performing costume drama as she is at playing contemporary character. Behind the visual power of director Agnieszka Holland, actors Leigh, Albert Finney, Ben Chaplin and Maggie Smith brings a modern feel to an American classic.

“Donnie Brasco”

Both Johnnie Depp and Al Pacino, the principal characters of this Mike Newell-directed mob feature, are actors who take chances. In Depp’s case, that sometimes results in his underplaying roles. In Pacino’s case, it often means becoming a ham (recall: “Scent of a Woman”). They both avoid their worse traits here, melding their strengths in creating a father-son-type relationship between an undercover FBI agent and a low-level mobster. Hardly a perfect picture, “Donnie Brasco” manages to construct a feel for place and character and struggle that most films only dream of achieving.

“The Sweet Hereafter”

OK, so I cheated. This Atom Egoyan film hasn’t even played Spokane yet (look for it to open at the Lincoln Heights on Jan. 23). And yet it is so fine a creation that I refuse to overlook it. Adapted from Russell Banks’ novel, Egoyan’s film involves the aftermath of a tragedy that wipes out half a small town’s children. When an attorney (Ian Holm) shows up and attempts to gather parents in a wrongful death claim, the townfolk are forced to re-examine the slender threads that held them together in the first place. Powerful in its ability to probe the deepest held secrets, “The Sweet Hereafter” is likely to haunt you long after the curtain’s final rise.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story:

1. WORTHY OF MENTION

“In & Out”: Kevin Kline exits the closet.

“The Game,” “She’s So Lovely” and “U-Turn”: Sean Penn acts again - in all three.

“The Full Monty”: Brits baring up.

“Career Girls”: That’s what friends are for.

“Cop Land”: Sly gets serious.

“187”: Teacher gets an apple - between the eyes.

“Air Force One”: President Ford.

“George of the Jungle”: Watch out for that joke!

“Contact”: At least Jodie looks good.

“Austin Powers”: Yeah, baby!

“Breakdown”: Kurt Russell rules.

“Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”: Class shows.

“Chasing Amy”: Until he catches her.

“The Rainmaker”: Grisham made good.

“Waiting for Guffman”: And it was worth it.

“In the Company of Men”: Neil Labute shines.

“Face/Off”: But what a turn-on.

“My Best Friend’s Wedding”: Call him Rupert “Oscar” Everett.

“The Apostle”: Look for it Feb. 23.

2. THE WORST

“G.I. Jane”: I am woman, hear me war.

“Speed 2”: Ticketed for going too slowly.

“Spawn”: It didn’t.

“Fire Down Below”: Merely an ember.

“Ponette”: French-made child abuse.

“Anaconda”: Snakes alive!

“The Saint”: Somebody get a cross.

“Murder at 1600”: Death by ennui.

“Nothing to Lose”: Except $6.25.

“Event Horizon”: Cloning Clive Barker.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. WORTHY OF MENTION “In & Out”: Kevin Kline exits the closet. “The Game,” “She’s So Lovely” and “U-Turn”: Sean Penn acts again - in all three. “The Full Monty”: Brits baring up. “Career Girls”: That’s what friends are for. “Cop Land”: Sly gets serious. “187”: Teacher gets an apple - between the eyes. “Air Force One”: President Ford. “George of the Jungle”: Watch out for that joke! “Contact”: At least Jodie looks good. “Austin Powers”: Yeah, baby! “Breakdown”: Kurt Russell rules. “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”: Class shows. “Chasing Amy”: Until he catches her. “The Rainmaker”: Grisham made good. “Waiting for Guffman”: And it was worth it. “In the Company of Men”: Neil Labute shines. “Face/Off”: But what a turn-on. “My Best Friend’s Wedding”: Call him Rupert “Oscar” Everett. “The Apostle”: Look for it Feb. 23.

2. THE WORST “G.I. Jane”: I am woman, hear me war. “Speed 2”: Ticketed for going too slowly. “Spawn”: It didn’t. “Fire Down Below”: Merely an ember. “Ponette”: French-made child abuse. “Anaconda”: Snakes alive! “The Saint”: Somebody get a cross. “Murder at 1600”: Death by ennui. “Nothing to Lose”: Except $6.25. “Event Horizon”: Cloning Clive Barker.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email