7 Blog

Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

Christmas openings: Music, memoir and survival

Moviegoing on Christmas Day has always been a tradition in my house. And regardless of what North Korea thinks, I'll be seeing something — not “The Interview,” clearly — next Thursday, too. Following are the mainstream Christmas Day movie openings”

“The Imitation Game”: Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the British math whiz who led the team that cracked the vaunted German Enigma Code. Elementary, eh Watson? 

“Into the Woods”: Rob Marshall directs the Broadway musical by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim. It's not such a Grimm event.

“The Homesman”: Saved by a determined woman (Hilary Swank), a weathered cowpoke (Tommy Lee Jones) agrees to help the woman shepherd a wagon full of emotionally disturbed women to safety. Shades of “Lonesome Dove.”

“Big Eyes”: A take on the true story of Walter Keane and his artist wife, Margaret. He only had eyes — for money.

“The Gambler”: A university professor hits the skids when his obsession with gambling causes him to do unscrupulous deeds. Mark Wahlberg reprises the role James Caan played in the 1974 original. What's next? Sonny Corleone and a “Godfather” redux?

“Unbroken”: Angelina Jolie directed this adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's nonfiction biography of World War II survivor Louis Zamperini. Next to “The Boys in the Boat,” one of the more incredible memoirs I have read in years. Hope the movie does the story justice.

So enjoy your Christmas. See a movie.

Amid the headlines, ‘Citizenfour’ lurks

Given all that's been going on recently, especially with what the FBI is calling a cyberattack by North Korea on Sony Pictures, it's easy to forget the other big cyber news of the past couple of years: Edward Snowden and the documents he shared regarding the National Security Agency. If you need a reminder, you might check out “Citizenfour,” the documentary playing at the Magic Lantern Theater.

Following is a transcription of the review of “Citizenfour” that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

In the first film classes I ever took, Manny Farber used to fill the air with pithy pronouncements. His point, I think, was to provoke us, to shake us out of our comfortable lives and to make us think about things in a new way.

I remember once he was talking about that nature of political acts. And in the middle of his diatribe, a student started to sneak out of the lecture hall. “See? See?” Farber said, pointing to the student. “THAT is a political act!” The student, chagrined, stood up straight and said, “I’m just going to meet up with my girlfriend.” In response, Farber smacked the lectern. “EVERYthing,” he bellowed, “is a political act!”

I thought of that incident while watching Laura Poitras’ intriguing, and in many ways frightening, documentary, “Citizenfour.” I thought of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, the riots in Ferguson, Mo., people wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts. I thought of terrorist attacks, of police-force militarization, of reports that pretty much everything we say over the phone or write online is being surveyed by some algorithm gauging the threat level of our comments.

And then I thought of most of us, sitting comfortably in our homes, surfing the web, posting on some social media site or waging a war of words either with friends or – more likely – complete strangers over some random issue, blithely unaware that the very words we use – Al Qaeda, say, 9/11 or government surveillance – is likely attracting attention.

That’s the kind of mindset that “Citizenfour” rouses. Poitras’ documentary, which unfolds like an Alan Furst espionage thriller, is more than a mere documentary. As Chicago Reader film reviewer J.R. Jones wrote, “This is history.” It was in January 2013 that Poitras – already known for her work on the documentary television series “P.O.V.,” started receiving emails from a mystery source self-named Citizen Four. The source claimed to have documents that showed how the federal government, through the National Security Agency, was conducting a vast system of surveillance on U.S. citizens.

Before long, we find ourselves in a Hong Kong hotel room. And there, not yet a symbol of – depending on how you define patriotism, treasonous treachery or whistle-blowing heroism – is Edward Snowden. Mind you, this is before the, at this point, former NSA contract worker had released any of the top-secret documents he possessed.

We watch as Snowden – a guy who comes across as calm and unassuming, nervous but serious about his commitment to the ideals of a transparent society – is interviewed by the men who would ultimately shepherd the documents into public hands: investigative reporters Glen Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill.

And we continue to watch as, when those documents hit the pages of the New York Times, Washington Post and London’s The Guardian – and as, subsequently, his face fills TV screens – Snowden begins to realize just how completely the life he once lived is now over.

At that point, Snowden resembles the guy trying to sneak out of Manny Farber’s class. Meanwhile, the rest of us sit by – watching.

‘The Interview’ canceled

Sony has canceled the Christmas Day release of “The Interview.”

The movie, starring James Franco and Seth Rogan (who also directs) is a comedy about a TV news reporter who lands an interview with Kim Jong Un, only to be enlisted by the CIA to assassinate the North Korean dictator. The film has been at the center of a massive hack of Sony Pictures' computer system, a hack that some suggest North Korea is behind. Recently, the hackers threatened violence against moviegoers who see the film.

The New York premiere was canceled, and theater chains announced plans to not screen the comedy, including AMC and Regal, which operate theaters in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene.

USA Today quoted a Sony statement: “In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film 'The Interview,' we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners' decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”

Friday’s Lantern openings: Horror and more

Other than the mainstream openings, we can always — well, usually — depend on the Magic Lantern to open films that are … mmm, a bit more challenging. In addition to second runs of “My Old Lady,” “The Skeleton Twins” and “Elsa & Fred,” Friday's Lantern solo first-run opening is as follows:

“The Babadook”: Following her husband's death, a single mother has to cope with her young son's fears of what she thinks — thinks, mind you — is an imaginary monster. As the reviewer for Empire magazine wrote, “One of the strongest, most effective horror films of recent years — with awards-quality lead work from Essie Davis, and a brilliantly designed new monster who could well become the break-out spook archetype of the decade.” Yow.

The week’s openings: Hobbits and bad habits

Peter Jackson's overblown adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien's children's novel “The Hobbit” has drawn a lot of commentary. This, for example. And this. But whatever you think of what Jackson has put on the screen, you might be interested in knowing that the final chapter, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” will be arriving in area theaters on Wednesday. The rest of the week's openings will premiere on Friday.

The whole of the week's mainstream openings are as follows:

Wednesday

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”: Martin Freeman and Ian Mckellan star in this final chapter of a bloated adaptation. Not necessarily just for Tolkien/Jackson fans only, but … how may times can you make the same movie?

Friday

“Wild”: Reese Witherspoon stars in director 's adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir about a woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail for emotional therapy. Maybe just seeing the movie will provide all the solace I need.

“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”: Museum employee Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) must collect a band of helpers to save things when the magic powers of The Tablet of Ahkmenrah begin to die out. No, Burt Wonderstone isn't needed.

“Annie”: Quevzhané Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) stars in the title role of the little comic-strip character brought to the big screen. If you don’t like the movie, don’t fret: The sun’ll come out tomorrow.

“Top Five”: Chris Rock stars as a comedian who seems to have lost the ability to be funny. Kevin Hart, take note.

So go to the movies. And enjoy.

Congrats to Battle in Seattle contest winner

Congratulations, MIKE CANNON (above), the winner of two tickets to Gonzaga's Battle in Seattle on Dec. 20, 2014, at KeyArena. Mike will sit courtside as the Zags play Cal Poly; he will also enjoy overnight accommodations at the W Seattle Hotel.

Thanks to the nearly 400 Zag fans that entered this year’s contest! Tickets for the Battle in Seattle are still available!

Neutral Milk Hotel, Lucinda Williams, Big Smo add Spokane stops

Mark your calendar, friends. Some shows of note have come on our radar this week.

Among them: Lucinda Williams – yes, Lucinda Williams – at the Bing on Valentine’s Day. That same day country rapper– yes, that’s a thing – Big Smo will be at the Palomino Club.

For theater fans, WestCoast Entertainment is bringing the touring Broadway musical “Jekyll & Hyde” to the INB on Jan. 26 for one night only. Cirque du Soleil comes to the Arena for five shows in late April and early May.

In more band news, cult fave Neutral Milk Hotel will bring its highly anticipated farewell for now tour to the Knit on June 5. Bay Area rappers  Kalin and Myles  land at the Knit on April 17. And on Feb. 15, local musicians including Big Mumbo Blues Band, Nicole Lewis Band, the Side Men, Smash Hit Carnival will team up for a benefit for Tim “Too Slim” Langford who recently had cancer surgery. Best of all, Too Slim and the Taildraggers are set to perform.

For ticket details, check out the 7 section on Friday. In the meantime, a clip of one of my favorite Lucinda Williams' tunes:

 

From the air, Kauai is even prettier

Above: The bird's-eye view of Kauai's Napali Coast that I enjoyed, courtesy of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Photo by Mary Pat Treuthart.

The Hawaiian island of Kauai is unique. Fourth largest of the main eight islands, it is largely inaccessible except by foot or by helicopter. And since we are well beyond the days we would hike into areas that even Rich Landers might hesitate to tackle, that left only one choice if we wanted to see more of Kauai than we could view from the main roads.

What did we do? Well, everyone said that if there were one island you had to see by air, it was Kauai. So, yeah, we sprang for the helicopter. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters offered us an hour-long flight that toured the entirety of the 560-some-square-mile area, all for about $200 a head.

Helicopters have changed quite a bit since I last rode in one (Vietnam, 1969, don't ask). Along with our pilot Brad (former Army pilot, 25 years experience), seven of us were stuffed into a space that, surprising to me, did manage to offer more elbow room than your average theme-park ride. My wife Mary Pat and I sat in front between Brad and another passenger, while the other four sat in back (we had no say about the seating; it was all determined, they said, by weight).

Brad lifted off from the Lihue Airport in a fairly dramatic fashion, rushing toward a stand of palm trees at the end of the runway, before sweeping up and over the coast. The ride was smooth and far less bouncy than I expected, and the headphones we were all wearing both muffled the noise and made communication easy.

We headed west, toward the island of Niihau in the distance, and along the southern coast. As we flew, Brad explained how so many movies have used the remote Kauai landscapes. “I'm not a big movie guy,” he said just before mentioning “The Descendants” as we flew over the coastal valley that director Alexander Payne used as the site of the movie's climactic family squabble. We then proceeded clockwise around the island's perimeter, heading inland to swoop through and over the majestic valleys (especially Waimea Valley).

The high point, literally, came when — because we'd been lucky enough to sore one of those incredibly clear days so rare in Kauai — we were able to rise above Kauai's tallest peak, Kawaikini, a peak that is normally shrouded in clouds. Equally visible was the second-highest peak, Mount Walaleale, which is often listed as one of the world's wettest spots (with an annual average rainfall of some 460 inches). Brad seemed to make the aircraft stand on end so that we could get as many different views as possible.

Then we headed up past the Napali (also spelled Na Pali) coast, a stretch of some 16 miles that feature stark cliffs that rise up from the ocean like folded strips of green-and-red-tinted paper. Then past Taylor Camp, home of the former hippie haven, around exclusive Princeville, and then back toward Lihue.

You see, on occasion, bumper stickers that say things such as, “We're spending our kids' inheritance.” The helicopter ride around Hawaii's garden Island may fit that category.

Hey, I'll say, thanks for the early Christmas gift.

Friday’s openings: Charlton Heston redux

Seems when directors age, they turn curiously religious. That would explain why Darren Aronofsky (45) made “Noah” and why Ridley Scott (77) has made his version of “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” which is the only major mainstream opening this coming weekend. Then again, things in the Old Testament do blow up pretty good.

Friday's openings are as follows:

“Exodus: Gods and Kings”: Welsh-born Christian Bale plays Moses, and Australia's Joel Edgerton steps in as Rhamses in Scott's version of the Bible story. So, does that make Edgerton The Joker to Bale's biblical Batman?

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Citizenfour”: Continuing its recent streak of screening documentaries, the Lantern presents this look at Edward Snowden, the man most famous for leaking National Security Agency files. Screening times might be confidential, so make sure to call the theater and ask for “Jonathan.”

“The Immortalists”: In this English-made narrative film, two biologists tackle the problem of human aging with the motto, “Live forever, or die trying.” Sponsored by Cialis.

Kauai: From good beaches to great ice cream

Above: Photo by Mary Pat Treuthart

It’s only natural for people to dream about Hawaiian vacations, especially this time of year. For some, that kind of vacation might be the holiday of a lifetime. For others, it might mean an annual affair. Whatever, it’s one of the easiest kinds of trips for Inland Northwest residents to make.

All it involves is a short hop to Seattle and then five hours and change to the island of your choice: Oahu, Maui, the Big Island (my favorite) and the island we’re now visiting – Kauai. As for places to stay, just consult TripAdvisor. Something should fit.

However you manage it, once you’re here, the experience is likely to remain with you for life. And if you come in early December, you’re not apt to find the crowds that show up at other times of the year.

Beaches? Kauai has a number of them. From Kee Beach at Haena State Park on the north coast to Keaha Beach Park, which sits at the far western coast. We spent one afternoon walking the sands at Lydgate State Park just outside Wailua.

Restaurants? You can drop a load at one of the resorts in Princeville, such as the St. Regis or the Westin (where we ate twice at the Westin’s Nanea Restaurant and Bar). Or you can eat at any number of street joints, such as Island Taco (which sits on the main drag, Kaumualii Highway, in Waimea) and enjoy fish tacos to die for.

To die for.

For after dinner, you can eat ice cream at, say, at Pink’s Creamery in Hanalei. Even better, at Lappert’s (three locations, in Princeville, in Kapaa and Hanapepe).

One thing you can do for free, besides beach visits, is what we did this afternoon: explore Waimea Canyon. Some refer to it is the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” which is a bit of a stretch. But it is an impressive sight, even if all you do is drive to the end and walk to the overlook spots, those not obscured by fog, instead of hiking the many trails.

Free and amazing. That’s what I call a dream

They don’t call Kauai the Garden Island for nothing

Not sure what the weather is like in Spokane. (That's a lie. According to Weather.com, it's 33 degrees and snowing.) But I can tell you that today, in Kauai, the sun played tag with clouds, the rain held off, and tropical breezes made life just about perfect. Which is why I posted the above photo, which I took in Princeville, looking west-northwest as the sun dipped below the cliffs that turn into the Napali Coast.

Yeah. I'm on Kauai, also known as Hawaii's Garden Island. My wife and I arrived here following our visits to Shanghai and Hong Kong and we'll spend our last few days here, trying to soak up as much sun as we can before heading back to … the cold.

We arrived in Honolulu to a situation heavy with irony. After finding it easy to navigate airports in airports where the native language was either Mandarin or Cantonese, and not everyone we worked with spoke English, we found ourselves stumped in the Hawaiian Airlines terminal of the Honolulu International Airport. Machines, no desks with live human begins. And a curious lack of signage telling us exactly what to do. All that, complicated by jet lag, and we found ourselves wishing we were back in China.

I've lived in Hawaii. On Oahu, for four years, before, during and after it became a state. So, yes, I know it is part of the U.S. At times, though, Hawaii does feel like a foreign country. 

Despite the problems. we made our flight, which would take about the same time as flying from Spokane to Moses Lake. And barely a half hour later we were landing at Lihue Airport. Since then, things have gotten progressively better. It rained on and off our first day, and today gave new meaning to the phrase “partly sunny.” But we took our rental car for a ride, hit the beach at Haena State Park and took in that gorgeous sunset.

The day's highlight: having lunch at Tahiti Nui, the bar/cafe that was featured in Alexander Payne's 2011 film “The Descendants.” As we ate our sandwiches, served to us by a hardworking yet friendly waitress, I kept looking for signs of Clooney's presence. But, of course, he was nowhere to be seen. Nor were the stars of the some 76 other movies filmed, even if only partly, on Kauai. Such as Sam Neil from “Jurassic Park.” Kathleen Turner in “Body Heat.” Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” Harrison Ford in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” And so on.

Later, though, as we sat on the lanai of the St. Regis Princeville Resort (no, we aren't staying there) and watched the sun drop below the horizon, I thought again of Clooney and the many movie stars who have enjoyed this paradise called Kauai. And I raised my glass to the notion that I was enjoying it, too.

Friday’s openings: It’s a horror story

In the true tradition of “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity,” horror movies have adopted a visceral style that is far creepier than anything Hammer Films ever devised. That kind of horror is what fans of mainstream film have to look forward to this weekend. Friday's openings are as follows:

“The Pyramid”: A team of researchers investigates a pyramid only to become targets of an evil presence. Reminds me of the last time I shopped at Wal-Mart.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Pelican Dreams”: The director of the documentary “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” follows up with this look at a pelican that was rescued from the Golden Gate bridge. Sounds like filmmaker's career has gone … to the birds (bah-dah-BOOM).

“Happy Valley”: Want to know what happened during the year following former Penn State assistant football coach Gerry Sandusky's arrest on child abuse charges? This documentary reveals all … to those with stomachs strong enough to handle it.

So go to the movies. And enjoy. Or, this week anyway, at least try to.

Special price Thursday for ‘Sound of Music’

The hills are alive … with the sound of discounted “Sound of Music Sing-a-Long” tickets.

Tomorrow, for one day only, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, you can purchase tickets for $10. That's 50 percent off the regular adult ticket price.

Each patron will receive a “bag of musical memories” containing various props to deploy during the movie, a la “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” There's also a costume contest, in addition to being give permission to sing “Do / a deer / a female deer” at the top of your lungs.

Oh, and we have it on good authority that emcee Mark Peterson will be in costume - namely, lederhosen. So there's that.

The discounted tickets are available through TicketsWest, either (800) 325-SEAT or online, or by stopping by the Spokane Arena box office, 720 W. Mallon Ave.

Oh, and the show is at 7 p.m. Saturday at the INB Performing Arts Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Tony Ludiker loses battle with cancer

A local musical legend has died.

Tony Ludiker, a Spokane Valley native and five-time national fiddle champion, died Tuesday evening after a long battle with kidney cancer. His daughter Kimber, of the Grammy-nominated bluegrass band Della Mae, announced his passing on Facebook: “Tough day for our family, friends, and the fiddle world in whole. Dad lost his battle to cancer this evening. He went peacefully surrounded by family while listening to Benny Thomasson play Sally Goodin. More info to follow. Been a hard day.”

Ludiker, who had been living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in recent years, had beat cancer once, but learned in early 2012 that it had returned. This past August, he started a Facebook page detailing his ongoing treatments. But on Nov. 21, he posted this to his personal page, “Huge change. Leaving Colorado tonight for Spokane to die soon - unless something happens on the alternative front Washington. My days are bad and getting worse.”

In addition to playing - and excelling at - old-time fiddle music, Ludiker was an accomplished classical musician who served as concertmaster for the Coeur d'Alene Symphony a decade ago. He also performed with Rod Stewart and Ray Price.

Ludiker was 52. 

Correspondent Jill Barville wrote about Ludiker's cancer battle, and a benefit concert to help offset his expenses, in February 2013. You can find it here. Spokesman-Review photographer Jesse Tinsley, himself a musician, interviewed Ludiker for a story about the fiddling life and the national championships held each year in Weiser, Idaho. That story is here. Tinsley made an audio slideshow of his interview with Ludiker; check it out here (it's playable only in Flash…). To see Ludiker in action, a clip from a performance this past summer in Weiser is below:

 

Friday’s openings: The pharaoh’s curse strikes Spokane

If you thought last week’s slate of cinematic offerings was dismal, this week’s is even more of a letdown. We’re right in the middle of Oscar season, and yet we’ve only got one new wide release to look forward to this Friday (and it’s a low-budget horror film that isn’t being screened in advance for critics, so I think its Oscar chances are low). Luckily, the Magic Lantern, always a dependable source for offbeat cinema, is adding a couple of interesting documentaries to their slate. The openings are as follows:

At the AMC:

“The Pyramid”: It’s hard to tell from the trailer, but this looks like it might be another one of those found footage horror movies – just when you thought it was safe to go back into the theater. In this one, produced by Alexandre Aja, a group of archaeologists fall victim to a supposed “pharaoh’s curse,” unearthing (and then later getting trapped in) a tomb filled with vicious undead things and booby traps that would make Indiana Jones weep.

At the Magic Lantern:

“Happy Valley”: This is a fascinating but gut-wrenching documentary set amidst the 2011 Penn State sexual abuse scandal, when the school’s assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on multiple charges of child molestation. Directed by Amir Bar-Lev (“My Kid Could Paint That,” “The Tillman Story”), “Happy Valley” is as much about the media circus that followed as it is a community being stripped of its innocence. (Note: The film is only playing for a special one-week engagement.)

“Pelican Dreams”: Another bird-centric documentary from director Judy Irving (“The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”), “Pelican Dreams” chronicles the story of Gigi, a wounded brown pelican who was captured on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2008. Irving’s primary focus is to document the majesty of our feathered friends, but she also deals with such issues as oil spills and assimilating rehabilitated animals back into the wild.

Below: The trailer for “Happy Valley”:

Subscribe via RSS