7 Blog

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

Take a ‘Roman Holiday’ on Sunday

If you're into classic Hollywood films, you might want to catch a screening of the 1953 romance "Roman Holiday," which will play at 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday at Regal Cinemas' Northtown and Coeur d'Alene Riverstone Stadium theaters.

The screenings are part of a partnership between Regal Cinemas and Turner Classic Movies' Big Screen Classic Events series. The series, which has been ongoing since the summer (with the 40th Anniversary screening of "Jaws"), will continue on Dec. 20 and 23 with "A Miracle on 34th Street."

"Roman Holiday" was directed by William Wyler and stars Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, it won three: Edith Head for Best Costume Design, black and white; Dalton Trumbo for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story; and Hepburn for Best Actress.

The plot follows young Princess Ann (Hepburn) who, hating her royal duties, takes refuge in the apartment of a U.S. newsman (Peck), and the two enjoy a short respite from their real lives before returning to their respective obligations. Following are what the critics had to say:

Variety: "(Wyler) times the chuckles with a never-flagging pace, puts heart into the laughs, endows the footage with some boff bits of business and points up some tender, poignant scenes in using the smart script and the cast to the utmost advantage."

The New York Times: "It is a contrived fable but a bittersweet legend with laughs that leaves the spirits soaring."

TV Guide: "The film has enough adventure and excitement to satisfy, and the faintly bittersweet note of the ending is made deliciously palatable by its artistic rightness."

To order tickets, click here.

Warm up to Christie’s first novel tonight at Auntie’s

Reports are that, despite the hard work put in by those intrepid Avista workers, many area residents are still without power. I write this post from the warmth of my sister-in-law's house in York, Pa., but I can relate: During Ice Storm of 1996, my house went without power for nine long days.

I began to think about that when I was looking over the Spokane-area public offerings. You know, public events that offer people a chance to get in and out of the cold, even if that isn't the primary reason?

And one I came up with involves Auntie's Bookstore. It's the store's Mystery/Thriller Book Group, which meets tonight at 6 and features a discussion of Agatha Christie's first published novel, 1920's "The Mysterious Affair at Styles." The novel marks the debut of one of Christie's most notable characters, Hercule Poirot.

Here is one of the more sterling critical commentaries, even if it is of the audiobook edition :

The Boston Globe: "Though first released in 1929 this murder mystery is every bit as entertaining now as it was then…This is just one in a series of audio adaptations from Audio Renaissance, the only US publisher approved by the Christie estate to adapt her stories for audio format…Hugh Fraser was well chosen as the narrator…Best of all is the Belgian accent he uses for Poirot. Not only is the accent spot on, but Fraser speaks with a flourish and a lightness in tone that befit the brilliant, if preening, little detective."

Quite a warm reception. As warm as Auntie's itself.

No, humans did not live with dinosaurs

Interesting that the new Pixar animated offering, which as my friend Nathan Weinbender points out is titled "The Good Dinosaur," features an imaginary world that includes both dinosaurs and humans. First time I saw an ad for the movie I thought, "Is this something dreamed up by the Creation Museum?"

Speaking of imaginary scenarios.

This week’s openings: Boxers, monsters and dinosaurs

Movie times were posted a little late this week – let’s just go ahead and blame the wind storm – but it looks like the last of the new releases have been announced, and just in time for Turkey Day.

Correction: The weeks Magic Lantern releases were incorrectly listed as opening Friday. The theater is closed for the week and re-opens on Saturday the 28th, which is when the new films will screen.


“Brooklyn” – Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan stars as an idealistic Irish girl who must decide between homelands after immigrating to New York in the 1950s. Scripted by Nick Hornby from Colm Toibin’s novel, this one’s getting considerable awards buzz.

“Creed” – Sly Stallone is back for round seven as Rocky Balboa, and this time he’s training aspiring boxer Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late Apollo Creed. Directed by Ryan Coogler, whose debut feature “Fruitvale Station” made Jordan a star.

“The Good Dinosaur” – Pixar’s second animated release of the year (following the brilliant “Inside Out”) imagines what the world would be like had that asteroid never wiped out the dinos. Sam Elliott, Frances McDormand, Anna Paquin, Jeffrey Wright, Steve Zahn and (of course) John Ratzenberger provide voices.

“Victor Frankenstein” – The billionth reworking of Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, this time told from the perspective of Frankenstein’s lab assistant Igor. (Or is it pronounced Eye-gore?) James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe star.


(The only non-Wednesday openings this week are at the Magic Lantern, which also picks up a second run of the historical drama “Suffragette.”)

“Finders Keepers” – Proving that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction, this documentary recalls the strange story of a grill, a storage auction and a missing amputated leg.

“Meet the Patels” – Director Ravi Patel turns the camera on himself as his traditional Indian parents set him up with potential spouses. This comic documentary won audience awards at the Traverse City and Los Angeles Film Festivals.

“Trumbo” – The inimitable Bryan Cranston plays renowned screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted from Hollywood in the 1940s and penned classics like “Roman Holiday” and “Spartacus” under pseudonyms. The all-star cast is rounded out by Diane Lane, John Goodman, Louis C.K. and Helen Mirren.

The trailer for “Trumbo”:

Binge Watch: Thanksgiving edition

One of greatest things about cord-cutting (other than the savings) is that you aren’t tied to your TV and cable box to watch popular shows, which is especially handy during holiday travels. With a Wi-Fi connection and mobile device, you can binge watch on planes, trains and automobiles (non-drivers only).

When you need a break from holiday cheer, check out a few of my favorite newish half-hour shows that don’t quite fit into the sitcom category. I think of them as off-kilter rom-drams featuring eccentric families that will make you really appreciate your own.



While originally broadcast on Channel 4 in the U.K. earlier this year, “Catastrophe” was available to U.S. viewers through Amazon Prime Instant Video this summer. American comedian and writer Rob Delaney co-created and stars in the series with Irish actress Sharon Horgan about two relative strangers who become a couple after vacation fling leads to a high-risk pregnancy.

With only six episodes, the short series mirrors the brief courtship, engagement and marriage of the two middle-aged protagonists as they grapple with cohabitation, work and anxiety about impending parenthood. It sounds intense, but the good-natured banter between Delaney and Horgan keeps the tone friendly, for the most part.

The second season is currently airing in the UK; its Amazon Prime release date has yet to be announced.

"Master of None"

"Master of None"

If you read comedian Aziz Ansari’s recent non-fiction book “Modern Romance” or watched his stand-up special “Live at Madison Square Garden,” some of the plotlines in his Netflix original series “Master of None” will seem a little familiar.

But that doesn’t make the series any less enjoyable, especially the episodes that embrace bringing up topics that aren’t usually addressed on film—how racism and sexism in media feed prejudice in society, the immigrant experience in America and the realization that old people are just people who got old.

If you’re visiting family over the holidays, I recommend viewing “Parents” and “Old People” in advance; maybe you'll be inspired to instigate some of the same conversations Dev has with his parents and his girlfriend’s grandmother with your own relatives.

A bonus fun fact is that Dev’s on-screen parents are Ansari’s actual parents who have never acted before. Keep that in mind when Shoukath Ansari wins an Emmy for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series next year.



For something a little darker, brace yourself for Hulu original “Casual.” Following a divorce, psychiatrist Valerie (Michaela Watkins) and her teenage daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr) move in with Valerie’s brother Alex (Tommy Dewey), whose background as a successful dating website founder qualifies him to give his sister jaded and brutally honest dating (or hooking-up) advice, but leaves his own love life lacking.

Watkins’ previous ventures on “Saturday Night Live” and “Trophy Wife” were sadly short-lived, but “Casual” has already been renewed for a 13-episode second season. Her performance is simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious, and reaches some “Office”-level, face-covering, cringe-worthy moments, especially in “…”, as in:

iMessage Ellipsis

Last week’s Thanksgiving episode “Bottles” depicts what might be the most mortifying family dinner imaginable. Proceed with caution. Or, at least, wine.

‘We Come as Friends’ an intimate look at Africa

With much of the city still reeling from Tuesday's storm, posting a movie review on our local Spokane Public Radio station turned out to be impossible. But I thought I'd post the review here anyway. It's a review of the documentary "We Come as Friends," which is playing at the Magic Lantern:

The best documentary films provide us with an-up-close-and-personal look at something, or someone, we might otherwise know only marginally. And they do so with just the right blend of reporting and art.

Sometimes that balance tips more in one direction. Take two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple, for example. Her award-winning films, 1976’s “Harlan County U.S.A” and 1990’s “American Dream,” are prime examples of straightforward documentary journalism. Contrast those with virtually anything done by Errol Morris, a 2004 Oscar winner for “The Fog of War.” Morris’ 1988 film “The Thin Blue Line” helped transform the entire industry from Kopple’s naturalistic style to something where pretty much anything goes.

That’s not to say that Morris’ best work is less serious than, say, Kopple’s. He just follows a different emphasis. As the late film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “Morris is much more interested in the spaces between the facts than with the facts themselves. He is fascinated by strange people, by odd word choices and manners of speech, by the way that certain symbols or beliefs can become fetishes with the power to rule human lives.”

Much the same can be said of Hubert Sauper, the Austrian-born director of the documentary “We Come as Friends,” which is playing at the Magic Lantern. Sauper has made a movie that works both as a study of contemporary African life AND as a work of art. But Sauper, like Morris, is far more interested in the rhythms of life than in the mundane facts that journalists typically use to neatly sum it up.

Sauper, whose previous film – 2004’s “Darwin’s Nightmare” – addressed the issue of economic exploitation in Tanzania, began visiting southern Sudan before the 2011 referendum that would result in the larger country’s partition. He flew around the country in his own tiny, home-made plane – a machine that served two purposes. One, it allowed him access to backwoods locations that would have been too difficult to reach any other way. Two, its very curiosity attracted attention and helped introduce Sauper to a wide-ranging cross section of Sudanese life.

He takes us into the halls of the new government, into the work rooms of a Chinese oil-production facility, into the compounds of U.S. Christian missionaries and, most distressingly, into the various tribal Sudanese communities filled with literally dirt-poor people who are promised the most but seemingly profit the least from the money being made all around them.

Hand in hand with this message, though, are the images that Sauper and his cinematographer manage to capture: shots of his tiny plane dwarfed by giant military aircraft, of Chinese workers justifying their presence in Africa while a scene from “Star Trek” plays on a nearby television set, of missionaries handing out solar-powered electronic bibles and forcing clothing on naked children, and the faces of everyone – native and newcomer – portrayed in extreme closeup.

“We Come as Friends” is an ironic title. But in Sauper’s case, it’s more true than not. Seldom has a documentary immersed itself so far inside the culture it is portraying and with such devastating effect.

Regal to live-stream opera ‘Lulu’ on Saturday

If opera is something you enjoy, then you might want to think twice about sleeping in on Saturday morning. The Regal Cinemas theaters at NorthTown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium 14 will live-stream the full 4 hour and 30 minute (including intermission) Metropolitan Opera production of Alban Berg's "Lulu" beginning at 9:30 a.m.

According the The Met's website, this production of "Lulu" is directed by William Kentridge and stars soprano Marlis Petersen, along with Susan Graham, Daniel Brenna and Johan Reuter.

Here are some of the critical comments:

The Washington Post: "Marlis Petersen was dazzling."

The New York Observer: “Spellbinding… if there’s such a thing as a gold standard for opera, this is it.”

The New York Times: “A masterful 'Lulu' at the Met… visually stunning and superbly performed… an ideal fit for William Kentridge’s darkly fantastical artistic sensibility…”

Click here to see ticket availability.

You’ll laugh your socks off at ‘A Christmas Story’

Thanks to West Coast Entertainment, we have a pair of tickets to give away for opening night of “A Christmas Story” at INB Performing Arts Center on Thursday, Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m.!

For the first time in Spokane, the 1983 film—itself based on Jean Shepherd’s 1966 novel “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash”—comes to life on-stage in a hilarious Broadway musical. As Ralphie Parker dreams of the ultimate Christmas present, an official Red Ryder® Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, audiences will laugh along to delightful songs and splashy production numbers, including "A Major Award," "Sticky Situation," “Up on Santa’s Lap” and, of course, “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.”

One winner will be randomly drawn on Tuesday, Nov. 24, so ENTER TO WIN today!

‘Suffragette’: an ardent, necessary study

Strange as it may seem now, it took a Constitutional amendment – the 19th Amendment, to be specific – for women in the United States to earn the right to vote. Even stranger, that amendment – which was ratified in 1920 – predated by eight years similar legislation in Great Britain.

That latter struggle is the central point of “Suffragette,” a stirring film directed by Sarah Gavron from a script written by Abi Morgan. Gavron focuses on Maud (played by Carey Mulligan), a working-class woman – married and the mother of a young boy – who chances into the suffragist movement but who, soon enough, embraces it heart and soul.

Combining fact and fiction, Morgan’s script includes – albeit briefly – some real-life historical characters: Meryl Streep as suffragist leader Emmeline Pankhurst, Adrian Schiller as future Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Natalie Press as the ill-fated Emily Davison. Most everyone else is fictional, though the issues – clearly enough – are not.

And while “Suffragette” overall carries the too-ardent feel of a pure message picture, it is capably directed, Mulligan as always pulls off a performance worth watching and the issues involving sexism still make everyday headlines all over the world – but especially here at home.

Friday’s mainstream openings: Are you hungry, team?

Teams are the theme for the week's opening movies. Teams of rebels, teams of best pals, teams of reporters and editors and teams of police investigators. Some of them might even be worth watching.

Friday's mainstream movie releases are as follows:

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2": The war for Panem finally reaches its climax. Do you still hunger for these games?

"The Night Before": Three friends celebrate one last annual Christmas Eve reunion. Do morons now come in trios?

"Spotlight": Based-in-fact story of the Boston Globe and its investigation of the Catholic Church's sexual-abuse scandal. The Globe is a newspaper. Remember what that is?

"The Secret in Their Eyes": A team of police investigators is shaken when the daughter of one is found murdered. Starring not one but two Oscar-winning actresses: Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman. No clue as to where the operating budget went.

Tis the season to think of Boo Radley’s

Thanksgiving and its unholy mercantile partner Black Friday, are still more than a week away. But some early birds, when they're not arguing with Starbucks and other cultural touchstones about what the real reason for the season is, are already filling out their Christmas gift lists.

Me, I like to wait until Christmas Eve before I give holiday gift purchasing any thought at all.

But whether you buy weeks in advance, or at the last second, one dependable place to find offbeat gifts is Spokane's favorite novelty store, Boo Radley's. Or, if you prefer something a bit more upscale, its partner Atticus Coffee & Gifts just a couple of doors to the south.

Anyway, the sign above — which sits on the sidewalk outside the store named after a Harper Lee character — pretty much says it all. Boo Radley's presents do equal joy.

‘Spectre’ portrays 007 in throwback mode

When I first emerged from seeing the latest James Bond film "Spectre," I was abuzz with all the fuss and flash of the special effects. So much so that I didn't mind that the story seemed like such a throwback. After I had time to mull things over, I began to reconsider.

Following the review of "Spectre" that I wrote for Spokane Pubic Radio:

I can’t remember the first time I saw a James Bond spy flick. I do remember going to the theater at Norfolk Naval Base with my best friend Ed sometime during the summer of 1964 to see the second of the Sean Connery Bond offerings, “From Russia With Love.”

It was a perfect time to be immersed in Ian Fleming’s world. I was barely 16, the Cold War was in full bloom and the evening news was talking about problems in a far-off place called Vietnam. Watching movies about a suave, no-nonsense British agent fight villains and bed beauties was the perfect escape.

The times, and Bond himself, have changed over the past five-plus decades. We’re now on our seventh Bond (if you count David Niven’s solo turn in the 1967 spy-spoof “Casino Royale”). And the all-pervasive War on Terrorism has replaced the tensions that seemed at least somewhat relieved after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The most recent Bond – and, arguably, at least tied with Connery for rank of the best – is Daniel Craig. Like Craig himself, whose penchant for humor seems limited, the films have taken a serious turn. Certainly more serious than was prevalent during the Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan eras, and even more serious than those featuring Connery – though the Scots-bread Connery, at least, was able to convey a slight smile through his always-cool line deliveries.

Take the latest film, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes’ second Bond effort, “Spectre.” Following the ultra-serious “Skyfall,” with its references to Bond’s past and his intimate relationship with Judi Dench’s M, “Spectre” is both a continuation of the Bond back story and a seeming culmination of Craig’s participation. Reports are that the search is on for the eighth actor to play Double-0-Seven.

It’s just as well. While full of the standard Bond gimmicks and characters, implausible plot twists and beauties-in-peril, “Spectre” seems like a hybrid of the traditional and neo-Fleming storylines. Taking up from where “Skyfall” left off, we find Bond facing the new M (played by Raph Fiennes) and new obligations while intent on completing an old assignment – which, we discover, involves a request/demand from his late and former boss.

That request takes Bond from an international incident in Mexico City – revealed in a brilliant opening sequence – to Austria and on to Morocco where he confronts the villainous secret agency SPECTRE and its leader, played by Christoph Waltz: the “author,” he claims, of all Bond’s pain. Meanwhile, Bond’s confederates – M, Q (played by Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) find themselves targeted by a new intelligence service that considers them obsolete.

It’s just at this point, where a truly serious film would delve more deeply into the richness of plot mechanics, that “Spectre” backtracks and devolves into standard Bond material: You know, the kind where our protagonist wins every fight, has every babe fall into his arms, and survives every villain’s evil, overly complex and murderous machinations.

And that’s the problem. Give us traditional wink-wink Bond or give us the new seriousness. This hybrid version feels neither shaken nor stirred.

Catch ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ live or on TV

These days, pretty much anything is used as material for a stage show. I recently saw a billboard advertising the Dec. 3-6 run of the musical version of "A Christmas Story," which came as a surprise. I never knew Ralphie could sing — especially with a bar of soap in his mouth.

Arlo Guthrie, too, is roaming the country with musical stage show titled "Alice's Restaurant 50th Anniversary Tour" Based on a real incident, which occurred in 1965, "Alice's Restaurant" is a song from Guthrie's 1967 debut album that was made into a 1969 film directed by Arthur Penn. As you can see from the link above, Guthrie will perform his stage show on April 23 at the Bing Crosby Theater. And, it seems, only a few balcony tickets are left unsold.

Prior to that event, however, local Public Broadcasting station KSPS is going to broadcast a version of the show. PBS is scheduled to broadcast the show nationally on Thanksgiving. But according to an email press release I received this morning from Blue Sky Productions, KSPS is supposed to broadcast "Alice's Restaurant 50th Anniversary Concert with Arlo Guthrie" on Dec. 6 (the show was taped live on May 21 at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA.)

Either way, you should check regularly in at the KSPS site to discover the specific date and time. But whether you see the show live or on TV, it's likely you'll end up satisfied. After all — sing along now — "You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant …"

Veterans Day: This photo needs no cutline

The appropriate response: respectful silence.

Author Ray unveils first novel at Bing tonight

It's not often that a first-time novelist earns words of praise such as the following: It "fuses tragedy into rebirth, covering a timeline of nearly four decades in a narrative as natural, pure, and clear as water flowing from a snow-covered peak."

That is what Kirkus Reviews has to say about "American Copper," a novel written by Shann Ray. "American Copper" will be the focus of a release party at 7 tonight at the Bing Crosby Theater; Ray will appear with another well-known author with regional credentials, Sherman Alexie. Click here for more information.

Actually, calling Shann Ray a "first-time novelist" is a bit of a misnomer. Ray, a licensed clinical psychologist who teaches at Gonzaga University, has written short stories, poetry and nonfiction. So, writing a novel seems like a logical next step.

Logical next steps, though, don't always qualify for sterling reviews.