7 Blog

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

Machine Head cancels tour

The Bay Area-based metal band Machine Head has postponed its upcoming North American tour – which included an Oct. 2 stop at the Knitting Factory in Spokane. The postponement is caused by a delay in finishing the band’s latest album, “Bloodstone & Diamonds.” “…We had to make the difficult choice to either delay the album, let it go out as incomplete, or cancel the tour in order to properly finish and promote the album…,” the band said in a statement.

They hope to reschedule the tour in early 2015.

Tickets purchased through Ticketweb will be automatically refunded. Others can be refunded at the point of purchase.

Indian Canyon serves up a mean burger

My former Spokesman-Review colleague Pia Hallenberg, a native of Denmark, just became an American citizen. On her Facebook page, she posted a photo of her celebration meal — a big, juicy cheeseburger with a criss-cross of bacon slices and a side of fries. As she noted, “First truly American meal.” To which I replied, “Good old American heart disease to follow.”

Not one to let a challenge go lightly, I hereby post a photo of what I ate for lunch today: a Caynon Burger, which the SR's former food editor Lorie Hutson described in a 2010 story as “a 1/3-pound patty topped with ham, cheddar and all the fixings for $6.75.” That price has risen in those four years to a flat $8. But it does include fries (the drink was extra).

After a tiring 18 holes, it was just the right bit of nourishment — and worth, as I'm sure Pia would agree, every bit the potential harm to my heart.

Easy these days to pair dinner and a movie

Unlike the old days — and by old days I mean anything before the year 2000 — combining dinner and a movie was a bit of a hassle. These days, though, it couldn't be easier. And that's true whether you choose to see movies on the north side, downtown, in the Spokane Valley or Coeur d'Alene.

Take yesterday. My wife, my brother and I went to see “The Drop” at AMC's River Park Square 20-plex. Seeing James Gandolfini in his final big-screen performance, performing in a cast with the likes of Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Matthias Schoenaerts, was a rich experience. You can hear my take on the film by tuning into “Movies 101” this Friday on Spokane Public Radio.

Afterward, we had our choice of downtown eateries. But we opted to eat in the mall. At Rock City Grill, in fact.

I ordered the pasta linguine with butter and myzithra cheese. My wife had the baked pesto salmon, while my brother chose chicken al forno. And everything was … well, edible. My brother's chicken was overcooked, and my pasta was passable, while my wife's salmon was, as the Italians would say, delizioso. So you could say our dining experience was mixed.

That's to be expected, though. Seeing movies is just as chancy as dining out. Just as not every movie can be “The Godfather,” not every pasta dish can be worthy of Wolfgang Puck.

Porchfest filled West Central with music

Above: Photo by Dan Pelle of The Spokesman-Review

If you heard music coming from the West Central neighborhood on Saturday, it likely was because of Porchfest. In addition to Spokesman-Review photographer Jesse Tinsley, who was a performer, the SR's presence included photographer Dan Pelle and staff writer Nina Culver. Culver's story can be accessed by clicking here.

In the world of ‘Frank,’ quirky is as quirky does

When I read album reviews on sites like Pitchfork or NME, I often find myself getting frustrated (and I meant often) when the critic reviews an artist’s persona instead of the talent exhibited on his or her recorded output. (An example I just made up: “This music is unlistenable and pretentious, but they recorded the album in a little girl’s treehouse, and that’s pretty cool. BEST NEW MUSIC.”) Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed the new dark comedy “Frank,” which concerns a (somewhat terrible) band with an off-putting name (don’t even bother pronouncing the Soronprfbs) that becomes a viral hit due to the eccentricities of its frontman. If you missed the film while it was playing at the Magic Lantern, it’s now available on demand and as a digital rental through iTunes, and I think it’s worth a watch. A transcript of my review, which was broadcast on Spokane Public Radio last weekend, is below:

In 1983, a handsome blonde man from Alberta, Canada, walked into an L.A. recording studio looking to lay down some tracks. He simply called himself Lewis, and he came armed with a handful of aching, melancholy songs that sounded like fuzzy transmissions from another planet. His recordings were compiled on an album titled “L’Amour,” and as soon as it was released, Lewis seemingly vanished. After the album was discovered at a Canadian flea market in 2008, it became a minor internet sensation, and an exhaustive search for this strange crooner, whose lilting vocals are faraway and often mumbled, arrived at one dead end after another.

It was a terrific story, one that music journalists rightly salivated over. Who was this man, where did he cultivate his unusual style and, assuming he was still alive, did he know people were looking for him? A second Lewis album was uncovered shortly after “L’Amour” was reissued on CD, and the man himself was tracked down just last month – his real name is Randall Wulff, and he’s living quietly in Canada with no interest in the royalties his music has accrued. It ended up being an anticlimactic finish to a tantalizing mystery, and yet it still lends Lewis’ songs an eerie, unshakable aura.

I bring this up because I thought about Lewis all the way through the new Irish comedy “Frank,” which gets its name from a mysterious musician who always wears a bulbous papier-mâché head with a painted-on expression that could be perceived (depending on how you look at it) as welcoming, inquisitive or perpetually surprised. Frank is the eccentric frontman of an unknown experimental rock band with a deliberately unpronounceable name, and his style exists somewhere between Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. None of his bandmates have seen the face beneath the mask. They know nothing of his background. His fake head has become an appendage they regard as fact rather than affectation.

The very notion of a guy living inside a papier-mâché cocoon seems dubious, but Frank turns out to be inspired by a cult musician named Frank Sidebottom, a satirical creation of the late British comedian Chris Sievey. Michael Fassbender plays the film’s version of Frank – or at least we assume it’s Michael Fassbender under that head – and he’s magnetic, unsettling and yet strangely soothing, and we eventually come to accept the sight of his goofy, googly-eyed façade. Perhaps we succumb to the same form of Stockholm syndrome as his band. Fassbender is one of our best actors, and he brings a serious intensity to a role that could have easily devolved into a cheap gimmick.

Our entry point into the strange world of Frank and his band is an unremarkable corporate drone named Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson), who is constantly writing pop hooks in his head based on the mundane things he sees while walking down the street. Jon has a chance encounter with Frank’s band after their keyboard player hurls himself into the ocean, and he offers to step up and perform at their gig that night. Before he knows it, he’s the newest member of the band – which also features erratic manager and songwriter Scoot McNairy and glowering Theremin player Maggie Gyllenhaal – and follows them to a secluded country cabin where they plan to record their first album.

For most of its running time, “Frank” is a rigorously conventional comedy about a deeply unconventional group of people, and sometimes it’s aggressive in its attempts to make us laugh at how weird these wannabe outsider artists are. But the film’s third act transforms into a sly, stinging commentary about the indie music scene, as Frank and company make their way to the South by Southwest music festival and discover a shortsighted culture in which context is valued over content. Frank, like the enigmatic Lewis before him, becomes famous not because of his craft but because of his anonymity, and there’s something quietly tragic about a guy being marginalized as a novelty when he’s trying to be taken seriously.

This is not a great movie, and there are some stretches that are almost violently quirky – it doesn’t help, either, that the score often relies on sitcommy musical cues. But its heart is in the right place – we really come to care about this initially repellent band of misfits – and its very last scene, in which a song we’ve heard several times takes on a new and heartbreaking context, is surprisingly effective. Like its namesake, “Frank” is weirdly charming, occasionally off-putting and probably best when taken in small doses.

Friday’s openings: Some quality in this ‘Maze’ of movies

What's Friday at the movies have to offer us? A bit of sci-fi, some comic domestic disturbance, a tad of neo-noir, two dueling UK comics and Terry Gilliam. There may be even more.

For the moment, though, this is likely what the Friday movie slate looks like:

“The Maze Runner”: Unable to remember how he got there, our young protagonist must vie with a group of boys to escape a dangerous, ever-changing maze. Don't they call that high school?

“This Is Where I Leave You”: When a man dies, members of a dysfunctional family are forced to face the problems that have separated them. Jason Bateman and Tina Fey should find something to laugh about here.

“A Walk Among the Tombstones”: Liam Neeson stars as a former cop who does private security work, for “favors,” and gets hired to investigate a deadly kidnapping team. Be fun to see what accent Neeson uses this time.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“A Trip to Italy”: Adding Al Pacino and more to their impersonation battles, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon continue their trek (begun in 2010 with “The Trip”) through la bella Italia. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

“The Zero Theorem”: Christoph Waltz stars in the former Python cast member Gilliam's look at a computer hacker getting distracted from his quest to figure out the meaning of human existence. The distraction? A woman, naturally.

Anyway, enjoy.

‘Viaggio Sola’: the examined traveler’s life

Anyone who loves international travel, especially those who travel first class, should appreciate “A Five Star Life,” which opens at the Magic Lantern Theater today. I have been around the world during the past couple of decades, though not first class. But I can dream, as I did when I previewed “A Five Star Life.”

Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

To Hollywood’s way of thinking, contemporary adult life is a maze of Seth Rogen romantic comedy, Nicholas Spark melodrama and E.L. James sexual heat.

Throw in a bit of “South Park” sentimentality and I just might consider signing up. Otherwise … mmm, no.

It would seem hard, if not impossible, to make a movie that captures the far more plausible view of life involving trying to find a way to live that speaks to your own personal sensibilities. A way that allows you to connect with other when you need to, and be on your own when that suits you, that provides you enough opportunity to live – simply stated – the way you want

That’s certainly true of Irene, the protagonist of Italian director Maria Sole Tognazzi’s film “A Five Star Life” played by Margherita Buy. That title, by the way, is an unfortunate alteration of the original, a point that I will return to in a moment. But while unfortunate, it’s not incorrect. Irene has, after all, what some people would consider a dream job: As an employee for a hotel-rating service, she travels the world, staying in five-star establishments, enjoying all their luxuries even as she judges their quality.

Does the attendant greet her with eye contact and a smile? Does he address her by name? Does her room come as advertised, the bed’s headboard dust-free, the view heavenly? Is the room-service wine served at the correct temperature? Are directions to the spa easy to follow, and are staff members at the ready to help confused guests, even those who appear not to be among the regular clientele?

Irene has a virtual manual full of such requirements, each of which she handles with a demanding eye that would cow Gordon Ramsay. And in between moments, she lounges in her bathrobe, sneaks a smoke on the veranda, maybe indulges in a flirtation but more typically makes calls to those she depends upon for intimacy.

Which is where the plot to “A Five Star” life could have gone wrong, but never does. Irene’s best friend is Andrea, former boyfriend and now best friend and confidante. In between her visits to Shanghai, Morocco and Berlin, Irene and Andrea eat meals, see movies but mostly just enjoy the comfort of each other’s presence. When she isn’t with Andrea, Irene spends time with her married sister, whose husband and two daughters give Irene a view of the life that she might have had – and, in the movie’s version of a crisis, provide her with a sense – though perhaps only momentarily – of fear and regret.

What “A Five Star Life” addresses is nothing less than an examination of a life, of the choices that woman makes and – more important – why she makes them. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that director Tognazzi, working from a script she co-wrote, finds an ending to Irene’s story that isn’t just happy but both authentic and adult.

As for that title, I prefer the Italian original, “Viaggio Sola” – or, as Irene might say, “I Travel Alone.”

‘Z Nation’ grim, gory, not much fun

You knew it wasn’t going to be great. Not “Downton Abbey” nor “The Walking Dead.”

Because a zombie show created by the folks responsible for “Sharknado” and airing on the SyFy channel is not going to win any Emmy awards.

Still, there was room for hope. The cast sports some real actors with solid résumés – Tom Everett Scott, Harold Perrineau and DJ Qualls among them.

So the answer to the question, “Is the Spokane-filmed series ‘Z Nation’ any good?” Not really.

The series opens two years after a zombie virus has taken hold in the U.S. The government and the military are in tatters, still hoping for a vaccine to halt the virus’ spread. One prisoner, Murphy (Keith Allan), has been given an experimental drug that seems to have worked. The challenge? To get him from New York to a lab in California, where they might be able to turn the antibodies coursing through his blood into a viable vaccine.

 Fast forward a year, and Murphy and the remaining solider tasked with guarding him, Hammond (Perrineau), are making their way west. They stumble on a band of survivors headed by an ex-National Guardsman named Garnett (Scott). When the survivors’ compound is overrun, the remaining few – including fellow guardsman Warren (Kellita Smith) and a self-described “amateur pharmacologist” nicknamed Doc (Russell Hodgkinson) – agree to help Hammond deliver Murphy west. They get radio assistance from Simon Cruller (Qualls), the last remaining soldier stationed at a remote NSA listening base who takes to the airwaves as Citizen Z.

The acting isn’t truly terrible, although Scott does utter one howler of a line (you’ll know it when you hear it). Still, the script is pretty cheesy. The problem with “Z Nation” is that it leans too much toward “The Walking Dead” rather than “Shaun of the Dead.” When the greatest zombie show ever made is already on the air and is widely praised as Great Television, regardless of subject matter, it’s going to be hard to compete. Had the creators of “Z Nation” incorporated more humor into their show, they might have had something. Instead, we’re left with is a show that’s pretty gory – the only way to kill a zombie is with a blow the head, so we’re treated to a lot of bloody skull-bashing – and pretty dour.

Still, for Spokane-area fans, it’ll be fun to play “find your friends” among the hundreds of local extras dressed in their finest zombie attire. Also, “name that location.” While many of the location shots early on in the premiere are nondescript woodlands, the big set piece is filmed at what appears to be the grounds of the Eastern State Hospital.

So, yeah. Check out “Z Nation.” Just keep your expectations in check.

Watch the season premiere of “Z Nation” on the big screen Friday at the Garland Theater, 924 W. Garland Ave. Doors open at 9:15 p.m. for a 10 p.m. screening to benefit the Spokane International Film Festival and the Washington Film Project. Admission is $10. For television viewers, the premiere episode, “Puppies and Kittens,” will be aired at 10 p.m. on the SyFy channel.

In the meantime, you can view the official trailer below, or visit the series website here.





Kir Royale lends a regal feel to this fading summer

My sister's wife and her husband are confirmed foodies. Wherever they go, they post Facebook photos of their food — and drink (shown above, a limoncello collins as served by Victor's Italian Restaurant of York, Pa). And this includes trips made to what are food festivals and cooking camps (or whatever the right word is). So they would appreciate my friend Delaney Mes, the New Zealand freelance writer, blogger and all-around food freak.

I link to Delaney's blog now and then, especially when she posts something that I find particularly interesting. Or delicious. The fact that she teamed up with an American musician and tandem-prepared a multi-course meal for 12 makes a nice read. But even more intriguing is the drink that they began with, something I'd never heard of called a Kir Royale.

Next hot day, maybe with luck this weekend, I'm going to try it out.

Oh summer, summer, please don't go. Not yet. Not just yet.

Grom gelato is great, but it’s un po costoso

As any international traveler knows, one of the joys of traveling in Italy is gelato. And maybe it's because you're eating it in la bella Italia, any kind you buy there tastes far better than anything ice cream labeled “gelato” on this side of the Atlantic.

Except for when the gelato you order comes from Grom, the company whose tagline claims that its product is “il gelato come una volta” (which doesn't translate literally but means something like “old-fashioned gelato”). I've ordered Grom gelato in Florence, which I've had the opportunity to visit a few times. And while it isn't my favorite gelateria (I prefer Gelateria dei Neri or Vivoli), it's pretty good.

As with Italian coffee, the worst gelato you've ever had is, in a single word, delizioso.

I mention Grom, however, because of a recent visit I made to New York City. We visited the Grom shop that is located just off Columbus Circle and couldn't resist ordering a post-dinner sampling. I had a large cup, while my wife ordered a smallish cone (stracciatella for me, pistacchio and stracciatella for her). And the results? Assolutamente delizioso.

Of course it had better measured up. Our combined bill came to more than $12.

For that price, I'll stick with good old American ice cream, thank you. In fact, I think I'll head for The Scoop after I post this.

No stracciatella there, I know. But maybe tonight they'll have Rocky Road. Speriamo, eh?

On Saturday, music, poetry will fill West Central porches

Everybody likes a party, and that's what the folks in Spokane's West Central neighborhood are going to be playing host to on Saturday. The event, modestly called Porchfest, was the dream child of Spokane photographer Marshall Peterson and friends. The inaugural fiesta will be held 3 to 7 p.m. and will feature 10 different acts (solo and group) performing at a like number of house porches owned by neighbors gracious enough to get involved.

Click here to get a complete roundup of hosts, performers and a map to the area.

And welcome to West Central.

Friday’s openings: Dolphins, abductions and womanly woes

The local movie scene improves somewhat this week, what with the Magic Lantern offering a trio of interesting offerings, while the mainstream theaters will stick with the standard Hollywood pap involving captive mammals, abused women, mob stories and corporate apologia.

Friday's openings are as follows:

“Dolphin Tale 2”: Remember the dolphin with an artificial tail? (Can you spell homonym?) This sequel involves that dolphin, now sad, being paired with a new female. Beware four of the scariest words in the English language: “Inspired by true events.” Starring Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman and some child actors.

“No Good Deed”: When a psychopathic killer escapes captivity, he threatens a lone woman and her young daughter. You can finish the saying suggested by the title on your own, right? Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson.

“The Drop”: When a couple of guys rob a bar that is famous for handling mob money, focus narrows on the bar's owner. I'll take everything you got, pal, plus a Jack Daniels chaser. Starring James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy.

“Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt”: Third in the trilogy version of Ayn Rand's 1,000-plus-page famous fantasy about bad government and good rich guys. Paul Ryan-approved. Starring … never heard of them.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Starred Up”: When a young rebel is sentenced to prison, he rejects every attempt to help him — even when offered by the fellow inmate who happens to be his father. Brits behind bars. Starring Jack O'Connell and Ben Mendelsohn.

“A Five Star Life”: A 40-something Italian woman begins to question how happy she is with with her nomadic life as a hotel inspector. La vita non é bella? Vero? Starring Margherita Buy.

“Life of Crime”: Based on Elmore Leonard's 1978 novel “The Switch,” this comic caper follows a couple of bumbling kidnappers who abduct the wife of a man who doesn't want her back. A new twist on marriage counseling. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Mos Def, Tim Robbins. Isla Fisher and John Hawkes.

‘Calvary’ explores a dark, marginally comic Ireland

Note: An earlier version of this post misidentified the theater that “Calvary” is playing at. It is playing at the AMC River Park Square.

Love me some Brendan Gleeson. And who isn't awed by the wild Irish coastline? Still, neither was enough to keep me from scratching my head when the curtain rose after a screening of the film “Calvary.”

Following is a review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

It feels strange to criticize a film that, one, boasts good technique; two, features a number of good performances; and, three, follows a dramatic structure that feels both true to its intent and natural in its symmetry.

But what do you say, then, when even given all that, a film just leaves you shrugging your shoulders in dismay? That even as you’re accepting the ending as plausible, even inevitable, you think, “This is the best they could come up with?”

The “they” in this equation is one person, Anglo-Irish filmmaker John Michael McDonagh, writer-director of a film titled “Calvary.” And it is that film, which is playing at AMC River Park Square, that led to a shoulder shrug so intense I’m still feeling the resulting muscle pull a week later.

Let’s start with the plot: McDonagh’s film begins in a church confessional. Father James (played by the peerless Brendan Gleeson) is taking the confession of a man who starts out by describing the sexual abuse he suffered as a boy by a Catholic priest. “That’s certainly a startling opening line,” Father James says, revealing both screenwriter McDonagh’s proclivity for offbeat humor and what may be Father James’ single flaw: a sense of humor weighed down by irony.

Then something really startling happens: The confessor says that, in one week, he is going to kill the good Father. Not because the priest is bad but precisely because he is good. That, he claims, will make more of an impact.

McDonagh doesn’t identify the would-be killer, and the Father – after consulting his superior – doesn’t sound an alarm. The threat did occur, after all, during confession. And so McDonagh continues his movie, introducing us to a collection of strange characters, any one of whom might have good reason to off a priest. Or two. There’s the butcher with a penchant for hitting his wife, who is having an open affair with the African-born village mechanic. There’s the belligerent pub owner, the aging writer with a death wish, the hustler who talks like Ratso Rizzo, the doctor with the attitude of a morgue attendant and the rich guy who made millions during the recession that crippled the rest of Ireland and who loathes himself only moderately more than he loathes everyone else.

All of the cast is good, though none can quite match the Shakespeare-trained, gleefully shaggy Gleeson, who – as always – tends to steal any film he appears in.

As Father James walks through the village, which is set next to hills more emerald-green than Darby O’Gill’s eyes, we learn that his own past includes a marriage, a dead wife, bouts with alcoholism and a suicidal daughter – who shows up, apparently, to provide McDonagh the means to give us what he seems to think will provide a meaningful postscript to the follow-through promised by his film’s title.

It won’t work for everyone. It certainly didn’t for me. But then I’m not Irish, I’m not Catholic and my own skill at irony may be far less weighty than I’ve always feared.

Manhattan can bend your mind a bit

When you visit a big city, it's easy to fall into habits you would seldom — if ever — indulge in at home. Eating an inordinately expensive dinner, for example.

I spent last week in New York. Much of that time, I was with my family in a rented cabin located just outside Woodstock. And, no, before you even ask, I'll admit that we didn't set off in search of Max Yasgur's famous farm (too many hours spent poolside watching a 3- and a 6-year-old). And we certainly didn't spend a whole lot of money on the area's eateries, except for the Jackson and a half that we spent at a second-rate Mexican joint called Taco Juan's.

All that changed, though, when we left Woodstock and headed for a night in Manhattan. We'd planned to take in a Broadway show, but we learned that it had been cancelled. So we decided just to have dinner. Which took us to the Upper West Side. And to the exclusive restaurant Boulud Sud.

The menu looked pricey, sure. But we've had plenty of experience ordering down, finding deals and sharing plates, to make sure we were getting the best deal possible. So no worries.

Except this time we went a little crazy. No, we didn't order a high-end bottle of wine. But the bottle of Prosecco we requested did cost more than our total bill at the taco shop. And when we were informed about the night's special — a uniquely prepared whole Bronzino for two — we said a quick yes. We also ordered a couple of appetizers. Crazy.

And the experience was … good. The experience, you understand. The food was almost that. But here's the thing: Was it worth the, uh, two Franklins and more that we ended up paying? Before tip?

Short answer: No. Not at least for someone who typically orders his Saturday-morning breakfasts off the senior menu at Jenny's Diner. And who finds that as satisfying as anything costing 20 times as much.

Now I really regret not taking that extra day to haunt the pasture that Jimi Hendrix played in.

Friday’s openings: A run through the Forrest

Not for the first time, I have to question the wisdom of those who book movies for Spokane's theaters. In this case, the folks at AMC.

Now, I like the AMC. It's convenient to where I live, and the manager — Rob Holen — is one of the nicest, most gracious guys I've ever met, personally or professionally. But Rob doesn't book his movies. Somebody who works in the corporate office does. Which explains why this week, along with the new releases, AMC is featuring both a screening of the 1994 release “Forrest Gump” (in IMAX, no less) and a second run of “Magic in the Moonlight” — one of Woody Allen's lesser creations since at least the mid-'90s.

Guess they need to find something to fill those 20 screens in the lull between Labor Day weekend and the beginning of the fall season. But “Forrest Gump” and second-rate Woody Allen? Seriously?

“A Hard Day's Night” just showed in a 50th-anniversary special event at The Bing to a full house. Imagine watching that Beatles movie in IMAX with the AMC's sound system. Ah, well. AMC never consults with me.

Anyway, here is the new stuff the week will offer:

“The Identical”: A so-called “faith-based” look at what might have happened had the twin of an Elvis Presley-type singer not died at birth but been raised separately, with one boy becoming The King and the other a gospel preacher. Sounds like the devil in disguise.

“Innocence”: After losing her mom to a surfing accident, a teen girl moves with dad to Manhattan — only to discover that her exclusive prep school is home to a coven of witches. Bubble bubble, baby.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“The One I Love”: With their marriage falling slowly apart, a couple spends a weekend examining their relationship — and the experience becomes surreal. Because … of course. (Also, the Lantern is reopening the Polish feature “Ida” and the Korean-made/English-language feature “Snowpiercer.”)

So go. Enjoy. And … run, Forrest, run!

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