7 Blog

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

Leonard Nimoy makes takes his final bow

Leonard Nimoy died today. LLAP, Mr. Spock. I offer the embed below in your honor.

(un)Bored Kids: Ducks and pucks

Looking for ways to keep the kids entertained this weekend? Check out these highlights of local family-friendly events:

Looff Carrousel - Now Open
The historic Riverfront Park attraction reopened today for 2015 after its annual spring cleaning. See Our Weekly Pick for Families for more information.

“Honk! Jr.”
Enjoy a family-friendly musical production adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Ugly Duckling” at Bing Crosby Theatre, presented by Christian Youth Theatre Spokane.
Event: Friday, Feb. 27, 7 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 28, 3 & 7 p.m.; Sunday, Mar. 1, 3 p.m.

Read full post ›

‘Song of the Sea’ is one sweet view

I've already argued that "Song of the Sea" was overlooked by the Motion Picture Academy, which awarded its Best Animated Feature Oscar to the Disney film "Big Hero 6." Following is a transcription of the "Song of the Sea" review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio

When I was a kid, anything marked “Made in Japan” meant something cheaply made. Toy cars my naval officer father brought home from the Korean War ended up breaking within minutes – and not just because of my penchant for holding junior demolition derbies.

All that changed, of course. For the past several decades, Japanese cars and motorcycles have been among the world’s best. As have been televisions, DVD players and other assorted electronics.

In terms of movies, the Japanese still produce my favorite works of animation. Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. Miyazaki and the production company he founded, Studio Ghibli, have given us a sterling collection of anime features bearing such titles as “Princess Mononoke,” “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Castle in the Sky.”

Miyazaki, in fact, is the standard I use to gauge animation greatness. And even by that high standard, Irish filmmaker Tomm Moore fares well. Moore’s latest offering, “Song of the Sea” – which opens today at the Magic Lantern – was nominated for an Oscar. Its loss, though, is more a sign of Hollywood provincialism than any lack of quality.

Based on a story dreamed up by Moore, and fleshed out both by Moore and writer Will Collins, “Song of the Sea” involves traditional Scottish and Irish folktales involving “selkies” – creatures that live as seals in the ocean but as humans on land. The central plot device of John Sayles’ memorable 1994 film “The Secret of Roan Inish” is a selkie.

In “Song of the Sea,” Moore’s plot revolves around the family of a lighthouse keeper (voiced by Brendan Gleeson). On the night the keeper’s wife gives birth to their second child, a daughter named Saoirse, the woman – a selkie – is called back to the sea. Six years later, the keeper is still in mourning, his son Ben is resentful of his younger sister, Saoirse has never spoken a word and their grandmother is determined to take the children with her to live in Dublin.

Granny does so just when Saoirse is beginning to discover her own ties to the sea. So when Ben decides to sneak back home, Saoirse insists on tagging along. And together, the two must overcome a gaggle of obstacles – not the least of which is a band of owls bent on kidnapping Saoirse and the witch to whom the owls owe allegiance. Things grow ever more complicated when the children encounter other strange creatures and when the sea begins calling Saoirse, too.

What underscores Moore’s story are the strong emotional ties, especially the link between the siblings that grows as Ben gradually begins to realize the love he feels for his sister. Add this to some of the most beautiful animated backdrops – of the Irish countryside, of the Irish coast and particularly of the Irish sea – and you have not just an animated movie but an actual moving work of art.

One that’s just as good as, if not better than, anything made in Hollywood – or in Japan.

Durkin’s: The wait was worth it

Above: Wednesday night at Durkin's Liquor Bar, grilled pork chop at the top, fish and chips at the bottom.

As I've witten here in the past, one of the things I've most enjoyed about living in Spokane is that I seldom have to wait to be seated in a local restaurant. Because if I have to wait, I'm usually within five minutes of some other place that will seat me almost immediately.

That quality of Spokane life, sad to say, is changing. As new places open, and as they attract popularity, you can't just walk in anymore and expect to get the booth of your own choosing. But as they say, life changes, and you better change with it or you'll get left behind.

I took some baby steps toward change last night by accepting my wife's invitation to eat dinner at Durkin's Liquor Bar, which sits on a stretch of Main Avenue that used to house Dutch's Inc., once one of Spokane's best-known pawn shops. I'd called earlier in the day only to discover that the eatery doesn't accept reservations — a growing custom that I don't understand or like.

So, of course, when we showed up just after 6 p.m., the place was packed, and five or so other people were already waiting. But my wife calmed me down, we ordered drinks and, after waiting a little more than 10 minutes, we scored two seats at the bar.

While Durkin's is, technically speaking, a restaurant, it is set up like a bar. Seats run up and down the length of the room, facing the cooking area and the bar itself. On the opposite wall, a series of four-person booths offers more traditional dinner seating (but good luck snaring one of those). The place also offers a downstairs bar, though it was being used for a private function the night we visited, and a table near the entrance that — apparently — can be reserved for larger parties.

Anyway, after being seated, drinks still in hand, we perused the menu. Since Inlander Restaurant Week was still going on, and since Durkin's was participating, we split our order: My wife ordered off the set three-course meal (chopped salad, grilled pork chop, butterscotch pie dessert), while I opted for the regular menu (roasted tomato salad, fish and chips). We shared her dessert.

Our overworked server was polite, friendly and — for the most part — competent. Our salads came quickly enough, but our entrees arrived several minutes after others around us had been served (and only after I asked our server to check on our order). And when the bill came, my wife's meal wasn't listed (a fact we pointed out, for which the bartender thanked us).

So, overall, the experience was positive. My salad was perfect, the fish and chips better than I've had anywhere else in Spokane (and almost as good as what I ate last October in Iceland), and the bites I had of the dessert made me want more (a temptation I resisted). My wife's set-course salad was teeny, but that's a minor complaint, because the bite I had of her pork chop was scrumptious.

No, I have to admit that if Durkin's is a sign of how things are changing in Spokane, then the city — at least gastronomically — is headed in the right direction.

And I guess I'll tag along, too. I'd hate to get left behind. 

Have you ever seen a real wizard at Merlyn’s?

Does a troll live under the Monroe Street Bridge?

Would Bigfoot crowd surf at Sasquatch?

Are there mermaids in Lake Coeur d'Alene?

If you have a creative answer to these queries—or a different magical question—we want to hear it! Our 2015 Limerick Contest “Once Upon a Time in the Inland Northwest” ends Mar. 6. Submit your limerick online or email your entry to contest@spokane7.com.

Winners in general and youth categories will receive a gift certificate to Auntie’s and be invited to read their submissions at a special Auntie’s St. Patrick’s Day event in mid-March.

A fictional trailer far better than what it parodies

One of the talented guys behind one my favorite web series, "Transolar Galactica," has a particularly twisted sense of humor. So twisted that it neatly matches mine. That's why I am offering the embed below, which is Adam Harum's mashup of movie trailers into something greater than both: "Fifty Shades of Gandalf the Grey." Enjoy.


SpIFF 2015: Help make the festival better

Above: Co-director Nicholas Hudak films a scene for the documentary "Where God Likes to Be." 

When you're part of an ongoing event that attempts to attract, not to mention engage, the public, it's seldom easy to figure out how you're doing. Say, you're a restaurant that nobody goes to: Is it because the food sucks, the service sucks, the decor sucks or any combination of the above (including all of them).

The easiest solution: Just ask those who do seem to appreciate what you have to offer.

This year's Spokane International Film Festival was one of the most successful on record. Oh, we may have offered better lineups (as one of the festival programmers, I'll accept part of the blame). But the strange thing is, overall reactions to the 2015 films — based on the scores that viewers gave to individual screenings — were the highest in history.

More telling, it was difficult to attend any of the Magic Lantern showings because with the theater's two smallish houses — 100 and 33 seats, respectively — most of the programs sold out. Even the shows at the 204-seat AMC River Park Square house were packed.

So, yes, SpIFF 2015 did pretty well. But the board of directors — on which I serve — want the event to get even better. That's why festival director Pete Porter is offering all who attended a chance to comment on their experience. Porter is looking not only for what fest-goers liked but what they didn't like — and what they'd like to see in 2016.

You can access the SpIFF survey by clicking here.

Remember, this is your festival, too. So do your part to make sure Porter and the rest of us can make it even better.

Enter to win a Big Night Out with Jonny Lang

Have you heard about our Big Night Out monthly giveaways? We’re giving away a fun night out every month in 2015. Along with a gift card for use at a regional restaurant, winners will receive tickets for an entertainment event—concerts, movies, sports and more.

This month, we’re giving away two tickets to see blues rocker Jonny Lang live in concert at Northern Quest Resort & Casino along with a $50 gift card to EPIC. Lang's seventh album, "Fight for My Soul," his first studio album in seven years, was released in September 2013.

Oh, and one more thing…at the end of 2015, all entries will go into a Big Night Out GRAND PRIZE giveaway. So enter each month for a total of 12 chances to win an extra special Big Night Out from Spokane7.

Enter to win February’s Big Night Out and check out all the great Contests we’re hosting this month.

Photo: Piper Fergusson

Friday’s openings II: Mainstream horror

The Oscars are gone and done with for another year. The effect for area moviegoers will still be reverberating on Friday, though, with both Oscar nominees and winners playing at the Magic Lantern (see post immediately below) and a second run of the winning Oscar animated feature for mainstream audiences. Friday's mainstream openings are as follows: 

"Focus" (IMAX but no 3D, regular): Will Smith plays a con man who loses his head over an attractive blond partner. Or … does he? Does anyone remember "The Sting"? Or is that expecting too much from a contemporary audience?

"Lazarus Effect": Olivia Wilde lives up to her surname by playing a medical student whose revival from certain death takes a toll on everyone around her. Where's an exorcist when we really need one?

"Big Hero 6": Disney's inflatable superhero robot returns for another run. How many Oscars has the studio that Walt built won now, anyway? More to the point, how many has it deserved?

Friday’s openings: Catch ‘Song of the Sea’ at the Magic Lantern

If you watched the Oscars broadcast last night, and you managed to say awake through the whole thing, you probably noted some of the more obvious winners. Namely, that Disney swept the animation awards: best short and feature.

The short went to "Feast," which is about a cute little dog — a dog — whose gluttony is the thing that helps his master find, and refind, true love. The feature award, more surprisingly, went to "Big Hero 6," a film about an inflatable robot and the young boy who invented him.

"Feast" would not have been my choice. I would probably have voted for "Me and My Moulton." But none of the animated shorts really moved me all that much, so I'm not complaining.

But the feature? I've seen four of the five nominees, and my choice would have been "Song of the Sea," which opens Friday at the Magic Lantern (along with "What We Do in the Shadows" and a second run of the Oscar winner for Foreign Language Film, "Ida"). Furthermore, this needs to be said: Its not winning is a travesty on par with "Shakespeare in Love" winning over "Saving Private Ryan."

"Big Hero 6" is a standard Disney product, telling the story of a clever young boy, his invention and how the two — along with friends — become heroic crime-fighters. "Song of the Sea" tells the tale of a young boy whose mother — a "selkie," half human, half seal — disappears on the night his sister is born, which causes him to resent the younger girl until her own secret self is revealed.

What sets "Song of the Sea" apart from almost any other animated film outside of Japan is the quality of the visuals: Each individual frame is a virtual painting in and of itself. I haven't seen such animated beauty since, perhaps, "Spirited Away."

Don't believe me? Go to the Lantern on Friday and see for yourself.

SpIFF2015: Audiences have their say

Film festivals traditionally offer up juried awards, which are honors that reflect the opinions of designated festival representatives. The Spokane International Film Festival is no different.

In recent years, though, every festival from SpIFF to Sundance has offered audiences the opportunity to say what they like, too. Thus the era of the Audience Awards was born. The Audience Awards for SpIFF 2015, as determined by those little slips of paper festival attendees turned in, are as follows:

Best Feature: Belle and Sebastian (Nicolas Vanier, France)

Best Documentary: Flore (Jean-Albert Lièvre, France)

Best International Short: Carry On (Yatao Li, China)

Best of the NW, Short: From the Sky (Ian Ebright, USA)

Best Animated Short: The Dam Keeper (Robert Kodo and Dice Tsutsumi, USA)

Thanks to SpIFF programmer Vaughn Overlie for compiling and counting the Audience Award ballots.

‘Jupiter Ascending’: victim of high expectations?

"Jupiter Ascending," the latest film by the Wachowski siblings, has been playing for a couple of weeks now. And the world-wide box-office take of a mere $97.2 million ($38.5 million domestic take) is a bit underwhelming — especially for a film boasting a reported $176 million production budget.

That disappointing news, though, is likely as much caused by expectations as by any real reaction to the film. That's a point I key on in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, a transcription of which follows:

Fame and fortune are not, it has been proven time and again, always a good thing. We hope for it, we dream of it and some of us even work for it. But sometimes, if it comes, it carries burdens and expectations we aren’t equipped to handle.

Take M. Night Shyamalan as an example. With his third film, “The Sixth Sense,” Shyamalan became a sensation – riding an intriguing storyline and pristine production values to both critical and popular success. But belying the mantle of genius that had been bestowed upon him, Shyamalan proved with his subsequent, less and less successful movies that he wore the filmmaking equivalence of the emperor’s new clothes.

Now, consider the Wachowski siblings, Lana (formerly Larry) and Andy Wachowski hit it big with their second film, 1999’s “The Matrix” – that rare-but-powerful Hollywood blend of imagination, originality and quality. Like Shyamalan, the Wachowskis’ two “Matrix” sequels and their stand-alone follow-ups – “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas” – proved disappointing both with critics and fans.

Unlike Shyamalan, though, whose filmmaking quiver seems empty, the Wachowskis are merely proving to be … well, if not great then at least better than average. The evidence: their latest big-screen offering “Jupiter Ascending.”

Firmly sci-fi, a genre the Wachowskis specialize in, “Jupiter Ascending” is nearly as political a statement as the 2005 movie they wrote and produced: “V for Vendetta.” It involves the Abrasax family, controlling partners in a galactic business empire that buys, develops and harvests planets for … well, let’s just say the Abrasaxes adhere to the “Soylent Green” business model.

The family, sister Kalique and brothers Titus and Balem – the latter played by Oscar-nominee Eddie Redmayne – place their business interests aside to vie over a seemingly ordinary Earthling named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis). Jupiter, we gradually learn, is more than she seems – which, in her daily life, involves working as a toilet-cleaner with her extended Russian-American family. She is, actually, galactic royalty, a fact she becomes aware of only after the alien Abrasaxes and their minions try either to kidnap or kill her.

Thanks to the fighting skills of Caine Wise – a genetically engineered ex-soldier played by Channing Tatum – Jupiter stays alive, giving her time to figure out what the Abrasaxes are up to. And, with the help of Caine and a force of galactic police, to try to foil their plans.

All of this plays out competently enough. The acting is better than average, with Kunis and Tatum doing the obligatory mismatched-lovers dance, and Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton outshining them as the gleefully duplicitous and murderous Abrasax siblings. If it were directed by anyone else – Zack Snyder, perhaps – “Jupiter Ascending” would likely be judged as a quick-moving and clever, CGI-smooth cinematic space opera.

But this is the Wachowskis, you see, the pair responsible for a film that one reviewer called a “genuinely original vision of our cyberfuture.” And we expect more from those who, even if only once, give us something that feels completely and utterly fresh.

‘Fifty Shades’ of green, not ‘Grey’

As you can see from the all the Interwebs chatter out there, trouble seems to be brewing at the "Fifty Shades of Grey" worksite. Amazing the furor a $265 million world-wide box-office take can cause. I know that if I had made that much on a reported $40 million production budget, I'd be upset.

Tongue. Held firmly. In cheek.

Thing is, no one other wants to be laughed at, especially not pretentious panderers of the arts. Laughed with, yes. Laughed at? Even Jon Stewart has a famous breaking point. No, these people — Universal Pictures, director Sam Taylor-Johnson and especially writer Erika Leonard (aka E.L. James) — want to be taken seriously.

Yet how can we? I have not read the books, so I cannot judge. I will, however, let other critics have their say:

Jesse Kornbluth, The Huffington Post: "As a reading experience, 'Fifty Shades of Grey' is a sad joke, puny of plot, padded with conversations that are repeated five or six times and email exchanges that are neither romantic nor witty."

Jessica Reeves, Chicago Tribune: "Put simply, author E L James — who is now officially invulnerable to criticism because she has more money than God — is not a very good writer. Her dialogue is stilted, the descriptions of place overwrought, and the characters and plot so predictable that a reader could theoretically skip over several dozen pages of text and still be utterly unsurprised by new developments."

I could go on. But you get the point. Besides, I did see the movie. And that is bad enough.

The advantage that books — even bad books — have over movies is that they leave so much to the imagination. Even a writer as presumably clumsy as Leonard/James can present scenes that readers (particularly the impressionable ones) can embellish with their own blends of memory and fantasy. The problem for any filmmaker is how to best try to recapture a book's, mmmm, scenario — including theme and tone — visually.

And that becomes especially troublesome when the subject involves sex. Think of what Adrian Lyne gave us with "9 1/2 Weeks." What Stanley Kubrick presented in "Eyes Wide Shut." Let's not even go to the BDSM arena that "Killing Me Softly" and "Secretary" took us.

Point is, such cinematic explorations are difficult to pull off. Even for talented filmmakers, something that Taylor-Johnson isn't particularly. And so what we end up with is a bunch of nudity, all of which plays coyly with genital areas (male and female), some heavy breathing and a few slaps with a "flogger."

Along with an ending that is as blatant an announcement of a sequel as has ever been filmed. Which is where this blog post began. If the two "Fifty Shades of …" sequels do get made, they might follow in the path of another recent popular book-to-film series: "The Hunger Games." The producers may change directors in mid-creation.

Which might not be a bad thing. It certainly can't hurt.

Friday add: ‘Old Fashioned’ a love story

AMC has announced an addition to its Friday openings lineup:

"Old Fashioned": An independent film starring little-known actors, this Ohio-shot movie details the burgeoning love affair between an adventurous woman and a cautious, chaste man. Says movie critic Glenn Kenny, "It’s incredibly rare to see an American movie with a Christian perspective that’s more invested in philosophizing and empathizing than in eschatological pandering, and for that alone 'Old Fashioned' deserves commendation." Call it the anti-"Fifty Shades of Grey."

Friday’s openings: From Hot tubs to ‘Timbuktu’

The best films from 2014 continue to trickle into area theaters, along with some regular Hollywood fare. So if you look among Friday's movie openings, you're likely to find a few gems among the dross.

Friday's openings are as follows:

"McFarland, USA": A coach (Kevin Costner) in a small California town transforms his cross country team into champions. Cue the "Rocky" theme.

"The DUFF": After discovering she has been labeled a group's "DUFF" (dumb, ugly, fat friend), a high school senior tries to figure out the source of the designation. Hmmmm, maybe it's time to rescreen "Heathers." 

"Hot Tub Time Machine 2": The three buddies return to do a sequel to the most title-says-it-all hit of 2010. I imagine the pitch meeting for this one didn't take long.

"Interstellar" (IMAX): On 3 p.m. Saturday, AMC River Park Square will give fans another chance to see Christopher Nolan's sci-fi hit on the theater's BIG screen. Holy space travel, Batman.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"The Tale of the Princess Kaguya": Those who missed the SpIFF screening of this Oscar-nominated animated feature will have another, and likely final, chance to see it on something bigger than your home TV screen. Based on a Japanese folk tale, it does include some animated martial arts.

"Timbuktu": A village in northern Mali is shaken when a group of jihadist extremists take control and attempt to enforce their own fundamentalist version of Sharia law. Mauritania's Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.

Subscribe via RSS